Post Up: The Masked Mamba
OKC outlasts the Sixers, Linsanity lives, the birth of the #KobeMask and more.
by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
No time to waste with 12 games to get to and busy mornings ahead for all. Pour that cup of coffee, or Red Bull, or whatever you guys drink while reading this every morning (seriously, I’m curious) and let’s talk shop.
What a basketball game. Philly’s incredible defense against Oklahoma City’s explosive offense and five-game winning streak. Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala (18 points) in Kevin Durant’s grill all night. Russell Westbrook flying all over the place. Perkins mean-mugs. This one had it all. Fast-forward to the last 5 minutes of this game (which by the way were unbelievable), and the Sixers are up 5. A Kevin Durant pull-up trey and a few possessions later, it’s tied at 85 with two to play. After the Thunder took a 3-point lead on a pair of Serge Ibaka free throws and one from Kendrick Perkins, things got weird. Jrue Holiday turned it over after a frantic Sixers possession, OKC gave the rock right back on a Durant miss, before Lou Williams chucked a three-ball in transition that would have tied the game, but instead clanked off the iron. James Harden corralled the rebound and was fouled with 21 seconds to play. So, game over, right? Not so much. Harden, an 86 percent free throw shooter coming in, missed both free throws. Philly ball, 11 seconds left, and LouWill turns it over immediately—again. So now it’s over? No. Durant splits a pair of free heaves, Andre Iguodala rains in a 3-pointer, and suddenly Philly is back within one with under 10 seconds to play. And, amazingly, KD misses his second free throw (again). Luckily Mercifully for the Thunder (who shot just 38 percent and had 17 turnovers of their own), Russ Westbrook came flying in for the O-board and wrapped things up at the line, for the 92-88 escape victory. Durant finished with 23 points, and RW had 22 and 13 rebounds.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman finally decided it was time for a change, so he yanked Javale McGee and Nick Young out of the starting lineup, going instead with Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin. Unfortunately, the Wiz were no match for the Magic, who seem to always dominate Washington. The Magic had seven players finish in double figures, led by Ryan Anderson, who racked up 23 points and 15 rebounds—Anderson became the first NBA player this year to hit 100 threes on the season, on a wing trey early in the first quarter. Orlando went up early, and even after a 7-0 Wiz run, the Magic held a 27-18 lead. The Wizards stormed back (for the second straight night) and even took a brief third-quarter lead, thanks to a monster night from John Wall (33 points) and a sloppy one from Orlando overall (18 turnovers). The Magic hoisted up 36 three-pointers, making only 15 of them, and Dwight Howard finished with a pedestrain 14 points and 12 boards. For one night at least, Wittman’s lineup shuffle had only cosmetic effects—for what it’s worth, McGee finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes and Young had only 5 points, while Crawford took advantage of his increased role to go for 18 points.
Who wants Rajon Rondo? Dude went for his third triple-double of the season last night in helping the Celtics move back to .500 at 17-17, racking up a 15-point, 11-board, 10-dime game against Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks. Rondo spearheaded a 20-4 run in the third quarter that flipped a 5-point Boston deficit into a double-digit lead. He blew away Jennings in the point guard matchup, as Young Money could muster only 8 assists and 6 points on 2-11 shooting. Still, the Bucks stormed back late in the game thanks to their active frontline—Ersan Ilyasova scored 25 points and hauled in 10 rebounds, and Drew Gooden had 23. The Celtics got lazy down the stretch and allowed Milwaukee to get within 2 with under a minute to play, but Kevin Garnett (25 points, 10 rebounds) hit clutch free throws to close things out in Boston.
Linsanity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. One game after a brutal showing against Miami—the one where he was “exposed”—Jeremy Lin responded with 19 points, 13 assists and all of 1 turnover against Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers, leading the Knicks back to .500 (18-18). New York shot 51 percent from the floor for the game and only had 8 turnovers as a team, showing real discipline on the offensive end, especially in the second half, when they scored 33 points in the third quarter and 38 in the fourth. Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points, Tyson Chandler had 13 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots and Steve Novak went for 17 points in 17 minutes, including 5 threes—all with the crowd chanting his name. Irving, meanwhile, did his best to will Cleveland to another win, with 22 points and 7 assists, but beyond Antawn Jamison’s 23 and 10, and a hot-shooting streak in the first half from Boobie Gibson (13 points), his Cavs teammates did little to help.
