by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
Last night there was an unbelievably loaded slate of games, but the big story was Kobe tearing his Achilles. I usually order these games based on their starting times, but the Lakers game jumped to the top for this Post Up.
Lakers (43-37) 118, Warriors (45-35) 116
Outside of the injury, this was an unbelievable game. Golden State led by six with over five minutes left, but Kobe quickly erased that advantage with triples on consecutive possessions. The Lakers led by two with 1:23 left, when Klay Thompson knocked down a three to put his team up. But from there the Lakers hit three free throws (more on that later), and the Ws couldn’t score.
First, the stats… and there are big ones everywhere. Kobe played 45 minutes and scored 34 points. He knocked down 4 threes and 12 free throws. Pau Gasol triple-doubled with 26, 11 and 10. Dwight Howard scored 28 with 7 rebounds.
Golden State got 47 from Stephen Curry. The sharpshooter knocked down 9 threes and managed to hand out 9 assists. Wow. Thompson was big, too, scoring 24 with 7 assists.
A lot of stuff happened. In no particular order, here’s the breakdown.
Bryant went down with an apparent knee injury in the middle of the game, but came right back in and kept playing. However, with the game tied at 109, he left to the locker room and never returned. Kobe leaving a must-win in the fourth quarter with the score tied? Potentially bad news. Indeed, late last night, the team released a statement saying that Kobe probably tore his Achilles. Kobe himself seemed to confirm it in a solemn post-game interview. He’s obviously done for the postseason and faces a very lengthy recovery.
The injury comes at a heartbreaking time, as Bryant has just been incredible lately. The 34-year-old had logged insane amounts of minutes over the last couple of weeks while trying to will the Lakers into the Playoffs. On Friday, he again hardly sat, again was sharp from the floor, again kept the Lakers in the game and again proved that he’s one of the all-time greats.
Life without Kobe
The Lakers might not be fried just yet. I still think they can slip into the Playoffs, and you could do a lot worse than a Nash-Gasol-Howard core. I don’t think they’ll be able to figure things out quickly enough to upset anybody in the postseason, but I’m not sure they’ll get swept, either. Also, if you’re the Lakers, why not fire D’Antoni now (inevitable anyway) and just let Kobe coach the team? Seriously. You’re telling me you’re more afraid of a D’Antoni coached team than a Pissed Off Kobe led team? No chance.
The refs swayed the game
I’m not saying they threw it, but they certainly swayed it. Frankly I wasn’t able to watch this game, but of course I followed it very closely. The Lakers spent all night at the line. Howard got there 22 times, Kobe 16 times and Gasol 8 times. The Lakers ended up shooting 31 less shots than Golden State. To be fair, the Ws had 15 offensive rebounds compared to 3 for Yellow LA, but a 50-16 free throw differential is hard to ignore. I don’t want to speculate too much, but a Jazz-Thunder/Spurs matchup won’t bring in the same ratings as Lakers-Thunder/Spurs. Not even close. Just saying.
Gasol has figured it out
Pau was lost, injured or both for the first few months of the season, but has suddenly returned to form. He was averaging 18 points, 10 boards and 6 assists in his last five games before triple-doubling on Friday. Nice to see.
Curry is pretty amazing
He’s been able to stay healthy this year, and is making the most of his full season. The fourth-year guard is averaging 23 points, 7 dimes and 4 boards per game this year while shooting 45 percent from the floor. He knocks down a ridiculous 3.5 threes (45%) per night, and is just an amazing talent. Like Wall, I don’t think you win a ring if Curry is The Guy on your team, but I can’t wait to get a closer look at him in the postseason.
The Lakers kept pace with Utah
You know the deal by now—Utah holds the tie-breaker over LA should the teams tie, but the Lakers are a game ahead of the Jazz. Each team has two games left. Whew.
Raptors (31-48) 97, Bulls (43-36) 88
Strangely enough, the Bulls have sandwiched Thursday night’s impressive win against the Knicks with two losses to the Raptors. Last night, they were within five with about seven minutes left before running out of gas.
