Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Milwaukee 98, Atlanta 95

There was a point in this game, in the fourth quarter, where neither team could miss. I wanted to rewind the contest on the DVR to check just when the make-fest started, but I was afraid to move. If I lift a finger, move a remote, blink three times ... anything could set off that butterfly effect, and then Joe Johnson(notes) would rim out a jumper. So I watched.

And it was a watch. A thrilling game from these teams, and though Atlanta had a few dominant stretches in the second quarter, it was a competitive back-and-forth throughout.

The story of the game is the way John Salmons(notes) and Johnson went at each other - or, each other's teams, as neither guarded the other - in the fourth quarter. Salmons finished with 32 points, 16 in the quarter, while JJ managed 14 in the fourth and 27 total. Neither player saw a double-team during the run, and it was appreciated; at least by non-Hawk or Bucks fans. Just a bucket being answered by another bucket.

In the end, Milwaukee prevailed because it had a very un-Milwaukee-like 14-6 made free throw advantage, and the team's defense is just too good. Atlanta scored 114 points per 100 possessions, that's a ton (the Bucks give 102.6 per 100, entering Monday night), but Luc Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino(notes) and others were just too stingy down the stretch.

Andrew Bogut(notes) is one of the "others." I think he's about as destructive force defensively as we have in this league, but after a tough third quarter (1-5 shooting, three boards), Bucks coach Scott Skiles sat Bogut for all but the final three and a half minutes of the fourth in favor of Kurt Thomas(notes) (who didn't shoot or score and had two rebounds during that term). Now, Thomas works his tail off, and the Bucks were +7 with Kurt on the floor during that stretch, but that ... that's not because of Kurt Thomas.

Meanwhile, Joe Johnson was floating toward the rim going left or right the whole quarter, as Thomas just did what he can do these days (watch the shot go up, and box his man out). Bogut can guard the rim, though, even if he doesn't block the shot (though he has registered a block in 34 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NBA right now).

Skiles does this a lot - and has for years. Play the five guys he feels comfortable with, regardless of status, salary, starting roles, whatever. But while nobody is owed minutes, you have to go big. Bogut destroys teams in the paint, and even if the Hawks had their way for most of the game offensively prior to the fourth, that can't hold up. The Hawks scored just two field goals in Bogut's 3:31 in the fourth quarter, both coming on long jumpers.

***

Orlando 109, Philadelphia 93

Philly actually showcased a sound offensive game against one of the league's best defensive outfits. The 76ers moved the ball and took sound shots. Elton Brand(notes) got off to a hot start with some good early post position and quick moves, but the Magic just slowly chipped away and turned up the heat defensively as the contest moved along.

And the Sixers? They weren't playing defense the entire game. Over 128 points per 100 possessions for Orlando, as the game's slow pace hid things in Philadelphia's favor. Just 109 points for the Magic, but they nailed 16 three-pointers and shot 52 percent overall. Hummin'.

Orlando has now won 50 games, making this the first 50-game winner Vince Carter(notes) has ever played on. That seems unlikely since there were a few good years in New Jersey and that one hot and healthy year in Toronto in 2000-01, but it is the truth. And, more than it speaks of Vince, that bit of trivia mostly tells you how terrible the East has been over the last decade-plus.

***

Chicago 98, Houston 88

Tired legs on the Rocket jumpers and good D from Chicago in this game. I was surprised that Houston didn't try to trap Derrick Rose(notes) more off the screen and roll, Shane Battier's(notes) absence may have knocked that wrinkle out of the game plan, but with guys such as Trevor Ariza and Jared Jeffries(notes) around (and all those bigs), you'd think the Rockets would have the backups.

Still, good shooting when they needed it most for the Bulls. Rose had 27 points, seven rebounds and eight assists (four turnovers, five missed 3-pointers), Flip Murray(notes) took some terrible shots; but some of those went in, and he got to the line enough to make it an efficient night - 18 points on eight shot attempts.

Luis Scola(notes) had 22 points and 10 rebounds, though he missed 12 of 21 shots, while the Rocket backcourt triptych of Kevin Martin(notes), Kyle Lowry(notes) and (especially) Aaron Brooks(notes) combined to shoot 11-41 (26.8 percent).

