by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
Can you feel it? The Playoffs are coming (word to SLAM 158). The last day of the regular season is exactly two weeks from today, which means it’s time for teams to kick it into high gear. And judging by last night’s ridiculousness, that message has been sent, loud and clear.
George Hill giveth, and George Hill taketh away. And then he giveth again. After trailing for much of the second half, the Cavaliers rattled off an 18-1 in the fourth quarter to take an 86-79 lead with just over 5 minutes remaining before Hill tied the game at 89 on a short floater with just under 2 minutes to play, then gave the Pacers the lead with a second straight drive at the rim. All Hill had to do was seal the game at the free throw line. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. He missed 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute, opening the door for Lester Hudson (19 points) to make a runner in the lane with 1.2 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. Thankfully for Hill (17 points), the Pacers dominated OT, and his 3-pointer with 53 seconds left stretch Indy’s lead to 8, too much for Cleveland to overcome.
With all due respect to the Sixers’ stingy defense, the Raptors were simply atrocious offensively last night. Get your vomit bags ready—Toronto shot 36 percent from the field, was outscored 58 to 20 on points in the paint and had no player scored more than 13 points (the ones who did: Alan Anderson, Ed Davis). Luckily for Jose Calderon, he didn’t couldn’t watch much of the action after getting popped in the eye by Jrue Holiday, leading to swelling and stitches. Philadelphia stuck with its re-worked lineup and beat another Eastern Conference cellar dweller, protecting the ball beautifully (only 5 turnovers) and spreading it around on offense. Thad Young led all scorers with 17 points and Evan Turner played a well-rounded, under control game off the bench, with 6 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists (zero turnovers) in 24 minutes.
Knotted up at 82 with 70 ticks to go, Brandon Bass and Joe Johnson traded jumpers before both teams heaved up bricks on potential game-winning possessions, sending this one to overtime. In the extra period, a controversial offensive foul call on Paul Pierce gave Atlanta the ball back with 10 seconds left, trailing by 2 points. But a Josh Smith 3-pointer that would have won it caromed off the front of the rim, and the Celtics escaped with another big win. Oh, and remember that Rajon Rondo streak of about a bazillion (19 to be exact) consecutive games with at least 10 assists? Yeah, he obliterated that number against the Hawks—try 20 assists and a triple-double, as he added 10 points and 10 boards. Kevin Garnett added 22 points and 12 rebounds, while JSmoove’s 20-11-5 line went to waste in defeat.
Jason Smith completely outplayed DeMarcus Cousins all game, the Hornets shot 56 percent from the field and New Orleans took charge on an 18-3 run in the third quarter en route to a rare win for the L’s worst team, record-wise. Smith score 22 points on 10-12 shooting in just 27 minutes, while DMC followed up a monster game against Dallas with a lifeless 7-point, 4-rebound effort in 20 minutes, battling foul trouble all the way. Marcus Thornton picked up the slack to lead all scorers with 25 points and Tyreke Evans finally put together a decent game (19 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) but New Orleans was the better team from start to finish, even without Eric Gordon. Xavier Henry provided a nice spark off the bench with 14 points.
For two teams battling to secure a Western Conference Playoff spot, this game was a must-win on both sides, but especially for Utah, still on the outside looking in. Good thing Gordon Hayward was aware of the situation—he poured in a season-high 29 points on 9-14 shooting, plus had 6 assists to lead the Jazz to the victory. Utah shot 51 percent from the field, buoyed by Hayward, Paul Millsap (21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals) and Al Jefferson (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks), while the Rockets misfired their way to 36 percent shooting, including 4-20 from 3-point range. If not for a furious fourth-quarter rampage led by Kyle Lowry, who had 15 points and 5 assists in just 20 minutes, the score wouldn’t have even been this close.
New York fans are breathing a bit easier this morning, having pushed Milwaukee 2 games into the rear view mirror and winning an all-important tiebreaker in the tight Eastern Conference Playoff race after Carmelo Anthony dropped 32 points and had 10 rebounds and JR Smith provided the late theatrics to beat the Bucks on the road. Smith scored 8 points in the last 5 minutes, including the game’s most important shot—a 3-pointer with 1:04 left to give the Knicks a 108-107 lead, just enough to escape Milwaukee with the win. Tyson Chandler chipped in 19 points and 11 rebounds, Smith ended up with 14 points and the Knicks shot 51 percent from the floor for the game. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings did all they could to push the Bucks out in front, with 35 and 22 points respectively, but the only other Milwaukee player in double figures was Mike Dunleavy, who scored 19 points despite being the victim of yet another interesting foul.