Rudy Gay scored 23 for Toronto, but Amir Johnson was the high-scorer with 24. He grabbed 9 boards. Kyle Lowry narrowly missed a triple-double with 13 points, 11 dimes and 9 rebounds.
Chicago got 19 and 12 from a suddenly kinda good Carlos Boozer, as well as a big 16 and 13 from Nazr Mohammed, starting in place of Joakim Noah. Luol Deng was unusually quiet with 10 points and 1 rebound, though he did dish out 8 assists. Nate Robinson played well again with 17 points. He’s scored 12+ points in 16 of his last 18 games, and eclipsed 20 in six of those contests. Bizarre that no team ever wants to keep him around.
76ers (32-47) 97, Wizards (29-51) 86
Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young led Philly to an easy win last night. Jrue dropped a team-high 22 with 7 assists, while Young double-doubled with 18 and 13, and picked up 4 steals. Spencer Hawes and Damien Wilkins each scored 15, and Jrue’s brother Justin played 20 minutes and scored 7 points off the bench.
John Wall led the Wiz in scoring again with 24, though he only made 9-of-21 shots and 6-of-10 free throws. He’s having a really nice season since returning from an injury that delayed the start of his season, but I wonder what his future as a franchise player is. What type of team do you build around Wall?
Can he play with a star scorer, or would they just feud over who gets more shots? He’s done well with Nene and Emeka Okafor, so he’d probably be able to co-exist with any big who takes a backseat to him. But that begs the question of where, exactly, a team is going when Wall is the lead guy. There’s a chance he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be, but if he’s always the player he is now, I think teams will have a hard time building a contender around him. A shoot-first point guard who plays a little too fast can get you into the Playoffs, but I don’t think you can win a title with a guy like Wall leading the way. Hopefully he proves me wrong one day.
Nets (47-32) 117, Pacers (49-30) 109
Last night’s game was tied at 104 with 3:15 left before the Nets closed out strong. Brooklyn choked at home against the Bulls on national TV last week, but they’re suddenly looking sharp with the Playoffs just a week away. Following the loss to Chicago, they beat the Bobcats and 6ers easily (not impressive) before winning in Boston and Indiana in a three-day stretch (pretty impressive).
Last night, Deron Williams stayed red-hot. Following his 29-point, 12-dime show in Boston, he dropped 33 and 14 on the Pacers. He knocked down 5 threes and 8-of-10 free throws. He suffered a knee injury very late, but there hasn’t been any news on it since the end of the game. Typically with stuff like this, no news is good news. (Kobe’s night is an example of the opposite.) Joe Johnson added 24, and, after scoring 20 in Boston, might be finding his groove.
He’s had an alright season in Brooklyn (16.3/3.5/3/43%), but he’s never seemed like the dream fit some thought he’d be with the Nets. The Williams-Johnson backcourt does have potential to be pretty unstoppable though, so this mini-streak from Brooklyn just might be a big deal.
Each Pacers starter scored at least 13 points. David West and Paul George were the high-men, scoring 26 and 21 respectively. George Hill and Roy Hibbert submitted double-doubles.
Hawks (44-36) 109, Bucks (37-42) 104
This was a close game late, but Milwaukee could never get over the hump and grab a lead. Jeff Teague (24 and 10), Al Horford (18, 17 and 6) and Josh Smith (24, 6, 3, 4 steals, 2 blocks) were all big for Atlanta.
The Bucks were without Brandon Jennings, and JJ Redick played poorly in 30 minutes starting in place of him. He’s taken a step back since joining the Bucks. Perhaps his big half-season with Orlando was a product of playing on a pretty horrible team (before Tobias Harris got there, blew up and made them kind of awesome to follow).
Monta Ellis exploded for 27 and 17, clearly benefiting from not having to play with Jennings. They can’t co-exist. Ersan Ilyasova scored 25.
