Denver 122, Oklahoma City 112
First, the "112." Because the Thunder just continue to grow, game in and game out.
Kevin Durant's shot wasn't falling, in relative terms (9-20, 2-6 from behind the arc), so he took it to the line 12 times and finished with 31 points. Russell Westbrook was using his dribble to set up his ... shot? 14 and 11 assists for this firebrand, who did turn it over five times. Jeff Green (24 points) is savvy beyond his years. And I'm not saying that, as many do, because he's slow. He's slow and savvy and young and awesome.
Shaun Livingston had six points, two rebounds, three assists, a turnover and two steals off the bench in 17 minutes, and though he had no chance trying to guard Chauncey Billups, considering how he's spent his last two April 8ths, I'd say this was a step forward.
And the Thunder lost.
Because they're young, and the Nuggets are not. The Nugs are deep, tough, and they work hard. And they're probably going to grab that second seed. What a turnaround. What a season.
31, five rebounds, and five assists for Carmelo Anthony. He was the rock. Nene was the unexpected throwdown, 23 and 10 with three blocks. And when Nene took a couple of defensive possessions off (Nenad!), Chris Andersen came in to do what Marcus Camby couldn't do last season. Namely, get out on shooters, while still blocking a ton of shots.
In Denver "a ton" means "seven," along with nine rebounds, and eight points. Andersen's in shape, he's playing the right way, he's changing games, and he's (finally) getting minutes. Loving this.
The Spurs are in some real trouble. It's understandable to lose to a great team on the second night of a back-to-back, but I don't really see any real way for this team to improve. If Tim Duncan continues to play this poorly once the minutes add up, on a team this thin, adjustments won't matter. What sort of adjustments can you make? These guys need more talent, and athleticism. Not a new, Manu-less, plan.
Actually, on offense, the Spurs played as well as can reasonably be expected. Yes, they only dropped 83 points, and against a porous defensive outfit in Portland, but with Manu out and Duncan (four points, five rebounds, two turnovers in about 24 minutes) obviously ailing, putting up about 102 points per 100 possessions is pretty solid. Shooting 47 percent, only turning it over 10 times, making a third of your three-pointers ... that's not bad. Considering the rotation.
But they just didn't have the quickness to stay in front of Portland as the game went along. And with LaMarcus Aldridge (20 points, six rebounds in 39 minutes) playing out of his skull in the third quarter and Brandon Roy bringing his usual (26 points, six assists; though with six turnovers), the Spurs just couldn't compete. Throw in nifty (nifty!) bench play from Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez, Steve Blake's seven assists to one turnover, and you have a winner.
And we also have national TV evidence; finally, on just how badly Greg Oden has been scrumdiddlied by the refs this season. We all know that rookies get a raw deal, but this year it seems like this has been the case more often than in previous seasons, with Oden and Derrick Rose at the top of the heap.
Still, Rose's issues come from the calls he doesn't get, so he can stay on the floor. Oden gets what Rose gets, on top of and calls going the other way. It's pretty ridiculous, and Wednesday was another example of such. Thankfully, the word getting out could change things for Greg as we head into the playoffs. Oden finished with eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks and five fouls in over 21 minutes.
117 points per 100 possessions for San Antonio. Against the Spurs. This is the best offense in the NBA. Don't let the pace (just 81 possessions on Wednesday) fool you.
It's hard to believe that these two teams gave us this game, essentially the opposite of what went down on Wednesday, just a few weeks ago.
Indiana was hot early, middle, late, and Toronto just wasn't up to talking in transition, taking care of cross-matches, or staying in front of T.J. Ford. Every Raptor got a taste in this loss as Ford went off to the tune of 14 points and 11 assists in only 20 minutes. After a shaky start, Ford has handled his bench demotion well, here's hoping (entering his seventh season) he can keep up the all-around game entering 2009-10.
I don't know if the Raptors just gave up on this one because the team's season is over, because they were stuck in Indianapolis on some random Wednesday in April, or because Patrick O'Bryant was starting. But they weren't up to a very modest task. O'Bryant (16 and seven rebounds in 20 minutes before fouling out) played well, but Indiana was in charge all night.
