Post Up: The Champ Is Here

by January 12, 2012

by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad

The hits keep coming. Matter fact, as DJ Khaled once said so poetically, “Hits, straight hits.” These 11-game nights are just craziness. As if last night’s drama weren’t enough, can I interest you in a trio of overtime games, including Kobe’s second 40-plus point night in a row and drama in Lob City against Miami? Oh, and did I mention the Finals MVP got his clutch on? I dare you to not like the NBA right now. Behold, your guide to last night’s games:

Pacers 96, Hawks 84

Danny Granger returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s tilt with the Sixers, and he scored 24 points to lead Indiana past Atlanta, improving to 7-3 on the year, and 4-0 at home. It’s the Pacers’ best start to a season since 2005-06, and it was only Indiana’s second win over the past 11 against the Hawks, who were led in scoring by Josh Smith’s 16 points, including one ferocious dunk. Atlanta was shorthanded, though, without Tracy McGrady due to lingering back spasms (surprise, surprise) and Al Horford, who appeared to injure his shoulder while battling for a rebound—he played just six minutes and did not return to the game. David West and Roy Hibbert added 12 apiece to Granger’s production and the Pacers survived 20 fast break points from ATL, dropping the Hawks to 7-4. Lance Stephenson finally had a nice game coming off the pine for Indiana, with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 18 minutes.

Kings 98, Raptors 91

Immature or not, DeMarcus Cousins can hoop. DMC put up 21 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, and with the help of Tyreke Evans’ season-high 29 points and 7 dimes, the Kings outlasted the Raptors to snap a 7-game losing streak in Toronto and get their first road win of the season (now 4-7 overall). Jimmer Fredette scored in double figures (10) but again struggled with his shooting (3-10), while the big spark for the Kings came from an unlikely source: the generously-listed 5-9 point guard from Washington, Isaiah Thomas, who scored 20 points in 24 minutes, and also had 6 assists. Thomas hit a huge three down the stretch and hustled all over the floor, playing scrappy defense against Jose Calderon and the Raps. Toronto got just 10 points and 10 boards from leading man Andrea Bargnani, as Leandro Barbosa scored a team-high 24 off the bench. The Raptors have now lost to Washington and Sacramento in back-to-back nights and dropped four of five overall.

Knicks 85, Sixers 79

New York survived a late push from the NBA’s hottest team and improved to 6-4 on the season in front of a home MSG crowd. The Knicks, shockingly, did it with defense, holding Philly to 79 points and outrebounding the Sixers 46-37. Philadelphia made only 3 of 15 three-point attempts, Lou Williams scored just 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting (season: 16+ PPG) and Spencer Hawes didn’t play, forcing ageless wonder Tony Battie into the starting lineup. As for the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony carried the offensive load as usual—27 points on 9-24 FGs, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals—and Amar’e Stoudemire turned in a 20-10 double-double. New York overcame 21 turnovers and the pesky Sixers, who were in it until Anthony drilled two free throws with under 20 seconds left to play, despite the Knicks holding the lead most of the way (up by as many as 17). And I must have missed it, but according to the popular Knicks blog Posting and Toasting, “Jorts Harrellson provided some unexpected offense in the first half and stalwart defense throughout.” Josh Jorts had 13 points off the bench, as Mike D’Antoni only played 8 guys total.

Mavericks 90, Celtics 85

Dirk Nowitzki does it again—the guy is crazy clutch and proved it once again last night, fighting off Kevin Garnett and getting to the rim for an old-fashioned three-point play with 5.1 seconds left to lift the Mavericks over the Celtics in Boston, despite coach Rick Carlisle watching from the locker room after getting ejected. Dirk’s heroics came just seconds after Paul Pierce (7 points total) nailed a three-pointer to tie things up at 85. The C’s had one last chance to send this one to OT, but Ray Allen couldn’t handle a Rajon Rondo inbounds pass, and the Mavs took over possession and took home the win. The two teams matched up almost identically in the box score, except for the Mavericks’ decided advantage in offensive boards at 12 to 2, evened out by Boston’s 15-2 edge fast break points. Dirk finished with 16 points, 7 boards and 4 assists, while Jason Terry scored 18 in his normal sixth man role and Delonte West got another start in place of the injured Jason Kidd at PG, ending his night with 12 points and 3 assists. Rondo put up 24 points to go with 7 assists, 3 steals and 3 boards, Kevin Garnett put up 16 and 10, and Mickael Pietrus scored 5 points in 18 minutes in his season debut.

