By Holly MacKenzie

While I had been looking forward to the Golden State/Orlando match up, I didn’t think it was going to be that good. Wow, that was a great game. Even though Golden State started out with a horrendous first half, you just knew they were going to come back. The effort given by both of these teams was great to watch. While it is only December it felt like a playoff game. All I have to say about the ending of regulation is, what the hell was Monta doing with that last shot? He played great all game, pulling through the fatigue to ensure the Warriors had extra possessions aplenty and then he shot an off-balance three as time expired? I don’t think that is what Coach Nelson had in mind. Either way, it was a great game until the end.

As much as I know that Toronto will only be able to go so far without Bosh, Ford and Bargnani, for the time being it is really fun to watch their bench players step up and lead them to victory. I cannot say enough about the play of Calderon and any game where Kris Humphries scores 17 points is an enjoyable one for Raptor fans. He just works so hard, you find yourself rooting for him no matter what.

Okay, onto the recaps. I am going to be all over the place in the next few days as I pack and get ready to go to Toronto for a few days before heading home to Nova Scotia for Christmas. I will be home by the weekend! The recaps will still be here, but I will be a little scarce in the next few days. I am including my brief game notes from the Seattle/Golden State game after the recaps, so that is why this post is so long this morning.
Toronto 98 Charlotte 79

The Raptors were again without Chris Bosh, TJ Ford and Andrea Bargnani for their match up against the Charlotte Bobcats last night. The three are listed as day-to-day and in their absence, some role players have stepped in and have done a more than acceptable job, evidenced by their 98-79 victory over Charlotte last night. The weary Bobcats were no match for the Raptors as Toronto jumped out to an early 27-16 lead after the 1st quarter. Things continued to go their way as they used a 10-3 run to start the 2nd quarter and went on to outscore Charlotte by another 10 in the period, holding them to only 33 first-half points while busting the game wide open, leading 54-33. The rest of the game was more of the same, as Charlotte could not close the gap giving up double-figures to six raptors, including 17 points apiece from Kris Humphries and Carlos Delfino. Jose Calderon flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists and Joey Graham added 13 points in his first start of the year. Jamario Moon pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. For Charlotte, rookie Jared Dudley was the bright spot with 16 points and 10 rebounds starting in place of Primoz Brezec, while Gerald Wallace had 19 points and 8 rebounds and Jason Richardson and Matt Carroll scored 12 points apiece.

Atlanta 88 Philadelphia 79

The Atlanta Hawks have had both ups and downs so far this season, but with the strong play of their young core, the team is growing up and growing together. Last night, that growth continued in Philadelphia where the Hawks finally grabbed a road win after enduring a 7-game losing streak to the 76er’s. While the game was close throughout the 1st half, Philadelphia led 46-45 at the half. It was in the 3rd that the Hawks started to break away and they led 66-62 going into the 4th. During the final period, the Hawks stayed strong defensively and were able to shut down Philadelphia in the final minutes, going on a 6-0 run to extend their lead to as many as 13 in the final minutes. Rookie Al Horford had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds while Josh Smith scored 22 points and Marvin Williams and Josh Childress each scored 16 points for the Hawks. Willie Green scored a game-high 23 points for Philadelphia while Andre Miller added 11 and Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver scored 11 points apiece in the loss.

Portland 106 Memphis 105

While Memphis got 30-point performances from Rudy Gay and Mike Miller, the Portland Trailblazers got an inspiring effort from Travis Outlaw off of the bench including a game winning runner, to cap of a big night from Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and give Portland the 106-105 victory. While Memphis led early, the Blazers battled back and behind a buzzer-beating three from Outlaw at the end of 3 quarters, they had cut the lead to 80-78 going into the 4th. During the final period the game went back and forth, and everything was tied up at 99 with two minutes remaining in the game. From there Damon Stoudemire hit two shots to put the Grizzlies up 103-99, but Outlaw began his scoring spurt of seven points to put Portland back on top and then to answer after Gay hit a shot with two seconds in the game and Memphis up 105-104. At the buzzer, Outlaw got a runner to go and Portland ran away with the victory. In addition to Gay and Miller, Pau Gasol had 14 points and 15 rebounds for the Grizzlies. Roy had 26 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists for the Blazers while Aldridge scored 23 points and Outlaw added those 21 points off of the bench, none more important than the final two.

Dallas 103 Chicago 98

Although Dallas came out strong against the Bulls, a 16-point lead was not safe as Chicago came back in the 4th quarter to cut the lead to three, as the Mavericks were able to hang on to grab the 103-98 victory. While Dallas led 71-60 going into the 4th, Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni each scored 14 points in the final period to cut the Dallas lead and come as close as 101-98 with 11 seconds left in the game. Dallas weathered the storm as Jason Terry came back to hit two free throws to finish the Bulls off. Terry finished with 18 points in the game while Josh Howard had a team-high 27 points and 10 rebounds and Dirk Nowitzki added 25 points. Nocioni finished with 30 points off of the bench, while Kirk Hinrich added 18 and Chris Duhon had 12 points and 9 rebounds in the loss.

