The Starting Lineup: Celtics And Knicks Clash In Heated Battle

As JR Smith took to the free throw line with a bulky, blood-soaked bandage positioned carefully over his right eye and under his headband, I said to myself, “that right there is this game in a nutshell.”

Indeed, JR’s Knicks had battled the Celtics valiantly through one of the season’s most heated contests.  They were actually on the brink of defeat by the time the bloodied JR took to the stripe with New York down five and just a minute to play, and Paul Pierce would soon put them away with such vintage bravado that I nearly shed a tear of sheer joy.  I’m not a Celtics fan, nor am I a Knicks fan or detractor… but one who loves the game of basketball simply couldn’t help but be overcome by the emotion of this rivalry.  This latest installment featured the intensity of the seventh game of the NBA Finals, and there were multiple instances in which I’d have thought Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony were going to come to blows had it not been for my knowledge that the both of them are fugazy.

In the end, the Celtics took a much-needed, Rondo-less, 102-96 victory.  JR’s wound would require 11 stitches to be closed, and Carmelo’s beef with KG would spill over into the parking lot.  They never fought, of course — beneath the surface, we’re dealing with a couple of cream puffs here — but in particular, maintained his tough-guy act long after the final buzzer had sounded.  Via

NEW YORK — Boston’s midtown matchup with the New York Knicks was a testy affair during – and apparently after – the Celtics’ 102-96 win.

Several reports shortly after the game indicated that Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony charged towards the Celtics locker room before being restrained by teammates.

There was also another confrontation near the Celtics team bus where Anthony was nearby, waiting for Garnett.

A shouting match ensued, with police and security staying in between the players before things escalated any further. Knicks coach Mike Woodson eventually came on the scene to try and calm his star player and get him away from the area.

As the video points out, Kevin and Carmelo had “gotten into it a little bit” throughout the game.  Assuming Garnett was the instigator and that his intention was to occupy Melo’s head, I’d say he clearly succeeded; Anthony shot just 6-26 and got way too physical on defense down the stretch, resulting in a bad foul or two.

Having watched this game from start to finish, I couldn’t help but notice the impact of the officials.  I knew it’d be something I’d have to deal with the second I realized that Violet Palmer was on assignment, but I elected to roll with the punches rather than change the channel.  I became quite frustrated when Paul Pierce was sent to the bench early with a pair of bogus personals, but still, I elected to roll with the punches.  Throughout the first 40 minutes or so, the officiating continued to be pretty sh!tty.  However, it was almost as though the sh!tty calls — which went both ways, but screwed Boston a bit harder — helped to build hostility in the atmosphere (which was already quite hostile).  By the time crunch time came about, the crowd had become about as boisterous as you’ll ever hear a regular season crowd become.  Amazingly, Palmer and crew rose to the occasion.  Despite the physicality of the game, they did a reasonable job down the stretch, making the fourth quarter one of the best 12-minute stretches of NBA basketball I’ve witnessed this season.  Pierce was the one effected most by the referees (5 fouls, 27 minutes), and he ended up playing hero anyway with his eight fourth-quarter points.

As he looked forward to facing the then 4-28 Wizards, Kevin Durant likely had other plans in mind for his annual homecoming than dropping 29 points in a 101-99 loss to the worst team in basketball.  Despite Durant’s coldest efforts to close out a W in front of his friends and family, the Wizards were able to hang on to a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, proving that there is sometimes a price to pay for allowing an inferior squad to hang around or build an advantage.  The Wizards built their advantage as the Thunder struggled through an 11-minute 40-second field goal drought that bridged the third and fourth quarters.  They squandered it away as Durant came through with some of his usual heroics during a 14-5 Thunder run in the game’s closing minutes, but the clock was in their favor.  With the game tied at 99, the Wizards would have one final chance to win the game at the buzzer.  It would require some luck, as one of their biggest deficiencies is an inability to manufacture quality looks.  Much to the dismay of Durant and the Thunder, the basketball gods smiled on Washington this Monday evening…

Credit Bradley Beal (7-17, 22 points), who did the smartest thing he possibly could’ve: use up the entire clock and put the ball on the rim.  Though his double-clutch, right-handed push shot wasn’t exactly what you would consider a high-percentage attempt, he managed to get it off cleanly from a pretty short distance.  It may not have been pretty, but one bucket was all the Wizards needed.  Beal delivered.

Being the Kendrick Perkins hater that I am (unless he’s tweeting; in that case, he’s the best), my favorite thing about this shot and the game as a whole was the tragic role of Kendrick Perkins.  As you watched Beal win the game, either live or on replay, you probably didn’t even notice Perk.  He didn’t do anything blatantly good or bad during the play, but if you watch again you’ll see that he was the defender contesting Beal’s shot.  He made a mistake in leaving his feet on a pump fake, but I’ll give him a pass for that in a frantic situation such as this.  After all, he made a decent recovery, forcing Beal to take an awkward shot.  So, what did I find so humorous about Perkins’ role in the play?  Well, actually, just the simple fact that he was left in the game, and that the Wizards very matter-of-factly made it a point to exploit a defensive weakness of his by involving him in a pick-and-roll.  Said the hero himself, Bradley Beal:

“They left Perkins in, so coach wanted to attack him in the pick-and-roll.”

