Cavaliers 99, Raptors 98
***It wasn’t looking good for the Cavs with less than 50 seconds to go. Kyrie Irving had turned the ball over, missed a layup, and displayed his frustration by putting his hands on his knees and watching as Dion Waiters bricked a long jumper. Meanwhile, the Raptors exploited a defensive breakdown to take a two-point lead on an Amir Johnson dunk. Following yet another Irving turnover, the Raptors had a chance to all but put the Cavaliers away by making it a two-possession game. They failed to do so, however, and Irving would pick himself up by the bootstraps to make sure they paid dearly. Off of Toronto’s blocked attempt to score on the inside, Irving pushed the ball in transition and finished the break himself with a spectacular layup, inspiring some of the finest Austin Carr commentary since LeBron James exploded on the Bucks. That made it a tie game, but Jose Calderon answered with a driving layup of his own, re-establishing the Raptors’ two-point lead. With 12 seconds and a big decision on his hands, Kyrie opted to go for the win. Gilbert Arenas style.
Good choice. Of the five game-winners Irving has already drilled in just 85 career appearances (!!!), I’d say this one has to be the coldest. Irving, who’d been averaging just 14 PPG on 33% against the Raptors, finished with 32 points on 13-26.
***How ’bout Amir Johnson (18/12) and Ed Davis (16/9)? Their respective averages for the month of January are as follows: 14/8 on 57%, 14/8 on 56%. So, who’s interested in a seven-foot, three-point-shooting Italian?
Sixers 97, Knicks 80
***Raymond Felton returned. Jrue Holiday made him wish he hadn’t.
Bobcats 102, Wolves 101
***Do you want to see the funniest thing ever? Of course you do. Click here.
***You know what else is funny? How the game got to that point. Prior to whatever happened on that decisive Bobcats’ possession, Ricky Rubio, — a 4.8 PPG scorer, 25% shooter — gave the Wolves a two-point lead on a driving reverse layup. Just before that, Bismack Biyombo — a 4.6 PPG scorer — had tied the game with a layup of his own. So, four of the last seven points in this thing were put on the board by two of the worst scorers in the entire league, and the other three by Gerald Henderson, who was essentially forced to throw up a prayer. If only the Bobcats were in the Northwest Division… they’d be destined to win two extra games!
***It should probably be noted that Biyombo actually posted a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double (third one this season) on 4-4 from the floor. He threw in a pair of blocks, of course.
***CJ and Jelly had relatively quiet games off the Minnesota bench. They combined to score just 10 points, the fewest they’ve scored since joining the team.
Bucks 109, Warriors 102
***The Bucks trailed 55-51 at the start of the third quarter, which is basically when Brandon Jennings happened. Jennings, in a span of just five minutes, drained six shots in a row, five of them three-pointers, during a 23-10 Bucks run. His streak concluded when he pulled up about five feet beyond the three-point line for one of the most hilarious heat checks I’ve ever seen. Contested by Jarrett Jack, Jennings launched his body forward like a long jumper and simultaneously catapulted the ball at the rim. He didn’t make another shot the rest of the game. Oddly, he hadn’t made one before stringing together six in a row, either. So, all of Jennings’ field goals in a 20-point performance came during one five-minute stretch of the third quarter. Indeed, that is the most Brandon Jennings thing ever.
***Despite Jennings’ fourth-quarter scorelessness, the Bucks did hang on and pick up a solid win over the Warriors. In a game where both teams shot the ball poorly, they racked up 22 offensive rebounds to Golden State’s 12. Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova put in work in the paint, combining for 34 points and 23 boards (though Ilyasova’s streak of three consecutive games with 20 points did come to an end; he only had 18).
Jazz 114, Pacers 110 (OT)
***Say what you will about Al Jefferson’s defensive deficiencies, but few big men in the league today can dominate an overtime like Jefferson did this one. It’s truly a rare luxury to be able to dump the ball down to the block and watch a guy hit jumpers, hooks, and scoop shots, which is precisely what Big Al did against the Pacers as he scored 8 of his game-high 25 in OT on 4-6 shooting.