Utah 110 Miami 102

In a game that was close throughout, with the biggest lead coming for Utah at 11 points, the Jazz were clearly in control when it mattered. On their 42 field goals in the game, they had 38 assists, a testament to their smooth offense. Miami led early, and held onto that lead as they shot 60% in the first half. Going up by as many as 8 points, the Heat held onto a 53-52 halftime lead before Jazz got things going in the 3rd, outscoring Miami by four to take a 74-71 lead into the 4th where they continued to push things and put together a 9-2 run with 3 minutes remaining to keep the Heat at bay. Mehmet Okur led the Jazz with 25 points in his first game back from sitting out due to back spasms. Carlos Boozer scored 24 points to go along with 15 rebounds and Deron Williams had 24 points of his own to go with 15 assists. Dwyane Wade led things on the Miami side, finishing with 26 points and 10 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocked shots. Jason Williams and Ricky Davis each added 15 and Shaquille O’Neal scored 12 points in only 22 minutes of action in the loss.

Orlando 123 Golden State 117 OT

With each team playing in the second night of a back-to-back, it was Orlando that came out firing and took an early 14-point lead. Golden State did not remain on their heels for long, cutting the lead late in the 2nd half and battling for the rest of the game, tying and taking the lead before the Magic managed to force overtime and then go on to win as things unraveled for the Warriors. It was an emotionally charged game and both teams dug deep as the Warriors nearly survived a scoreless 1st half from Stephen Jackson and an awful shooting night from Baron Davis behind the spirited play of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, falling just short in overtime. After the dismal 1st half, Jackson came back to lead Golden State with 25 points, all scored in the 2nd half and overtime and the Warriors took the lead late into the 4th quarter. While Jackson’s made free throws put Golden State up 108-104 with 24 seconds remaining, there was an odd sequence of events that came next, as Dwight Howard was fouled on a missed dunk attempt and was then assessed a technical foul for punching the basketball up-right out of frustration. Jackson hit that free throw and the Warrior lead was five with Dwight at the line. He hit both to cut the lead back to three and Monta Ellis then went on to miss the first of two free throws with 17.4 seconds in the game, and Rashard Lewis hit two free throws to tie the game at 109 with 13.4 seconds left. In the final possession of regulation, Ellis missed a three-point attempt and in the overtime, Orlando took over. Losing Baron Davis in the final seconds of regulation after he fouled out, the Warriors fell apart, turning the ball over and breaking down on defense as Orlando had an answer at every turn, as they finished 6-9 in the extra period while the Warriors were only 2-8. In the end, it was the play of Jameer Nelson and Keith Bogans that was the difference for Orlando. Each scored 22 points in the victory while Nelson also dished 11 assists. Howard finished with 18 points and 23 rebounds to go along with 7 blocked shots, Turkoglu had 17 and Lewis added 20. In the loss, Jackson had 25 while Ellis finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Baron Davis had 19 points and 9 assists before fouling out and Andris Biedrins added 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Warriors.
Game Notes from Sunday’s Golden State/Seattle Game

I have always enjoyed being on the road. I know it sounds crazy, but ever since high school I have worked with basketball teams and traveled with them and adopted the sometimes long, always hectic schedules and I have loved it. While others dreaded every other weekend being a road trip from Early October until March, I reveled in it and enjoyed the fast pace, hotel life and playing in different gyms.

This has not changed. While the seven hour bus ride through me for a loop, I loved every second of staying in Seattle, of getting to know my way around the arena and I sleep a thousand times better in a hotel than I do in my own bed, why is that? I look forward to Wednesday when I will be in Toronto, catching the Suns and Raptors if everything goes well.

As for Seattle:

I finally get in with 3 minutes remaining in the third…. I’ve missed over half of the game. Upon arrival, the Warriors are killing the Sonics, 81-58 with 2:56 left to go in the 3rd. The public announcer is killing Azuibuike’s name and Durant is chilling on the bench.

I’ve been told there was a fire in the scoreboard caused by a strobe light and the game was halted for 15 minutes while they lowered the scoreboard to the floor and firefighters came to the rescue. Damn, I always miss the excitement.

SJax is much learner than I had anticipated. Mbenga is NOT happy he picked up a charging foul. But golden state busts out and Monta Ellis gets the easy dunk.

Earl Watson drives to the hoop for an easy two.

