November 23, 2009
OK, an open shot that turned into the game-winning shot ... that's on Al Harrington. The near-win for the Knicks was almost on Harrington, but, let's be dramatic. It's November, after all. Crunch time. Every game counts.
So, THIS LOSS IS ON AL HARRINGTON!
David Lee(notes) is supposed to shade and follow Paul Pierce(notes), who had scored 33 points in the win and has hit more game-clinching shots than I can remember. Kevin Garnett(notes) is Lee's man, but with less than two seconds to go, you help your teammate follow Pierce on a screen-and-roll.
Harrington is supposed to move over to Garnett because K.G. can't get a pass off, and K.G. can't set up another teammate to get a shot off 20 feet away with less than two seconds to go in overtime.
Al was slow to recover, though, and Garnett hoisted a jumper with about a second to go, from where he'd hit a few minutes earlier in the game (despite going 4 for 15 at that point), and the C's won. It's not much to be proud of, on the road against a three-win team in overtime, but Boston will take it.
Now, Harrington (30 points) had New York in the game to begin with, and he was a catalyst down the stretch. And also in the first half when the Knicks began their comeback. New York made a game out of this by taking shots the C's didn't expect them to take, which had Boston talking and angry, but ineffective. Boston's real problem was on offense, though.
The Celtics are a veteran team that knows how to pass. They can't score 110 in their sleep, but they know how to move and trust and finish and score in the proper way. The team reminds me of champions of old (your Spurs, your Bulls) that were pretty good offensively, but mostly made their hay defensively, and it was obvious that the C's just weren't aggressive enough on the O-end to pull apart.
Meanwhile, the Knicks were just screening and chucking and while they weren't exactly pulling SSOL-styled maneuvers, they were keeping the C's on edge. While Boston, meanwhile, extra-passed its way into seventh options and low-percentage shots with the shot clock dwindling down.
What resulted was a fabulous game, somehow. Boston picked up the intensity offensively as the game moved along, while New York kept nailing shots. And the last 10 minutes of game time was quite the watch.
Boston had it, though. They hit a few more free throws (Pierce, mostly, who finished with 33 points), which made the difference. Nate Robinson(notes) (finally) had his best game of the season (19 points, and of course, Hollywood's Will Ferrell was in the house), but it wasn't enough.
Also, Rasheed Wallace(notes) missed all three of his attempts from behind the 3-point arc, and he's now shooting 27 percent from long range, despite taking almost six a game off the bench. My unspoken-and-unwritten-because-I-didn't-want-to-seem-too-severe-a-Rasheed-critic-worst-case-scenario has come true, less than a month into the season.
Six a game, 27 percent, off the bench.
It seemed like this could have been a 120-118 contest.
Neither side could stop penetration. Jason Williams(notes) vs. Jose Calderon(notes)? With Jarrett Jack(notes) and (to a lesser extent) Anthony Johnson(notes) backing things up? This began as a pairing of the two worst defensive point men in the league, and acted like it, early on.
Then the Magic started getting what felt like one offensive rebound for every two offensive misses, and that was that.
Orlando managed only 14 offensive rebounds all day (so to speak), enough to make a difference. The Magic shot worse, from every area, only had two fewer turnovers and really seemed right for the upset as the Eastern Conference's finest rivalry (since 2005-06) spun on.
Of course, if we're honest, it felt as if the Magic should have won by a lot more.
The go-to story involves Vince Carter(notes), who was an absolute prat in forcing his way out of Toronto. Carter deserves more enmity than any other ex-player gets from any other ex-crowd, combined, and that noted go-to story involves him playing well in Toronto. That works, actually; because though Carter shot 9 for 24, there were probably six shots that rimmed in and out or bounced out while he was fouled (and didn't see a call). Not V.C.'s biggest fan, but I can't slough that off.
So, he played well, despite 24 points for 24 points for Carter. Meanwhile, the Magic essentially got whatever they wanted, and just happened to miss a ton. Same for the Raptors, while we're at it, but who won? Whose story is this, dangit?
Dwight Howard(notes) had 17 points and 12 rebounds while playing a lazy, unintelligent game that allowed for him to whine about calls that could have gone either way, without taking the time to think about how he could have avoided those 50-50 whistles. J.J. Redick(notes) was money -- 19 points on 10 shots in under 30 minutes with five assists and zero turnovers -- with every jumper looking Ray Allen(notes)-pure.
Williams (19 points) got layups whenever he wanted; it was pretty pathetic (Jose, mainly), and Mickael Pietrus(notes) played the sort of boneheaded game (on both ends of the court) that he's become known for this season. Sorry for being such a jag when it comes to MP and Howard, but it's become clear that Pietrus' head really took the summer off, and that Howard is trying to cut corners.
Toronto just couldn't stop anyone. Had the open shots fallen, this would have been a 20-point loss.
Andrea Bargnani(notes) had another good rebounding game, the Toronto center pulled in nine, but he missed a few good looks and took a few bad looks (21-footers under duress and off the dribble; no reason for those) before fouling out with 11 points and nine boards. Jarrett Jack had 11 points to zero turnovers, with seven boards and eight points, but his defense was miserable (and, actually, somewhat better than it's been so far this year), and Hedo Turkoglu(notes) (11 shots to score 12 points) was crap down the stretch.
Unless you watched -- actually, even if you watched -- this was a bigger rout than you'd think.
