Ball Don't Lie - NBA

San Antonio 112, Los Angeles Lakers 111

I'm angry enough as it is, so you might be able to slough off my take on this game while chalking it up to a bit of Fenian temper. I wouldn't blame you for it, but do hear me out, before the complete and utter dismissal sets in.

After nearly seven hours of watching games and taking notes in real time, I hunkered down to what was a pretty mind-blowing Tivo'd Laker/Spurs game that, for whatever reason, decided to crap out with two minutes left in the recording. Some sort of Direct TV mishap, the screen tells me.

So I get to writing, putting together the BtB proper, trying to stave off dementia with equal parts Irish Breakfast and egg sandwiches, while attempting to ignore the final score with every NBA-related page I pull up. It doesn't work. I eventually stumbled across the finally tally, read something about a crazy finish, while still looking forward to the last two minutes of the ESPN replay, sans surprise, due for about 4:55 am, EST.

I watch the replay, the last two minutes; and as shocking and entertaining as it may have been, that was a pretty inglorious ending.

To start, Kobe? Toward the end of what may have been your best game of the season (considering the context, circumstances, and how bloody brilliant you were), you rise up for a three-pointer while down a single point, no double-team in sight, and 14 seconds left on the clock?

Of course you can make that shot. You made it against Portland in April of 2004, you made it on Wednesday night, you've made 36 percent of them on the year, but you can't tell me that this was a good decision.

Pau Gasol was coming to set a screen, with Matt "Bill Russell Jr." Bonner in tow, and this is what we're choosing? The ends don't justify a shot like that.

And, after a Spurs timeout, Roger Mason Jr. grabs an inbound pass with 11 seconds remaining and his team down two points, and tosses up a 21-footer like there were .9 seconds left on the game clock. This wasn't a decision that was made after he took the contact from Derek Fisher and heard the whistle, as the ball was nearly out of his hands when Fisher hit him, and it was in the air when the whistle blew.

Taking the lowest-percentage/lowest-yield shot in the game just tenths of a second after taking an inbound pass, declining to run a play, and you're Roger Mason Jr.? If Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili take this shot, I'm yelling at the TV.

I don't care if it went in ... imagine if it didn't, as the odds suggest. That would have been one of the bigger WTF? moments of the season.

RMJ has proven to be ridiculously clutch this season, you can't deny his poise, and his skills. That said, he did know there were 11 seconds on the clock, righto?

Then the Trevor Ariza call? Two steps, he gets fouled, and he gets whistled for a travel? Not the ending I waited two hours for. Technically a travel, but ... come on. Not what the punters paid to see, but hundreds of great NBA games have ended on an afterthought stumbling into a call and ending the night as the embarrassed hero. Let that go.

Otherwise, a fantastic game. The numbers were pretty high for a Spurs/Lakers game, with shooting percentages in the high 50s for most of the game, but this was a case of good D, better O all night.

Kobe was fantastic, and he could have probably done more number-wise, as he stewed on the bench for a huge chunk of the fourth quarter while Phil Jackson tempted fate. As it was, the Lakers were only -1 during that stretch with Bryant on the bench, and Kobe proceeded to take over. 10 assists, 29 points on 19 shots, seven rebounds, good D, great game. Hate the shot, love the player.

(Also, Mark Jackson is wrong about everything. Tell your parents. Asking that a dragging Josh Powell stay in the game for the final three and a half minutes, instead of Andrew Bynum, who was scoring over Tim Duncan and Kurt Thomas all night, mentioning something about Powell deserving the run more than Bynum, realizing how dumb it sounded, and hoping nobody noticed.)

Bynum was no joke, bailing out the Lakers on more than a few possessions with dastardly low post moves as the shot clock wound down, finishing with 18 points. Only three rebounds, but there weren't a lot of those to go around on Wednesday, and the Lakers out-rebounded the Spurs eventually.