***Though they didn’t play too well, credit the Pacers for refusing to die. They trailed by six with 1:30 left in regulation and by that same amount with just 34 seconds to play in OT. A couple of wild three-pointers go them back to within two, and Paul Millsap nearly gave them a shot at the win. Up two with two second to go, all Millsap really needed to do was get the ball to a member of the Jazz. He ended up getting it to himself after his pass deflected off the backboard (never, ever inbound the ball from directly underneath the backboard, kids). It was a lucky break for Millsap and the Jazz — the corner of the backboard is considered inbounds, and since the ball deflected off another player Millsap was allowed to step across the baseline and catch his own pass. Had he hit the back of the glass, which he nearly did, it would’ve been Pacers ball under their own hoop.
Blazers 101, Clippers 100 (Saturday)
***Click here. Also, Nicolas Batum got his second triple-double in three games (20/10/12) as he managed to record his 10th board by corralling the game’s final missed shot. Clutch.
Celtics 100, Heat 98 (OT)
***I hope you saw this game, because it was the best one I’ve seen all year (and I’ve watched my share of basketball). There was a somber tone throughout as it was confirmed that Rajon Rondo had torn his ACL in Friday’s loss to the Hawks, but the Celtics certainly played inspired ball in his absence (though they didn’t yet understand the extent of the injury; Paul Pierce found out in his postgame interview).
***Jeff Green only scored 11 points, but his defense on LeBron James made him Boston’s standout performer. Though LeBron finished with 34 points, he had a sub-par shooting game (14-31) and was forced to work for each and every bucket he scored down the stretch. Green did a fantastic job of making James shoot contested jump shots, which is absolutely all that one can be expected to do. Green also had a momentous dunk in the fourth quarter, which I’ll discuss later this afternoon.
***Watch three Celtics run at two Heat players just prior to LeBron’s game-tying three, leaving the King completely unguarded after a great screen from Shane Battier…
***Speaking of LeBron James’ shooting, he’s converting just a fraction under FIFTY-FIVE PERCENT of his attempts from the floor this season… and that’s with 346 of those attempts coming from beyond nine feet. Somehow, I was unaware of this.
***Paul Pierce went 6-16 and coughed up the pill on six occasions, but he also recorded a 17/13/10 triple-double. Additionally, he stuck the pull-up jump shot that finally brought this battle to and end (damn you, Paul!). Prior to that game-winning shot, note that Boston elected not to call a timeout, allowing Pierce to push the ball in transition and catch LeBron James backpedaling. Considering the way the Celtics have been executing turning the ball over in crunch time lately, I’d say this was a wise decision.
Lakers 105, Thunder 96
***When I said “we can talk” if the Lakers beat the Thunder, I didn’t really expect to have to talk to you. I’m a man of my word, though, so let’s talk. First of all, let’s talk about Russell Westbrook. He sucked, and since he showed up wearing this I refuse to let him off the hook. Westbrook shot just 6-22 (27%) and turned the ball over four times, essentially negating his near triple-double (17/9/13). The vast majority of Westbrook’s bricks came from beyond the painted area, where he just plain isn’t shooting very well this season (34% between 16 feet and the three-point line). Something I’ve noticed about Westbrook is that he’s been very feast or famine as far as his shooting. Sunday’s loss to LA represents the 19th game in which Westbrook has been worse than 40% (and the 9th below 30%) from the floor. That’s 19 games out of 45… nearly half… under 40%, and one of every five under 20%. That seems pretty fucking terrible. Consider this: the Thunder played 20 playoff games last season. Assuming they make a similar run this year, Russ figures to shoot worse than 40% eight to nine times with four of those games being sub-20% performances. Call me crazy, but I think that’s a problem.
***To break up a massive wall of text:
***On the flip side of the ball, Steve Nash probably had his best game as a Laker. He looked confident in scoring the ball (17 points on 6-11), as demonstrated by the one-legged dagger shot he knocked down to put the Lakers up six with three minutes left.
***All Kobe Bryant needs to do to assure that the Lakers never lose again is get 9 rebounds and 14 assists, apparently. These are the exact numbers Byrant has posted in each of the Lakers’ consecutive victories, along with 14 and 21 points respectively. Maybe it’s that one missing rebound that does the trick — Kobe’s unselfishness displayed in his disregard of the triple-double is earning him good karma from the basketball gods.
