Behind the Box Score, where the Knicks looked nice

New York 112, Oklahoma City 98

OK, this was impressive. This was very impressive, because there was a point in the second quarter where the Knicks could have let this game go. Oklahoma City is very good, and while I'm not trying to tell you that they should have won on the road and in New York, the Knicks could have let the Thunder move their feet and hit those free throws, as always seems to happen.

Instead, the Knicks just kept screenin', rollin', passin', and finishin'. Not as cool as the Miles Davis Quintet's four albums along those same lines, but I dug watching it.

It was just Bounce Pass City, as the Knicks kept racking up the assists, and the finishes helped put this game out of reach. Now, I'm sure the Charlotte game from Tuesday night took a little out of the Thunder. Took a lot out of the Thunder. But credit New York for absolutely taking it to a very good team at home. That's what good teams do.

Thirty assists on 42 field goals for the Knicks, and this wasn't home cooking. The team's spacing was spot-on, and the transition play was sound. And Wilson Chandler(notes) is playing out of his mind.


Chicago 87, Washington 80

An ugly, ugly game. One that produced just 24 combined fourth quarter points, though (watching it) it felt like the Wiz and Bullies combined for half that. Still, this focused Chicago team is winning these sorts of games, now, which fills me up with all sorts of Christmas cheer.

Another aspect of Chicago's win does, as well.

Carlos Boozer(notes) picked up his fourth and then fifth fouls with about six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. And with Joakim Noah(notes) wearing a cast on the sideline and Taj Gibson(notes) clearly out of the picture after suffering a concussion on Saturday (which we all should be OK with, let the guy recover, even if he wants to play), the Bulls didn't have many frontcourt options to go to down the stretch. And yet, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau left Boozer in.

Which you just never see in this league. A league that always bothers me in this regard.

"Why'd you take him out?"

"He had [however many] fouls. If we left him in, potentially bad things can happen."

"Like what?"

"Well, we'd have to take him out."

"So you took him out?"

I understand that the ideal is that you'd have your best five legal and able to suit up should the game come down to a few possessions late, but possessions with 5:27 left in the game count just as much as possessions with :27 left in the game. And Thibs recognized that Boozer had learned his lesson about barreling into opponents, that he was due a few make-up calls (despite Boozer's REPEATED SCREAMING AFTER EVERYTHING INCLUDING MISSED JUMPERS AND FREE THROWS THAT ACTUALLY FORCED ME TO TURN MY STEREO SYSTEM DOWN), and Carlos played on until the final buzzer. Even came through with the deciding bucket.

Thirty points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, five turnovers for Boozer. He was the man.

Andray Blatche(notes) was not. His game, from beginning to end, was miserable. He missed easy shots, he took terrible shots, and his defense was shocking. Worse, it was everyone else's fault. He was complaining the whole game, and even got a technical for somehow thinking the refs blew a call after he was cleanly stripped and then whistled for a foul for hacking the Bulls out of frustration after they grabbed the ball. Three-of-14 shooting, four turnovers, but that line doesn't even begin to express the dismay that the entire basketball community has for Blatche's game, right now. I can't imagine being a pro and having to play on the same team as this guy.

Also, I'm being serious when I point out that if Kurt Thomas(notes) gives Chicago 50 more games along these lines, even after sitting out the first month and a half of this season, he should be on the All-Defensive First Team. He's been that good over the last two contests on that end.


Detroit 115, Toronto 93

Ooh, boy, did the Toronto Raptors not want to play this game. And as a result, with many other games going on at the same time, I didn't want to watch most of it.

The Raps didn't play defense, Rip Hamilton (and you knew this would happen) came out with all the focus of a hawk honing in on a helpless mouse a hundred feet below, and Toronto booed Tracy McGrady(notes) (who left Toronto 10 years, and five months ago).

Thirty-five points, including six 3-pointers for Hamilton. This doesn't mean you trade for him, America.

Toronto turned it over on nearly a quarter of their possessions. Jose Calderon(notes) turned it over eight times, and that seriously used to be a fortnight's worth of miscues for him.


Atlanta 98, Cleveland 84

More good effort from Cleveland, and Byron Scott even let his team run a little, but this group just has nowhere to go offensively on a consistent basis. And it has a hard time stopping ... everyone. It's a bad basketball team, and bad basketball teams make pretty good teams like the Hawks look like world-beaters.

Atlanta should have won by a lot more. That's not a dig at the Cavs, but the Hawks just got what they wanted from penetration all night, and yet they seemed to settle for too many jumpers. Twenty-nine assists for the Hawks, who only turned it over six times, and really came out with a "let's finish this and go home" mindset to start the third quarter.

Twenty-three points and seven assists for Joe Johnson(notes), who hopefully won't be asked to lift a thing over the next few days.


