by Anton Kudriavtsev /@TheDiesel
Forget nationally-televised games, the real fans were watching the Cavs make, and then break their own history last night. Get your surfboards out and let’s go League Pass surfing.
The Nets took their limited talents to Charlotte and earned a rare road win over the Bobcats. Brook Lopez broke out of his rebounding shell with 31 points to go with 11 boards which is a big deal since Brook hadn’t had a double digit rebounding game since December. The Bobcats were sluggish to say the least, easily playing their worst game since the hiring of coach Silas as the missed 12 free throws, shot just 43% from the floor, and didn’t force enough turnovers to keep themselves in the game. Stephen Jackson finished with 21 points including a three-pointer to cut New Jersey’s lead to 4, but the Nets closed the game out on a 6-0 run.
There are times when the sporting community unite to support a greater cause – worthy charity work, disaster relief, and the Cavaliers’ quest for a win before season’s end. As LaMarcus Aldridge finished doing work against the Raptors (see below), he asked reporters on the score of the Cavs game which has gone into overtime, answering with a “Go Cavs!” response when hearing the good news. Much like the love that the Saints received in last year’s Super Bowl (though Cleveland didn’t go through a disaster, but some say July 1, 2010 qualifies as one), it seemed as most of the basketball fraternity was rooting for the underdog and the Cavaliers finally delivered. From the start of the night, Byron Scott cut out the excess that is the Cavs’ bench, basically sticking to an 8-man rotation as the team began to gel against a headstrong Clippers team. Heading into the 4th quarter in a close game, it was a matter of which team wanted it most. Blake Griffin had 32 points and 13 rebounds but was mostly ineffective down the stretch, Baron Davis scored 26 points and added some questionable shots in critical moments, and Randy Foye scored 23. For the Cavs, Antawn Jamison tied his season-high with 25 points, Mo Williams (17 points, 14 assists) hit a jumper to send it to overtime, but the player of the game was J.J. Hickson who netted 27 points and 14 rebounds. The play of the game featured Blakezilla battling Hickson down low, elevating and getting thoroughly rejected by J.J., leading to a fast-break 3-pointer by Mo Williams the other way for a 5-point turnaround in the 4th quarter. In the final seconds of regulation, Baron Davis drove for a game-winning lay-up but was rejected by Hickson. It was probably a goaltend, but would the referees have the heart to extend a 26-game losing streak because of that call? Not a chance. In overtime, the Clippers cut the Cavs’ 6-point lead to just 1 after Foye’s three-pointer with 44 seconds left but Jamison responded with a three of his own from the left wing to put the Cavs up for good. Just 32 straight wins and Cleveland are right back in the playoff picture.
With the Pacers trailing against the Wolves, there was one man to go to on this night: Dahntay Jones. Jones scored all 19 of his points in the 4th quarter as Indiana rallied past a resilient Wolves squad. Trailing by 7 going into the final quarter, the Pacers ran off a quick 10-3 run sparked by their bench and outscored Minnesota 33-15. Kevin Love had 22 points and 15 rebounds but in the end the hot shooting of Jones and the bench production was too much to overcome. While Darren Collison is not quite ready to run the team (8 points, 6 assists), he and the rest of the Indiana core give Pacers fans hope for the future. If they get some playoff experience (i.e. get swept by the Heat), this team with a few more pieces has a bright future.
Paying an ode to college scores, the Sixers gave the Spurs their 2nd loss on their annual rodeo trip. Along with playing their best defensive game of the season, Jrue Holiday was key in the game with 27 points while Elton Brand tied his season-high with 17 rebounds. While the Philadelphia haven’t won when scoring less than 80 points since 2003, they forced the Spurs into a 33% shooting night (3 for 17 from deep) and made each shot difficult. Tim Duncan found a Wi-Fi connection, then registered 16 points and 13 rebounds but his team did not impress Popovich. “I think it set offensive basketball back a decade or so” Pop said postgame. With San Antonio no longer resting their hard hats on solid team defense and not looking to outscore opponents consistently, is their record inflated? The playoffs don’t lie.
Carrying on the proud tradition of playing better after snubbed an All-Star spot, LaMarcus Aldridge lead the Blazers with 37 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Raptors. Fourteen of L.A.’s points came in the 4th quarter while Rudy Fernandez added 23 off the bench. Andrea Bargnani scored 29 points while Jerryd Bayless took a page from Dahntay Jones’ book by scoring all 18 of his points in the 4th quarter. Toronto’s 2-point deficit quickly turned into a 7-point lead as Bayless connected on three triples but after Andre Miller (13 points, 8 assists) went into “Kloser” mode with an and-1 play, the Blazers closed out a tight game with free throws down the stretch. I recognize Duncan’s lifetime achievement All-Star berth but he should sit this one out in favour of Aldridge, I don’t think Popovich would mind if TD rested at home for a few more days instead anyway.
