Thu Jan 07 11:25am EST
A team that has come through with some of the best defense in the NBA this season allowed a middling Clippers squad to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions; and I really don't have a problem with that.
If you saw the game — hitting the airwaves one quarter in after what I'm sure was an entertaining NCAA football overtime game that I'm actually a little bummed that I didn't get to follow — you'll know why. The Clippers just made tough shot after tough shot. Not exactly fadeaway jumpers, mind you, but tough finishes on the interior. Tough finishes after great passes. Tough finishes after moves and feints and drives and dishes that the Clippers should have been coming through with, all year.
More on that later. For the defending champs? Your problem was on offense. Offense was a huge problem. Problem = offense.
There was no offense. And while I salute the Clippers for bringing the defensive intensity, the Lakers more or less abandoned their sideline triangle for either a series of fruitless screen and roll attempts (you're telling me anyone has to guard a Ron Artest(notes) and Josh Powell(notes) two-man game?), or Kobe Bryant(notes) one-on-one rat-a-tat.
Kobe was brilliant in this game's third quarter, scoring 17 points with two assists, but it was fool's gold. He kept trying to score on isolation or screen/roll plays after that, good shots rimmed out or wouldn't fall, and the Lakers never got back into a rhythm after that. I'd say the team missed Pau Gasol(notes) and his work in the apex, but in a stadium with Kobe, Phil Jackson, and Derek Fisher(notes), this team should have known better.
On the other end, the Clips just finished expertly. Chris Kaman(notes) (21 points) with either hand, until an ohfer three fourth quarter left him at 7-19 shooting. Eric Gordon(notes) from the middle. Craig Smith(notes) down low. Baron Davis(notes) from, shock horror, just outside the paint. Baron Davis was brilliant. Baron Davis drove the ball.
Sure, he responded to sitting for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter (that's, what, 20 minutes of real time?) by chucking up a nasty three-point miss in his first attempt, but otherwise BD was fantastic. 25 points and 10 assists, with all sorts of pressure on the Laker D.
Kobe was astonishingly great in that third quarter, so much fun to watch, but he did finish with 33 points in 30 shots. Eight assists, but this was too 2006-y, for me.
The Nets really had no chance. Atlanta came in more that a bit peeved and looking to right the team's four-game slide, and you get the feeling that this will be New Jersey's purpose in this league until some team enters their sights both middling and full of themselves at the same time.
It was a double-digit deficit within minutes for New Jersey, as the Hawks were really whipping the ball around early and often. Credit to the Nets for putting something together in a rather even second quarter, but it's hard to counter 57 percent shooting and 33 assists on 43 field goals (even if home cooking added a bit to that middle number). 10 first half three-pointers for Atlanta. I'll repeat that, without actually typing it out. Actually, I'll just say it out loud and ask you to read it again. Actually, let's write it out - 10 first half three-pointers for Atlanta.
20 points and five assists on only 13 shots and in only 30 minutes for Joe Johnson(notes) in the win, Jamal Crawford(notes) answered Corey Maggette's(notes) off-the-bench outburst from Tuesday night with one of his own, 29 in total on only 14 shots, as Atlanta threw up dominant 131 points per 100 possessions. Look out.
Yi Jianlian(notes) had another good game for New Jersey — 19 and 11 despite four turnovers and crummy defense - but the Nets just couldn't (or, wouldn't) keep up defensively. I don't blame these guys for falling short on offense, but this was a mail-in effort on D, an area that several of these rotation players used to excel at.
Washington just couldn't hang, the Cavaliers hit the offensive glass, tried some delayed transition tactics, and finished well. Cleveland got good penetration, but it was that super-fast perimeter passing around the horn that put the Wiz on its heels.
23 points, seven boards, eight assists for LeBron James(notes), who managed two blocks, a steal, and just one turnover in 30 minutes. Cleveland was just too good, and there was no way even a 2006-era Gil Arenas makes a difference here.
Orlando came around made a game of this, and the final entry (112 points per 100 possessions for the Magic) is pretty far up there. Don't care. The Raptors? They defended!
Yes, Orlando put up 35 in the final quarter, but the team couldn't get a bucket down the stretch when it needed to, and this team needed to for the longest time — because this game just refused to end. Overall and relative to the team's usual standing, the Raps did quite well in closing out on shooters and getting over on screen and roll.
Six Raps in double-figures, with Bosh and Bargs both at 18 points apiece. The Magic were led by Rashard Lewis(notes) (24), who played active defense, and Dwight Howard(notes) with 20 points. Howard turned the ball over nine times, however, and I thought his play on the defensive end was pretty poor.
Miami managed 28 points in the 17 minutes between the fourth quarter and overtime, and that seems pretty passable against Boston's vaunted D. Don't buy it, though. The team was just about useless offensively down the stretch, save for the odd Dwyane Wade(notes) miracle play.
