This Philadelphia team really has the whole "team" thing going on, and I'll give Doug Collins major credit for this -- though the 76ers don't run all the time (they're 16th in possessions per game), they barely resemble the deliberate Chicago, Detroit, and Washington teams we've seen in Collins' past.
The plays aren't measured, and sometimes obvious. He doesn't slow the team down to dial-up isolation sets, mainly because there is no more dial-up service in 2011. The Sixers cut hard, pass quickly, and finish well. The team has won 32 of 52, and the group is clearly getting better with each passing (28 assists tonight, by the way) game. Getting too riled up following a win over a Clippers team playing its first game at home after a while away? Sure. But understand that these Sixers can play.
Elton Brand was beastly on defense in his return to Los Angeles, moving his feet and contesting everything. And you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that I wrote that last sentence before looking up his stat line and noticing his five blocks. Want to know why Blake Griffin missed nine of 12 shots in a game that seemed to be all about running and jumping? Look toward Elton. He has your answer. And your gum. The guy chews a lot of it, and he was bound to run out at some point.
Good pluck from the Clippers, Randy Foye (20 points) hit a few nice long jumpers, but the Sixers had all the answers throughout.
This is why I didn't go over the moon when the Heat beat the Lakers last week, or when they piled on against the Spurs earlier this week. The team may have taken down two great teams, but the offense remained the same. And as a result, those victories were fool's gold. Doesn't mean they can't win it all, but it also means you still can't count on the Heat for anything on the offensive end. The offense is too predictable.
The Thunder moved its feet, plugged holes, and looked to help appropriately. It turned Miami's "you go; you go; now, you go"-offense into mincemeat down the stretch, as the triptych of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh shot a pathetic 4-23 in the second half, as the Thunder did well to adjust to Miami's clever overplay of their screen and roll attack early on.
Twenty-nine points and six assists for Kevin Durant, just one turnover despite all the pressure, and Serge Ibaka was fantastic with 12 rebounds and three blocks (could have sworn he had way more, and I know Hubie Brown mentioned Serge hitting for four blocks in the second half). Miami hit 22 free throws, which should have been the foundation for a strong offensive night, but the team missed 14 of 17 three-pointers, and any time a famous player made a strong move, a Thunder helper was there half a second later to contest.
68 games in, and the Heat players just have no interest in changing things up offensively. And that's going to kill their season.
This was ugly, early, for Milwaukee. 15 minutes into this contest, the team had 14 points, and its attempts at adding to that total were embarrassing. Bad offensive sets, poor execution of those offensive sets, and half-hearted attempts. The Magic were laughing on the bench as a result.
The Bucks got it together, though. Just attacked the open spots that didn't feature Dwight Howard flailing away, and plugged toward 99 points per 100 possessions. All this after a start that had us wondering whether this could have been another legendarily-bad night for the NBA's worst offense. 99 per 100 is pretty terrible, but after that initial run? This was a comeback, y'all.
Seven of 27 three-point shooting did Orlando in, and Jameer Nelson's foul on Brandon Jennings late in regulation as he attempted to tie the game with a three-pointer allowed for the free five minutes tacked on in the end. Howard was too much, though. Very fluid to start, disappeared for a while (that's on the Bucks, to me, more than Dwight), and was omnipresent at the end. Scored when the ball met him, made plays on the other end. Omnipresent.
Ryan Anderson missed 1-7 threes and that hurt Orlando, but he also managed 13 rebounds off the bench, and the Magic needed absolutely every one of those down the stretch.
Plus/minus rarely tells a good story, but it works in this game. Steve Nash's plus/minus evened out to zero, but the Hornets seemed to make their hay with the Suns every time he sat out. NOLA's great defense mixed with Phoenix's floundering Nash-less offense allowed the Hornets a stern home win. The Suns have dropped to 1-5 since Channing Frye went out with a bum shoulder, mainly because Steve Nash was out for a good chunk of that.
Chris Paul is also enjoying a quiet renaissance, which is fantastic to behold. Twenty-six points and nine assists for the Hornets guard, as he had his way with both Nash and Aaron Brooks, helping make up for Trevor Ariza's 4-12 shooting and Willie Green's 3-11 mark from the field.
Just 36 points combined in the second and third quarters for the Suns, and an offense-first team can't win that way.
Toronto has been the absolute pits all season in allowing teams to waltz all over them on the interior, and Wednesday was no exception. The Pistons had a nice run to the basket whenever it wanted; and while Toronto made a good dash toward respectability in the second half, it was way too late.
Twenty-two points for Tayshaun Prince and 24 for Rip Hamilton, but Greg Monroe (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers) is the guy to look forward to. He's been passing well all year, and though the Raptors met him with little resistance, the rookie big man had all the answers several times as Toronto attempted to come back.
A team-leading 20 points and four rebounds for Andrea Bargnani. Charlie Villanueva hit a lay-up (somewhat) over him in the paint after a Raptor turnover during the fourth quarter, and it was the softest meeting I've seen since one of my cats fell asleep on an unopened 12-pack of toilet paper I left in my living room Wednesday night.