Indeed, Scott Brooks’ decision not to replace Perkins with the more mobile Nick Collison led to a most obvious plan of attack for the Wizards.  The slow-footed Perkins had already had his ankles broken by Beal a few minutes earlier, and his propensity for making poor decisions made his involvement an easy call for Randy Wittman.  Congratulations, Scotty; you’ve been outfoxed once again.

It’s worthy of note that Serge Ibaka was Oklahoma City’s most consistent source of offense.  He made 12 of 17 shots and finished with a career-high 26 points.  Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, missed 13 of 17 shots and committed an incredibly stupid reach-in foul that sent Martell Webster to the line to complete a crucial four-point play.  Webster had a fantastic game for the Wizards, matching Beal with 22 points.

Remember when Jameer Nelson was an All-Star? Yeah, well, he’s kind of playing like one right now.  Against the Blazers, Jameer knocked down the three-pointer that sent the game to OT whilst ultimately finishing with 21 points.  Though Orlando went on to lose (125-119) and Jameer didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (7-21), he scored quite a few of the game’s key buckets down the stretch in regulation.  More importantly, this game represents his third consecutive 20-point performance.  Until now, it had been nearly four years to the day since he last put together such a streak.

Damian Lillard’s attempt to answer Nelson’s game-tying three-pointer was off the mark, but rather than allow his 5-15 shooting to effect his performance in overtime, the NBA’s coldest rookie since… well, Kyrie Irving simply left it all in the past and came up with a series of key plays that together were as good as a game-winner.  Despite having missed all four of his fourth-quarter attempts, Lillard maintained his aggressiveness and led his Blazers on a 10-0 run to ice the game.  With two minutes to go, he broke a 112-112 tie with a pull-up jump shot from the top of the key, then sunk a short floater to give his Blazers a commanding two-possession lead.  Next, he made amends for his poor pick-and-roll defense of the aforementioned Jameer Nelson three-pointer by making the defensive play of the game — a steal from Arron Afflalo that led directly to a transition slam for JJ Hickson.  Up six with just 60 seconds to play, the Blazers easily held on to the advantage, winning their third in a row.  Lillard finished with 18/10.

Observe this encouraging sign of athleticism from Eric Gordon:

Prior to his series of knee injuries, Gordon had frequently exhibited his underrated athleticism as a member of the Clippers.  This clip gives me hope that he’s maintained his sneaky explosiveness.  In other Hornets news, EJ and company knocked off the Spurs 95-88.  San Antonio turned the ball over 19 times, and Coach Pop reportedly sent the entire team to bed with no dessert.

Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks parted ways on Monday night.  Finally, one of the strangest marriages in the league has come to an end.  Not surprisingly, Adrian Wojnarowski reports that a source close to Skiles says he “hated his team.”  A match made in heaven they were not.  While I don’t believe Skiles is a terrible coach nor that the Bucks are a terrible team, I’ve felt for a while now that they were terrible for each other.  The team John Hammond has put together is one more fit to be led by an offensive mastermind like Don Nelson (I hear he’s available, just saying…) than a defense-oriented hardass like Skiles.  To Skiles’ credit, he realized over the past season or two that one has to coach to his roster’s strengths in order to get the most out of his team.  He swallowed his pride and made the Bucks decent… but, clearly, his heart wasn’t in it.  And that’s understandable, as it appears as though he must’ve been given little say in who his players were.  Jim Boylan, who took over as head coach of the Bulls when Skiles was canned in Chicago, has been named interim head coach.  Expect the Bucks to go on a two or three game win streak.  Even the worst teams win immediately after firing the coach.

My main man Tony Allen and his Memphis Grizzlies beat the Kings 113-81 because the Kings lack a guy like my main man Tony Allen, according to my main man Tony Allen.  The Kings also lack a guy like Wayne Ellington.

Ellington went 10-11 from the floor and finished with what I’m going to assume is a career high of 26 points.

Box Score Observations: Carlos Boozer posted a 24/11 double-double in a 118-92 Chicago Bulls rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Bulls recorded assists on 34 of their 44 field goals.  The Utah Jazz outscored the Dallas Mavericks 26-14 in the fourth quarter to take a 100-94 victory.  Dirk Nowitzki had 20 points, but Gordon Hayward dropped 27.  Hayward was freaking awesome and undoubtedly deserves more than a mention in the Box Score Observations, but I’m feeling lazy.  Sorry, Gordo.

Highlight Recap, Z-BO DUNK ALERT!!! Edition:

Note: Z-Bo made a way cooler basket where he caught the ball in traffic with his left hand and flipped it up and in without ever touching it with his right hand, but, unfortunately, the gif I found seems to have disappeared.  Also, while I’m on the subject of highlights, Kevin Durant.

Lowlight Recap: This poor bastard, who is a fan of the Kings and Notre Dame, experienced his own day in a nutshell as he took an overpriced beer directly to the face after being run over by Fransisco Garcia.  At least he had courtside seats, I guess.

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