Post Up: Playoff Flavor
Huge wins for Miami over OKC and the Lakers over the Clippers, plus a Nash game-winner.
by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
12 games to get to on a wild night in the L, so no time to waste. Here we go…
If ever there were a game that defined the term “tale of two halves,” it was this one. In the first half, the Sixers 58 percent from the floor and scored 56 points—Jrue Holiday scored 17 by himself on 8-8 shooting, plus 4 steals and 4 dimes with zero turnovers. In the second half, Philly scored a grand total of 22 points, at one point missing 13 straight shots in the fourth quarter, when they could manage just 7 points. Holiday shot 1-6 after halftime and finished his night with 20 points. Toronto, on the other hand, shot 52 percent from the field on the night, got a game-high 24 points from Andrea Bargnani and 13 assists from Jose Calderon, who also chipped in 12 points.
I was tempted to simply write the phrase “Brian Cook played 29 minutes for Washington,” italicize it and not give this game any more ink than it deserves. But you guys deserve better, so here’s the painful truth: the Wizards, playing once again without Nene and Trevor Booker (notable only because they are 2 of the team’s 3 or 4 competent players at this point), allowed the Pacers to shoot 58 percent from the field on the night, Danny Granger scored 20 points and Brian Cook—well, you get the idea. Indy’s starters shot 71 percent from the field (no, that’s not a typo) and Darren Collison blew John Wall out of the water in the PG matchup, posting 17 points on 7-8 shooting and 11 assists (1 turnover) to Wall’s 13 points on 4-15 shooting and 3 dimes to 5 turnovers.
After an ugly second half (the teams combined for 25 points total in the third quarter), the Celtics and Spurs gave us an exciting finish. Boston’s 83-81 lead with 2 minutes to go in the fourth quarter quickly evaporated, as Matt Bonner capped off a 6-0 Spurs run on a short jumper to beat the shot clock with 47 seconds remaining. San Antonio then made the cardinal sin of losing Ray Allen on a set play out of a timeout, and the ageless wonder knocked down a corner three to cut the Cs deficit to just one. Then, with 7.9 seconds left and the score 87-86, everyone in the arena knew Paul Pierce (15 points, 10 rebounds) would get the last shot. But Tim Duncan—switched off on Pierce on a screen—bothered PP’s signature step-back and his jumper clanked off iron. It was win No. 9 in a row for the Spurs, who had 8 players score at least 8 points, but none more than Green’s 14. Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 11 dimes for Boston, but the Celtics were badly outrebounded, 53-39.
By now you know 2 things: the Bobcats are horrible and struggling teams love playing against them. So it should come as no surprise that Atlanta—loser of 3 out of its previous 4 games—enjoyed seeing Charlotte on the schedule last night. Josh Smith racked up 24 points on 11-17 shooting, 9 rebounds and 4 assists in just three quarters of action. JSmoove watched the Hawks’ bench close out the win as he sipped Gatorade and had himself a chill session for the entire fourth quarter. Atlanta simply bullied the ‘Cats in this one, scoring 60 points in the paint and shooting 57 percent from the field. The only silver lining for Charlotte (other than the fact that there are only 14 games left this year) was Kemba Walker’s team-highs of 21 points and 5 assists off the bench.
Finals preview or not, this was perhaps the best regular season NBA game we’ve seen this year. Dunks, more dunks, chippy play and drama. What more do you want? LeBron James (34 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds) stroked a jumper from the top of the key to beat the halftime horn, giving the Heat a 50-49 lead at the break. The third quarter was a back and forth battle and Miami started the fourth quarter with 7 straight misses, but back-to-back Shane Battier 3-pointers put the Heat on top 88-83 midway through the final period. With OKC refusing to go away quietly, Chris Bosh (12 points, 6 boards) drilled a jumper from his favorite mid-range wing area with 1 minute to play, putting Miami up by 3. The Thunder got the rock back with 19.5 ticks to go and the score 96-93, but Kevin Durant (30 points, 9 turnovers) bricked a quick three and the Heat escaped with the win. For those of you counting, that’s 1-1 this season between these two teams—who now have nearly identical records with just 14 losses each—and Miami’s 17th straight home victory. Russell Westbrook scored 28 points, while Dwyane Wade finished with 19.
Cue throngs of Milwaukee fans exclaiming “That’s what we’ve been looking for!” Monta Ellis finally delivered the kind of scoring night the Bucks expected to get when they traded for the points machine, as the newcomer hung 30 on the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers en route to a win. Ellis scored 16 of his 30 in the final 5 minutes—all of which were needed as Milwaukee began to let their once-19-point lead slip away—and added 8 assists on the evening. His backcourt buddy, Brandon Jennings, added 19 points and the Bucks shot 57 percent from the floor as a team. Meanwhile, the Cavs’ point guard minutes were handled by such names as Donald Sloan and Lester Hudson. Cleveland’s lost 9 straight and 12 of its last 13 games.
