The thing that kept smacking you over the head regarding the Heat last night was the way this team seemed to play like
1). They had just met each other earlier that afternoon.
2). They had all decided that they didn't care for each other early that evening.
Especially defensively. The Heat just wouldn't talk, wouldn't help, wouldn't close out, and didn't seem to care about it. Everyone was at fault -- bigs, smalls, superstars (LeBron James(notes) contested a few Danny Granger(notes) jumpers properly, but that was about it), chumps, the whole schmear. But as awful as the defense was at times (as properly documented by Sebastian Pruiti here), it's the offense that still worries me.
A lot of things about the Heat worry me, and the Pacers did start the night ninth in defensive efficiency (and finished it at sixth), but the ham hock one-two punch of Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and so many your-turn-then-my-turn turns on the AAU circuit or as the frontmen for terrible teams in Cleveland, Miami and Toronto just conspire to kill this offense at times. There's no movement, no surprises. Nothing, even when they do drop 120, that you don't see coming a mile away.
This offense is still ranked fourth in offensive efficiency. At its best, it could be the best, and I'm even including the Lakers' brilliant setup and players. And while I'm not expecting the Heat to be better than Los Angeles offensively in the long run (they don't have that brilliant setup), this thing can still be great at times.
But when it goes wrong, and Monday was all wrong, this team has nothing to rely on. No creative touch, no coach with a system worth admiring, no idea what to do. The point is to be better than the sum of your parts. And the parts on Miami's bench gave the team four points last night.
The Pacers won this game, so apologies for burying the lede. They won the game, and they earned that win with constant penetration, good-enough spacing, and crisp ball movement. But at the end of it, Indiana's 100 points per 100 possessions (on the nose) was pretty bad. Do that for a full season, and you'll be last in the NBA.
It was the Pacer defense, taking down Miami's clueless and awkward offense, that destroyed the Heat. Laugh at Miami when it gets caught with its head turned, because they deserve the scorn, but these problems run both ways.
Quick smart decisions that were given the room to be executed due to proper spacing, communication on both ends, and a creative touch throughout. That was the Boston Celtics, on Monday. That was the anti-Miami Heat.
[Forget] the Heat, though. Boston made a point to take the spirit out of the Hawks from the start, doubling them up in points within minutes, pushing Atlanta to press and eventually start making mistakes of its own. Boston created its own good fortune, then watched as Atlanta screwed theirs over.
Kevin Garnett(notes) was the most everywhere of all the Celtics that were everywhere. 17 points and 11 rebounds, five assists, in half a game. A steal, a block, so many screens, and everywhere-defense. Brilliant play from a giant of a player. Atlanta's starters shot just 28 percent, and Nate Robinson(notes) offered boundless energy in Rajon Rondo's(notes) absence.
I was really looking forward to this one, as I'm sure a lot of League Pass denizens were, thinking it would be a 125-120 chuckfest played at a blinding pace. The problem was that Golden State kept fouling the Nuggets, or giving them open looks, over and over again. This led to a choppy game that was easy to flip away from, and it also prevented (as they had to take the ball out of the nets to start each possession) the Warriors from running much themselves.
And while Monta Ellis(notes) and Ty Lawson(notes) (Chauncey Billups(notes) is out with a busted nose and sprained wrist) enjoyed a quick-off, Denver took control early in this game and wouldn't allow no foolin'. 91 possessions in the game, which would rank a team about 23rd or 22nd in the NBA in pace. Not cool, guys.
There are things the Timberwolves could have done better offensively down the stretch, Darko Milicic(notes) actually had a nice touch rolling and yet they went away from him for too long, but it was Minnesota's inability to defend that allowed Oklahoma City to hang on. The Timberwolves were denied a comeback win because the team's frontline was to slow to stay in front of Kevin Durant(notes) and close out defensive possessions properly, and despite his six turnovers, Russell Westbrook(notes) continues to be the best point guard not named Chris Paul(notes) in the league right now. When you account for minutes, pace and defense, he's been better than Deron Williams(notes). This will likely change, as the season moves along, but for now it's RW.
32-40 shooting from the line for OKC, and they earned those trips. Meanwhile, Michael Beasley(notes) was pretty awful, needing 20 shots to score 15 points and turning the ball over five times. On top of that, he contributed to Durant's 16-17 mark from the line more than anyone.
The Rockets chipped away in the second half, but they couldn't string enough stops together to make this a close one. When you're on the wrong end of a 33-20 second quarter, you just can't keep matching those 30-plus quarters from the Suns offensively and hope to come back. You have to get stops, and the Rockets haven't been stopping anyone, all year.
I hate killing the guy after he dropped a needed 26 points on just 11 shot attempts, but Jason Richardson(notes) came into this league as an all-around player who could board with the best of them in the backcourt. And as much as he may have (may have?) been the biggest part of this Suns win offensively, he also had zero rebounds in 33 minutes of play, while the Rockets were mauled on the glass. He, and LeBron James (working as a power forward, at times, for the Heat) have to improve. They have to get better on the glass.
Don't let this take away from San Antonio's superb win, but this was a closer game than the final score would have you believe. The Magic played hard, and nearly pulled a fantastic road win off. The Spurs just wouldn't have it, though.