***I refuse to pass any judgment as to whether or not the Lakers have “turned it around” based on a two-game win streak (in case you haven’t noticed, guys, the Cavaliers and Wizards are also on two-game win streaks). I will, however, say this: if the Lakers simply sustain their present level of effort they’ll have won half the battle. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, a lack of effort has been this team’s biggest problem. It’s not really surprising that they’ve won a couple games now that they’ve suddenly begun to try. What’s surprising to me is that they have in fact begun to try. As uninspired as they looked in Toronto, Chicago, and Memphis, I didn’t really see that coming.
***It’s worthy of note that both the Lakers’ opponents during this mini win streak have played like total ass. The Jazz, who blew many opportunities in transition, couldn’t have fallen from a boat and hit water (42%), and neither could Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook (16-48, 33%). Similarly, during the Lakers’ two-game win streak that preceded their loss to the Heat, the Bucks and Cavaliers shot a combined 38%. Will the Lakers fold like a lawn chair the second they face a little adversity in the form of the other team not sucking? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Pistons 104, Magic 102
***Brandon Knight and JJ Redick set/tied career highs with 31 points apiece. Knight went 5-8 from downtown, but Redick was even more impressive from deep, finishing 8-11. However, it was Knight who had the ice water flowing through his veins — he drained consecutive bombs in the final 2:30 to lead the Pistons on an 8-0 run that resulted in a five-point lead. With one last chance to tie, Redick fired an airball.
Hornets 91, Grizzlies 83
***Any time the Grizzlies play you can pretty much expect to hear about it because Tony Wroten is my new favorite player. Though Wroten shot just 1-7 in this disappointing Grizzly loss, he also did this:
***The Grizzlies struggled to contain the Pelicans’ jump-shooting bigs, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. The two of them scored 38 points off the bench, 18 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Knicks 106, Hawks 104
***In his third 40-point game this month, Melo dropped 39+3, with the three being the game-winning and-one layup and ensuing free throw. He also joined John Staks, Latrell Sprewell, and the great Toney Douglas as the only Knickerbockers ever to have rained nine three-pointers in a game. For the record, I predict that this record will one day belong to Steve Novak.
***Self-proclaimed “max player” Josh Smith makes his case for a $100 million deal in the game’s final 52 seconds:
0:52 Josh Smith back court turnover
0:22 Josh Smith offensive foul (Raymond Felton draws the foul)
0:22 Josh Smith turnover
0:12 Carmelo Anthony makes driving layup — 104-105
0:12 Josh Smith shooting foul (Carmelo Anthony draws the foul)
0:12 Carmelo Anthony makes free throw 1 of 1 — 104-106
0:02 Josh Smith misses 25-foot three point jumper
0:00 End of the 4th Quarter
0:00 End of Game
To be fair, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looks. The backcourt turnover was dumb and his defense of Anthony’s game-winning layup was poor, but the offensive foul (moving screen) was Jeff Teague’s fault and the three-pointer was one that he was forced to shoot as the ball happened to get deflected into his hands.
Clippers 96, Blazers 83 (Sunday)
***The Clippers finally snapped their four-game losing streak thanks in large part to the all-around dominance of Blake Griffin. Without playing in the fourth quarter, Griffin recorded 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists (would’ve had 10 if not for Lamar Odom bungling an uncontested dunk). Griffin dropped six dimes in the first quarter alone, helping his Clipper teammates to get into the flow. As a team they ended up recording assists on 33 of their 37 buckets, which is pretty amazing. Griffin was also proficient in his efforts to score the ball, finishing 9-15 from the floor.
***As badly as JJ Hickson got owned right there, I thought he actually played the standout game of all Trail Blazers (Aldridge was nice, but he’s an All-Star — he’s supposed to be nice). On his way to racking up 15 and 9 on 5-9, Hickson successfully executed the following offensive maneuvers: step-back jump shot, Garnett shimmy-shake move, euro step. Get that money, JJ!