December 10, 2009
This was a spirited, close game for 36 minutes. A day later, it's hard not be gobsmacked at how quickly the Jazz fell apart.
We shouldn't be gobsmacked. They've done it before against Los Angeles. It just that, after 36 minutes of sound play against the defending champs, you'd assume that at least a reasonable approximation of it would return in that fourth quarter. Instead, the Jazz scored six points, and the Lakers scored 28 points. Geesh.
I don't know how much of this is Utah, and how much is Los Angeles. I don't want to prattle on about how great the Laker defense was in that fourth quarter, at the risk of sounding fawning. I don't want to go on about the open lanes offensively for Los Angeles, all game, at the risk of sounding fawning. This team created its own destiny, but 28-to-6?
The Lakers are that much better. The Lakers' length absolutely took it to a bunch of players that weren't ready for that sort of defensive blitzkrieg. There was nothing, really, that Deron Williams could have done. It was the Lakers. They hounded, they saw angles develop at the same time some of Utah's lesser lights (C.J. Miles(notes), Eric Maynor(notes), Wesley Matthews(notes) ... Carlos Boozer(notes)) saw them, and they took advantage.
Williams would have just been part of the mess. He would have helped, better plays would have been run, and sets would have been executed. But what does that mean? 28 to 16?
And offensively, though they entered the game a relatively disappointing (for them) 12th in offensive efficiency, the Lakers are so, so perfect. There were stretches during last season's postseason against the Jazz where I thought Los Angeles may have been one of the most potent (most option-heavy) offensive teams I've ever seen, and that returned tonight, even if they "only" ended with about 113 points per 100 possessions.
Ron Artest(notes) made quick decisions, and got to the rim. Pau Gasol(notes) was everywhere. Jordan Farmar(notes) was huge in the fourth quarter with eight points. Andrew Bynum(notes) might be this game's best low-post scorer. Kobe Bryant(notes) was gorgeous to watch, gliding all over and scoring from all areas on his way to a 27-point, six-rebound, eight-assist night with two steals, two blocks, and two turnovers.
Lamar Odom(notes) only picked up two assists, with seven points and 10 rebounds, but he moved the ball for this team. There was a reason he was a +21 (second highest on the team to Artest) on the night. They just owned things. And, defensively, held what can often be a scintillating offensive team to just 33.7 percent shooting and 86.5 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz, to those numbers.
I'll stop. I know you think I'm overrated the Jazz and drooling over the Lakers, and I don't care. The Jazz don't play as well as they should most nights, and the Lakers are so good it's scary.
The good news, if you're a Trail Blazers fan?
Portland, overall, played a sound offensive game, and held the Pacers to a pretty poor 99 points per 100 possessions.
The bad question?
Shouldn't they be beating the Pacers by a lot more? Even on the second night of a back-to-back? Even with that thinned-out roster?
Three questions, whatever.
Indiana tried. They took in game (if not entirely efficient) contributions from guys like Tyler Hansbrough(notes) (13 and 11, no idea how he managed to avoid a single turnover) and Luther Head(notes), but Brandon Roy's(notes) 29 points, seven boards and five assists were too 2008-09 throwback-y for the Pacers to pull out the win.
LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) had 20 and eight rebounds with three assists, Dre Miller (15 points) worked well down the stretch, and the Blazers held it together. But you get the feeling that this team isn't anywhere near as held together as it was last season without Greg Oden(notes).
These teams play so damn slowly (80 possessions in this contest), that even when the offense is good (and it was, on Wednesday), these teams are just so, so dull to watch.
Rodney Stuckey(notes) had his best game of the year with 27 points, eight assists, 10-19 shooting, five rebounds, just two turnovers (despite handling the ball quite a bit in nearly 41 minutes) and the game-winning shot. Jonas Jerebko(notes) was absolutely killer down the stretch for the Pistons, hitting three huge three-pointers from the corners, while finishing with 17 points and 10 boards overall.
