by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
It’s that weird time of year when a handful of the NBA’s teams have turned up the intensity to 11 and the rest are ready to empty the bench 11-deep. Last night was the perfect example—let’s get it.
Blake Griffin scored a season-high 36 points, but with about 40 seconds to play and the Clippers having cut a double-digit lead to just 4 points, Joe Johnson pulled this out of his behind to deliver the dagger for Atlanta:
It was only 3 of Johnson’s 28 points on the night, but the shot effectively ended the game, keeping Atlanta’s home-court advantage hopes alive. Chris Paul had 34 points, but the Hawks used a 15-2 run in the third quarter to take control, sparked by their own point guard (Jeff Teague, 21 points) and Josh Smith (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists).
Playoff Implications: Lakers clinch Pacific Division and West No. 3 seed with the Clips loss.
As ugly as the starting lineups were in this game, it still seemed hard to believe that this game could be so, well…whack. With each team’s Playoff seeding all but written in ink, Miami’s Big Three sat out, as did Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. The result was the Heat’s lowest point total of the season—even after scoring the first 11 points of the game—and their high-turnover number of the year, at 25. Paul Pierce started the game but scored just 8 points and sat out the fourth quarter. The teams’ leading scorers were the unstoppable Sasha Pavlovic (12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter) and the immovable Dexter Pittman (12 points). No, seriously. Boston finished the year with a 3-1 year against the Heat.
Playoff Implications: Bulls clinch East No. 1 seed with the Heat loss.
It’s hard to take much from this game for Oklahoma City, considering its crunch time lineup was Derek Fisher, Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison, Royal Ivey and Daequan Cook, but the Thunder are happy to take the win and prevent any more injuries to their stars. Kevin Durant scored 32 points over the first three quarters before taking a comfy seat on the bench. With OKC up 1 and 1:35 to play, Fisher drew a silly foul from Tyreke Evans on a 3-point attempt, earning 3 free throws, enough of an edge to finish off the Kings, despite another monster game from DeMarcus Cousins (32 points, 7 rebounds). Cook scored all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter.
Playoff Implications: None.
And with that, your Playoff teams are set. Utah clinched the last remaining post-season berth behind—who else?—their big men. Paul Millsap scored a game-high 26 points on 10-18 shooting, grabbed 16 rebounds, plus had 4 assists and 3 steals, Al Jefferson added an 18-16-4 line and the Jazz finished with a +14 rebounding advantage and a +10 margin on points in the paint to get past the Suns, who failed to keep their Playoff hopes within reach. Down 7 at halftime, Phoenix stormed back to take an early fourth-quarter lead, but Utah went on a 26-12 run to end the game. Steve Nash delivered with 14 points and 11 dimes, and Michael Redd and Jared Dudley each added 15 points, but Marcin Gortat shot 1-8 with 2 points (12 rebounds) and the Suns made just 5 of 23 three-pointers. Could this really be the end of the Nash era in Phoenix?
Playoff Implications: Utah is in, Phoenix is out. And the Jazz could conceivably get to No. 7 out West, too.
Before you take a mental dump on this game, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the last 15 seconds were extremely entertaining. Were they the only 15 seconds of the game I watched? Why, yes. I picked it up tied at 81, as Warriors point guard Charles Jenkins (10 points, 10 assists) drove the lane for a game-winning bucket, only to have his stuff swatted by Gustavo Ayon. Rather than calling timeout, Monty Williams let the Hornets run in transition, leading to a pretty no-look pass from Greivis Vasquez to Marco Belinelli for a wide-open game-clinching layup—2 of Belinelli’s season-high 23 points.
Playoff Implications: None. Lottery? Huge! NOLA’s win means my Wizards win clinch the “No. 2” spot.
Line of the Night: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap—the Jazz big men combined for 44 points, 31 rebounds and 8 assists
Stat of the Night: The ’11-12 scoring title will come down to one more game each for Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. After Durant’s 32 vs. Sacramento, he’s averaging 27.97 points per game to 27.86 for Kobe.
Dunk of the Night: Mo Williams to DeAndre Jordan for a casual Lob City classic.
Tonight: A seven-game slate that includes the always-heated Pacers-Bulls rivalry, CP3 and the Blakers in New York to take on the Knicks and Spurs-Suns late night on ESPN.