Ball Don't Lie - NBA

San Antonio 131, Toronto 124

We had no idea what to expect heading into this game. San Antonio was without Tim Duncan(notes) and Tony Parker(notes), and while it seems like a slap in the face to expect that Toronto might have a hard time downing a Spurs roster without its top two players, one also has to remember that the Raps are a team with a lot of holes and a lot of issues right now. Perhaps, someday, the Raptors will remember as much.

Somehow, we got the unexpected. A fantastic game, quite entertaining, and one that allowed us a peek at the reemergence of Manu Ginobili(notes), superstar.

Sure, it might only be for a game, Ginobili's body and timing and touch and balance and rhythm still have a long way to go, but the bad boy was just a beast for 32 bench minutes. And San Antonio needed every ounce of Manu's production, and influence.

Not before we got a shootout. That shouldn't surprise, considering Toronto's problems on the defensive end and the presence of Tim Duncan in street clothes. But the sheer totals? This was some knockout stuff.

The Spurs managed 141 points per 100 possessions, the Raptors 133. For comparison's sake, 114 points per 100 possessions led the league last year. Led the league.

It makes sense, for the Raptors.

San Antonio was doughy on the interior even with Duncan around, entering the game 21st in defensive efficiency — a far cry from their title-era runs that saw them routinely top the NBA in that mark. Theo Ratliff(notes) got the start at center in both halves, but he played fewer than nine minutes and really didn't make much of an impact. Beyond that, it was a series of more-or-less wing players (Matt Bonner(notes), Richard Jefferson(notes)) and undersized power forwards (Antonio McDyess(notes), DeJuan Blair(notes)) holding the fort.

So you can see why Chris Bosh(notes) (32 points) and Andrea Bargnani(notes) (17 points) had their way. What I can't see why Bargs managed only four rebounds in 32 minutes. Toronto was out-rebounded by 12 to a miserable rebounding team missing its best per game rebounder in Duncan. Blair is, barely, the Spurs' best at rebound rate, but a distant third remains Antonio McDyess. Antonio's 11.1 percent rebound rate falls, league-wise, behind luminaries like Michael Beasley(notes), Kevin Durant(notes), and even Bargnani himself in 2009-10.

Somehow, San Antonio had the edge. Dyess chipped in with 10 caroms. Richard Jefferson was aggressive early, and finished with a fantastic line that included 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and just one turnover.

But it all paled, in comparison to the guy with the pale halo on the top of his head.

Ginobili had 36 points on only 15 shots, astounding efficiency. His 16 free throw attempts helped make this a rather bland game in the first half, but his incendiary touch from long range (making six of eight attempts) put the Raptors on the canvas. This guy blocked four shots — four shots! — started breaks, finished them, and found the open man (eight assists) when applicable.

He was a monster. We've seen this fright before, but it's been too, too long for Manu. And whether this is a sign of things to come or just a blip on the radar until he's finally in physical range, I could not care less. For one night, there he was. Manu Ginobili. A bad, bad boy.

(Photo credit: AP)

***

Golden State 146, Minnesota 105

This game was a reminder of what you already knew. And depending on how you look at that glass, perched halfway up with life-giving earth nectar, or dropped down, with emptiness and despair blocking your way to the top, you can take this two ways.

The half-full version reminds you that the Warriors have playoff-level talent. Of course, the roster is mismatched, good players are hurting or out with injuries, and the rotation could be better off. But the talent on this squad is too immense to ignore. 146 points in an NBA game? Tell me that's a fluke. Tell me they lucked their way into it.

The half-empty version reminds you that this almost-inspiring batch of talent and offensive firepower is being wasted on Don Nelson. Someone who is more interested in leaving his bosses smitten with his ways and winning mind games over the players he's supposed to support and inspire, than winning games at this point. He just won a game by 41 points. Won't change a thing. Check clears on Friday.

Apologies for the dour tone. It was fun to watch. Monta Ellis'(notes) spring is back, for the first time since 2007-08. He can take off from the wrong foot and finish the right way. 18 points, 10 rebounds, three steals. Kelenna Azubuike(notes) takes a lot of plays off on either end, but who cares when you're dropping 31 points? I kind of do, but just roll with the sport journo orthodoxy.

Anthony Morrow(notes) was automatic, 20 points on 10 shots, Acie Law(notes) was a bit of fun down the stretch with 10 points and five steals, and Anthony Randolph(notes) is exactly who you thought he was. Gun-shy, skittish, nervous, poorly-trained, impeccably talented, and he needs to be kidnapped by the Spurs. 23 points, seven rebounds, three steals, three blocks, two turnovers in 30 minutes.

I can't tell you why the Timberwolves were so awful defensively. Efficiency-wise, because of the pace, they weren't as bad as the Raptors on Monday, but Minnesota looked slow, timid, and short in the loss.

Also, Jonny Flynn(notes) and Wayne Ellington's(notes) post-draft jump shot reputations apparently were traded for each other some time in August.

***

Phoenix 119, Philadelphia 115

Yes, we're only eight games into the team's season, but the Phoenix Suns just keep finding new ways to impress.

You know where I'm going with this. I could tell you how warming it was to see the Suns pull out a win that they really didn't have to. In the last game of a satisfying Eastern jaunt. After starting the year winning six of seven. While playing their fifth game in seven nights.

This goes deeper, though. The long shots will eventually dry up, but the Suns don't have the look of a flash in the pan. Basically due to those flashes of pain Phoenix handed out in the form of a poi-fect three-pointer after poi-fect three-pointer.