On Philly's side, Allen Iverson(notes) tried to do stuff he just can't do right now (like splitting screens), and possibly won't be able to do ever again. Game effort for the 34-year old, but he missed seven of 10 shots and turned the ball over six times. Sam Dalembert had his second strong game in a row with 17 points, 11 rebounds and no turnovers, but the Sixers had issues on the defensive glass, and the Pistons were able to get to the line more often.
Lopez went off for 19 points in that first half, and while I didn't get a great look at Golden State's defensive adjustments with so many games going on at the same time last night (perhaps the commenters can help me there), Golden State obviously made up for lost time and points in the second half, when Lopez scored just two points on 1-4 shooting.
New Jersey's big issue, as it's been all year, was turnovers. They coughed it up on 23 percent of their possessions, and you can't expect to win a game against a fast-break team like the Warriors by giving them 22 extra possessions. Golden State gave the Nets 18 extra possessions of their own, BUT THIS IS NOT THE POINT.
Six out of nine Warriors were in double-figures, as Anthony Morrow(notes) (five turnovers) and Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) continue to struggle from the field, though Vlad led the team again in rebounding with nine. I don't know which team that's more embarrassing for.
Lopez finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block, but also six turnovers. Mikki Moore(notes) played like he did in his Nets days — better, actually, on the glass — with 16 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.
Another pathetic, feeble showing by Chicago, losing by 35 points on national TV.
The Hawks pulled ahead in the first half by making quick penetration early in possessions and moving the ball after that. They were able to take it to the Bulls on the offensive glass, which Vinny Del Negro blamed on Atlanta's "athleticism," conveniently overlooking the fact that it was Zaza Pachulia(notes) and Joe Smith(notes) that were doing most of the damage in the first quarter run that VDN was talking about.
On national TV.
On national TV, Mark Jackson then called VDN out on this very point. And, really, if Mark Jackson gets it, and your head coach doesn't? What hope do you have?
Chicago eventually came around on the glass, but it was over after that. They can't guard anyone, they won't guard anyone, and they haven't had the heart to put anything together since ... opening night? Maybe?
Jamal Crawford(notes) had 29 points off the Hawks' bench, Chicago just couldn't find him all game, and though Joe Johnson(notes) shot somewhat poorly (missing 10 of 16 from the floor), he stirred the drink quite nicely. 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers for Josh Smith(notes).
Taj Gibson(notes) has pulled in five defensive rebounds in his last 79 minutes of play, and Kirk Hinrich(notes) missed all nine of his attempts and is now shooting 34 percent from the floor. Derrick Rose(notes) can't guard anyone, and it's cold out.
Count Jay Triano as another of the litany of coaches that don't know what they have in Rasho Nesterovic(notes). The coaches that did know what they had with Rasho? Gregg Popovich, and Flip Saunders. I guess all those other guys think they know better.
Toronto's best defender was only on the court for 13 minutes last night, taken out for significant stretches as the Bucks (you'd be stretching if you called them a great offensive team) managed an otherworldly 130 points per 100 possessions in this win.
The Raptors should have probably lost this game, anyway. No Andrea Bargnani(notes), no Jose Calderon(notes) ... but like this? Against a Bucks team that, while possibly "due" (if we're getting into baseball superstition) had lost eight of 10? You've got to compete harder than this, but Toronto's litany of small ones just didn't want to know.
(Guess what, Rapsies? The Bucks are pretty small, too.)
Seven Bucks scored in double-figures, as Brandon Jennings(notes) led the way with 22 points on 14 shots. Six assists, two steals, two blocks and just one turnover in 34 minutes for Jennings. 24 assists overall for Milwaukee, on 42 field goals.
This was a fun little game.
The Timberwolves owned the glass, on both ends. The Hornets forced a ton of turnovers. The Hornets were quick and potent, the Timberwolves long and, eh, long.
Minnesota rookie Jonny Flynn(notes) lost the game for the Timberwolves. With 3.9 seconds left in a tie game Flynn turned his head for, quite literally, a half a second on Chris Paul(notes) as he slightly shaded over to David West(notes) as DW received the in-bounds pass from CP. That was all the space Paul needed as West hit the Hornets point guard for a pass and eventually the deciding lay-in.
