Post Up: KD Lights Up
Durant nets career high against Warriors, Blazers top Spurs out West
by Brett Weisband | @weisband
Clippers (28-13) 109, Knicks (15-25) 95
After getting wiped out on Thursday night, the Knicks hung around with the Clippers for nearly three full quarters. Alas, playing their fourth game in five nights, New York faded late as the Clippers ran away in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin continued his ridiculous play, going for 32 points (12-20 shooting) and seven rebounds, making the highlight reel several times in the process. L.A. somehow managed to be the better shooting team in this game despite hitting on just 43.2 percent of their attempts from the field. Jamal Crawford got cooking as the game wore on, finishing with 29 points (7-14 from the field, 5-9 from long range, 10-11 at the line) after going off for 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Carmelo Anthony finished with a remarkable line for the Knicks, mainly for how productive he was despite some horrific shooting. He scored 26 points on 4-23 shooting from the field, also pulling down 20 rebounds (seven offensive). J.R. Smith had his best game of the year, shooting 9-18 off the bench for 24 points. The Knicks were without both Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin, both of whom sprained ankles against the Pacers.
Bobcats (17-24) 111, Magic (10-30) 101
Charlotte hung on for a win against Orlando after letting all of an early 18-point lead slip away. Al Jefferson led the way, going for 30 points and 16 boards on a highly efficient 13-17 shooting. As a team, the Bobcats had one of their best offensive nights of the season, hitting on 52.7 percent of their field goal tries and going 7-15 on 3-pointers, not bad for one of the worst long-range shooting teams in the League. Kemba Walker posted a double double for Charlotte with 19 points, and they got 17 apiece from Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts.
Orlando’s slow start in this one – they were behind 21-3 in the blink of an eye – can be forgiven, as they played a triple-OT marathon on Wednesday. They eventually shot their way back into it on the strength of Arron Afflalo, who finished with 24 points after missing three games.
Heat (28-11) 101, 76ers (13-26) 86
There would be no repeat of opening night for the Heat, when they were stunned by the Sixers, or even of Wednesday, when the Wizards ran them out of the building. Miami asserted themselves early against the Sixers, getting out to a double-digit lead at the end of the first and never letting Philadelphia get close. Chris Bosh was the main aggressor for the Heat, scoring 25 points on 11-18 shooting, while racking up six reounds, four assists and five blocks as well. LeBron James was happy to play facilitator for much of the game, but stepped up his scoring late to finish with a near-triple double of 21 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
The Sixers were wretched on the offensive end, shooting 36.9 percent and knocking down just 2-20 3-pointers. They also had 12 of their shots blocked by the Heat and coughed the ball up 23 times. Tony Wroten led the team in scoring with 13 off the bench and Spencer Hawes posted 10 points and 10 boards. Michael Carter-Williams, who exploded onto the scene with a huge game against the Heat in his debut, was hounded into 1-7 shooting for his seven points and turned the ball over five times.
Raptors (20-18) 94, Timberwolves (18-21) 89
Kyle Lowry is making a serious push for All-Star consideration, and it’s well deserved with the way he’s been balling. Lowry knocked down a season-best six 3-pointers and led the Raptors with 24 points and six assists as they topped the Timberwolves. Kevin Martin (18 points) nearly pulled the Wolves to a win, hitting several late jumpers, but Minnesota couldn’t overcome a late deficit.
Minnesota slipped farther away from a .500 record and a Playoff spot, shooting 43.9 percent in the loss. After falling behind by double digits in the fourth quarter, they went on a run to get the score within three late before running out of time. Kevin Love had 16 and 12 boards, but struggled through a 6-19 shooting night to get there. For the Raptors, Amir Johnson dropped in 19, while Terrence Ross had 16. Toronto shot better from long range than they did overall from the field, riding Lowry’s strong night in that regard.
Wizards (19-19) 96, Bulls (18-20) 93
After a back-and-forth affair, Washington escaped with a win over Chicago to reach .500 for the first time since November. Neither team seemingly wanted to stay on top, with a total of 12 lead changes in the game. John Wall had 23 points and 11 assists for the Wizards, while Bradley Beal (14 points) was big down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final quarter.