Eric Gordon returned to the Hornets after a 3-month absence. You’ll remember, he played all of 2 games to start the year before needing the dreaded arthroscopic surgery on his knee. His last game was January 4, so perhaps we can forgive him for shooting 3-11 from the field. Scratch that, we definitely can forgive him, since even on a bad shooting night he was by far New Orleans’ best player. Gordon had 15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and with the game tied at 92 with 10 seconds to play, he drew a foul, went to the line and sank 2 free throws to lift the Hornets to just their 14th win on the season. Ty Lawson scored 22 points to lead the Nuggets, who are now tied with Houston for the 7-seed out West at 29-25, and looking over their shoulders at Phoenix, which sits only 1 game back.
I can’t lie, I was unaware that David Lee is averaging 20 ppg and 10 rpg this season. Kevin Love, on the other hand, I think we’re all very much aware of. Last night, the two tangled tango’d in Minneapolis and played to a draw. Lee had 31 points, 8 boards and 3 assists, while KLove had 29, 12 and 5. Love’s Wolves built a 20-point lead, only to see it become a 10-point deficit, as Lee’s Warriors used a 38-point third quarter to take the lead. But Minny still had some punch left, coming back to tie the game with 90 seconds remaining. Charles Jenkins played Robin to Lee’s Batman, though, scoring 6 of Golden State’s final 9 points, including a driving lay-in with 20.4 seconds to go that ended up being the game-winner (JJ Barea’s jumpshot attempt at a tie was no good). Jenkins finished with 19 points and 7 assists on the night.
Memphis’ crazy good recent stretch couldn’t last forever. And facing the defending champions on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back is no easy task. The Grizzlies gave it all they had, but the Mavs delivered a crushing 21-4 run during the fourth quarter that put them in control. Shawn Marion scored 10 of his 16 points in the final period, as the Mavs moved back into a virtual tie with Memphis for the No. 5 seed in the West. Dallas (31-24) got a game-high 23 points from Dirk Nowitzki, who added 10 rebounds for good measure. The Grizz (30-23) was led in scoring yet again by OJ Mayo, who scored 17 points in 23 minutes off the bench. Unfortunately, OJ also accidentally popped teammate Tony Allen in the mouth, leading to a couple gruesome post-game Twitter posts from the notorious tweeter. Seriously, don’t click that if you’re squeamish!
You know what, forget David Lee—Steve Nash has to be the most under-appreciated player in the L right now, right? His 13 points and 9 dimes might not be anything to write home about, but at 38 years old, Nash’s imprint was all over last night’s win against the Jazz. And by “all over” I mean he hit a game-winner off one foot with 1 second left on the clock after splitting a pair of Utah defenders to get a clean look. It was his second monster bucket of the final 14 seconds, helping the Suns jump the Jazz by a half-game in the Western Conference Playoff race (PHX is 9th as of today). Seven Phoenix players scored in double figures, including a team-high 19 for Michael Redd, another ageless wonder. Paul Millsap had 25 points and Gordon Hayward had a double-double (20 and 10) for the Jazz, who lost despite winning nearly every team statistical category. And Millsap missed sending the game to overtime with a tip-in by a split second.
Deron Williams took the night off with a “stomach virus.” I wish I was funny enough to make a joke about the relationship between his “illness” and the Nets’ ineptitude, but I’m not. (Help me out in the comments section, maybe?) But hey, no DWill, no problem—Sundiata Gaines and Johan Petro in the staring lineup! Needless to say, New Jersey lacked even more punch than normal, and the Blazers finished the game on a 19-3 run to beat former Portland forward Gerald Wallace and his new team. LaMarcus Aldridge took advantage of being unquestionably the best player on the floor at all times, finishing with 24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots to lead the Blazers. Kris Humphries had 21 and 11 for the Nets, while “Crash” Wallace put up 8 points and 9 boards against his former squad.
Kobe Bryant scored 16 of his 31 points in the first quarter, Andrew Bynum got big for 36 points, 8 boards and 4 blocks and the Lakers held off their in-city rivals to win the last installment of Battle: Los Angeles (Regular Season Edition). The Clippers made things interesting down the stretch, as Chris Paul found DeAndre Jordan for a short jump-hook shot to give the Clippers a late 104-103 lead—their first since the opening minutes of the game—but Kobe and company were too much in the clutch. The Lakers shot 52 percent on the night, controlled the tempo to their liking and “held” Blake Griffin to 15 points and 14 rebounds after he threw down a pair of monster dunks on Pau Gasol. CP3 got his 22 points and 16 assists but the Lakers were simply too big up front and, oh yeah, have this one fella who goes by the nickname Black Mamba. He aight.
Line of the Night: I thought for sure the David Lee-Kevin Love matchup would produce the LON winner, since they went for 31×8 and 29×12 respectively, but LeBron has been getting greedy with this award of late, and he did it again last night—34 Pts, 10 Ast, 7 Reb to beat OKC. Honorable mention to Andrew Bynum for his 36 points. No threes, though, Drew?!?
Moment of the Night: Steve Nash is still that dude. The last 30 seconds of Jazz-Suns is worth your time.
Dunk of the Night: Blake Griffin does something not very nice to Pau Gasol’s life.
Honorable Mention Dunk: Paul Millsap is a man’s man.
Tonight: TNT has Knicks-Magic and Celtics-Bulls, plus the Kings host the Lakers Clippers and the Wizards are in Detroit to play for ping-pong balls. I can already smell the weekend!