Thunder 95, Hornets 85

If the compressed schedule is supposed to be affecting NBA teams, Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City didn’t get the message. The Thunder beat the Hornets to finish a five-games-in-six-nights stretch with a 5-0 record over that span, thanks to 29 points and 10 rebounds from Durant, who added 4 blocks and 3 assists in his 38 minutes en route to the win. Russell Westbrook had 22 points (15 in the second half) and 7 assists, while James Harden chipped in 14 points off the bench for OKC. New Orleans, meanwhile, shot just 1-for-16 from three-point range (word to DaJuan Summers!) and scored just 15 points in the fourth quarter. Chris Kaman and Carl Landry teamed up again, scoring 17 apiece, but no other Hornet scored more than 10 points, and the starting backcourt of Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli shot a combined 7-for-21 from the field. Oklahoma City gets a much-needed two-day breather before hosting New York on Saturday, while the Hornets get the Wolves in town on Friday.

Bulls 78, Wizards 64

John Lucas III is a 29-year-old career D-Leaguer type who made his first NBA start last night. John Wall is a former No. 1 draft pick with impeccable pedigree, supposedly entering his breakout season. But Lucas, starting in place of the league MVP, made Wall look like the scrub, going off for 25 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in 46 minutes and leading the Bulls to a win over the hapless Wizards. Wall shot 4-of-13, finishing with a modest 11 points, 8 assists and 5 boards, but for him to be outplayed by the physically overmatched Lucas on a night when it could have been Derrick freakin’ Rose if not for an ankle injury, is mind-boggling, at least for this Wiz fan. Although, admittedly, he got Lucas on this one, which made me jump out my seat:

Getting over the hump of a first win was great, but Washington reverted right back to the hard-to-watch losers of the first 8 games last night, shooting 31 percent (64 points, oof!) and looking lost and hopeless on the boards. The Bulls outrebounded the Wizards 62-46 and had a ridiculous 23 offensive rebounds. What! Luol Deng put up a 12/15 double-double while Omer Asik hauled in 14 rebounds of his own. The Bulls are a very good team with Derrick Rose, and a better-than-average one without him, it appears. The Wizards are not. No sense over-analyzing this game, but if you’re dying for some insight, just listen to Neil Funk, Bulls play-by-play man, who spent most of the game is disbelief at how bad the Wizards were playing. “Washington takes some crazy, crazy shots” and “Their recognition of what a good shot is, Stacey, is sorely lacking” were two of my personal favorites.

Spurs 101, Rockets 95 (OT)

In the night’s most underrated game, the Spurs outlasted the Rockets, who shot just 2-for-10 in overtime, and San Antonio improved to 7-4 (7-0 at home) on the season. Big shot after big shot kept this one alive for both teams, as Tim Duncan, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola and Tony Parker all had clutch buckets down the stretch in regulation and overtime. Parker scored 28 points to lead all scorers and cashed four free throws late in OT to seal the victory for the Spurs. Duncan looked like the Timmy of old last night, doing everything from dropping buckets to blocking shots—the elder statesman finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 38 minutes. On the other side, it was Lowry and Scola at work yet again for Houston, with both playing 38+ minutes and providing the bulk of the scoring for the Rockets. Lowry racked up 22 points (3 threes), 7 assists, 6 rebounds and hit a big pull-up three to keep Houston within reach late in regulation, then another in OT, while Scola put up 20. Other than Lowry, the rest of the Rockets shot 0-for-18 from beyond the three-point line.

Nuggets 123, Nets 115

The Nets made a ridiculous 20 three-pointers (on a season-high 35 attempts), but when Jordan Farmar is your leading scorer (26 points), you’re likely not winning a professional basketball game. Sorry, Jordan. Denver led by as many as 23, and entered the fourth quarter with a 100-80 lead. In typical Nuggets fashion, Denver finished with 37 assists, including 12 from Andre Miller (12 points) and 8 from Rudy Fernandez (15 points) and got 22 points from Danilo Gallinari and 19 apiece from Aaron Afflalo and Corey Brewer. In the absence of point guard Ty Lawson, sidelined with a strained right foot, the Nuggs picked up the slack thanks to their incredible depth, and hot shooting (60 percent field goals). Well, that, and playing the Nets probably helped. For once, NJ actually shot a decent percentage (52 for the game), but Deron Williams’ struggles continued, this time 6-for-14, though he did end up with 16 points and 13 assists—but DWill’s frustration boiled over to the point of an ejection late in the fourth quarter. New Jersey, we have a problem…

