December 14, 2009
I don't take sides — save for a certain outfit by my city by my lake — but I couldn't help but bring the giddy as I watched Memphis just walk all over the Heat. For plenty of reasons, but of paramount interest to me is the fact that not only did Memphis storm out to a massive lead in the first quarter, the young team added to the lead in the third.
That's significant. That's what championship contenders do. That's not what middling teams do, even if they're playing a lousy opponent. To race out to an early lead, a winnable-lead, and then add to it and/or double it up in the third quarter? Young, nutty teams like the Grizzlies just don't do that.
Lionel Hollins has this team doing that. Lionel Hollins has this team passing the ball with an interest that could only be described with a sentence that features the word "aplomb." Lionel Hollins has turned a bunch of me-first misfits into a TEAM that loves playing the right way. One that comes out in an early evening contest in Miami after a Saturday night in South Beach and moves the ball, cuts off angles defensively, and thinks two passes ahead of the one it is about to throw.
Clearly, Lionel Hollins is a genius, or he practices in the stylings of what could be called "the occult."
Memphis just defended, ran, passed, and finished. Sometimes not in that order. Sometimes they just executed brilliantly in the half-court and left the Heat out of position and out of answers. Again, it was so, so much fun to watch.
Rudy Gay(notes) dropped 41, and while he was all over the place (intelligently working his tail off), he often felt like this particular night's one millionth customer. The guy in the right place, at the right time; able to knock it in from deep, or finish on the fly.
20 assists on 47 Grizzlies field goals, but it felt like the team earned at least a dozen more. Meanwhile, Hollins' crew crushed Miami on the boards (49-26), and picked up an offensive rebound on nearly half of Memphis' misses.
Miami's not that good, and while they did compete (honestly), they just weren't up to handling a team squeezing every available ounce out of its given talent.
Good on the players, no doubt; but Lionel Hollins. Lionel Hollins. He knows better, he's been there; he's been a champion, and he's making this mess work.
And it's so, so fun to watch.
The Rockets? I know judging a team's defense against offensive knockouts like the Raptors is a tricky thing, but Houston is struggling. And the team is worth paying attention on that end. We'll get into it deeper as we learn more.
The Raptors got out to a 32-17 lead after the first 12 minutes, and I don't want to pin that advantage on the 12:30 Eastern starting time. Toronto's play was too good, and Houston's recent struggles mean too much for me to slough that off as not being ready to play earlier than you usually would.
After Toronto's initial offensive blitzkrieg, which Houston seemed too slow and too small to stop, things just about evened out. The Rockets would match basket-for-basket trips with the Raptors, or miss-for-miss trips. Rick Adelman's team just couldn't put a one-sided run together.
3-24 three-point shooting for Houston, and you felt that during the game. These were good shots, and they weren't falling. That said, on a visitor's rim? With an early start? If they're not falling, stop. Aaron Brooks(notes) kept shooting (again, these were open shots, so don't go too far in slamming the kids), even taking a long three after draining the clock at the end of the first half, when PGs of his ilk usually drive. 20 points on 20 shots.
Trevor Ariza(notes)? One point on nine shots, before getting kicked out. His season has been a waste, so far. No amount of defensive aptitude can make up for this. Carl Landry(notes) (25 points) and Luis Scola(notes) (21 points) were opportunistic and quite good.
Enough about the losers.
Toronto moved the ball and attacked quickly. They obviously feel confident in these sorts of early-Sunday situations, and it shows. The team made half its shots, they handled all those long rebounds well (the three-point defense could improve; again, Houston had some good looks), and they took it to a team that at home, really, they should be trouncing.
Maybe not to this extent, but Toronto should be a lot better. A one-sided affair like this shouldn't be a surprise, but sadly, it feels that way.
Right down to the coaching staff, the Nets look like they're in mid-April, "whatever"-mode. This is not a good thing.
New Jersey appeared to have not either run nor executed an actual play in this game. No smartass'ry, ‘ere, honest. The team's offense was shockingly simple, the Hawks just moved feet and kept up, while Atlanta just trounced New Jersey (134 points on 100 possessions) on the other end.
A couple of passes, and the Nets are done. And while the Hawks weren't exactly looking like the 1970 Knicks, they were so, so much better than New Jersey. 32 assists on 49 field goals for Atlanta, the team shot 53 percent and only Maurice Evans(notes) played more than 33 minutes.
He took advantage, by the way. A team-leading 22 points with nine rebounds. Seven Hawks were in double figures, as the Hawks just loped around.
New Jersey's offense, despite all the one-on-one, actually put together a sound game. The team is just no good, and they already know that this year doesn't count. Passable for mid-April, scary for mid-December. If you want a career high, journeymen, circle the Nets game on the calendar in your rented condo.
The Thunder were right there, for most of the game. Suddenly, though Cleveland had been playing expertly on defense for most of the contest, Oklahoma City started missing makeable three-pointers, and makeable bunnies. Lots of interior shots that - again, this is giving credit to Cleveland's ability to contest shots - should have gone in. Bad luck bounces, and all that.
The irony was not lost on OKC, who followed Williams' make by missing shots for the next three and a half minutes.
Before that (and, if we're honest, following that; because we love to watch a great team stomp away), this was a fantastic watch. The Thunder defense was on point and, eventually, the Cavalier defense was right there. Both teams traded tough shots, LeBron James(notes) was hot, and this looked like a wire-to-wire close one.
Not to be, though. The half-courter really changed things.
44 points for James, who is just a joy. Just absolute perfection, providing he decides to drive. And though he took eight three-pointers (and made five three-pointers), James was-a drivin'.
Seven boards, six assists, and four steals. And what's ridiculous is that one of those numbers (the rebounds) is his average, and the assists are below his 2009-10 average. And I'm still pointing these digits out as a way to tell you how brilliant he was.
They'll be back, though.
I'm starting to remember this team, these Spurs. Those Spurs. That team. This team. Loved that team. Most hated that team. They might, because it's a long season, still turn into that team.
Save for a poorly-planned second quarter that saw San Antonio (I'm re-watching it this afternoon, so don't kill me for a one-off guess) possibly assume the Clippers ready to fold, San Antonio played a killer defensive game while seemingly making every tough shot imaginable on the other end.
Bankers for Tim Duncan(notes). Step-backs and finishes for Manu
Ginobili(notes). Horrible contested 21-footers for Richard Jefferson(notes). Put-backs for
DaJuan DiJuan DoJuan DeJuan Blair(notes). Everyone's wheelhouse was ably represented.
Meanwhile, the Clippers looked outclassed.
They competed, but they were also defended damn well. And they didn't exactly mind the three-point line, or San Antonio's penetration, very well. Not a complete sieve, these Clippers, but enough that a team firing on all cylinders could waltz.
And that was a Shelby-styled V8 waltz from the Spurs, who we hope are back. More, please.