Announcer whispers Azuibuike’s name this time. SJax picks up third foul, Jeff Green is
at the line to shoot 2. The fans do not look impressed.

Petro to Green alley oop. 86-66 with 18 seconds remaining in the 3rd. Azuibuike gets the lay in to go and Ellis with the steal to end the quarter. The guy sitting next to me tells me this is the worst the Sonics have played at home yet this season. I believe it.

The crowd seemed the loudest when the “clap your hands” gimmick came over the loud speaker… that’s a sad story at an nba game. At least we’re not in NY… It could always get worse.

4th Q

Szczerbiak with a three to start things off.

Azuiuike continues to score much to PA announcers chagrin.

Green with a move that knocks down Barnes and he needs out of the game quick. As the play continues on the other end, Barnes just looks at the Warriors bench and asks for a sub. They have one waiting for him, but he looks like he is either going to faint or fall over. The Warriors are charged a timeout, and even after sitting down, Barnes looks out of it. He heads to the locker room with the trainer, holding his head.

Watson nice pass to weezy for two.

Jackson rises and shoots… swish. He makes it look effortless.

Durant with a sick move, to the basket and in. he makes it look pretty easy too. He is so long and lean, he seems to just glide to the basket. The kid is already fun to watch, I can’t wait until he gets a few years and pounds on him.

SJax goes in and gets fouled by green. He’s at the line for 2. Hits both.

Durant stands there for about 20 seconds straight. Seriously, he does not make any movement. PJ looks like he is going to strangle someone. The standing does not pay off as it results in a turnover when Watson tries to get Durant the ball.

SJax again.

And yet again. He’s got 20 now to lead Golden State.

Baron Davis looks ridiculously huge next to Watson.

Al Harrington hits a three. Lead is up to 101-74. Every time he gets the ball at the three-point line it looks like he’s going to jack it. Every time I find myself cringing.

Sonics “boom squad” gets as loud of an ovation as the team.. But the little guy is pretty amazing. With the game already in hand, the Warriors love the kid too.

Weezy with the block. Watson with a nifty hesitation move to get the basket. Baron is fouled by Watson but I don’t see any contact at all. Either way, it is Watson’s 4th foul.

I am briefed with some stats and notes, and notice that Mickael Pietrus took an elbow to the face in the 2nd quarter and is done for the night. After the game, it is revealed he went to the hospital and it may be broken.

SJax over talking to Nellie during the free throw. The two of them may be my favorite coach/star tandem. They are such a random pairing that they absolutely work. Barnes is back in and feeling okay. Weezy and Watson have a miscommunication and we’ve got turnovers on both ends. And another Seattle turnover. Back-to-back-to-back turnovers. Nice.

Harrington spot up three, no good, baron spot up three no good. I am cringing now.

Wilkins three no good, Barnes fouled, he is shooing two.

When did Troy Hudson’s hair get so bad? How did I miss this?

Wally bricks a j and the crowd goes crazy. They love him around here.

Floor looks cluttered and Seattle on D is just a bunch of bodies moving all around whoever has the ball for Golden State. Nice. Watson gets the and-one with Biedrins foul.

Biedrins with 5th foul on Durant. I can’t get over how long Durant’s arms are. Quick, what’s his wingspan? I’d google it except my internet is refusing to connect.. Hits the first. Hits the 2nd. 104-81 5:55 left.

Barnes miss.

Durant missed dunk attempt. Nellie looks like a man who’s had too many to drink and is not impressed. Time out. Fans are trickling out quickly. PJ is intense always. Even when down by 25. Brandan Wright misses everything for Golden State.

Sene looks confused for Seattle. Crowd is screaming at Sonics to shoot, shoot!! 24 second shot clock violation. PJ not happy. Neither am I, shot clock violations are my biggest annoyance in basketball.

Delonte quick on his feet on D. He seems to be the only Sonic who is awake. Sene with the hook shot. Okay Sene’s still with us,

Sene rebound. The rest of the Sonics look dead. Reserves are in for GS. Mbenga with the easy lay in.

Delonte lets the shot clock get dangerously low and then drives in and gets the lay up.

Troy Hudson with jumper on the other end.

Sene hits again. 108-87. 2:21 in game.

Wally hits a three and the crowd loves it.

Mickael is in the wrong place in the wrong time as he gets knocked in the jaw and picks up the foul. Azuibuike hits 2nd of two.

Mbenga with the foul, Sene at the line.

Wally is like the dad of the team, trying to keep everyone up and into the game.

Hudson with the circus shot. Wally gets fouled. He looks so frustrated. West flips it in, 33 seconds remaining, 109-96.

Final score: 109-96

POST GAME

All is quiet on the Sonics side. Locker room is not yet open and there are no media waiting in the hallway.