So many threes, down the stretch. Richard Jefferson's(notes) re-done shot stylings, Manu Ginobili(notes), Matt Bonner(notes) (who played yet another terrific all-around game) and even Tony Parker(notes) (hitting on both attempts) got into the action. Orlando covered well, I believe, but San Antonio was just quicker with its movement and screening and passing and was able to get those good looks in the air.
It was nice to see J.J. Redick(notes) somewhat get his season back on track (yes, 11 points on 11 shots is an improvement for Redick, at this point), but Vince Carter(notes) managed just eight points on six shots before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a Vince Carter (diagnosis of his Vince Carter has yet to be determined), the Magic had 17 turnovers to San Antonio's nine, and Dwight Howard(notes) needs to shut the hell up.
The guy picked up his fifth technical tonight, and while the new rules regarding technical fouls are ridiculously pointless, this guy has been earning them. And he needs to stop pumping his fists at referees and yelling "AND ONE" so loud that people can hear it in Indiana in the middle of a thunderstorm. I didn't even watch the whole game, and yet I noticed two other instances where Dwight could have been whistled for a technical, and by 1994-rules, not 2010-rules.
At this pace, Howard is going to be earning a one-game suspension for every two technicals he picks up by late January, and I'm sorry, but that's not exactly what MVPs do.
I also find it a little curious that the man who insists on quoting scripture at every given opportunity seems to take his lord's name in vain quite frequently and loudly and matched with another curse word in close proximity to microphones, children, or the microphones that relay that message into people's living rooms in front of children. I don't care if he cusses until he's Magic-blue in the face. Go nuts, Dwight. Just don't try to have it both ways.
I'm not exactly what you'd call a believer, but I manage to keep myself from yelling that stuff when I hit my proverbial thumb with the gol-darned hammer. It's a little disingenuous for Dwight to try to preach as much as he does, and lose it as much as he does (and I'm not talking about reacting to calls or getting upset; just the words he chooses). Outside of Kobe and KG I can't think of a player with a nastier vocabulary that is picked up by microphones as much.
With closer and more newsworthy contests floating around, I didn't see as much of this game as I did the seven others, but I can tell you that Sacramento couldn't shoot straight.
Every time I flipped over it was to see a King clang something, and then Deron Williams push the ball in transition or delayed transition. 36 percent shooting for Sacto, and that's with a 27-point fourth quarter that was needed to stave off something that could have been really, really embarrassing.
19 and eight rebounds in 35 minutes with three assists and no turnovers for Al Jefferson(notes), but he did miss 11 of 18 shots on his way to those numbers. I can't think of a player in the NBA, save for the ones working for my beloved Bulls, whose shots I'm trying to will in the bucket more. He really isn't as middling as he's looked over the last two years, I promise.
A few things ...
*This game was fun. This game was exactly as fun as a game between a great team and a terrible team that you really feel bad for could be.
*By my Tivo's count, the final one minute of playing time took just under 20 minutes to finish. Between timeouts and commercials and free throws and ice-the-guy substitutions during free throws, it was ridiculous. And yet, please listen NBA, it was a small annoyance that I'd prefer the league not do anything about. Not a complaint. Not something to work on to appease the fair-weather fans. I like what the NBA did a few years ago to speed up the ends of close games, but trust me, things are cool now. And this is an exception. I'm just already getting sick of all those Lexus/Acura/Infiniti ads that make me hate people with more money than me. Or any money at all. You have money, why are you still buying Japanese cars? Actually, that's probably why you have money.
*Charlize Theron pulled a Lakers/Clippers home and home on Sunday and Monday, and I have to give her major props for that. This is what you do when you get money -- you spend that money on courtside seats for the Lakers and Hornets (OK, Lakers and Clippers) on consecutive nights. Also, I'm hoping, German cars.
*It was great to watch the Clippers finally see some pay off. This team is young and bad, but it's also talented. It does stupid things, but it's not a lazy team. It's not particularly well-coached, but it's earnestly run. Tony Kornheiser went off on Bill Simmons during a PtI last week when Bill rightfully pointed out that the Clippers had "young talent," as if young talent can't lose in the NBA. The Kentucky Wildcats had "young talent" last year, and they'd win five NBA games (maybe) together this year. This is where the Clippers are. Young, talented, and terrible. In a few years, hopefully, they'll be older (OK, that's a given), just as talented, and much, much better.
*It was great to see Eric Bledsoe(notes), undeterred, running the show as best as he knows how. Eric Gordon(notes) getting to the line, even if his long range shot eludes him. Gordon has been fantastic this season (and on Monday, with 27 points), but the one mitigating factor is that he's carrying on in Baron Davis'(notes) name, shooting five threes a game but making just one per contest. It was great to see Blake Griffin(notes), jumping. Everywhere.
*I would have liked to see Chris Paul dominate the ball more, but he knew that David West(notes) was rolling (30 points, five assists, 10 rebounds), and he backed off a bit. Frustrating night for Paul, and that's saying something because even on a team that entered the game with 11 wins in 12 tries, he often looks like the most frustrated player in the NBA. Paul could play for the Lakers, and he'd look like that, so this isn't a shot at the Hornets, or even CP3.
*Every team deserves a win like this. One that makes you feel like nothing that came before it ever mattered.