All five Hawks starters scored in double figures, led by Joe Johnson’s 18, but Atlanta shot just 34 percent, and found itself down 6 with 5 minutes to play. A pair of Zaza Pachulia (13 points, 16 rebounds) free throws got the Hawks to within 2 with 1:30 left to play, and on the next Atlanta possession, Zaza tipped in a Jeff Teague miss on a driving layup to tie the game at 78 with just under a minute remaining. Mark Jackson then did something funny—he inserted Stephen Curry into the game. Curry had yet to play a single second, since after all, he was ruled out nursing a foot injury. Curry stood in the corner for all 3 seconds of his playing time, allowing David Lee (22 points, 12 boards) to take the rock to the rack and give the Warriors an 80-78 lead. A botched Hawks late-game possession and two Nate Robinson free throws later and ATL found itself down by 4 with 15 seconds on the clock. Golden State iced the game at the charity stripe, improving to 14-18 while dropping the Hawks to 20-15 on the year. Odd statline of the game goes to (ex-Wiz!) Dominic McGuire, who scored zero points on 0-1 shooting in 34 minutes, but grabbed 15 rebounds. Monta Ellis led all scorers with 24.
If you watched this game at all, I salute you, for you are brave. If you watched the whole thing, you deserve a medal or something. Anyway, I’ve been telling you for a while now that Greg Monroe is a beast. He put 19 points and a career-high 20 rebounds on the Bobcats, and Rodney Stuckey added 29 (two in style) as the Pistons got their 12th win of the year and dropped Charlotte to 2-17 on the road. Everyone was in on the party for the Pistons, as rookie Brandon Knight added 20 points and Tayshaun Prince had 14 and 10. Detroit won huge (they led by as many as 22) despite shooting just 1-10 from the 3-point line. Crazy as it sounds, it was the departure of rookie big fella Bismack Biyombo due to a left shoulder injury early in the first quarter that left the Bobcats without a presence in the paint, considering that Biyombo won the opening tip, hit the game’s first shot, and blocked the Pistons’ first shot before exiting and not coming back to the game. Corey Maggette led the ‘Cats with 17 points, while Boris Diaw scored just 5 on 2-10 shooting.
Before you read into the final score too much, consider this: Dirk Nowitzki left with 11:08 remaining in the second quarter with lower back tightness and did not return to the game, scoring just 1 point in his 10 minutes of action. Without their best player, the Mavs hung tough but struggled to find offense in the second half. That said, give the Grizzlies credit—behind big-time games from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Memphis attacked the Champs again and again and stifled them on D, improving to 20-15 on the year (Dallas is 21-15). Conley finished with 20 points and 10 dimes, plus 4 steals, while Gasol racked up 22 points, 11 boards, 5 assists and 4 blocks. Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the second half, but the Mavs fell behind by as many as 15, and had just 3 players in double figures, led by Jason Terry’s 18 points.
If you watched this game at all, I salute…oh wait, I already used that line. After Toronto tied a season-low with 11 points in the third quarter, they trailed 69-62 heading into the fourth. It’s then, apparently, that they realized there was a basketball game going on—the Raps went nuts for 33 in the final period, including an 8-8 shooting stretch to start the frame. DeMar Derozan and Linas Kleiza scored 21 apiece to lead Toronto. Kleiza in particular was red-hot off the bench, making 5 of his 7 three-pointers, including two down the stretch that helped quiet the New Orleans crowd. Well, it was either Kleiza or the Hornets’ abysmal 38 percent field goal shooting (and 3-16 from the 3-point line) that had them not cheering much. New Orleans (8-27) has lost 16 straight in games in which they trail at halftime. Marco Bellinelli scored 20 to lead the Hornets, and Chris “Caveman” Kaman chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Derrick “Mr. Serious” Rose scored a game-high 29 points, and the Bulls got a pair of huge 3-pointers from Luol Deng down the stretch to outlast the Spurs and get their NBA-best 29th win of the season. Deng, who finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds, gave Chicago a 6-point lead with under 5 minutes to play on a 3-ball, then delivered the dagger on another deep bomb—this time with 39.6 seconds remaining to extend the Bulls’ advantage to 92-86. From there, Chicago won a free throw shooting contest with the Spurs. During San Antonio’s late charge, it was all Gary Neal on the offensive end, as at one point in the fourth Neal dropped 13 straight for the Spurs. He finished with a team-high 21 points, to go along with 18 points and 10 boards for Tim Duncan. But the Bulls outrebounded the Spurs 50-42 (including 13 from Joakim Noah, plus 10 points) and got an MVP performance from the man with that title.