When each locker room becomes available I go into the Sonics to try and find Durant. I don’t see him in there, so he must either still be showering or is in the training room. I head to the Warriors locker room and there is Al Harrington, standing by a table of fresh fruit and catered food and he does not look like fruit is the kind of food he wants right then.

Baron comes out and is talking to Earl Watson who is so small he doesn’t even look like a ball player off-court.

I see Robert Swift and his girlfriend walking towards the exit. Definitely an odd pairing and the guy definitely scares me, even when covered up. Why does he have to look so angry? Life is pretty good for him, stop with the sulking face.

Chris Wilcox and Mickael Gelabale are on their way out of the arena as well. It is so funny just seeing these guys off-court immediately after the game. I am still not used to it. They seem so larger than life when they are playing and then seeing them just hanging out, each carrying their little Louis Vuitton bags is a funny image.

Still no sign of Durant, so I make my way into the Warriors locker room. It is mostly empty, with Troy Hudson, Andris Biedrins and Stephen Jackson still in there. SJax is getting his blisters taken care of by a trainer and he is paying some kid to deliver his food to the bus and give him the back seat.

He responds when I approach him but, barely. He’s got a big hat on and doesn’t look up, instead responding to everything I say with “yeah”. Finally, I just say, “Hey, can you look at me, for a moment please”, and then once we make eye contact, it is so much easier to get the ball rolling. I say I am with SLAM and suddenly the hat is tipped back, hand is shaken about three different times and he’s asking my name and repeating it to me saying “I can’t promise I will remember the name, but, I won’t forget the face, Holly from SLAM”. It is nice to be with someone that these boys appreciate because getting the cold shoulder like some of the beat writers do must get old night in and night out. And, I could listen to anyone say “Holly from SLAM” again and again and that doesn’t ever get old.

We talk about the season and how it feels for him to come back from his suspension to lead the team back above .500 and become the fastest team in NBA history to do so. It’s easy to see SJax has a lot of pride and he is very, very proud about coming back from that suspension and helping to make things right. He says that he is just thankful God has given him the talent to be able to help his team and that he is very proud of what they have done, but, above all else it is his job to keep the guys humble and remind them they really don’t have anything to be excited about just yet.

He says he wants them to remain the underdog, regardless of their record, that is how they need to play every night. When I bring up that “back up against the wall” mentality he emphatically shakes his head, yes, that is what they need, every night and this big game against Orlando is going to be a real test for them in terms of focus.

I ask how he has found his body to be feeling after his first “real” summer of working out. He feels good, lost some weight, is lighter (which I noticed immediately when watching the game), and that while he has relied on talent up until this point, he can feel the difference and he has worked so hard he wants to keep on pushing it, and prays that he doesn’t get injured.

When I ask how it feels to be responsible for not only leading his time back on course but to help them get their swagger back from last year and suddenly morph back into the team who ousted Dallas in the play offs, SJax smiles and says, yeah ,we definitely do have our swagger on and that is fun, as long as we remember we haven’t even done anything yet.

When I thank him for his time, he is gracious and thanks me right back, wishing me well before I get the chance to wish him the best of luck with the season. It’s cool when the players you like are cool like that. If only they could all be so cool.

As I leave, someone comes in and tells the guys to get a move on. SJax is still getting his blisters taken care of and is telling the trainer his treatment is “perfect, just perfect, my man”. Harrington is still by the food table and Baron is yelling to everyone asking where his food is because he wants the good stuff and they had better find it for him.

Quick trip to the Sonics locker room and still no dice on Durant. Each time I have been in there the past two games, the place has been very quiet and empty. As I am making my way back out to get ready to leave the arena, most of the Warriors are hanging out around the bus while I spot Nellie walking outside with one of his assistant coaches, who has a cigar in hand. Seems appropriate.

Gelabale and Johan Petro are still taking pictures with people and Gelebale looks like a kid who has just had too much sugar. He is the bounciest NBA player I’ve ever seen. It is time for me to get out of there, I don’t want to become one of these media types who is just hanging around without purpose.

Overall, the outlook is bright for the Warriors. The same cannot be said for Seattle. While Durant will continue to grow and Green has impressed so far this season, they are too young and do not have the cohesion needed to really make a move up in the standings. I look forward to seeing what Golden State does through the rest of the season because when they are all healthy and accounted for, they are a hard team to beat. With the way Biedrins and Ellis have been playing, they are very, very dangerous and so fun to watch.

I finally make it outside and it is pouring. I decide there is no way in hell I am about to get back on a bus after spending over seven hours on one only two short hours ago. I get directions to a hotel and then get myself settled in my room and as I listen to my questions being answered by Mr. Jackson it doesn’t matter that the internet won’t work or that it is too late to call anyone to talk about the night, or even that the trip was much longer than expected. This is what it is all about for me.