Not exactly the Knicks’ shining moment, this one. The 76ers, playing without Andre Iguodala (achilles), toppled New York behind great days from young’n Jrue Holiday (19 points, 8 assist and a super-clutch three-pointer with a couple of minutes to go) and refreshed big man Elton Brand (20 points, 7 boards). The Knicks just didn’t bring it as the game wound down, and a solid day from STAT (21 points, 15 rebounds) wasn’t enough. You can’t rely on the three and then shoot 3-19 from deep and expect to go home with a W. Not happening. Raymond Felton’s line was pretty indicative of New York’s game: he played alright across the board (7 points, 8 boards, 10 dimes), but shot 2-11 from the field. The Sixers are 2-5, and after two straight victories and a little too much “they’re back!” talk, Manhattan’s finest are now 3-3.
Game Lesson: The Knicks are working their way back to relevance, but a couple of wins against mediocre teams doesn’t have them “back” just yet. Understandably, they’ll need some time.
Behind Rip Hamilton’s game-high 27 points, the Pistons were able to hold on against a Warriors team that’s been surprisingly (or not?) strong. This was a close one, and with only 13 seconds to go, Steph Curry missed a Stockton-esque fast break stop-and-shoot that could’ve tied it up. After sitting out one game for disciplinary reasons, Rodney Stuckey returned and scored 21. For GSW, Dorell Wright’s (19 points) good play continued, while Monta Ellis led the squad with 24.
Game Lesson: When in doubt, bench an important player and hope he bounces back with some intensity. Or in times of need, rely on the veterans. Or something else. I don’t know.
In the day’s best game, the Nash-led Suns squeaked it out and gave the Hawks their first L. Phoenix’s fearless point guard did a great job spreading the ball around—six Suns finished in double figures, while Nash went for 15 dimes—and Atlanta couldn’t pull ahead in the final minutes to bring this one in. Joe Johnson (34-7-6) and Al Horford (30-10-5) both had nice lines, while Atlanta (6-1) heads to Orlando tonight. I mean, they had to lose eventually, right? Any Hawks fans complaining about a 6-1 record? Nah? Didn’t think so.
Game Lesson: Like the Knicks will with him, the Suns will need some time without Amar’e to come to their own. But with one of the game’s best distributors, and some strong pieces already in place, there’s no reason to believe Phoenix can’t reach a point where they could contend with the best of ’em.
Nothing gets a struggling team on track like an afternoon game against David Kahn’s bros. Led by my favorite fantasy beast Luis Scola (24 points, 8 boards) and sharpshooter Kevin Martin (21 points), the Rockets were up 23 at halftime and never looked back. Kevin Love (16 and 16) had a nice line for Minny, but that’s about the only positive thing there is to say about those guys. Houston (now 1-5) is in Washington on Wednesday next.
Game Lesson: Houston might be worse than some were predicting, but they ain’t that bad. At least not “Timberwolves bad,” for what it’s worth.
In what most thought would be the day’s most exciting contest, the Celts went up big early, leading by 21 at half, and a third-quarter Thunder run just wasn’t enough to get back in it. Rajon Rondo scored 10 and dished another 10 dimes, while Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined for 36. Kevin Durant (36 points) and Russell Westbrook (16 points, 10 assists) were both great, but the two didn’t do a great job of getting their teammates involved, and the team as a whole appeared flat. It’s cool when those two put up impressive stat lines, but they’ll have to do a better job getting the others on the board (and others will have to do a better job getting themselves on the board) if OKC is to have any chance of living up to all that offseason hype.
Game Lesson: Yeah, this one stings a little, but let’s be real: The Thunder aren’t on the level many thought they would be when making those dangerous predictions this past summer. At least not yet. But they’re still young, and are still showing signs of occasional greatness, so no final judgments just yet.
I’ll sum this one up right off the bat: The Lakers are really, really, really good at playing basketball. Last night they were led by Pau Gaso’s triple-double (20 points, 14 boards, 10 assists), and an off night from Kobe was barely a factor. I won’t make a big deal about it, but I do that think LA’s dominating performance against a fellow West Coast contender while Kobe’s rendered moot is, indeed, a big deal. Andre Miller led the Blazers with 20 points, but they were down by 21 at the half and just didn’t have the fire to compete.
Game Lesson: Simply put: As of now, the Lakers are on a different level than every other team in the NBA. I wish it wasn’t true, but I haven’t seen much that’s convinced me it’s not the case. Though I’m still accepting evidence, if you guys have any. The Celtics are close, I guess, but LA is winning games in such a dominating fashion that it’s hard to imagine them losing a seven-game series to, well, anyone. For now.
Performance of the Night: Pau Gasol: 20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals
Moment of the Night: Between the speed at which he moves from midcourt to the top of the key, and the absurd way he releases the ball to put the shot up, I’m putting Nate’s second quarter buzzer beater up as was yesterday’s MOTN. In that situation, how many guys in the L can move so quickly and still get a decent shot off? Can any?