Just 87 possessions in this game, so Phoenix managed 134 points per 100 possessions, which is a white hot total. Detroit started the year quite passable on D, but that's clearly fallen apart.
This was never a game. Detroit lost in overtime in a different time zone on Saturday night, and while it was the last game of a tough road trip, the Pistons didn't look good even adjusting for the outside influence. Detroit has lost five straight, and that no-good defense that we pegged them for to start the season (which seemed a stupid accusation after the team started the season locking teams up) seems to have reared its ugly head.
Phoenix had 25 assists on 42 made field goals while shooting 57.5 percent. Lots of good looks. Lots of turned heads.
Meanwhile, the Pistons continue to struggle mightily, and this was more or less a decision in Phoenix's favor midway through the second quarter. And Ben Gordon(notes), who I like (someone who made half of his 20 attempts on Saturday night, by the way), has made just 25 of 74 attempts from the floor during this swoon. He's better than that.
Steve Nash(notes) had 20 points on eight shots (with nine assists) in 28 minutes, because he's awesome. I would totally let him cut in line at Golden Tee. I don't even like bars that have a Golden Tee, as a rule, but given the chance ...
I'm not going to get into some lame "theory" (New England was better because Tom Brady was more of a threat in the pocket than a Marino-like Drew Bledsoe; the Knicks were better because with Ewing healthy they went to Patrick way more times than he deserved, while they mixed it up in his absence amongst more efficient players), but the Hornets are clearly more focused with Chris Paul(notes) on the pine.
The Hornets are clearly more focused with Byron Scott clearly more focused on what he clearly loves the most -- playing golf.
Without Scott standing on the sidelines, desperately trying to give off the stink of culpability and capability with his arms folded and eyebrows furrowed, the Hornets are actually running plays, moving into sets quickly and passing the ball as if they have an idea as to what comes next.
Paul can be a part of this. But we'll delve into that closer to his return.
As it was on Sunday, the Hornets lost on the road to a better team. But that doesn't mean you can't laud this lot.
Actually, he was lucky to make a shot like that. But he was also fouled, blatantly, while shooting that 16-footer, and a lucky bank resulted. Haslem's a better shooter than that, and he deserved the call.
Didn't matter, though. The Heat prevailed, Dwyane Wade(notes) dropped 31 on 21 shots (finally), and Jermaine O'Neal(notes) played sound defense throughout. I made a joke about him looking like a Collins twin, last year, but on Sunday he looked like a Collins twin in the finest regard. Moved his feet, made an impact. Great to see.
This can work. Let's just get the NBA's MVP (thus far) back on the court, first.
Nazr Mohammed's(notes) per-minute stats have been great all season, and while he isn't in perfect shape, he's clearly in the best shape we've seen in years from this talented (though routinely disappointing) center, so Sunday's outburst wasn't that much of a surprise.
Nazr has always had talent and touch, but he's also been lazy, he hasn't been in shape, he hasn't made smart decisions on the court, and he's rarely been aggressive enough to make that talent work for him. Not even in contract years, though he's received some pretty nice contracts.
Still, 18 points, five boards, two blocks and two steals in fewer than 18 minutes for Nazr in this win. The Pacers fell behind early, couldn't hit a shot from any angle and Mohammed put the Bobcats over the top on the other end.
Ugly game. The Pacers went 5 for 22 from 3-point range, and couldn't find anything offensively (save for Dahntay Jones'(notes) 19 points, more on him later in the week). Charlotte's D had quite a bit to do with it, but the Pacers also missed their fair share of makeable ones, with heaps of poor decisions to boot.
Despite missing 9 of 10 3-point looks, Charlotte nailed half its shots, with Boris Diaw(notes) (17 points, seven boards, four assists, zero turnovers) also turning in a nice game. Boris and Nazr, two of my favorite bigs over the last decade. They usually play like crap, and actually got it together for this game.
And, somehow, it still didn't feel right. Both of them just wasted what could have been fantastic careers.
The Lakers dominated this game from the outset, it was never really close, as Los Angeles' offense was just too quick for the usually great Thunder D to handle.
Too many options, the passes were too quick, the reactions were that sound. The Laker reactions. Which brings me to Kobe Bean Bryant.
As you likely know, Kobe hit a series of first-quarter shots that left just about everyone astonished. Though we shouldn't have been.
Anything you see out of this guy, he's worked on. Any attempt he takes the time to put together, he's tossed it up 600 times in the gym. Seriously. I was going to write "1,200," as a random number, but then decided to actually attempt an accurate guess. And part of me wants to write "tossed it up 600 times in the gym, this year alone."
This is why you need to respect this man, to no end. He might make you feel uneasy with his past, or the way he seemingly calculates everything as if his life were one great SportsCentury episode, but you can't deny his sepia-toned brilliance. Brilliance of his own design. Nobody finds the calculated stuff to be more distasteful than I, but you can't deny the work Kobe puts into the game we love, and if you love this game, you have to respect him.
Others may jump higher. They may be taller, they may have longer arms or bigger hands. I don't want to demean the work others have put in. LeBron James(notes) didn't come out of the womb dribbling a ball. He worked.
But Kobe worked. And there's a reason why a left-handed banker off an offensive rebound without a dribble seems so natural to him. Even if he's preening after he makes it. When you work, and it pays off, you deserve to preen. Even if it seems unseemly and show-offy and annoying.