The Bulls had plenty of opportunities to pull ahead late, but didn’t score for the final 2:20 of the game – they actually scored the game’s final points – and made just one shot in the final five minutes. Kirk Hinrich was the Bulls’ top scorer with 18, while D.J. Augustin came off the bench to net 16. The Bulls’ usually tight defense couldn’t do much to slow Washington down, allowing the Wizards to shoot a hair over 50 percent on the night.
Lakers (15-25) 107, Celtics (14-27) 104
Rajon Rondo’s return wasn’t enough for the Celtics, as the Lakers prevailed in this battle of classic teams marred by a severe lack of talent. Rondo was mostly tentative in his return from a torn ACL last January, but he was the man with the ball in his hands late. With a second left on the clock, Rondo clanked a triple that would have sent the game into OT. Rondo finished with eight points, four assists and two boards – not the numbers we’re accustomed to seeing from the All-Star, but it was good to have him back on the court regardless.
The Lakers crawled out of an eight-point hole in the final four minutes, getting big 3-pointers from their unlikely backcourt duo of Jodie Meeks (17 points) and Kendall Marshall (19 points, 14 assists, 4-5 from long range). Ryan Kelly hit two free throws to ice the win. Pau Gasol looked like his old self, going for 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, his third straight game with 20 or more. L.A. shot 50 percent from the field and hit 12-20 from deep.
Jazz (14-27) 110, Pistons (16-23) 89
Trey Burke made his return to the state of Michigan, where he played his college ball and was national player of the year last season. He showed out in his old stomping grounds, putting up 20 points and a career-high 12 assists as the Jazz rolled to a blowout win over the floundering Pistons. Utah pulled away late in the second quarter, stretching a six-point lead to 15 in the final two minutes of the first half and never looking back. The Jazz shot 54.4 percent in the win and out-rebounded the massive Pistons by 11, 43-32.
Detroit’s starting five struggled mightily, scoring a combined 34 points on 11-35 shooting. They were led in scoring by Rodney Stuckey, who dropped 21, and got another 13 from Kyle Singler. Andre Drummond registered a double double of 10 and 13 amidst the rough night, blocking three shots along the way. Enes Kanter scored 18 off the bench for Utah, his seventh straight game with 10 or more points. The Jazz have alternated wins and losses in their seven games in 2014.
Grizzlies (20-19) 91, Kings (14-24) 90
It came down to the final seconds, but the Grizzlies were able to sneak out a win over the Kings at the FedEx Forum. Fittingly enough, former Grizzly Rudy Gay (19 points) was involved in a controversial final play. After scoring Sacramento’s first eight points of the fourth to carry them back into it, Gay had the ball in his hands with the clock winding down. He drove toward the basket and left the floor, appearing to to either double dribble or draw a foul. The refs saw it differently, calling a jump ball with two second to go. Mike Conley (25 points, six assists) secured the tip and Memphis escaped.
This game featured 17 ties, and neither team was able to get out to a lead larger than seven points. Marc Gasol looked more like himself in his third game back from injury for the Grizz, scoring 16 points, swatting four shots and operating from the elbow as always. New acquisition Courtney Lee pitched in 17 for Memphis. DeMarcus Cousins was a load down low against the vaunted Grizzlies front court, scoring 22 points, albeit on 6-20 shooting, and hauling in 17 boards.
Trail Blazers (30-9) 109, Spurs (31-9) 100
Portland won a battle of the West’s top teams, exploding down the stretch to pull away with the victory. Wesley Matthews (24 points, 9-14 shooting, 6-7 on 3-pointers) burned the Spurs late, getting open and drilling three triples down the stretch to push Portland to the win. The Blazers withstood a strong second-half effort from the Spurs, but had enough offense to get out of San Antonio with the big win. The maligned Portland defense did a solid job, holding the Spurs to 45.2 percent shooting and just 22 points in the final quarter.
