It must be awfully tough for basketball players to work at their absolute best in an arena full of fans that has gone out of their way to orchestrate a night celebrating them individually. Baseball and hockey players probably have it rougher, there are only so many at bats or shots on goal to go around, but on giveaway nights that hand out your personalized bobblehead or heritage nights celebrating your particular place of birth, it can’t be easy working knowing that all eyes are on you – far more than they usually are.
Weirdly, on the same night, both Milwaukee’s Caron Butler and Houston’s Omri Casspi overcame all that not only to have solid, successful nights, but rather their best outings of the season. Milwaukee had given away Butler’s bobblehead doll before the team’s pairing with a fellow divisional disappointment in the Detroit Pistons. Caron, a local product, responded with a season-high 30 points as his Bucks ended a nine-game losing streak.
Butler needed the relief. From Matt Velazquez at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
This season hasn't exactly been the homecoming Caron Butler expected. The Racine native came to the Milwaukee Bucks expecting to play a central role in the rebuilding process but has instead found himself averaging about 24 minutes per game on the worst team in the NBA.
Wednesday night against the Pistons, though, Butler finally had the breakthrough that both he and the Bucks needed. On the night that his bobblehead was given out at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Butler turned in one of his best performances of the season with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists while playing 32-plus minutes off the bench to lead the Bucks to their first win of the new year, 104-101.
"This is a special day for me," Butler said. "A lot of loved ones, a lot of people in the community came out and supported me and the team tonight, so it's a special night. You want to put on a good show."
What makes Butler's night even more impressive is that he did it two days removed from getting a root canal and was questionable coming into the game.
"I wasn't feeling good yesterday and felt extremely weak, and coach just walked through the practice and he believed in me tonight and gave me the opportunity," Butler said. "That's why it was even more special."
This means the bobblehead night probably influenced Butler to rush back and play in a game he probably shouldn’t have, and yet he came through with a 30-point, seven-board and five assist night for the team’s first W in all of 2014.
(As an aside, the loss to the league’s worst team had the frustrated Detroit Pistons muttering to each other in the locker room afterward, and it inspired this curious exchange to reporters from Piston coach Maurice Cheeks and underutilized scoring forward Greg Monroe:
Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks, who was a point guard on the 1983 NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers, said Monroe can increase his offensive touches just with some vocal assertion.
"All you've got to do is tell the point guard, 'Run a play for me.' That's easy," Cheeks said.
Monroe said he never has asked Brandon Jennings for the ball, and it's probably out of character for the soft-spoken 23-year-old anyway.
"It's tough because they're calling plays," he said. "I don't want to sound like that selfish guy or anything like that. So it's tough to just go there and say that, you know what I mean?"
Dude. Maurice. Aren’t you the coach? Aren’t you calling plays just feet away from your team for half the game, and using hand signals, yelling and whistles to call action from across the court for the other half of the game?
No wonder Charlie Villanueva tweeted this after the loss:
It's inevitable, change is needed
— Charlie Villanueva (@CV31) January 23, 2014
End of aside.)
Things were a little happier in Houston on Wednesday night, as oft-inconsistent Rockets forward Omri Casspi topped his season-high of 20 points with a career high of 12 rebounds on Israeli Night in Houston. The Holon-born journeyman forward had solid stints in the second and third quarters before playing the entirety of the fourth in Houston’s 119-98 win over the Sacramento Kings.
There were 450 fans from Houston’s Israeli community in attendance, the Consulate General of Israel attended the game, and 3,000 flags were given out to fans as they entered the arena.
Casspi gave a quick public address about Israel at halftime.
“I got excited when I heard about this,” Casspi said. “There were a lot of flags given out, and the Jewish community was here supporting us. It’s just great. It warmed my heart, and I am happy to play in front of them.”
Casspi was able to meet with several of his fans after the game. The Rockets’ hosting Israel Night is another example of how global the NBA is becoming, Casspi said.
“It’s everywhere,” he said. “Here and overseas. It means a lot to me to play this game that can reach so many people.”
Most NBA teams feature these sorts of nights from time to time, but this is the best example I’ve heard of a player coming through with possibly his finest game as a pro, missing his career high in points by a lone three-pointer and hauling in a career-best in rebounds.
More bobbleheads and tiny flags, please.
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