We have our Manu back, by the way. Ginobili ran things in the first half, and finished with 27 points in only 30 minutes, with three boards, two assists, two turnovers, and three steals. Missed that. Tim Duncan, sick, 20 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, two turnovers, a steal, two blocks, so good.

It was a fabulous game, I can't deny it, and never tried to. I just like seeing two of the smartest teams in the NBA win with smarts, instead of Sam Cassell dances.

Indiana 110, Detroit 106 (OT)

The thing that warmed our knuckles to regarding the recent Piston play was the sheer amount of effort they were putting into their wins.

After essentially moping through all of November and most of December, to see the Pistons put in a fair amount of effort (for them, for any team) over the last few weeks left us chuffed. And even though we considered the results (close wins over horrible-to-middling teams), it wasn't worth bringing up at the time. That time, eventually, would come.

Here we be, yo. January 15th, and it's starting to catch up to Detroit. The effort is still there, but as the competition improves (and, yes, tough Indiana and Charlotte squads are better competition), the close losses are going to start piling up. It evens out for every team, good or bad or stuck in the middle avec vous. The Pistons better be ready for it. I'm sure the fans already are.

An off shooting night (6-20) from Danny Granger, he missed a ton of makeable perimeter looks, but he also got to the line (10-11) and ended with 24 points. And T.J. Ford actually looked fully healthy for the first time in a while, springing past the Pistons for 23 bench points in 28 minutes.

Rasheed Wallace (17 and 15, no turnovers in 39 minutes) and Rodney Stuckey (30 points, nine boards, six assists, one turnover in 45 minutes) played terrific ball for the Pistons, but it won't be enough.

And coach Michael Curry is going to have make a tough decision soon (seeing as how he's paid to do just that) and sit either Allen Iverson (23 and seven assists, 43 minutes) or Rip Hamilton (nine points, one assist, 29 minutes) eventually.

Then again, having it both ways while complaining about either side has long been the Piston Way, so I wouldn't expect a hook any time soon.

New Orleans 104, Dallas 97

If you are an NBA fan, and I cannot stress this enough, you are living in remarkable, remarkable times.

Just a day after LeBron James came through with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Grizzlies, Chris Paul went off for 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. This stuff just doesn't happen very often. You may have seen Magic and Bird pull it a couple of times in the 1980s, and while I want to delve deeper into that, that reference is probably all you need.

Seven steals and two turnovers for Paul as well, while we're at it, absolutely dominating Jason Kidd (three sevens, with three turnovers).

The Hornets shouldn't be happy taking a split from the Knicks and Mavericks, the Knicks are still the Knicks and the Mavs are without Josh Howard, but that's probably how things are going to work this season. This team is still on pace for 54 wins, with Tyson Chandler off and Peja Stojakovic way, way off. Not bad, in all.

Dallas saw Jason Terry come through with another great one, 28 points and four assists in 35 minutes off the bench, but Dallas is finding that it has to work quite a bit and involve contributions from unlikely sources (Antoine Wright, 15 points) just to be able to compete. Raymond Felton won't fix that.

Philadelphia 100, Portland 79

Philadelphia should be commended for nailing all those three-pointers, but the real reason the 76ers ran out to an early lead over the Trail Blazers was Portland's inability to hang onto the ball. Nate McMillan's crew, which has been one of the league's most efficient offenses since October, had double-figure turnovers before they knew what hit them, and that all can't be pinned on the Sixer D.

A lot of it can. Philly roared into the playoffs last year working with a defense that caused huge gobs of turnovers, and the sort of desperate effort it takes to shake teams out of their offense and into coughing it up; it just hasn't been there this year. Yes, they're shooting more threes, and the shots were falling (11-23 from long range, 48 percent), but that's going to dry up after a while. These are streak shooters, Andre Iguodala especially, and they're on a good streak.

And good for them, but it's the defense, and the ability to get more shots up than your opponent, that is going to have to turn the Sixers around. It's not the chucking, nor the ability to weave Elton Brand into things, because these aren't exactly the 2007 Warriors we're talking about.

