November 13, 2008
On behalf of NBA junkies everywhere, I'd like to extend a sincere "thank you, much" to the Boston Celtics for giving us two of the better back-to-back regular season games we've seen in years ... in the second week of November, no less.
Monday's win over the Raptors was jaw-droppingly good, and while this one wasn't as desperately perfect from end-to-end, the ending (pictured above) was just legendary. A brilliant game.
Atlanta, and I don't know why I'm still surprised by this, came out rock-freakin'-solid in this game. Not only was the defense as stout as it has been all season, the Hawks were nailing shots from all over and forcing Boston into shots the Celtics didn't want to take. The Hawks were up seven after one quarter, and Joe Johnson (who finished with 28 points and seven assists) was obviously back on his game after an off night against the Bulls on Tuesday.
Then the Celtics came back, getting stops and creating better shots. And then the Hawks wouldn't go away. Geesh. Would not give an inch, even on the second night of a back-to-back. Flip Murray helped keep the C's from pulling away with a lead after the comeback, and though he turned it over five times, he scored 14 points on a very un-Flip Murray-like nine shots. Very necessary.
Atlanta's Marvin Williams helped spread the floor, which was huge for Johnson, and nailed four three-pointers. Mike Bibby and Maurice Evans combined to have a big game from behind the arc as well, their second in a row, finishing with a 5-7 mark from long range.
And though the Hawks bench is thin as a dime and just as rough around the edges (something like that), they still outplayed the heralded Boston depth. And Atlanta didn't even have Josh Smith! It's been brought up before, but you take that for granted.
But Boston, y'know, they're the champs. And they play like it. They take on the absolute best the opposition has to offer, and still comes out with a chance. A chance to the champs is usually as good as a win, but in a win or loss, this team's ability to stand up to the challenge is quite impressive.
And win or lose, and I've seen a lot of defending champs, and I've seen a lot of teams that just hoped on defending their championship without much mettle or interest in backing it up, and this Celtic squad has the smirk and the stroll of a defending and impending champ.
It helps to have Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce as well. KG had 25 points, 14 rebounds, one turnover, four assists, a steal, and two blocks in 34 minutes. Quite good. Paul Pierce was his twirl-y and finish-y best with 34 points and a game-winner that looked good all the way despite its level of difficulty.
Just a fantastic game from a pair of teams that have been nothing but good news for us all season. Thanks for that.
Milwaukee hung on to win by going to Andrew Bogut, even as Bogut worked through some nasty officiating sent his way. The Bucks grabbed 14 offensive rebounds (a ton in a game this slow), and the Spurs just don't have enough in the rotation to compete at this point. I don't mean to slam the guy, but Roger Mason Jr. was barely in the league when the Spurs won their last ring in June of 2007; and now he's being asked to work as this team's second option.
I love watching Luc Mbah a Moute, and the Bucks rookie has been a huge surprise offensively this season for Milwaukee. But it's the same story with Scott Skiles, who started the rookie over Charlie Villanueva. Skiles just prefers to lean back on the plucky guys instead of working to get through to the mercurial ones.
Scott, you weren't hired to get tough, hard-nosed production out of tough, hard-nosed players. Any coach can do that. You were hired to get tough, hard-nosed production out of players who aren't known for being tough, or hard-nosed. That's what separates good from great, or even average from great. Or, in the case of last year's Chicago Bulls, pitiful from average.
It's a shame, because he's such a brilliant basketball mind who wouldn't cut a corner if you paid him to, except in this consistent instance.
For a better recap, head over to BrewHoop and read Frank Madden's take.
Not much of a game for the first three quarters. No Hornet outside of Chris Paul showed up. Tyson Chandler had three bogus fouls in the first quarter. Peja Stojakovic missed his first seven shots, including several open looks. Meanwhile, an ornery Laker team just took it to the Hornets. Every ruddy one of them.
Just dominated New Orleans by forcing them out of the looks they like to look at, L.A. took away the screen and roll game, and the Lakers took advantage of their good fortune (like, Peja and West missing makeable shots, with Chandler on the bench) by making sure they made their own good looks.
And then, after an ineffective Hornet comeback in the third quarter, I flipped away from this one. There were a half-dozen other close games running back and forth, and I gave up on this contest. I didn't pay attention, and I wasn't alone: ESPN's John Hollinger could be seen at press row sending text messages during the second quarter of this would-be blowout.
(Note to my Yahoo! bosses: Send me to New Orleans to cover a game, and I promise I'll stay on the clock at all times. My phone stinks, so I don't even text all that well. Ask Skeets.)
The Hornets came back. Chris Paul, as you'd assume, appears to have quite a bit to do with the comeback, but Peja also got in the books, David West started to come along, and Tyson Chandler was actually allowed to stay on the court.
It was really Paul, though. 30 points on 19 shots, 13 assists, seven boards, just two turnovers in over 42 minutes, two steals, brilliant. Kobe wasn't great (20 points on 15 shots, six assists), but on a team like his, he doesn't have to be in order to take down a top outfit like the Hornets.