Wade had some brilliant ones, overall, but just one in Miami's fourth quarter — a shocking strip and dunk of Ray Allen(notes) that left the Heat up two with just under a second to go. Otherwise, the All-Star missed all seven of his attempts in the final quarter, a strange lull in an otherwise Wade-like (44 points, seven assists, three steals, two turnovers) game. Wade was fantastic, but let's also be nice and merely call Tony Allen(notes) an "undisciplined" defender.
Boston countered with Doc Rivers, screening Rajon Rondo(notes) toward a lob and lay-in off a fantastic Paul Pierce(notes) pass to tie the game. Then Rajon tossed in six OT points, and the C's hung on. No KG, Pierce looked to be in good shape but rather slow overall (17 points, six boards, five assists plus the lob, but 4-12 shooting), and Rasheed Wallace(notes) fouled out in the fourth. Ray Allen was in foul trouble all night. Didn't matter. Rajon Rondo.
Also, three years into this veteran-y run, Boston remains ridiculously turnover-prone.
Minnesota got out to a small, early lead, but Golden State seemed to have a bug up its rear regarding Tuesday night's referee-addled debacle in Denver, and Minnesota really didn't have the horses to hang with the Warriors. The Warriors!
Sad but true. Minnesota stopped its triangle cuts after a few aborted turns and just kept firing, while GSW created good shots and only turned the ball over nine times in a pretty fast-paced game.
Minny out-rebounded the W's by a fair margin and made more free throws, but they also doubled Golden State up in turnovers while remaining impatient offensively unless the ball went into Al Jefferson(notes) (26 and 14) or Kevin Love(notes) (23 points, 16 rebounds, six assists).
Golden State was led by Corey Maggette, starting, who tossed in 28 points and nine boards.
It was hard not to like New Orleans' win ... but somehow, I muddled through.
And ... that's it. Otherwise, the Hornets came through with a fantastic, tough win; with the only complaints hitting these airwaves because I like to pair a joke with my opening line.
Just sound ball movement and even better finishes for the visiting Hornets. Oklahoma City, from what I saw, gave good effort, but the Hornets were just finishing too well around the hoop and from mid-range.
I liked OKC's early attempts at transition work, and Russell Westbrook(notes) was really putting effort in (even if it didn't result in much), but the Hornets just seemed awfully connected. Zen-like. No Jeff Bower jokes, no Buddha jokes. Kay?
What's hard is to get across the thought and observation that the Detroit Pistons did not look like a team that was in the midst of losing its 11th straight game on Wednesday night. This isn't to say that the Pistons appeared blissfully unaware of their streak, or that they were taking the game lightly. From what I got to see, the team tried.
What's harder to do is get that point across after posting a score that leaves Detroit losing by 20. San Antonio, at home, is 20 points better than Detroit. They were last summer, they were at both team's full strength, and they were last night. This might be cold comfort to Pistons fan, but that's how things flow, now.
Meanwhile, Tony Parker(notes) (despite six turnovers) and Manu Ginobili(notes) got good penetration all night against Detroit, San Antonio made 8-14 three-pointers, while registering 30 assists. Felt like 50 assists, if I'm honest.
The Jazz went off. I obviously didn't get to see all of the game, but 39 (39!) assists on 46 field goals actually felt about right. There may have been some home cooking in terms of the scoring in this one, but the Jazz were all quick moves and quicker passes on the way toward an easy finish. The Grizzlies acted like they hadn't played an NBA game for a month, as opposed to one in Portland just the night before.
Without D-Will, Ronnie Brewer(notes) and Andrei Kirilenko(notes) played a bit of point forward. AK bringing things up at times, with Brewer making the finishing pass at other times. The Jazz managed 119 points per 100 possessions, and the Grizzlies never challenged.
Memphis' offensive totals were hurt by a bit of garbage time nonsense, so I don't mind that end too much, but this team has to at least approach below-average defensive totals if it wants any chance at making the playoffs.
A strange game, I submit, but back-and-forth battles like this have seemed to be a monthly practice with the Suns dating back to 2005-06. As someone with no vested interest, I certainly appreciate the intrigue on a random Wednesday in January.
The Suns went up 16, then the Rockets went up 16, then things evened out, then halftime hit. Think about that nuttiness. Then we got a pretty smooth game on both ends, despite some real defense from both sides, in the second half.
It didn't seem like it was by design, but all Houston seemed to have in the second half was Aaron Brooks(notes) shooting and Carl Landry(notes) tossing in one-handers. It kept the Rockets in it, the two combined for 65 points, but otherwise the Rockets just couldn't hit. Meanwhile, the Suns dropped 120 points per 100 possessions, spread the floor properly, hit cutters no matter how basic the set, and shot 54 percent.