Mon Mar 15 10:05am EDT
It should have been scary after the loss to Memphis, and probably before that, but this was pretty bad. Boston doesn't look too good.
Cleveland put up nearly 116 points per 100 possessions in this win. Over the course of a season, that would easily lead the NBA in offensive efficiency. Worse for Boston, Cleveland's not exactly a top-flight offensive team, though they have been sneaking up the rankings after a slow start, and Boston is tops in defensive efficiency (giving up about 102 points per 100).
And then you factor in the free throws.
Cleveland missed 17 of them. I understand that Cavaliers aren't great guns from the line, either, as they're ranked second to last (Detroit, if you're curious) in the NBA in free throw percentage. But if they shoot their usual home percentage (say, five or six more makes) or actually move to the league's mean (about 76 percent), then you're looking at an absolute offensive explosion against the league's best defense.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Cleveland handed it to Boston last season, too, with Kevin Garnett(notes) on board. But it's still a bit shocking to see the C's (who have been getting killed for the team's supposed lax defense all season despite, once again, leading the league in defense) give up this much.
Yes. Cleveland shot 41 percent, not exactly burning the nets, and the team missed 15 of 22 threes in addition to all those free throw misses. And 104 points doesn't exactly smack of the Showtime Lakers.
But they only turned it over eight times in a hotly contested game. Eight times is fantastic, especially against a team that forces 15 a game. And 17 misses from the line feels like a ton, because it is a ton, but 31 makes is a huge amount. Toss in the fact that Cleveland grabbed an offensive board on nearly 35 percent of its misses, and you have a team doing work against, again, the best defense in the NBA.
Boston probably never expected to win this. It barely beat a terrible (beyond LeBron James(notes)) Cleveland team in the 2008 playoffs, it struggled mightily against the Cavs last year, and Cleveland's had its way with Boston in 2009-10. I'm not ready to give you the rock/paper/scissors treatment that the East keeps screaming about (you haven't heard it? Boston beats Orlando, Orlando beats Cleveland, Cleveland beats Boston), but I can't shake that feeling. Which is why I can't wait for the weather to warm up a bit.
James had 24 second half points, 30 all day with seven assists. And those are below his season averages. Geesh. Eight rebounds, two steals, three blocks and just two turnovers.
The vicissitudes of raw plus/minus?
Plus/minus king Anderson Varejao(notes) was all over the court, changing the tone of the game in the second quarter and finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds, a block, two assists and zero turnovers. He also managed several brilliant defensive plays that didn't show up in the box score. He finished with a +5.
Outside of pointing toward the team's effort, I have no idea how the Pacers came back. The contest wasn't televised, and while I listened to a good chunk of the second half on the radio, it was hard to determine just how Indiana was making a game of it outside of just merely hitting shots that they weren't hitting in the first half. And that's no slam on the fantastic radio duo of Mark Boyle and Slick Leonard, who had a game to call, and not a column to provide fodder for.
The Bucks prevailed, though, as Danny Granger(notes) (29 points) missed what sounded like a runner in Indiana's final possession. I know rookie A.J. Price(notes) and vet Solomon Jones(notes) had a hand in helping the Pacers off the bench, but Jerry Stackhouse(notes) had 20 points off the bench for Milwaukee, and Andrew Bogut(notes) managed a double-double (17 and 12) with four assists and three blocks in 31 minutes.
The Timberwolves don't give a rip, and neither should you.
Dwyane Wade's(notes) helpers put this game away with Wade on the bench to start the fourth quarter, but it didn't seem that surprising. The Heat benchmen had been playing pretty well up to that point, with James Jones(notes) and Jamaal Magliore coming out of nowhere to help for the duration of the game in bits and pieces, and you almost got the idea that they felt they could hang with the 76ers even if Wade hadn't suited up. Hang with all the ones save Thad Young, perhaps.
Mind you, Wade helped himself to a little bit of what was all around. Thirty-eight points and five steals, he even got rim. But this was a team effort against a Sixers team that is just dying for May like the rest of us.
You see the smallish score for the Magic and the so-so point total for Charlotte and you'd think this a defensive slugfest. It was, actually, but it was won by the Bobcats because Charlotte scored points over the top of the defensive slugfest.
It was such a slow game that those 96 points might not impress, but Charlotte shot 47 from the field, 50 percent from long range, and over 80 percent from the free throw line. The team contributed nearly 113 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would perch them squarely between the Suns and Nuggets (one and deux in offense this year) were they to average it for the year.
Stephen Jackson(notes) was the killer. Someone like Mickael Pietrus(notes) would seem to have his way with his body type-doppelganger in Jax, but though Pietrus worked his butt off, Jackson was just hitting tough shot after tough shot. Not forcing much, not being a pain, not getting lucky. Just playing within himself and the offense and contributing when called upon. And on the road and with Gerald Wallace(notes) out, the Bobcats had Jackson's phone ringing off the hook.