Manu Ginobili did everything he could for the Spurs, leading the game with 29 points. He went bonkers in the third quarter, scoring 18 points in just six minutes on the court, all coming after Gregg Popovich went nuts on the officials and got himself tossed from the game. The Spurs went on to grab the lead after Pop got booted, but fell victim to the whirring Portland offense – isn’t it usually the other way around for the Spurs? – as Matthews went off late and LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points, 13 rebounds) was money on several of his patented mid-range jumpers. Damian Lillard pitched in 21 for the Blazers. Portland has now registered wins over every other Playoff team out West except for Dallas, who they see in their next game. On the flip side, the Spurs dropped to 1-8 against their fellow contenders.
Cavaliers (15-25) 117, Nuggets (20-19) 109
The Luol Deng trade appears to already be paying dividends for the Cavaliers, as they wrapped up a 3-2 Western conference road trip with their new swingman. The Cavs saw their eight-point lead sliced down to three after a run of sloppy play, but responded with a dunk from Deng (18 points) to earn the win. Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 23 points.
Denver bombed away from long range, jacking up 37 3-point attempts and hitting 14 of them. The loss dropped them down to 11-9 at home after losing just three game in Denver all of last season. The Nuggets made a couple of pushes after being down 14 in the third quarter, but didn’t have quite enough to get over the hump. Ty Lawson had 19 points and 11 assists, while Wilson Chandler scored 23. Nate Robinson did his sparkplug thing, coming off the bench for 19 points on 8-11 shooting.
Mavericks (24-17) 110, Phoenix (22-17) 107
The Mavs never trailed against Phoenix, but things got pretty tight down the stretch. Dallas led by 10 with under three minutes to go, but Markieff Morris (23 points on 8-15 shooting and 13 boards off the bench) and Goran Dragic (28 points, seven assists) sliced the lead down to just three points. Vince Carter then threw away an inbounds pass, but the Suns couldn’t finish off the comeback and Dallas was able to walk off with the win.
Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 24 points on 10-20 shooting, getting most of his points on mid-range jumpers, while Dirk Nowitzki dropped in another 21. Rookie Shane Larkin had a career high 18, hitting a big floater and calmly draining two free throws to help ensure the win for Dallas. The Mavericks shot 53 percent and did their best to avoid getting coaxed into the Suns running game. They did get crushed on the glass, allowing 17 offensive rebounds, but outshot Phoenix by enough to make up for it.
Thunder (30-10) 127, Warriors (25-16) 121
If Kevin Durant finally gets over the hump to claim his first MVP award this season, this game will be one of the moments voters point to. Durant’s teammates needed to do no more than get out of the way in the fourth quarter, as KD buried the Warriors on his way to a career-high 54 points. Durant’s line is probably not safe for work viewing: 19-28 shooting, 5-9 from deep, 11-13 at the line, and he was even generous enough to pass out six assists. With the game hanging in the balance late, Durant decided he’d had enough of playing like a human being and turned into the Human Torch; he erupted for 15 points in the final quarter, including three straight triples followed by a gorgeous turnaround to put the game out of reach.
It says something about Durant’s brilliance that it totally overshadowed an excellent night by Steph Curry. The Warriors’ resident sniper broke out of his mini-slump and scored 37 points of his own, shooting 11-18 from the field and 6-10 from deep. Klay Thompson wasn’t too shabby either, netting 26 and dropping in six 3-pointers of his own. Golden State shot 52.4 percent from the field and went 16-27 from long range, but just couldn’t contend with the scorching hot Thunder. OKC hit 58 percent from the field. Lost in the red-hot glow of KD’s shooting was a strong night from Serge Ibaka, who hit for 21 on 8-11 shooting.
Durant has been proving just how great he is on a nightly basis since Russell Westbrook went on the shelf. Hard to believe, but he’s averaging 39.5 points per game since Russ’ last game on Christmas Day. He’s scored fewer than 30 points just twice in the 11-game stretch, and has even gone for five or more assists seven times. Looking at those numbers, it becomes pretty clear that Durant is not of this planet.