Post Up: Clutch

by January 27, 2013

by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz

Kyrie Irving and Gerald Henderson both delivered game-winning threes last night. Even with the Ws, Cleveland and Charlotte have combined for only as many wins as the Rockets. Sorry—I had to. Let’s get to it.

Cavaliers (13-32) 99, Raptors (16-28) 98
The Cavs trailed by 11 early in the fourth before they made a late push. For the second straight night, Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Shaun Livingston led a comeback, and for the second straight night Kyrie Irving iced the game—in a big, big way.

Down two points with 12 seconds left, Irving took the ball up slowly before launching a very deep three. He, of course, drained the shot, putting his Cavs up a point with .7 left. I demand that you watch the highlight below, because the calmness that the second-year man displayed before hitting the game-winner was truly scary to see from a 20-year old. After his three, Toronto couldn’t convert, and Cleveland pulled off the come-from-behind W.

Irving dropped 32 on 13-of-26 shooting. He’s now scored 30+ seven times this month, and the Cavs are 6-1 in those games. They’re 0-6 when he scores under 30 in January. He’s done it in three straight games and, you guessed it, Cleveland’s got a three-game win streak. More on Kyrie in a moment.

Tristan Thompson added 14 and 8, and Tyler Zeller grabbed 12 rebounds. Speights finished with 17 off the bench, and already looks like a tremendous add for Cleveland.

Toronto had five players score in double-figures. Amir Johnson was the high-man with 18. He also tallied 12 rebounds. Ed Davis posted 16 and 9.

Here’s the part where my love for Irving comes flying out: I’ve been doing the weekend Post Up all season, and Irving is the first guy to headline the column on consecutive days. I tried to work his numbers into the game summary smoothly but couldn’t because there are too many great ones to cover. Here they are: 24+ points (47.5 percent), 5.5 assists, 3.5 boards, 1.7 steals, 2 threes (41 percent) and 4.4 free throws (85 percent) per night. He hasn’t averaged worse than 22 points or 45 percent shooting in any month this season (neither Kobe nor Melo can say the same).

I know the Cavs’ position in the standings makes it hard to take those numbers seriously when comparing him to the League’s other great players, but he’s quickly developing into a borderline top-10 talent. LeBron, KD, CP3, Melo, Kobe, Howard and pre-injury-Rose are/were better, but it becomes a game of take-your-pick from there. I hope everyone takes their picks in the comments section, and for argument’s sake I’ll take mine right here (in no order after 1-2)—James, Durant, Paul, Anthony, Howard, Bryant, Griffin, Irving, Westbrook, Rondo. Leaving off Deron Williams (hasn’t been great in two or three years) and Tony Parker was tough.

76ers (18-25) 97, Knicks (26-15) 80
Philly dominated the Knicks last night. They led by five after one, 12 after two and 26 after three before New York made things look slightly interesting. Jrue Holiday continued his all-star season by shooting 16-of-25 for a huge 35 points to lead all scorers. Both Nick Young and Evan Turner added 20. Strangely, the Sixers got only eight points from their bench in the win.

New York’s leading scorer was Carmelo Anthony with 25, but he needed 28 shots to get there. Simply, they need him to be much better than that to have a chance. Amar’e Stoudmire was a very solid 8-of-13 off the bench, and finished with 20 points. He played 27 minutes and seems to be getting better every game. New York was an abysmal 4-of-27 from downtown on the night.

Wizards (11-31) 86, Bulls (26-17) 73
Since John Wall’s return to the Wizards, Washington is 6-3 with all three of their losses coming on the road and by a total of just 12 points. Last night, they easily beat the solid Bulls.

Washington led by six at halftime, but pulled away in the third by outscoring Chicago 23-11. Wall scored 15 with 7 assists but 4 turnovers. Emeka Okafor was dominant with 15 and 16, while Nene was the team’s high-scorer with 16.

The Bulls got a massive game from Joakim Noah—9 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists—but not much from his supporting cast. In fact, no Chicago starter scored 10 or more points. Nate Robinson was the only Bulls player with double-figures. He scored 19 off the bench.

Bobcats (11-32) 102, Timberwolves (17-24) 101
Minnesota led by 11 at the break before being outplayed badly in the second half. Still, they led 101-99 after a Ricky Rubio jumper, but an unbelievably sweet—though desperate—three from Gerald Henderson gave Charlotte a late lead. JJ Barea couldn’t convert late, and the ‘Cats won their fourth game in 31 tries.

Kemba led the team with 25 points, and Ramon Sessions was huge off the bench with 23 (7/11 shooting). Henderson added 15, while Bismack Biyombo double-doubled with 10 and 13. He also blocked 2 shots.

Minnesota got 22 from Luke Ridnour and 19 from Barea. Rubio piled up 14 points, 8 assists and 5 steals, and was amazingly a +23 while on the floor in the loss.

Rockets (24-22) 119, Nets (26-18) 106
Deron Williams dropped 20 points in the first quarter last night, but finished with 27 and the Rockets won pretty easily. Houston outscored Brooklyn by 14 in the second quarter, and maintained their 13-point halftime lead until the end.

James Harden made 13-of-14 free throws and finished with a game-high 29 for Houston. Omer Asik (20 and 16) and Chandler Parsons (16 and 11 dimes) both double-doubled for the Rockets. Parsons is now averaging roughly 14 points, 6 boards and 3.5 assists this season—perfect numbers for a fourth option on a great team. Unfortunately for Houston, he’s really their second or third option offensively. The Rockets were on fire from deep, knocking down 12-of-28 attempts from downtown.