Houston shot 33 percent overall and was killed on the boards a night after playing in New York City.

***

Miami 99, New Jersey 89

Check this bit out, from Tom Canavan in the AP recap of the game:

Historically, Miami has played well in March. Since the 2003-04 season, it has compiled a 65-39 record, with the 65 wins and the .625 winning percentage being the highest for the team in any month over that seven-year period.

That's actually pretty darn impressive, especially when you consider that the Heat were essentially an up-and-comer in that first year, a championship contender and then champion for the next two, a fading and older team the next year, an outright D-League outfit plus Shawn Marion(notes) (with Dwyane Wade(notes) hurt) two years ago, and a team that has essentially been biding its time over the last two seasons, waiting until the summer of 2010.

Would not have guessed "the Heat" as an answer to "in the LeBron/Wade/Kendrick Perkins(notes) Era, what's been the most successful team in the regular season's last full month?"

This game had its moments. Courtney Lee(notes) went off (13 points on six shots) in the first period on New Jersey's behalf, but then sat for all but three shot-less minutes in the second quarter in favor of Jarvis Hayes(notes) and Chris Douglas-Roberts(notes), who didn't connect for a single point. Terrence Williams(notes) played well, but badly sprained his ankle in the second half, and while Lee cooled off (1-5 shooting in the second half), well ... nobody really stepped up.

The Nets hit 16 more free throws than Miami, but they missed 45 shots from the field and forced only eight Miami turnovers.

Fair night for Dwyane Wade: 27 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, two turnovers, two steals and a block.

***

Memphis 102, Sacramento 85

Without Tyreke Evans(notes), the Kings just couldn't compete with Memphis offensively, and they seemed to have no answer for O.J. Mayo(notes) when Mayo decided to make it so that that Kings had no answer for him. Mayo kind of coasted at times, is what I'm saying, but he was front and center when Memphis pulled away.

Zach Randolph(notes) had 25 points and 12 rebounds with zero turnovers in the win, while youngsters Darrell Arthur(notes) and Sam Young(notes) played well off the bench for Lionel Hollins.

***

San Antonio 99, Oklahoma City 96

What a great game. I'd tell you that the Spurs only won because they've turned into an offensive powerhouse, or that the Thunder just couldn't keep up, or any number of things that would make it sound like this game wasn't completely and utterly even despite the final score, but that wouldn't be right.

The difference was that, in a game that saw teams trading shots and stops, the Thunder turned it over in the final minute (Russell Westbrook(notes) stepped in-bounds on an out of bounds play), and an open 3-pointer from Thabo Sefolosha(notes) (pictured, above) rimmed out. That was the difference.

Both squads played on Sunday and had to travel to Oklahoma City, so in retrospect the Spurs and Thunder should have been a step slow, but I didn't really see it. I just saw two great teams going at it. Serge Ibaka(notes) had this objective analyst yelling "SERGE!" in his living room two times with quick feet and a late block on Tim Duncan(notes), Gregg Popovich's decision to let George Hill(notes) guard Kevin Durant(notes) was curious, Durant went off for 45 points, and even on a night that saw me have to flip through 10 games, I was hoping for overtime.

The Hill-on-Durant thing bugged me. I get the idea that tells you that Durant is going to get his no matter what, and that you'd want to save Keith Bogans(notes) or Richard Jefferson(notes) for the final two minutes so as to throw Durant off his comfort zone (which the Spurs did, and that's exactly what happened save for one tough jumper over Jefferson and Tim Duncan), but to give up 45 points in order to shut Kevin down for the last two? You take risks, Popovich. You're unorthodox. You don't play by the rules and I'm tired of having to explain your shenanigans to the commissioner, but dammit ... I respect you.

Hill had 27 points on the other end, he didn't exactly replace Tony Parker(notes) (zero assists), but he scored well on what had to be tired legs. The Spurs bench did well to hold serve in the second half, and the Thunder were just good in all areas save for hitting 3-pointers: 3-12. Ibaka was great, Eric Maynor(notes) missed four of five shots (though his one make, a banker with the shot clock dwindling, was huge) but had five boards and four assists to zero turnovers off the bench, and Durant was brilliant.