Lakers 90, Jazz 87 (OT)

More free basketball, gents. Kobe Bryant scored 40 points (on 31 shots), plus had 8 rebounds and 4 assists a night after dropping 48 on the Suns, and the Lakers escaped Utah with a hard-fought win against a Jazz team that was previously 5-0 at home. Kobe is averaging 36.3 points in his last six games, and L.A. is 5-1 over that stretch. Josh Howard (18 points) hit his first three-pointer of the year to tie the game at 76 with 58 seconds left, then Kobe did his thing at the other end before a Paul Millsap (29 points, 9 rebounds) tip-in sent the game to overtime. In the extra frame, with the Lakers up by one, Andrew Bynum (12 points, 9 rebounds) made a put-back after a Kobe miss with just under a minute to play, Millsap answered with a long deuce, and Kobe gave the ball back to the Jazz on a forced shot fishing for a foul call. Luckily for Los Angeles, Utah elected not to call timeout with the clock ticking under 20 seconds, instead holding for the potential game-winner. Gordon Hayward drove the lane and dished to Al Jefferson (11 points, 11 boards) for a lay-in, but the big fella was met by Bynum, who picked up his fifth blocked shot of the game to seal the deal for the Lakers. Ironic, since Utah’s home-team announcing crew at one point referred to the Jazz as “Swat Lake City.”

Magic 107, Trail Blazers 104

For a game that seemed over once the Magic took a 14-point lead after the first quarter, and one in which Portland never led, the Blazers made a furious comeback to make Orlando nervous. In the first quarter, Orlando outscored Portland 36-22. In the fourth quarter, it was the exact opposite, with the Blazers winning the frame 36-22. Clearly, Portland was not about to give up its first home loss without a fight, even if the Magic led by 23 at one point. Dwight Howard had 13 points and 13 rebounds, while making just 3-of-12 free throws. Orlando was shooting lights out, though—59 percent from the field AND 59 percent from three-point land—and seven Magic players notched double-digit scoring nights, led by 17 off the bench from JJ Redick. LaMarcus Aldridge had 23 points and 8 boards for the Blazers, Gerald Wallace had 15 points and Jamal Crawford provided a late spark off the bench with 24 of his own in place of Ray Felton, who struggled to a 2-11 shooting night.

Clippers 95, Heat 89 (OT)

What the hell, man. Honestly, what the hell! How ridiculous was this game? For starters, the atmosphere was like a Rucker Park game or something in the early going, with each team trying to top each others’ highlights in the alley-oop department. When was the last time a Clipper game had that kind of excitement for the first quarter of a regular season matchup? “Playoff feel” would be an understatement. Fast-forward to crunch time, and, well, I hope you guys watched the game, because me trying to give the full play-by-play would be a joke. You kinda had to be there. LeBron James haters, eat your heart out—LBJ fouled Chauncey Billups on a three-pointer, then LeBron missed 2 of 4 free throws (he got the second pair thanks to a ridiculous play by Dwyane Wade) sending the game to OT rather than to the showers as a Miami W. In the extra period, the Clips pulled away, as the Heat struggled to score, and tempers flared. Quite frankly, it was a blur. Chris Paul had 27 points, Blake Griffin and Caron Butler each had 20 and DeAndre Jordan had 8 points to go with 11 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. LeBron delivered another LeBron-ish night (23/13/7), Wade had 17 points and Mario Chalmers had 18 (4 threes), but Miami got almost nothing in terms of bench production and succumbed late to the CP3-led Lobsters. Basketball!

Line of the Night: Chris Paul — 45 minutes, 27 points, 11 assists, 3 steals, 1 win vs. the Heat.

Moment of the Night: Dirk back? Dirk back!

Dunk of the Night 1: Not boxing out DeMarcus Cousins will cost you, Amir Johnson.

Dunk of the Night 2: Lob City’s finest hold their nightly council meeting.

Tonight: A light night by lockout-season standards, with 5 games on tap. TNT has Knicks-Grizzlies and Magic-Warriors for its Thursday doubleheader, while the Cavs are in Phoenix and a pair of Eastern Conference matchups tip early—Bobcats-Hawks and Pistons-Bucks. We round out another week tomorrow, see you then.