Indiana did score 32 points in the third quarter, and you had to like the way they left this game relatively close throughout, but the Pacers just didn't have the offensive firepower to hang with a deeper Boston outfit.
The lasting impression following this Boston win, and I think it's OK to walk away from a game like this thinking of him, was Rajon Rondo's scoreless outing. The guy had eight assists and was whipping the ball around the court at times in ways that didn't register in an assist, but he's clearly not himself. And with Carlos Arroyo and Delonte West coming along, even with the battle for the best in the East right now agianst Chicago, perhaps he could use a long weekend. Couldn't we all.
The Pacers did really well to crash the offensive boards, and the Boston interior looked pretty sketchy at times, but the Pacers also hit for well under 40 percent from the field and only managed nine free throw makes.
Nineteen points and three blocks off the Boston bench for Jeff Green in 27 minutes, as the new Celtic looked terrific.
This had all the makings of a game that could have been closer, but stop me if you could have seen this a mile away -- Denver's ability to bring in good depth that produced on both ends allowed the team to pull away, while Atlanta struggled to find consistent rotations following the first few minutes of the contest.
26 assists on 39 field goals for Denver, and the team held Atlanta to just 100 points per 100 possessions. It wasn't that the Nuggies were swapping players out 10 at a time, it's just that they had advantages on both ends throughout at several positions, and after a while it just added up. There's only so much a team can do when Jeff Teague (1-7 shooting) starts or Damien Wilkins (seriously) is getting an isolated post-up down low late in a close contest.
Twenty points, seven rebounds, and four blocks for the fantastic Nene.
I thought a game like this, between such disparate styles, could have been an interesting watch. But instead the most entertaining part of the night seemed to come before the second half tipped off, when Brad Miller appeared to have purposely popped Jordan Hill in the junk for a … joke? Either way, I was laughing.
Charlotte couldn't score. Houston actually did attempt to defend well on that end, but this is not a good or even passable defensive team, and yet the Bobcats' limited roster still couldn't do anything with that knowledge. Houston rookie Patrick Patterson notched 12 points and 10 rebounds after a tough start to his night (and he did start), while Hill came through with 12 points of his own with six boards in only 15 minutes. Two blocks, as well.
Stephen Jackson and Gerald Henderson combined to miss 20 of 25 shots, and Charlotte was pretty well out of it from the first quarter onward.
Yes, C.J. Miles scored 40 points.
It really shouldn't be that huge a surprise, should it? The guy usually comes to work with bad shot selection in his briefcase (alongside a turkey sandwich and some of those little Propel packets), but he can score, he can shoot, and the Timberwolves stink at closing out. Just 18 shot attempts for C.J., who hit six three-pointers, and Al Jefferson continued his charge with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.
Minnesota did compete, I suppose, and we're not really on board with telling you that they slept through this game. That's just a bad roster full of guys that can't defend. Or score very often even against teams that don't defend well themselves.
Anthony Randolph had 10 points and eight rebounds, as Minnesota force-fed him the ball in garbage time.
Whoo, boy, that Ramon Sessions can get to the rim in a hurry.
Sacramento helped. DeMarcus Cousins swiping at the ball 20 feet from the hoop (how many games has Sacto lost this year because Cousins and Beno Udrih couldn't handle a pick and roll?) and Samuel Dalembert's refusal to recognize that Ramon Sessions can make it to the front of the tin in an instant allowed the Cavs to stay strong late on the offensive end.
On the defensive end? Not to take credit away from Cleveland (this was a fine win), but the Kings shot themselves in the foot by going to Cousins twice late, while Marcus Thornton watched from 20 feet away.
The Cavs only made two three-pointers, but they shot over 50 percent, sorry, the lasting image after this one is Sessions going from 25 feet away to the front of that rim in about half a second, over and over again. Twenty points for the Cavaliers guard, and it was cool to watch.
I'm well aware of how expertly the Mavericks have played this season on the tougher end of back-to-backs, but to work this well offensively down the stretch against the Warriors, even after playing to the finals seconds in Portland the night before? That was impressive.
I don't care that the Warriors can't defend to save their lives. The jumpers still have to go in, the reactions have to be there, and the ball has to move. And the Mavericks really impressed me with their play down the stretch. Probably the best thing, considering they scored on just about every possession while piling up 31 fourth quarter points.
It was a nice return to form for Golden State's David Lee, who came through with 22 points, nine rebounds, and a couple of blocks. Lee hasn't been confident at all following that early-season elbow injury, and while this should completely excuse his frustrating play, he was clearly into all those jumpers he took on Wednesday.
Oh, and 34 and 13 rebounds for Dirk Nowitzki. You know how when he swishes a 20-footer announcers will say "that's a lay-up, for him?" Well, 34 and 13 with just one turnover on the second night of a back-to-back? That's a lay-up, for him.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy the Tournament.
- Steve Nash