Interesting subplot here for the Hawks—they’re tied with Chicago in the loss column and one game ahead of the Bulls in the win column in the race for the fifth seed. Fifth seed gets Brooklyn, sixth gets Indiana.
Heat (63-16) 109, Celtics (40-39) 101
Miami’s players bravely overcame their recent injuries, allowing the Heat to play at full strength for their only meaningful game in the past couple of weeks (first-round preview). They led by double-figures for nearly the entire fourth quarter.
LeBron James paced the team with 20 points and 9 assists, Rashard Lewis dropped 19 off the bench and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen scored 17. The team knocked down 12-of-23 threes.
Jeff Green played well again for the Celtics, scoring 25 points with 8 assists. He scored 19 points in his last two games combined, though, so he’s still figuring out that whole “consistency” thing. Jordan Crawford scored 20 in the loss.
Pistons (28-52) 113, Bobcats (18-61) 93
Will Bynum (15 and 10) and Jonas Jerebko (21 and 8 ) were big for the Pistons off the bench in their easy win against the League’s worst team last night. Brandon Knight dropped in 19 on just 9 shots. Detroit hit 12-of-18 threes.
Charlotte got 28 from Kemba Walker. Josh McRoberts, Gerald Henderson and Jannero Pargo joined him in double figures.
Knicks (52-27) 101, Cavaliers (24-55) 91
New York got right back on track after Thursday’s loss in Chicago. Carmelo Anthony led the way yet again, dropping 31 points and 14 boards. He hit half of his shots, including a pair of threes. JR Smith matched him with 31 of his own, and did it on an absurdly efficient 13-of-16 from the floor. Quick player breakdown:
Player A: 19 points (41.5%), 6.5 boards, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 1.1 threes
Player B: 18 points (42%), 5.3 boards, 3 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 1.9 threes
Which guy would you rather have? Tough call, right? What if I added in that Player A, Rudy Gay, is being paid $16.5 million this year. Player B, JR Smith, is being paid $2.8 million (nearly 6x less). Not such a tough call anymore.
Kyrie Irving also dropped 31 (three guys in one game with 31? Pretty weird.) Tristan Thompson double-doubled with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Thompson’s a great compliment to Irving and rookie Dion Waiters. He doesn’t need the ball much (6/7 last night), plays strong post D and is a walking double-double. Great guy to have moving forward.
Clippers (53-26) 96, Hornets (27-53) 93
Chris Paul scored the Clippers’ last six points in his return to NOLA, helping Lob City hold off a Hornets comeback attempt.
CP3 hit only 4-of-12 shots, but, as he’s prone to do, impacted the game big-time anyway. He hit all 8 of his free throws and handed out a cool 14 assists while snagging 7 rebounds. Blake Griffin scored 20 and Matt Barnes double-doubled off the bench with 16 and 10 in 28 minutes.
The Hornets got 25 from Eric Gordon. He sadly hasn’t been the reliable 20+ guy he seemed like a lock to develop into a few years ago, but he’s looked sharp lately. He’s dropped 22, 23 and now 25 in his last three games. He’s been able to log relatively consistent heavy minutes, and I think every NBA fan out there is pulling for him to avoid turning into Brandon Roy 2.0. Gordon undoubtedly has the potential to be an elite shooting guard.
Ryan Anderson scored 17 with 6 boards, but couldn’t connect on a miracle buzzer-beater.
Grizzlies (54-25) 82, Rockets (44-35) 78
Jeremy Lin hit a trey to knot this one at 78 with 92 seconds left. Houston didn’t score again, and some Memphis free throws were enough to seal the win.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol each scored 15 and combined for 20 rebounds. Neither was particularly great, but even on their off-nights, the duo can control the glass. Jerryd Bayless scored 13 off the bench, and has done a good job replacing OJ Mayo as the Grizz’s top reserve this year. He doesn’t pack the same offensive punch, but he’s a reliable option.
