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Ball Don't Lie

Behind the Box Score, where the Thunder know what we want

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Started in 1999, Behind the Box Score is a column that moves beyond what you've already seen, or read. If you're looking for recaps that reference who hit that game-winner, or who the team's leading rebounder was, well, you've likely already read that recap, or watched that highlight package, and what's the point in reading it again? This is for the junkies, and those who are still buzzing over last night's games.

If you'd like to move beyond the typical game recaps, in the ever-changing discussion that keeps flowing in the wake of a good or great or even terrible basketball game? Then BtB is for you. Let's delve.

***

Oklahoma City 107, Denver 103

There were eight games over the weekend, and all had their charms. Actually, all had their curves, their looks, fine hair, a great smile, a charming sense of humor, and personality to spare. Sweet car, too, and even nicer job. This was a brilliant weekend for pro basketball.

And though there may have been bigger surprises over the weekend, or closer finishes, or nastier last-second funk-o-tude, no game in this fabulous eight-game turn rivaled what the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets gave us late Sunday night. The last three minutes of this game? A turnover-happy, clang-filled mess. The first 45 minutes? As good as basketball gets. Tell me you weren't yelling at the screen for the duration.

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Denver got off to the quick lead, going up double-figures within the first couple of minutes, but beyond that it was a back and forth that just never seemed to quit. The TNT crew went on and on about the terrible defense at halftime, but did it miss all those hands in faces as those tiny Denver point guards knocked in those long jumpers and runners? Did it not see the rotations that swung to help on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, as they (especially in the first half) took advantage and slunked their way to the free-throw line?

Beyond that, we got a game with 93 possessions (fast'ish!) that showcased two teams working with league-high levels of offensive efficiency, and the Thunder were kind enough to stop earning their points in the second half through super-dull things like free throws and smart play. No, the Thunder banked on brilliance from Durant (41 points) from long range or on the drive as they put up all those points, and Westbrook (31 points, including the game-clinching jumper as Durant was shoved into the basket stanchion) wasn't far off.

I've seen this game twice by now, and I've little to offer besides the encouragement that you either try to watch this one again, or tune in for the rest of the series. Denver did great work in limiting OKC's free throws, which is no small task, and the Thunder did well to help and grab (Kendrick Perkins was fantastic in the final important Nugget possession, denying a drive while getting out on Kenyon Martin as he missed a crucial 20-foot jumper) and key in on the Nuggies late. Still, that didn't stop Ty Lawson from getting the rim, or Nene from throwing it down. For 95 percent of the game, the Nuggets got theirs.

More of that, please.

***

Memphis 101, San Antonio 98

This game, especially on San Antonio's end, needed a breakthrough sort of player. And Manu Ginobili is that guy, isn't he? The sort of talent who can spearhead a 12-4 run? The person who ends a broken play with an and-one, or the type of talent that turns a long rebound into a smart finish or perfect dish? Honestly, the Spurs were one Manu Ginobili away from a comfortable win.

As it stood, the team was lacking. It didn't have the bodies up front to deal with Zach Randolph (who finished with 25 points and 14 boards) or Marc Gasol (24 and nine). Tim Duncan only guarded Zach for a few possessions, but he also guarded Gasol for dozens of trips down court, so you can't exactly pin your hopes on a Duncan-defended turnaround, can you?

Worse for Spurs fans, Memphis looked flighty to start the game. Mike Conley and Sam Young and Darrell Arthur looked and sometimes played like playoff novices, scared of the scene, and yet Memphis still hung on to win.

Moving forward, though, what does San Antonio bank on? Tony Parker doesn't miss 12-of-16 shots the next time out, we'd guess, but he probably won't earn 16 free-throw attempts either. This isn't to say Memphis will walk, as the Spurs will likely take Game 2 and a few other games in this series. Easy answers, though, don't exactly abound.

***

New Orleans 109, Los Angeles Lakers 100

All Chris Paul. It's as simple as that.