Derek Fisher was fantastic, scoring 20 points on 11 shots. When he has these sorts of games, games where the Lakers all of the sudden sprout an All-Star point guard out of nowhere, Los Angeles is pretty devastating, even by their standards. Good thing, because outside of some good work on the boards and passing, the Laker bench wasn't too potent on Wednesday night. Andrew Bynum had himself a nice little night with 14 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.
Here are some other fantastic notes from Ryan of Hornets247.
We've been banging the drum for years, and don't mean to pass on giving credit to the Wizards for an admirable win, but the Jazz are going to keep themselves one step short of championship-caliber if they keep fouling players that don't deserve to be fouled.
The fouls, usually away from the ball, pile up. The crummier team gets in the penalty, earlier than it should (Washington was in the penalty with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter of this one), and cheap points from the line result. The Wizards shot 32 of 40 from the line in their first win of the season, while Utah only managed a 14-19 clip. Complain about the refs all you want, but if you don't dig the hole to begin with, you'll usually overcome things and pull out the win.
A good win for the Wiz. Any win is a good win, but let's not be glib. JaVale McGee had a fantastic game for a 20-year old, with 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes. Nick Young didn't have his best game (10 points on 10 shots, no assists), but the Wizards played well (+10) with him on the floor. Caron Butler gave 27 and nine boards, while Antawn Jamison hit 8-9 from the line and scored 21.
Want the Truth About It? You should.
I was blacked out of this one, and wasn't about to fire up the laptop feed with eight other games going on at once (as was the case after 8:30 on Wednesday), so I'm going box score-only for this one.
Danny Granger was a late scratch for the Pacers, this makes for three Indiana starters out of action, but Marquis Daniels appeared to sop up minutes just fine in the win. 16 points on 18 shots isn't great, or good, but it wasn't a complete zero. That may seem like slim praise, but "a complete zero" is often what you get when three starters are out and the sixth, seventh, and eighth men are having to pick up the slack. Once that eighth guy comes around, things get tough.
Plenty of free throws (25 freebies to 15 for New Jersey) for the Pacers, and the Nets also turned it over a ton (on 20 percent of their possessions) in the loss. Beyond that, you'll have to head to Indy Cornrows for a bigger, better, and stronger recap. Here's a taste:
" .... Early in the fourth, shot clock is starting to wind down. No one panics. Instead, Stephen Graham has the ball top of the arc to the right side. He feeds Hibbert creeping up from the low post. Hibbert turns takes a dribble to the hoop and drops a bounce pass to Foster after Jeff's man rotates to Roy. Layup. Buzzzz. Nets grab the ball out of the net. Think about that combo executing during a critical point in the game. Beautiful."
Dwight Howard had 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 blocks in this game. Mentioning anything else would be doing you a disservice.
The Sixers are full of iffy shooters, but that doesn't mean these guys don't have good form, or that these shots can't go in at a white hot clip. Tonight, the elbows were under the ball, the follow-through was there, and Philly couldn't be stopped.
Things had to start on the defensive end, however, as the Sixers forced Toronto into a series of missed jumpers early on and did some damage in transition as a result. With some sweat on the brow and a hop in the step, Philly started to take that fast break touch to the half court, and though Toronto did well to nearly make a game of this, the Raptors really didn't have a chance.
Terrific finishes, from all over the floor, from Philadelphia (30 assists on 43 field goals) in this one. Andre Miller led the charge early (18, five and five), Willie Green and Lou Williams took over after that, and Elton Brand (25 points, eight rebounds) remained a force throughout the game on both ends. Meanwhile, rookie Marreese Speights (12 and seven rebounds in 19 minutes) looks to be up to NBA speed.
Almost 118 points per 100 possessions for Philly, 112 per 100 leads the league, and there wasn't much Toronto could do save for taking better shots of their own earlier in the first quarter. Andrea Bargnani had a fun first half, finished with 15 and five, but Jamario Moon (1-8 from the floor)? Not so much.
Last year, at about this time, Daequan Cook was morphing into a pleasant surprise. His per-minute stats stood out, and once things fell apart for the Heat later on in the season, his scoring touch was desperately needed to keep Miami within 40 points of the other team.
But tonight, against the Trail Blazers, he shot just a little too much. This wasn't a case of the Blazers forcing the ball around the perimeter, with Cook having to put something up with scant seconds on the shot clock. He wasn't exactly chucking early in the possession, but he could have worked things a little better than he did (4-14 shooting, 11 points, one assist, three turnovers), and there's no reason for Michael Beasley to only go 5-9 from the floor in a loss.
A great team game from Portland in this win, the Blazers weren't shook when Dwyane Wade (36 points on 22 shots, six rebounds, eight assists, four turnovers, two steals, three blocks, good god) took over, and the team's waves of depth was the biggest factor in the win.
Brandon Roy (22 points on 13 shots) was solid. Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez (13 points and nine assists in 42 combined minutes) were solid. Travis Outlaw (10 and eight rebounds) took over for a little bit, and Rudy Fernandez was bloody brilliant in less than 30 minutes of play.
