January 14, 2011
A 2010-11 classic? I suppose. It really felt more like a game where two very good teams just couldn't help but make shot after shot, but in retrospect this contest was pretty solid throughout. And it really doesn't feel like a game that means a whole heck of a lot, partially because of the East/Midwest unfamiliarity between the teams (this wasn't a pairing that we're likely to take in this spring), but also because the Magic and especially the Thunder kept hitting crazy shot after crazy shot. The wind was blowing out, on Thursday night.
There were some tough, tough shots hit by Oklahoma City in this win. I'm not trying to tell you that this was a fluke win -- heck no, not with the way Kevin Durant(notes) and Russell Westbrook(notes) were playing -- but there were some absolute toughies knocked in by Westbrook (you almost felt for Jameer Nelson(notes), until he took that iffy three-pointer late in the fourth quarter) and his teammates. We're not even thinking about Jeff Green's(notes) lucky last-second bomb late in the game; I'm talking about contested shots throughout that the Thunder just shrugged off and tossed in.
The Magic could have had this, but that doesn't mean they blew this. Nelson had a rough night shooting, missing 8 of 12, but he didn't really take any bad shots save for his final miss, and most of those misses were an inch off. The team turned the ball over just five times, Dwight Howard(notes) made 17 of 20 free throws, and the group dropped nearly 135 points per 100 possessions. It played a fantastic game, and could have won, but the Thunder were just slightly better.
Jeff Green had to go and hit that three ...
A lot of screwups -- bad moves offensively for both teams, missed rotations, strange coaching decisions -- but this wasn't a bad game. Certainly not on par with Washington's other close one from a few days ago, the one that saw them top the Kings at home on Tuesday.
The Wizards kept leaving Kevin Love(notes) open, none of their bigs was immune from screwing that up, and he took advantage early, and then often. And with 35 points and four assists, Love put the Timberwolves over the top; always coming through with an answer. He also had 11 rebounds in this win, which brought his rebounding average down.
Washington had its moments, but for the life of me I just couldn't figure out why it didn't flatten the floor more often and put the ball in John Wall's(notes) hands. Especially with a hopeless defender in Luke Ridnour(notes) trying to check the rookie. Wall seemed to spearhead each of Washington's offensive runs, but he didn't dominate the game. And you came away with the distinct feeling that he could, if he wanted to.
You can freak out over this game. You can read a ton into it, keep it in mind when discussing Miami's mettle come spring, and wonder what Denver did to turn what should have been a close game into a blowout. I'm not telling you you're wrong, in that regard. Maybe the Heat are made of pretty weak stuff. Maybe they do give up early, when things aren't handed to them on a platter. Maybe they are suspect to The Greatest Game We Played All Year from every opponent, in a way that the Lakers, Spurs, and Bulls never seemed to be.
But I just saw a game where Miami clearly didn't have it, after flying into Denver late, playing against a Nugget team that seemed to want to get it all right, one last time.
And Denver kicked ass. They moved the ball and attacked and finished expertly. And while a team featuring Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) and a good-enough supporting cast on paper would seem to be able to compete, we have to remember that the Nuggets are a year and a half removed from winning two playoff rounds.
There was an Abbey Road-like sense of, "we're about to end it, so let's put together one more great one" with the Nuggets, and I thank them for that. They looked great, on Thursday night.