Boston 84, Philadelphia 80

Your classic trap game, the Celtics knew it going in, but had just enough in the talent ‘n' cohesion department to help put it away late. Philly was bound and determined to act like an actual basketball team that actually cared after being toppled by 45 against a short-handed Bulls squad on Tuesday, and while they didn't really take it to the Celtics on Wednesday, they did play their tails off against the cream of the East.

Philadelphia stayed close with defense. The team got to the line a few more times (as those at home, watching on the Boston feed, surely heard about), and the screen and roll work was very good, but defense was the key. Paul Pierce(notes) had a miserable night until the fourth quarter, finishing 4-15 overall (and nearly blowing it late for calling for a 1-5 screen and roll with Shaq, who no team has to guard 23 feet from the hoop, that obviously didn't work), but his steal and dunk late in the fourth helped push the momentum in Boston's favor.

Twenty-two points and six assists for Ray Allen(notes), as the C's continue to try to share the ball-handling duties (Marquis Daniels(notes) had a few nice passes, too) in Rajon Rondo's(notes) absence.


Houston 97, Los Angeles Clippers 92

One of those fun, terrible games. The Rockets take possessions off defensively, and the Clippers have their heads in the clouds repeatedly, but this was still an engaging watch even beyond all the Blake Griffin(notes) brilliance.

Twenty-four points, 18 rebounds and two steals for Griffin; including a late 3-pointer that helped keep things intriguingly close, but the Rockets just had answers throughout. Especially when Kyle Lowry(notes) was playing. Partially because Lowry's all-around game is so good right now, but mainly because Aaron Brooks(notes) clearly does not have the legs right now. I appreciated the way Brooks ran the offense the other day in the win over Golden State, even if his personal stats stunk, but Aaron obviously needs a little while off to rehab and get his game right.

Lowry was 2-7 shoting with just six assists, but he has this team's offense in the right place more often than not. And Chuck Hayes'(notes) footwork on defense was the only thing that kept Griffin (40 percent shooting) from dropping 30. And the difference between 30 and 24 for Blake was the difference in the game.


New Orleans 105, New Jersey 91

The Nets actually put up over 109 points per 100 possessions in this game, which is a goodly amount (that's about what Dallas averages), but the total has me rubbing my eyes. Because every time I flipped over to this one, the Hornets seemed to be harassing the Nets into terrible, terrible shots. Great double teams on Brook Lopez(notes), active long arms, moving feet, the works.

Twenty-one and 10 for Emeka Okafor(notes), and 18 points off the bench for Marcus Thornton(notes). Also, while his defense is very good, Trevor Ariza(notes) is not; 3-11 shooting, eight points. He's coming through with a miserable 36 percent shooting mark on the season, and you just can't do that in this era and be considered a helpful NBA player. I don't know how much more plainly I can put it. He needs 10.1 shots per game to score 10.3 points, and those are possessions the Hornets just can't keep handing to him.


San Antonio 109, Denver 103

Is it time to worry a bit about the Spurs?

They're winning, sure, but they barely beat the Bucks and Nuggets last week. They barely beat the Grizzlies on Saturday, and the short-handed Suns on Monday. And at home, with Carmelo Anthony(notes) out, the team needed everything it had to take down the Nuggets. NBA history has proven that pulling out these close games isn't always a sign of mettle or mental fortitude. It usually means you might not be as good as your record suggests.

This isn't to say the Spurs will stink it up Thursday night in Orlando, but I would go easy on trying to suss that game out. The Magic still have no idea what they're doing, and the Spurs are coming in on the second night of a back-to-back, its fourth game in six nights.

The Spurs relied on the white-hot shooting of Gary Neal(notes) (someone the disappointingly awful Nuggets color man Scott Hastings kept describing as a lucky shooter, when he's been shooting expertly all year), and Manu Manu Manu to eke this one out. I shouldn't really complain much about Denver's offense when it managed 117 points per 100 possessions without Anthony and on the road, but the team seemed to have no idea what to do against the San Antonio zone, which is a bit odd. George Karl's guard-heavy lineups hurt them, in that regard, but even guards should know that someone has to flash to the high post in that situation.

Carmelo Anthony's sister passed away Wednesday, and he's going to take some time off as a result. Clearly, our thoughts are with him and his family as they deal with a brand of grief that nobody should ever have to endure.


Utah 112, Minnesota 107

A tough loss for the Timberwolves, who were ahead for most of this game. I'm not going to feel too sorry for Minnesota, a team that takes terrible shots consistently, but it does feel bad to see defensive effort like this go un-rewarded. Utah just UCLA-cut its way to a win down the stretch, though, and pulled it out.

Twenty-three points, nine rebounds and seven blocks for Al Jefferson(notes) in the win. Twenty-three and 11 for Paul Millsap(notes), as the Jazz overcame a miserable first half from Deron Williams(notes) (1-8 shooting, three turnovers) to come back mostly in the fourth quarter. The Jazz were 37-44 in free-throw shooting in the conquest, and those were earned calls.

Thank you for reading.