(I should amend this. I'm not trying to tell you that the Sixers are stinkerz from long range, or that they shouldn't continue to have the green light. What I am saying is that, should the defense return to where it was last year, they can survive the odd miserable shooting night.)

Chicago 102, Toronto 98

I'm pretty sure Skeets is with me on this -- there were times in this game where neither of these teams looked to deserve their own arena, uniforms, free ride to the arena, and/or paychecks. Some pretty distressing basketball in this one. Distressing like those new bands with the ugly kids with the bangs and the nail polish and the pathos and all the compression.

Luckily we have Derrick Rose to bring it all home, like some Mink DeVille import you found in the middle of the sticks for $7.99. What are the odds of that? Besides 1.7 percent, of course.

25 points on 18 shots with 10 assists for Rose. 17 of those points coming in the fourth quarter after having let the clowns have their go, and more than making up for Andrea Bargnani's nicely tuned 31 points and 10 rebounds. Just barely. If at all.

Chicago wins when they defend, it's the only way this sub-prime offensive team has any chance at easy baskets. Also, Aaron Gray was seen trying to guard Andrea Bargnani at times during this game. Just passing it along.

New York 128, Washington 122

How people can keep underestimating David Lee, thinking that he's a product of a lousy team, easy shots, porous defense, uninspired opponents, lefty fetishism, Chris Duhon, the Washington Wizards ... it boggles the mind.

30 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, zero turnovers in 41:28; that's a player. That's someone that's worth your time. It was true in 2005, it's true today.

Lots of good shooting in this one, I don't want to pin this on poor defense, even though the Wizards and Knicks are pretty lousy on that end, and were on Wednesday. Lots of squared shoulders and quick cuts and untouched rims. Washington looked good, but it just doesn't have the interior presence to do anything against an opposing frontcourt with a head on its shoulders.

Nick Young is shooting 72 percent over his last four games, averaging 25.8 points per game off the Wizards bench.

Boston 118, New Jersey 86

I thought the Nets would make things interesting for a quarter or so against the Celtics, even if that meant bringing a 22-point game down to 12 to start the fourth quarter, but it wasn't to be. Boston just has a way of making you wish you'd never been born.

Take Vince Carter. He's having an All-Star year, easy. A fantastic year where, even with Devin Harris ripping things up, VC had carried the Nets for huge stretches and really progressed as a leader. A few years too late, I concede, but it's still a fantastic season thus far.

Wednesday, against Boston? 1-10 shooting, four points, four turnovers. No rebounds, one assist in 26 minutes. All-Stars can miss nine of 10 every so often, but they'll get to the line. They'll take it to the glass. They'll try and push the ball in rare transition opportunities. Carter had all of that taken away from him. It was sick. Boston's a bunch of sickies.

It wasn't his best game, but it was a throwback to December, something we've been waiting for from Rajon Rondo. 11 points on nine shots, 12 assists, seven turnovers, four turnovers, three steals in 30 minutes. Helped force Devin Harris into six turnovers, and only nine shots.

Other Celtics may have had better games, but no member of Doc Rivers' crew had a more encouraging night than Rajon. Certainly not Doc, if I'm honest.

Oklahoma City 114, Utah 93

I'm not telling you to pass on ripping the Jazz for dropping trou in Oklahoma City. Rip ‘em. The Jazz played an uninspired batch of step-slow basketball that couldn't have beaten the Thunder even at their worst.

But even up against Utah's best, I'm not sure the Thunder take the loss. These guys just had it tonight, shots were falling, and Scott Brooks has these guys playing so damn hard. Boston, and I mean the team that beat New Jersey by 32 points on Wednesday, would have had trouble against the Thunder.

Oklahoma City crushed Utah on the glass, absolutely destroyed them. The Jazz were without Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, which helps, but that doesn't excuse Andrei Kirilenko from pulling in just one board in 39 minutes. I don't care who he had to guard. A 48-26 rebounding advantage for the Thunder.