Yes, Kobe Bryant was crap down the stretch, but to anyone that has actually been paying attention to the Lakers since October, this was no surprise. Yes, Pau Gasol was pretty ineffective throughout, but this is what happens when you don't run the sideline triangle inside-out.

Chris Paul, though? That was a surprise. This was a return to glory. This was a player that was far and away this league's most effective point guard, returning to form. And even if he skulks back to his 2011-typical, go-with-the-flow ways? I'll take it. For one Sunday afternoon, we got Chris Paul back.

And the Lakers had to go down as a result. Because few teams, much less one starting Derek Fisher at point guard, can handle getting "Chris Paul back." In a 90-possession game, for someone to pull off 33 points, 14 assists and four steals? That's some Wilt Chamberlain stuff. This was Chris Paul, working an NBA game featuring the two-time defending champs like a yo-yo.

The rest of the Hornets were fantastic, too, which is why I have little faith in New Orleans moving forward. Trevor Ariza was his usual, worst-offensive-player-in-the-NBA self with a 2-13 mark. But Jarrett Jack, Aaron Gray and Willie Green combined to hit 14-of-18 shots off of the NOLA bench. And unless the Lakers are really junksauce, this won't happen again.

Kobe Bryant working up a solid line (34 points on 26 shots, five assists, five turnovers) and falling short down the stretch? If you haven't paid much attention to the NBA so far this season, I understand. It's a long year, you have very interesting children to read to. But please understand that this has been the norm for Bryant. Last year, he hit a ton of last-second buzzer-beaters, though his shooting percentage down the stretch of games tended to rival Tony Gwynn's best batting years. And that's been the case for the last half-decade -- plenty of buzzer-beaters, but not a lot of effectiveness. Which is why you remember the buzzer-beaters, but never recall the bad shots that lead up to the necessity for a buzzer-beater.

All of which wouldn't be a problem if the Lakers could guard Chris Paul. But though Derek Fisher certainly has his issues with the point man, this wasn't all on him. 1994-era Gary Payton wasn't checking Chris Paul on Sunday, and CP3 got his fair share of killers off of impossible (and properly defended) long twos and stunning drives. Nothing was going to work. Which is why, sorry, I still think the Lakers should take this series.

It just won't be in four, as we suspected. Hell yes, amirite?

***

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Boston 87, New York 85

Doc Rivers was upset with his team's defense in the first half of this game, and he's right in that regard. Just as long as he was really, really upset with his team's offense in the first half.

I understand that working within a half-court stance after taking the ball out of the nets following a made shot is not the most effective stance for Boston's offense. Rivers is right to point out that the C's needed an easier push that should have started with the team closing out on shooters better. But, honestly, this was on Boston's offense. The Celtics allowed a nasty-good Knicks offense to only put up around 100 points per 100 possessions, and though New York may have rung up 51 points in the first half, the Boston offense was the issue, 'ere.

Remember the talk from last winter, about how the Celtics (with Shaquille O'Neal in the fold) were starting five possible Hall of Famers? It makes you wonder about how great Rajon Rondo could have been had he not retired last February. Bummer.

New York? Well, Carmelo Anthony took terrible shots. Not just to end the game, and I'm not saying they all missed the mark (some, strangely, went in). He just has a thing going that says, "3-pointer? Of course. It's time." And he's usually wrong, with that particular thing. Fifteen points, 5-18 shooting, 2-8 from long range for Anthony; and one of those 3-point makes was a terrible shot early in the shot clock with CA hoping to get fouled.

Which is a bummer, because Amar'e Stoudemire was clearly on it. Twenty-eight points, 11 boards, 12-18 shooting, and to these eyes the Celtics didn't exactly go out of their way to take the man out of the game late in the fourth quarter. I understand that big men are notoriously hard to feed late in games, and that Kevin Garnett is still an active participant on the Boston roster, but there was no excuse for ignoring a player who had continually left us with drool dangling for the first 3 1/2 quarters. Gross, I know, but did you see this game? Stoudemire was astonishing. There's no other word to use, amongst polite company.

Good win for Boston. I suspect it gets better for them for here on out.

***

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