A double-double for Josh McRoberts (12 and 11), who has had a good second year. Roy Hibbert had 17 points, seven rebounds, a block, and zero turnovers in 26 minutes, Danny Granger had 29 points on only 16 shots, and Troy Murphy (14 points, 14 boards, five assists, a block, a steal, a turnover in 25 minutes) was having fun out there. We should all have fun down there.
Washington can still get in a lick or two against the Cavaliers, but with Gilbert Arenas out, the Wizards had to fall short.
50 free throws in an 84 possession game, which is a lot, which meant I was flipping away from this contest quite a bit to try and take in other games.
I did see Ben Wallace come off the bench to have a damn good game with seven points, six rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes, but that has to end there. Go easy with him. Play Joe Smith. Play Anderson Varejao. J.J. Hickson's sore back will keep him out until the end of the month, but when he returns, play him. The Cavs shouldn't relegate Wallace to the end of the bench, far from it, but they should play the player, and not the reputation.
19 offensive rebounds for Cleveland, who dominated the glass. LeBron James finished with 21 points, six boards, seven assists, two turnovers and three steals in only 31 minutes.
Also, did anyone see Jeff Beck toss some rosin into the air last Saturday, in Cleveland, a la LeBron? No? Just me. Well, rock my plimsoul.
Too many turnovers, the offense was too stagnant, and the easy shots weren't, uh, easy to come by. Those were the reasons the Magic nearly lost to Memphis.
With that in place, let's give it up to the Grizzlies. Lionel Hollins' team has won five of 12, with the last two losses coming in close games to far, far superior teams from Portland and Orlando. On a back-to-back, no less.
It starts with Mike Conley Jr. He's playing damn well, and this didn't start when the Grizzlies traded Kyle Lowry, opening minutes, and a possible spark in confidence. This started recently, since dropping 31 and 9 on Philadelphia on March 7th.
Conley's been averaging 16 points, 5.5 assists, and about four rebounds and two steals since then. And that's not a case of a minutes jump, his per-minute stats have gone way up. The rest of the youngsters (Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol especially; Hamed Haddadi played well despite bad stats, O.J. Mayo needs to refine his shot selection) have done good work, and Hollins has the group caring.
(Marko Jaric? Not so much. He made one of three shots, which is his average on the year, and the one make was a lucky banked-in 20 footer.)
Hedo Turkoglu sort of took charge down the stretch, he didn't get some calls he would have preferred (this was a really physical game), and once Orlando got back to its screen and roll attack, Hedo was off. 20 points and seven assists for Turkoglu, a person that the President of the United States is aware of. Cool.
Minnesota actually had fewer assists than the Warriors (Golden State won that area, 22-20), but it was Minnesota's spacing and ball movement that won this game for the Timberwolves.
20 and 12 for Kevin Love, with zero turnovers (geesh, and he's 20!), with a block and steal and a block in 25 minutes.
Mike Miller, because he's Pete Myers now, finished with six assists, leading the Timberwolves. Alongside seven rebounds and six points. The Timberwolves turned it over on just seven percent of their possessions.
New Jersey's a tough offensive nut to crack, the team spreads the floor well, shares the ball, and can finish from the inside-out. It boasts good young athletes in Ryan Anderson and Brook Lopez, a whirling dervish in Devin Harris, and Vince Carter can still score on anyone when he puts his mind to it.
So I'm not going to kill the Celtics for giving up 115.6 points per 100 possessions to New Jersey. That's a lot, but New Jersey has talent, and the Celtics are just a completely different team without Kevin Garnett. Glen Davis has had a good couple of week, but the dropoff is just too significant. At times, they seem barely average. That's just me being nice.
Boston can put the ball in the basket, and at a top-notch rate when it hangs onto the ball. Give this team an average amount of turnovers, and they'd be amongst the league's best in offensive efficiency. As it stands, with all those miscues, they're a distant fifth in the NBA.
On Wednesday, few miscues, and a brilliant offensive showing. Rajon Rondo looked healthy, not exactly January-fresh, but he was all over on his way to 31 points in only 32 minutes on 15 shots. Nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, three turnovers for the third-year guard.
Mikki Moore and Eddie House combined to score 24 points on 13 shots off the bench, Stephon Marbury (four points, five assists, and this isn't a dig) had his best game as a Celtic, and the Nets just couldn't keep the Celtics from scoring in the paint. And why was Vince Carter (33 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, great game) holding onto the rock for five seconds before attempting a potential game-tying or winning shot with 18 seconds left? Odd, that.