With an easy win over the Pistons, the Heat take over the number 1 seed in the East. Six Miami players scored in double figures, as Dwyane Wade lead the way with 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists while LeBron finished with 16 points and 10 assists. Austin Daye continued his increasingly consistent play with 18 points off the bench but Detroit simply didn’t have enough firepower to challenge a well-balanced Heat squad. The only moment of note came in the 1st quarter as LeBron was heckled, and responded: “I don’t care what you say, don’t be disrespectful”.
Black Swan, meet helpless duckling. The Lakers’ approach to their nationally-televised opponent in the Knicks was much like Vin Diesel’s approach to acting: hit “cruise control”, and see what happens in the end. Kobe slithered his way to 33 points and 10 rebounds in three quarters, resting in the 4th as Pau Gasol added 20 points and 6 rebounds. After a slow start of two turnovers and lazy passes, the Lakers got back on track as Kobe scored 19 first-quarter points and deflated the Knicks early. Derek Fisher entered the Matrix with his stats (0, 1, 0, and 3) and even Artest’s sabotage attempts were not enough to derail a focused Lakers squad. Amar’e Stoudemire led New York with 24 points and 10 rebounds, who dropped to .500 for the first time since late November. Great moments in Mark Jackson commentating history: “Kobe’s a guy…you have to guard.” Well said, Mark. Am In in the minority who wouldn’t be surprised if Artest retires in the offseason? Besides looking like Zoidberg on his attempt at lateral movement, if he couldn’t stay in front of slow-motion Pierce on Thursday, what chance does he have against faster players? Last but not least, LetShannonDunkAgain.com.
The Grizzlies withstood a torrent of shots from Corey Maggette as they beat the Bucks and continue to hunt for the last playoff spot in the West. Mike Conley scored 23 points including a clutch 3-point with 1:12 to play while Sam Young had 19 points and 8 rebounds for Memphis. Maggette put the Bucks up by as many as 11 points as he scored 20 of his 22 points in the 3rd quarter as he shot 6-of-9, including 4-of-6 from distance. After Conley’s 3-pointer, the Grizzlies hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 20 seconds of the game causing the Bucks to fall 6 of their last 7 games. Did anyone notice that White Chocolate is now on the Grizzlies? Me neither.
Is it time to believe in New Orleans? The Hornets snapped a 4-game losing streak as they beat the nose-diving Magic. Shaking off the bench chains, Willie Green had 24 points as a starter while David West added 17 points and 17 rebounds. For the Magic, Dwight got his numbers (20 and 17), Turkoglu showed a pulse (16 points), but apparently tried to lose the game on purpose as he threw an inbounds pass away with 23 seconds to play. Yes, Chris Paul did take fewer shots in the game than the “stars” of Jersey Shore would in an hour, finishing with 15 points (on 11 attempts) and 7 assists. Why is he taking fewer shots? While my default answer is “because he can dominate without being a volume scorer”, I’m going to write him off as recovering from knee surgery this season. When fully healthy, CP3 will re-visit his days of almost beating the Spurs and when that happens, the discussion of who’s the 2nd best point guard will be fierce.
Without Jerry Sloan on the sideline for their first game in more than 22 years, the Jazz lost their focus and lost their first Sloan-less game to the Suns. Steve Nash carried his team to .500 for the first time since Dec.7th (great success!) with 18 points and 10 assists. Deron Williams played well early on his way to 19 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds, with C.J. Miles adding another 19 for Utah. Down 12 at half-time, the Suns came back to a 14-5 run that gave them a 3-point lead and never let up, improving their defense as the Jazz to shoot 32% after half-time and Phoenix forced them into 14 turnovers in the game. Karl Malone sat courtside (I hear he was kind of a big deal in Utah), and stated his opinion on Sloan’s departure: “Coach don’t quit nothing…” I must admit the timing is very odd, obviously referring to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak stepping down yesterday morning just a day after Sloan’s resignation. I’m not advocating for Mubarak to coach the Jazz, but you must admit that calling his defensive sets “hard-nosed” would be a gross understatement.
“Check My $tats” of the night: J.J. Hickson – 27 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 assist. Has anyone ever blocked Blake Griffin that hard? Until we have evidence saying otherwise, Hickson holds the record for “best block on a beast”.
I’m out like Sloan’s mysterious reasons.