The 76ers made as many free throws as the Suns, shot a better overall percentage, and turned the ball over fewer times than the Suns. They were also able to get up five more shots, due to the team's 10 offensive rebounds. The only thing that allowed for the four-point gulf between the two outfits was the ridiculous 15-30 mark from behind the three-point line for Phoenix.

So, Philadelphia lost because they could make closer to half of 30 three-point attempts. Nuts.

Part of this is Philly's fault. They could have defended the line much better, and they could have had a better sense of just what Phoenix wants out of its typical possession.

Phoenix understands that a three-pointer unleashed by a good shooter, despite the low overall success rate in comparison to Darryl Dawkins' career shooting percentage, is still one of the more efficient looks in our modern game. Philly was just caught, too many times, thinking "naw, he wouldn't take a quick one like that." Except that "he" often did, and they went in 15 times, in 30 attempts. 45 points, in 30 possessions. Death on two legs.

Why didn't Lou Williams (6-16 shooting) bust Steve Nash(notes) when he had the chance?

Steve Nash actually played some pretty smart D.

Why couldn't Elton Brand(notes) go off?

He has nothing left. He managed two rebounds in 21 minutes.

Why couldn't Philly pull away in the first or second halves? Nash was dishing (20 assists), but Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) was hardly dominating.

Stoudemire played well throughout, actually, and the Sixers had no answer for trying to find Jason Richardson(notes) (29 points on 16 shots) on the break and in the half-court, and Jared Dudley(notes) (18 points on just seven shots, five rebounds, three steals in 22 minutes) in the second half.

Why are the Suns 7-1?

Because they're smart. They're really smart. They have, like, big brains.

I understand that some of this team's most prominent personalities have either bleached their tips, or driven young children around without a car seat, or tattooed "Black Jesus" on their bodies (what were you thinking, Grant Hill(notes)?); but this team really knows how to cherish a possession on both ends. Even while giving up heaps of points.

And, yes, the Suns should get extra credit for not packing it in. For not giving up, playing the last game of the road trip, or the fifth game in seven nights. Or even for passing on trying to shoot their way back. Yes, the three-pointers were falling tonight; but the Suns weren't greedy in that second half. They could have been lazy and tried to chuck their way back, passable because all those bombs were going in. But the Suns drove.

They talked, they pointed, they moved their feet, they moved the ball, and they won.

***

Utah 95, New York 93

In what seems like the typical Knick performance at this point, New York fell behind early due to some listless play and the presence of a superior opponent before racing back to make a game of it in the fourth quarter, only to fall short.

Though this wasn't a sterling offensive performance by any stretch, both teams hovered around the 100 points per 100 possessions mark, the Jazz truly let the Knicks have easy look after easy look in that second half. Reverse that, switch "second" with "first," and you have the way the Jazz raced out to an early lead.

Utah's early run was easier, the looks were easier, New York's defense was crummier. But that still doesn't excuse Utah's defensive gaffes in that second half. I won't go into full detail, as I had to flip around a bit, but why, exactly, were the Jazz (er, Carlos Boozer(notes)) paying that much attention to Jared Jeffries(notes) on screen and roll plays?

The Jazz also allowed New York back in it with a series of turnovers, a fifth of Utah's possessions ended in a turnover on Monday, but the hole was just too deep for New York to dig out of. Boozer managed 23 points only 14 shots, with 14 rebounds. Andrei Kirilenko(notes) turned in 23 points, six boards, six assists, a block, and just one turnover. Deron Williams(notes) dished 16 assists, though he did turn it over seven times, while missing eight of 10 shots and hauling in six rebounds.

Rookie Toney Douglas(notes) (21 points on 14 shots, as ineffective starters Chris Duhon(notes) and David Lee(notes) sat down the stretch) played well for New York, but he botched a last-second attempt at a tie (or win, with Al Harrington(notes) wide open for a corner three-pointer), and the Knicks have fallen to 1-7. Good news for the Jazz, who own New York's first round pick in next June's draft.

***

New Orleans 112, Los Angeles Clippers 84

The Hornets have had an impossible time of late, and a strong win over the Clippers won't do much to change what has been a 3-5 start, but it did remind us of something few bring up.

Not only was New Orleans' offense a killer, during the team's 56-win turn during the 2007-08 season, but the squad's defense also made a significant difference. Seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency that year, done mainly with the same crew that fell to ninth last year. And, entering Monday's game, 28th.

28th, in defensive efficiency. With a roster that would probably drop to 29th in offense (16th, entering Monday's action) were it not for the MVP-level season of Chris Paul(notes) thus far. That ain't all Emeka.

So the Hornets got after it defensively on Monday, holding the helpless Clippers to only 89 points per 100 possessions in the win. That took them from 28th to 25th in defense. Still got a long way to go.

I'm not going to fall too much in love with New Orleans' offensive output. I like Devin Brown(notes), but we won't be seeing many 5-8 shooting nights from behind the arc from here on out, even if he does return as a (deserved) starter. The Clippers just missed so many rotations.

So many. I'm not asking them to call "ball" and stop Chris Paul (24 points and 10 assists in 24 minutes) in semi-transition (who can?), or hound David West(notes) off his spot 21-feet from the hoop (actually, the latter would be nice), but they just let the Hornets walk all over them offensively. Lick and a promise, nothing else.

The Clippers were without Eric Gordon(notes), but EG wouldn't have meant a damn had the Clippers brought the same style of defense in his presence.

In related news, Ricky Davis(notes) played over half the game for Los Angeles.

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