Good effort from both teams, and a fun watch.
Thanks to Detroit for showing up, especially Antonio McDyess (13 points, 16 rebounds, six offensive), but the Knicks wanted nothing to do with this game. Playing the second end of a back-to-back, this late in a lottery season, when you know you're salary cap fodder? I can understand it. I don't like it, but I can understand why the Knicks barely went through the motions. Hell, Detroit has been doing it for more than half the season. Funny how that rubs off.
Detroit (54 percent shooting, 127 points per 100 possessions) just got whatever it wanted all night
I was really impressed by how spry these creaky Hawks looked early in this game, even if it only topped the Bucks by a point in the first quarter. Milwaukee took over for a spell after that, but Atlanta's second wind (its second second wind in as many nights), sucked the Hawks toward another win.
And, really, the Bucks shouldn't have been in this one. Even with Atlanta playing the night before. Keith Bogans was the impetus behind that mid-game charge for Milwaukee, and Keith Bogans really shouldn't be the impetus for anything but deciding to dine alfresco. Whose idea was that? Keith's? Great idea, Keith. I thought it was going to be chilly, but it was really nice out.
19 and nine rebounds for Al Horford, on only eight shots, as he got to play 40 minutes.
Too many possessions used up by guys other than Chris Paul or David West in this loss. The Suns had the floor spread in the third quarter, they were hitting from all over, and 14 third-quarter points from the Hornets helped develop a second-half lead that the Suns wouldn't relinquish.
I mean, really, 14 points? Singular focus, gentleman. Chris Paul, and the white hot power forward that likes to yell at Chris Paul. Nobody else.
The Phoenix offense dried up down the stretch, after Goran Dragic was replaced by Steve Nash in the fourth quarter (you read that correctly), but 35 Paul/West-led Hornets points weren't enough to close the gap.
Nash was the best Sun in this win, don't let anyone tell you differently, but Dragic was terrific in his little third quarter run. Nine points and five rebounds in about 14 total minutes, with zero turnovers and two assists. Nash finished with 24 points and 13 assists to one turnover. Very nice, he was just a slow starter after coming off the bench.
Paul (29 points, 16 assists, three turnovers, seven rebounds, amazing) was fantastic, as you'd expect, and David West just took it to Grant Hill and Jared Dudley all night. They had no chance against this guy. 28 and 12 for West, who just had to have a little acid creep up his esophagus every time he saw Rasual Butler or Julian Wright (combined 6-17 shooting) line up another shot attempt.
The 33-to-12 free throw attempt disparity in favor of the Suns didn't hurt, either. Phoenix was eliminated from playoff contention a few hours after this game ended.
Absolutely no excuses for the Jazz in this one. The team's transition defense was awful. Time after time, Mehmet Okur or Carlos Boozer either failed to get out on shooters, failed to stay in front of drivers, or (especially in Boozer's case) failed to guard the rim and provide any sort of weak side help. As if the driver is going to dump it off to Erick Dampier on the fly. As if the Jazz had to be scared of Damp's hands.
Actually, be scared of Damp's hands. Dampier missed a couple of chippies early on, but finished the night with 10 and 10 with a pair of turnovers, in 30 minutes.
No talking, no help, no defense. Almost 133 points per 100 possessions for the Mavericks, which was nearing the points per 100 (144, in that case) that Dallas put up against the Suns on Sunday. But that was with the excuse of Jason Kidd and Josh Howard (streaky lads) shooting out of their minds. Tonight, they combined to go 5-14. Dallas worked its tail off, but blame Utah more than you credit the Mavs. Way more. Pitiful defense.
Dallas is on fire. The Mavericks, I mean.
The team shot 55 percent, 46 percent from long range, and took in contributions from across the board. Antoine Wright helped to shut down Deron Williams (5-14 from the floor for DW), the Mavs made a point to push the Jazz out of their interior comfort zones with those in-paint passes (18 turnovers for Utah), and Dirk had another ho-hum 31 points on 18 shots.
J.J. Barea gets yanked from the starting lineup because of a matchup issue, and how does he respond? 18 and nine assists. Jason Terry was brilliant with 21 points and only one turnover, and the Mavs dominated Utah on the glass by a 47-34 mark.
The Jazz are shaping up to be this year's version of last year's Nuggets.