The Nets shot 44.4 percent (16-of-36) from three, but couldn’t buy a defensive stop. Houston can be very tough to slow down some nights, especially when they’re playing at home. They’re capable of taking a great team to five or six interesting games in the Playoffs this year. That’s pretty impressive considering that nearly all of their players weren’t there last season. Williams led the Nets in scoring, and also tallied 11 assists. Brook Lopez posted 21 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks while Reggie Evans did what he does best: 1 point and 8 boards.

Houston won the rebounding battle 50-31 and scored 60 points in the paint compared to the Nets’ 24.

Bucks (23-19) 109, Warriors (26-17) 102
Milwaukee killed the Warriors in the third quarter (35-19), but this was still a tight game. A three by Monta Ellis with about 30 seconds remaining iced the contest.

Ellis finished with with 20 points on 20 shots against his old team. Each of Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova had points-rebounds double-doubles for the Bucks, and Brandon Jennings went for 20 points (5 threes), 7 dimes and 6 boards.

Stephen Curry led Golden State with 26 (8/19), but didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Klay Thompson was 3-of-11 from beyond the arc, David Lee was 6-of-18 from the field and Harrison Barnes attempted just three shots.

Golden State has lost at least two straight games three separate times this month already, and I, for one, certainly hope they right the ship. A few weeks ago, they looked like a team capable of knocking off the Grizzlies or Clippers in the first round, depending on who they draw.

Be sure to check out a massive throwdown Barnes had last night below—

Spurs (36-11) 108, Suns (15-29) 99
Phoenix was within three at halftime and up one after three quarters before San Antonio dominated the fourth quarter. An 82-81 Phoenix advantage evaporated into a 100-90 deficit with four minutes to play.

Tony Parker followed up his 23 and 11 performance on Friday with 31 (13/17) and 7 last night. He’s averaging over 20 points per game on nearly 53 percent shooting with 7.5 assists per night. That’s roughly 3.5 more points and 2 fewer assists than Chris Paul while shooting 5.4 percentage points better from the floor (that’s a big gap). I ain’t sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

Manu Ginobili has had an inconsistent season, but scored 20 point off the bench in just 22 minutes.

A bunch of guys played well for the Suns, who certainly seem to be playing hard for new coach Lindsey Hunter. Michael Beasley led the team with 25 points off the bench. He was a very efficient 11-of-16 and added 6 rebounds. Jared Dudley was even better, knocking down 10-of-12 shots (7-of-7 from inside the three-point line). He finished with 23 points. Goran Dragic tallied 10 assists with just 2 turnovers, Marcin Gortat grabbed 12 rebounds and PJ Tucker double-doubled with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Nuggets (27-18) 121, Kings (16-29) 93
This is the type of score that seems a little closer than it really is at first glance. Don’t be fooled by Sacramento’s 93 points—they lost by every bit of 28 last night. They were outscored by 14, 8 and 10 in the first three quarters, respectively.

Ty Lawson dropped 26 for Denver, and Andre Iguodala added 20. 13 different guys played for Denver, and 11 of them made at least one shot. The team shot 53 percent from the field.

The Kings made 42 percent of their shots, but only 11-of-22 free throws. Aaron Brooks was the leading scorer with 16 off the bench, and rookie Thomas Robinson double-doubled with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He’s taken a while to get going, but been productive when given a chance to play lately.

Jazz (24-20) 114, Pacers (26-18) 110
This was a great game between a pair of pretty similar teams. Both are great at home (the Pacers are 16-3 in Indy and the Jazz 15-4 in Utah). Both are prone to some offensively inept games, but can play some tight defense and score inside when it counts.

On Saturday night, the led Jazz 78-68 with 11:30 left and 98-92 with 1:37 left before the Pacers got back in it. A few consecutive stops by Indiana led to buckets from David West and George Hill before Paul George knotted the game with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left. Gordon Hayward couldn’t convert on the final play of regulation, sending the game into overtime.

In OT, a tough three from George cut a six-point deficit to three with 30 seconds remaining. The Pacers got the ball back with 12 seconds left, but a great defensive play by Hayward won the game for the Jazz.

Al Jefferson led all scorers with 25 for Utah. He only grabbed 6 rebounds, though, and the Jazz as a whole totaled only 28. 22 Indiana turnovers made up for the poor work on the glass. Paul Millsap added 21.

West went for 24 and 7 for the Pacers, and added 3 blocks. George hit 3 threes and scored 23 points, but committed 6 turnovers. Roy Hibbert double-doubled with 14 and 12, but had 4 turnovers of his own. Hill scored 22 with 9 boards and 8 dimes. Lance Stephenson had a brutal game, shooting 0-of-4 with 4 turnovers.

Trail Blazers (22-21) 101, Clippers (32-13) 100
Portland led for much of this game, but the Clippers took a 100-91 lead with 2:38 remaining. The Blazers didn’t panic, though, and closed the game on a 10-0 run. JJ Hickson free throws with 45 ticks left proved to be game-winning.

Hickson finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Nicolas Batum was amazing, triple-doubling with 20 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He knocked down 4 threes, and has finally proved everybody who believed in his potential (myself not included) that he’s well worth the big contract Portland gave him over the summer. Rookie Damian Lillard dropped 20.

Blake Griffin took on a distributing role for LA with Chris Paul out of the lineup, and he racked up 10 assists to go with 24 points and 8 rebounds. Jamal Crawford—who’s been great off the bench but certainly does not deserve to be an all star—scored 19.

On a related note, fellow sixth man JR Smith—currently having his worst shooting season since ’05-06 at 39.5 percent—doesn’t have a case, either. Feel free to try argue with me in the comments section, but neither guy is even close.