25 points on 11 shots (!), three rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, two steals and a block for the rookie, and his ridiculous 22-foot turnaround sealed the deal for Portland in the final minute.
(Actually, Steve Blake's three-pointer from the corner sealed it, but Rudy's bit scanned better.)
Greg Oden (three points, two boards, two turnovers, and two blocks) looked great for the first two minutes of his run, but the big fella is way, way out of game shape. Tune back in sometime after Thanksgiving. Actually, give him a week after that.
You can only get the kids to play defense for so long, that's one headline. Memphis has had a terrific start to the year defensively, and entering the game 6th in the NBA at defensive efficiency with a team that young is phenomenal, but there will be slip-ups. Anyway, that's the headline.
Here is the idea, though: Mike D'Antoni's offense can still surprise.
It's still a shock to the system to play against a team that runs a ton and takes shots you don't expect. You know the quick shot is coming, and the league has increased its pace over the last few years (so D'Antoni doesn't seem as unorthodox), but it's still a tough thing to take in if you're a team like the Grizzlies, even a couple days after taking on the Suns.
So the Knicks shot a ton, plenty of three-pointers (taking 34, making a Knick-record 19, that's 56 percent!), and this opened things up for New York to finish in the lane later on.
Jamal Crawford has scored 99 points in four games since missing all six of his looks from the floor against the Bucks on November 2nd.
Brad Miller (16 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, zero turnovers) continues to play knockout basketball for the Kings, Jason Thompson (16 and 11) really has a head on his shoulders and a game to match, and Beno Udrih (30 points, five rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one turnover) had a career night. Beno just seemed to be an inch taller when it counted, with all sorts of loping finishes going in.
Great game for the Kings. The Clippers struggled, though they made a game of it towards the end. Al Thornton (20 points on 16 shots) tried, and Ricky Davis' shooting kept L.A. close, but it's just not working right now.
I don't need to tell you that this was Houston's show from beginning to end, or remind you to ponder what this team could turn into should it learn to boast this sort of attack alongside a pair of forwards (Ron Artest and Luis Scola) who combine to shoot better than 2-18 from the floor?
Lots of great things to take from this one if you're a Houston backer or general fan of great basketball.
("General fan of great basketball." I am a middle school textbook.)
Yao Ming didn't put up his gaudiest stats, but he managed a terrific game (17 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks in almost 33 minutes) against a stout defender in Shaquille O'Neal, while working as Houston's second and third option at times.
That's important. Ming might face better overall defense at times, but he won't go up against someone with Shaq's strength too often, or at all, and Shaq was working his significant posterior off against Yao and still couldn't outplay him. Yao didn't really outplay Shaq, but that's OK. Shaq was the go-to guy for the Suns for most of this game, while Yao approximated Shaq's go-to guy production while ceding the spotlight and the ball to others.
One of the others was Tracy McGrady, who came through with a great game without needing to fall back on the sort of hyper-athletic line-drive jumpers that you know aren't going to be there in the next game. Rather, T-Mac used touch and guile and good spacing to get his 27 points, instead of just using what hops he has left to pull up for a desperate jumper from 20 feet.
25 minutes, 19 points on 15 shots from Aaron Brooks, and Rafer Alston came through with his best game of the season with 15 points and four assists before being ejected late in the third period. That was a frustrating turn.
Phoenix forward Matt Barnes shoved Alston out of the way while trying to "work through a screen," Alston chirped back, and both were ejected. And while Alston's ejection wasn't the most egregious I've ever seen by a long shot, it was pretty unfortunate. He didn't make the initial contact, he didn't shove anyone like T-Mac or Shaq, and he didn't bound across the floor to put his nose in the scrum like Steve Nash. I think Alston will get his money back.
The Suns, meanwhile, have some issues. I like the team's attitude and the newfound depth, but they didn't score a fast break bucket all night against a Rocket team that missed 47 shots. And the team's defense ... it's not so great.
Look, I really liked this post from Ben (a real up-and-comer, give him a bookmark) upon a first read, but all the stats he quoted are just by-products of a slower pace, and the Suns entered the game 19th in defensive efficiency. Teams aren't shooting worse, teams aren't turning the ball over more, and teams aren't getting to the line less. They're just scoring less because the Suns aren't shooting in seven seconds or less.
A lot of this defensive "improvement" is just coming because the team is giving up fewer points per game, mainly because they're milking the clock on offense and taking fewer shots as a result. Which means there is less of a chance for teams to put up big scoring numbers on the other end, even if it's easier to score on Phoenix.
19th is down from 16th last year, and while that might go up a bit after this game (the Suns gave up 105.6 points per 100 possessions in the loss, a better mark than the 106.4 they were averaging before the game), just be careful when you get into non pace-adjusted stats.
Offensively, Amare Stoudemire was taken out of a game by the opposing defense for the second time in six nights, and this can't keep happening.