Nenad Krstic had 14 and 11 off the bench, Kevin Durant (5-12) and Jeff Green (8-13) had the turnarounds rolling, and Russell Westbrook just has it.

You could see it back in November, even when he was tossing out miserable contributions and making mistakes all over the place. He looks like Devin Harris, with a tailback's build. I don't know what happens from here on out, but what looked like a reach from Thunder brass last June now looks like a coup. Kudos.

Miami 102, Milwaukee 99

I'm pretty bummed that I didn't get to watch more of this one, and I think I watched quite a bit as it stood, but that's how things go on an 11-game night. Plus, I had choir practice.

Dwyane Wade missed 15 of 20 shots, and complained about snakebites to the press afterward (based off reputation, and how much Scott Skiles teams got away with in Chicago, I tend to believe him), but he also dished 13 assists to go alongside his 17 points. Daequan Cook led the Heat with 24 points, which worries me. This can only encourage him.

Michael Beasley continues to round into form, he poured in 21 off the bench on only 11 shots, and has hit for double-figures in eight of nine games in January, breaking the 20-point line four different times.

I wasn't keen on Milwaukee's decision-making, from what I saw, but you can't argue with a close loss to a good team. Actually, I probably could, but with the anecdotal evidence, I'm at a bit of a loss.

Atlanta Hawks 97, Los Angeles Clippers 80

It wasn't a blinding first half, but it was nice to see the Hawks come out and quickly try to take care of business against a team several steps behind them.

Josh Smith is still working his way back into shape, physically and mentally (it takes a leap of faith, no pun intended, to bound about the way he does knowing he can come down the wrong way and take out that ankle again), but he came through with 26 and eight in the win.

Flip Murray was playing against a bad team, so he made six of nine shots, and Ricky Davis continued right where he left off before his pot suspension, missing three of four shots in 16 minutes.

Sacramento 135, Golden State 132 (3 OT)

I'm not going to call this a classic, these teams have too many holes, and the decision-making was so poor at times, that you couldn't help but throwing more complaints at the TV than plaudits.

That didn't stop me from hoping for a fourth overtime, even as it was approaching 2 am EST, after having been in front of the tube for seven hours of basketball. This game was so much fun.

The game was also exactly as you'd expect, to a degree. The thing that stood out to me the most, throughout the regulation turn, was Golden State's poor mark from the free throw line.

The Warriors made only 25 freebies in 41 attempts, with Corey Maggette missing eight of his 12 attempts. This is a guy who has made his millions from taking nine shots a game, making four, and getting to the line for the rest of his points. And he missed eight, when he usually makes 10 of 12. In a triple-overtime game. As if Warrior fans didn't hate him enough as it was.

All of me wants to write about how entertaining this was, but there were so many mistakes. Both teams declined to foul while up three points in the closing seconds of the first and second overtimes, and game-tying three-pointers were the result. Huge shocker. While it took until the third overtime for Anthony Randolph to see some serious burn, only to see him matched up against guards, is beyond me. Good coaches find ways to get fresh legs in.

So, credit the victors. Kevin Martin had a horrible shooting night, but he kept the Kings in it late, while Brad Miller came through with a 30-point, 22-rebound night. Pace, and minutes (he played over 51 of them) aside, doesn't matter, that's still a night to be proud of.

But the game, the game is always fun. And this was a sight to behold, two teams still figuring their own rosters out this late into the season, trying to temper their SSOL instincts with the knowledge that a screen and roll attack could result in an easy two just about every time down court against such porous interior defense.

And Ronny Turiaf, his stats weren't much (eight points, seven boards, three blocks in 30 minutes), and he didn't make much of an impact, but he tried. Lawdy, did he try. That man is just an incessant worker, and about 15 combined inches away from a 15-rebound, seven-block night on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading.

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