Kevin Durant dribbled around a pick and drilled a cold-blooded 3-pointer from the top of the key with under 40 seconds left to tie the game at 98. On the ensuing possession, Chris Paul morphed into superhero mode, slashing through the entire Thunder defense, getting to the cup and flicking up a finger roll over the outstretched arms of Kendrick Perkins and into the bottom of the net for a 2-point Clipper lead. With just 8.8 seconds left, Oklahoma City looked to Durant again, but what would have been a game-winning trey clanked off back iron, and Lob City dealt the Thunder just their 6th home loss of the season. The Lobsters were led by Chris Paul’s 31 points and Blake Griffin, who finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists against one of the toughest frontlines in the NBA. And the Clips played great D, too—Durant scored 22 and Russell Westbrook had 20, but they combined to shoot just 10-35 from the floor.
Phoenix used a 14-1 run to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, but it was short-lived, as the Grizzlies finished the game on a 17-6 run of their own to put away the Suns, behind a 32-point outburst from Rudy Gay. PHX had no answer for Gay, who shot 13-20 from the field on his first 30-point night since December of 2010 (yeah, I did a double-take on that stat, too). As a team, Memphis shot 50 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle 43-31, including 16 offensive boards, to avoid a season sweep by the Suns. Marcin Gortat scored 19 points and Steve Nash dished out 10 dimes to go with 11 points in a losing effort.
Andrew Bynum just doesn’t give a fudge, does he? 19 rebounds in the first half, 30 for the game, plus 16 points? Don’t hurt ’em Drew! The Spurs big men were completely overmatched, as the Lakers won with Bynum going hammer and Metta World Peace doing a half-decent Kobe Bryant impression, finishing with 26 points (5-8 on three-pointers). Bynum’s big night put him among the following list of Laker greats to pull down 30 rebounds in a single game: Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain (who did it a staggering 14 times with Los Angeles). L.A. led by as many as 26, outrebounding the Spurs 60 to 33 and holding San Antonio to 41 percent shooting. Tony Parker had a brutal game, shooting 2-12 and scoring just 4 points—only Danny Green (22 points) and Tim Duncan (14) scored in double figures for the Spurs.
The legend of Kenneth Faried continues to grow. As does Javale McGee’s, in a different way. Faried scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds, energizing the Nuggets early and often. McGee, meanwhile, sent Kevin Love to the locker room with a mild concussion in the first quarter after bowling him over on a very elbowy shot attempt. At one point, Denver led by 24, but the Timberwolves came all the way back, as Martell Webster’s wing 3-pointer tied the game at 105 with under 2 minutes to play. It was all for naught, though, as the Nuggets woke up down the stretch thanks to four clutch free throws in the final minute from Ty Lawson, who racked up 24 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds on the night. From the “wait, what?” department: Anthony Randolph scored 28 points and blocked 5 shots. Wait, what?
Jamal Crawford scored a season-high 34 points, JJ Hickson racked up 23 points and 13 rebounds and Raymond Felton finished with 16 points and 10 assists as the Blazers survived a hot shooting night from the Warriors to win a battle of Western Conference Lottery teams. The game was tied at 95 in the fourth quarter, but Wesley Matthews (18 points) nailed two big shots in the final minute to help Portland outlast GSW. Golden State shot 52 percent from the field, scored 35 fourth-quarter points and got 21, 14 and 6 from David Lee, but still found a way to lose. The Dubs also somehow allowed Hasheem Thabeet to grab 3 rebounds and score 1 point in his 3 minutes. Cue the tanking accusations, ladies and gents!
Line of the Night: Rajon Rondo had 20 assists while Andrew Bynum had 30 rebounds. I guess we have to give it to Rondo, though, since Bynum apparently wasn’t as excited about his line as the rest of us were…
Moment of the Night: Chris Paul doesn’t even need teammates. Peace out, OKC.
Dunk of the Night: Blake Griffin wins Gold, Marc Gasol gets Silver.
Tonight: Even if Derrick Rose isn’t in uniform, you’ll want to be in front of a television tonight as Miami and Chicago do battle on TNT at 8, the best of the 5-game schedule for Thursday.