***

Toronto 106, Minnesota 100

The Timberwolves gave some good effort in this loss, they worked hard to come from behind after Toronto pulled away, and they were actually merely outclassed. As opposed to be outworked.

Andrea Bargnani(notes) had 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists, one turnover and two steals in almost 40 minutes and that's ... that's about what his contract would suggest as averages. Probably more rebounds and points.

I think Kevin Love(notes) should threaten to retire and play overseas next year if he isn't promised a starting slot and 35 minutes per game in the NBA in 2010-11. Darko can teach us things, you know.

***

New Orleans 115, Dallas 99

The Mavericks got off to a great start in this one, they had the Hornets down double-figures early, but seemed to want to let New Orleans set the tone from there on out. As if they expected NOLA to lie down after the quick start. The Hornets did not, clearly, and made up for some cold shooting from Darren Collison(notes) by forcing turnovers (Dallas coughed it up in one of every five possessions) and going through David West(notes).

West was fantastic with 25 points and 10 assists. If you take away Saturday's game against the Jazz (one that saw West play only 10 minutes), the Hornets forward is averaging over four and a half assists per game in March, fine work indeed. Marcus Thornton(notes) started alongside a "healthy" Chris Paul(notes) and added 28 points, while CP3 provided leadership -- chiding Collison for some missed assignment just as DC was, literally, coming down from an in-air chest bump, following a transition dunk and Dallas timeout.

The dunk came off a strip of Dirk Nowitzki(notes), who had five turnovers. Or, as many turnovers as he had in the week of March 13-20, in over 116 minutes of play.

A slow start for Paul and the Hornets in that first quarter, but that's going to happen when you toss out a new starting backcourt against a team like Dallas.

***

Utah 110, Boston 97

It's simple analysis, but it's what kept coming to mind as the Jazz worked the ball around and made all the right decisions in the second half - great offense always beats great defense.

That's just how it is in this league. And the Celtics are a great, great defensive team. Same goes for the Jazz on the other end. And the Jazz are a better defensive team than the Celtics are an offensive team, and the Jazz were at home. Where, yeah, they got some calls (in the second half, I should note, as things seemed pretty Boston-centric in the first). The end result was a 13-point win.

Sorry for being so flippant, but the Jazz just played their game, same with Boston, and Utah came out ahead. Good passing, smart cuts, great finishes, great instincts, great patience for Utah. Boston's offense tried, it moved the ball and ran good counters to Utah's initial stop a good chunk of the time, but the Celtics just didn't have the playmakers to get it down on the other end.

Really, though, this was about Utah's offense. And putting 110 points up - 117 per 100 possessions - against Boston is always to be applauded. Because Boston will shut you down, and applaud in your face while they do it.

Carlos Boozer(notes) had 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. That's in just 31 minutes, as Paul Millsap(notes) used up the rest of the minutes and added 10 and three boards.

***

Phoenix 133, Golden State 131

The Warriors were running play after play for Reggie Williams(notes), a guy I learned to stop calling "not that Reggie Williams" (pictured, right) about two weeks ago.

Don Nelson had Anthony Tolliver(notes) bringing the ball over half-court, and setting up his teammates from the top of the key. Entry passes, live dribble, the whole thing.

Stephen Curry(notes) and Monta Ellis(notes) kept missing open threes.

Steve Nash(notes) entered the game's final two minutes with 11 free throw misses all season, and ended the game with 13 missed free throws all season.

The Warriors had announced plans to sell the club to a different ownership group earlier in the day, so the team's home crowd was partying like school was out for summer.

In other words, it was as bat-(hello!) crazy as you'd assume. Suns and Warriors. Wouldn't have it any other way.

Williams (29 points off the bench) and Tolliver (25 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks, just two turnovers) was fantastic, but this was Amar'e Stoudemire's(notes) game.

You've already seen the dunk, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Stoudemire was nearly unstoppable down low, going over either shoulder and taking it to the Warriors time and time again down the stretch. Amar'e had 37 points and eight rebounds and is averaging more than 30 points and 10 boards over his last 11 games.

It was an absolute show, and a fitting end to what may have been the best night of NBA basketball we've seen this year. Thanks for reading.

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