The box score tells you what went wrong with Orlando, you could feel it watching the game and there's no getting away from it a day later - Jameer Nelson(notes) and Rashard Lewis(notes) cost the Magic the game with their poor shooting. And these misses weren't always contested.
The pair was 3-for-17, and while the team's bench (4-15 from the field) also struggled, Lewis and Nelson are former All-Stars, and it's that shooting that puts Orlando over the top. Mock VC and his horseshoe hair all you want, but I can count on him, and Howard. It's Howard and Lewis that scare me.
Just one block, from Theo Ratliff(notes), all game for Charlotte. Blew me away to see that, because if I were to sprinkle an extra 47 centimeters around that game Sunday night on the Bobcats' behalf, Ratliff, Tyrus Thomas(notes), Stephen Graham(notes) and even Boris Diaw(notes) would have had four apiece. Great work contesting shots for that bunch.
Thomas had 18 PER in Charlotte. So there's that.
I love offense. While watching the late showing of "Winning Time" last night, my better half couldn't understand why I was making these involuntary gagging noises as the documentary reeled off some of the final scores from the 1994 Eastern Conference finals: 78 points, 68 points. Winning with 88 points. Ugh. I miss some of that, but overall? Good riddance.
This game? This was hard to watch. It honestly was, because the defense was so bad on either end. Both teams are slow-down scorers, so the raw score didn't reek of a 132-121 Phoenix win over the Warriors, but the defense was just as bad as those two teams at their worst.
Portland scored 109 points in an 80 possession game, and that's pretty bad. I respect Portland's offense a great deal and like that team a lot, but that's just miserable defense, Toronto. And it was exactly what you would expect after seeing that Portland made 12-20 three-pointers: Toronto just didn't close out. Didn't even consider it.
The Blazers weren't much better, defensively. The Trail Blazers had 136.5 points per 100 possessions, 122 points per 100 for Toronto. Stinko.
Zip, zip, zip for the Suns. New Orleans had actually come back to take a one-possession lead before a few long passes and finishes had the Suns ahead for good.
And New Orleans? The Hornets dug themselves quite a hole with some bad first quarter defense. Truly bad. Beyond that, though, this is for the Hornets.
These guys are really, truly, giving great effort. Jeff Bower has been the coach of the Hornets for about four months, and he's had Chris Paul(notes) on hand for less than half that time, and yet he's had this team playing .500 ball in the West. It's a phenomenal accomplishment, because more than any other team with any other player, the ball really rolls right off the table once you take Paul away. Bruce Sutter-styled dropoff, my man.
But the Hornets worked their way back. These two rookies are unflappable, Darren Collison(notes) might be a bit excitable, but Marcus Thornton(notes) is as cool as ... geez, don't touch that! That's freezing. Damn.
When are we going to start considering this kid for the Sixth Man Award?
And speaking of dropoff, after Collison, on the Hornet bench? Darius Songaila(notes) and Aaron Gray(notes). Every opposing announcing duo laughs at Gray when he comes off the bench. Seriously. Every one.
The Hornets are always there, though. So much respect for this team. Give ‘em a watch if you can.
So many good things to take away from this game, for both sides.
To begin, the Thunder can score now. As Russell Westbrook(notes) has improved as the season has moved along, Oklahoma City keeps getting better and better at putting the ball in the hole. The team put up nearly 130 points per 100 possessions in this win, a shocking amount for a team that spent the better part of the winter clanging away (even as the they defended hard on the other end).
Of course, they also gave up quite a bit to the Jazz; but great offense always beats great defense. The Jazz can fill it up, and I'm not going to get too down about that.
On Utah's side? They competed like mad despite playing two power forwards, two shooting guards (Wesley Matthews(notes) hit six three pointers in seven tries, great night for him), and Deron Williams(notes). Stuck without Memo Okur and Andrei Kirilenko(notes), Utah still squeezed all that it could out of its smallish rotation, and made a game out of this. Stuck in the living room and bummed about potentially missing out on trad vs. up and comer classic because of the injuries, Utah's effort was greatly appreciated.
Deron Williams guarded Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook didn't guard Deron Williams, Thabo Sefolosha(notes) did, and take that for however the hell you want to take that. I'm not sure myself. I'll tell you what happened, though: 30 points, 11 assists, five turnovers for RW at the age of 21. DW had 27 points, 14 assists and just two turnovers. These two went at it, so much so that Kevin Durant's(notes) 35 felt almost ho-hum.
The length and quickness were just too much for Utah. The Jazz had no help off the bench with Fes and Kyle Korver(notes) slowin' it up, and between Serge Ibaka(notes) (boards), Nick Collison(notes) (showing on screen and rolls), and Eric Maynor(notes) (point guard leadership beyond his years), the Thunder had too much help.
Oklahoma City is now tied with the Jazz in the loss column, and the Thunder hold the tiebreaker after beating Utah for the third time this season.