James Harden scored 30, though he hit only 7-of-24 shots. He made 11 free throws, again displaying his unstoppable ability to get to the line. His 44 percent shooting clip isn’t bad, but would probably be closer to 50 percent if Houston had a better second scoring option. Chandler Parsons is having a nice year, but doesn’t attract the late-game attention that could free Harden up to become one of the League’s top players (though he’s getting there anyway).
Spurs (58-21) 108, Kings (28-51) 101
Sacramento kinda hung around for awhile, though the final score is deceptively close. Seven Spurs scored at least 10. Tony Parker, playing his first game back from an ankle injury, led the pack with 22 points and 10 assists. San Antonio needs a healthy Parker to make a real Playoff push, so this is a huge game for him.
Tiago Splitter did some of everything, finishing with 12 points, 12 boards, 6 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. The Spurs shot 54.5 percent overall.
Sacramento got 19 and 12 from DeMarcus Cousins to lead the team. Jason Thompson scored 18, and three reserves (Jimmer Fredette, Toney Douglas and Marcus Thornton) scored 12+. By the way, Sacramento took Jimmer 10th overall two years ago. Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris and Kenneth Faried were then taken between 11-22. Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch again. The Kings know less about building a functional team through the draft than probably any professional sports franchise in the world.
Mavericks (39-40) 108, Nuggets (54-25) 105
Dallas went ahead by three after an OJ Mayo triple with 34 seconds left in regulation. With five seconds left, Mayo turned the ball over, setting up a game-tying Corey Brewer bucket. The game headed into OT, where it remained neck-and-neck.
Mayo hit another go-ahead three in the extra period. Dallas maintained the lead with about a second left, and were able to hang on this time.
Mayo scored 20, and Vince Carter turned back the clock with a 22-point, 12-board, 7-assist night. Actually, I don’t remember VC (one of my favorite players, ever, by the way) snagging more than a few rebounds or passing, so this one came out of nowhere. After he looked totally miserable in Phoenix two years ago, it seemed like his career might be nearly done. But he’s been able to post consecutive productive years in Dallas since then. Nice bounce-back by Air Canada.
Three Nuggets—Brewer, Wilson Chandler and Andre Iguodala—dropped 18. Kenneth Faried double-doubled and JaVale McGee went for 11 points and 9 boards in just 28 minutes off the bench. It seems like he was always meant to be a 30-minute spark plug off the bench, not the dominant defense-rebounds guy he was forced into trying to be in Washington. Score another for George Karl.
Jazz (42-38) 107, Timberwolves (29-50) 100
The T-Wolves were within a few buckets late, but couldn’t string scores and stops together to make a late comeback.
Utah got a massive 40 from Al Jefferson. He connected on 19-of-27 shots and collected 13 rebounds and 6 assists against his former team. It’s amazing how some players can flip on the switch when they’re inspired enough. Mo Williams and Randy Foye scored 16 each.
JJ Barea scored 23 points (9/10 FT) off the bench. No Minnesota starter made more than 4 field goals.
Thunder (59-21) 106, Blazers (33-46) 90
OKC dominated the third quarter. Actually, I’m not sure “dominated” covers it. Is there a word for when one team outscores the other 26-7 on the road? Anyway, that’s what the Thunder did last night.
Russell Westbrook led the team with 33 points. He uncharacteristically had just 1 rebound and 2 assists, though he did make 11-of-12 free throws. Kevin Durant attempted just 11 shots, and finished with 16 points, 5 boards and 6 assists. Reggie Jackson scored 17 off the bench, and has turned into a nice third guard for Oklahoma City this season.
Will Barton led the Blazers in scoring with 18. These are the types of things that happen to young teams out of the Playoff race in the final week. Damian Lillard was off, connecting on just 3-of-14 shots. LaMarcus Aldridge had just 2 rebounds in 28 minutes. Disappointingly, this Portland team that was in the hunt a few weeks ago has totally fallen apart.