Welcome back, Ty Lawson. Denver came in having lost two straight, but behind Lawson’s team-leading 18 points and 9 assists, the Nuggets got back on track, and now sit at 19-17, a hair better than the team they beat, Portland (18-17). The Nuggs got a huge spark from Kenneth Faried, who continues to make the most of his playing time when he’s on the floor—on this night, he went 6-6 from the field, finishing with his 3rd double-double in his last six games at 13×10. Faried tortured the Blazers’ bigs, as 7 of his 10 boards came on the offensive end, helping Denver dominate the rebounding margin, 54-36. Portland cut a 19-point second half lead to just 9 in the third quarter, but the Blazers never led during the loss. Jamal Crawford scored 21 out of the starting point guard spot, and LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 and 9 rebounds, but the shorthanded Nuggets (even with Lawson back) disposed of Portland thanks in part to a 20-point margin in points in the paint. The Blazers have lost 7 in a row in Denver.
The Rockets came in winners of their last four, while the Jazz had lost four straight. CJ Miles made sure neither of those streaks continued, scoring a season-high 27 points off the bench as Paul Millsap nursed a bruised heel to lead Utah to the streak-snapping W. Houston shot just 39 percent from the field (and 26 percent from 3), trailed by as many as 23, and were outrebounded by a 50-34 margin. The second quarter put the Rockets in a hole—they shot 32 percent, and were outscored 18-2 in the paint. Luis Scola led Houston with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds, Kyle Lowry posted a 13/5/6 line and Goran Dragic scored 14 off the bench, but Kevin Martin’s struggles continued. KMart scored just 6 points on 2-10 shooting in 20 minutes of action, and missed all 4 of his 3-point attempts. Aside from Miles, the Jazz got a big game from Devin Harris (19 points) in just 22 minutes—he left the game early after complaining of nausea.
By now you know that Kobe Bryant looked goofy as hell in that Rip Hamilton-style mask that he was rocking for protection—from broken noses, concussions, and all other evils of the universe. It seems Kobe was the only one who didn’t notice it, since he dropped 31 points, 8 dimes and 7 rebounds as the Lakers used a big third quarter to cruise past the Timberwolves. Kevin Love sat out for Minnesota with flu-like symptoms, and without him, the Wolves struggled to find offense. Ricky Rubio had 9 assists but Minny’s leading scorers were Michael Beasley and Martell Webster, who each scored 14 off the bench. Meanwhile, #KobeMask and his superfriends went to work—Andrew Bynum finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, and Pau Gasol had 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. It was the Lakers’ 17th straight win over Minnesota, and Bynum’s 22nd double-double of the season, which (incredibly) is a career-high for a season for him. But the story of the night, to no one’s surprise, was Bryant, who was cleared to play (also incredible) about an hour before tip-off after suffering a handful of injuries via Dwyane Wade’s All-Star Game swipe. Judging by Kobe’s play last night, even if he’s not fine, it’s going to be hard for anyone to keep him off the court, mask or not.
Line of the Night: I want to pick Rondo’s trip-doub—15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists—but I also don’t want Kobe to hurt me. 31 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds. You’re Welcome.
Dunks of the Night: Gettin’ Iggy Wit It, and Baron to JR on one of the sickest (if not slightly off the mark) passes this season.
Non-Kobe Mask Funny of the Night: Michael Beasley is one weird dude. (H/T: @ShootersBounce)
Tonight: TNT has Thunder-Magic at 8 and Heat-Blazers at 10:30. The only other two games on the schedule are a pair of Western Conference showdowns, with Wolves-Suns and Clippers-Kings. See you all back here tomorrow.