Can't kill Flynn for this. He should know better, I'm sure he was told during the timeout to stick, but when you're the best player on the court, for so long? When, in high school and college, you can make a huge difference by ball-following? By sticking your nose into everything? It's a hard habit to break. To learn, as a pro, to let the teammate (that was also the best player on his high school and college team) handle things himself, without you butting in? That's hard to get used to.
It's instinct, and it'll be beaten out of him until he's a soulless robot. Then he'll stick on Paul, the Hornets will miss a bad shot, and we'll get an overtime filled with foul-outs, free throws, and bad turnovers. It's the NBA way.
Good game for Flynn, for three quarters. He took some bad shots and made some bad decisions with possessions (those 13 fourth quarter points for Minnesota had a lot to do with him), but he did have 14 points and nine assists at a position that Mike James(notes) used to play.
Paul had 15 and 14 dimes, but five turnovers, though Peja Stojakovic(notes) (where does this come from, once a week, after he looks like a corpse for so long?) hit five of six three-pointers and finished with 21 points.
Peja was up-faking and leaning and looking like a real pro. It's not that he's just hitting open shots (though there were some open ones, thanks Corey Brewer(notes)), it's that his whole body language changes in these every-so-often games. Then he goes right back to looking washed-up. I'll take it, but it's odd. Especially on the road, after a plane flight to somewhere cold.
There was a lot of talk, as this game went on, about how Kings rookie Omri Casspi's(notes) favorite player growing up was/is Manu Ginobili(notes). And it was fun to watch those two go at it. Casspi played well throughout, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. Manu came on strong for some clutch moves late, and finished with 20 points as well in 25 minutes. Great to see Manu roar back every so often.
19 points, four rebounds, five assists, four turnovers, four steals — an off night for this rookie. Off night. The next Manu. I'm telling you. Provided he continues to attack.
The Kings held in there, another impressive run for Paul Westphal's kids, but a couple of turned heads and defensive lapses, a couple of missed shots on the other end, and all of the sudden, a near-win is a 12-point loss. Think about that. San Antonio badly needs every win it can get, and it was at home. They're desperate. And you're the Kings. This is good stuff, despite the tough loss.
Richard Jefferson(notes) still can't get to the line, but he did drop 23 in the win. George Hill(notes) had a needed 10 bench points, and the Spurs made eight of nine three-pointers overall. Tough to beat a team when they pull that.
Cleveland could have had this game. The Cavs forced Houston into just 16 third-quarter points, the sort of post-halftime shutdown job that you usually get from championship-level squads. Problem was, the Cavs turned it over nine times in that 12-minute span.
Nine turnovers, and the Rockets still only scored 16 points? Ouch. Could have had this, Cleveland.
Five fourth quarter turnovers, too, and that's just too much to overcome.
Also, even without Mike Brown on the bench (he was ejected in the first half), the Cavs still take too much air out of the ball. Two fast break points all night, despite all those Houston misses, and 13 Rocket turnovers. Pathetic. And that's with the knowledge that Houston has long been pretty special at denying fast break buckets by zoning up back there before you even get a chance to turn around.
LeBron James(notes)? You're brilliant. You can bust anyone in this league. And while I appreciate the passing instincts that have gotten you this far — something that tells you to survey the court first before attacking — you have to mix it up.
I know that 43 points still lost you a game on Tuesday, but you can't hold the ball and let what was once a great defensive team like Houston load up. And you can't let Shane Battier(notes) load up like that. You've seen the Terminator? Remember what was going on inside of Schwarzenegger's brain? Same thing with Battier. All scrolling numbers and flashpoints.
Houston did not have a good offensive game, it scored just 100 points per 100 possessions, but it moved the ball and found shooters early. Trevor Ariza(notes) finally came alive with 26 points on 19 shots, while Aaron Brooks(notes) got to the line 13 times and finished with 27 points.