I’m eschewing the normal BfB format at least for one day. It might just be the spazzy band I went to see last night, but I’m feeling a bit ADD and want to ditch the normal structure and just give some thoughts about the games I watched on Saturday and Sunday.
First up, did you see that Milwaukee/Portland classic on Saturday? Yes, I’m calling it a classic. I know this one might slip by a lot of people, but it shouldn’t. This was a hard-fought double-overtime game that featured several huge clutch plays by the two best Brandons in the world and, really, you should see it. If you missed it and you’ve got League Pass Broadband or a less official means of watching previously played games, get on that. Neither of the awesome Brandons actually led their team in scoring, as big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrew Bogut stepped up in that area on Saturday night. Both had very memorable moments that I almost feel like I shouldn’t ruin for you here, even though this is kinda supposed to be a recap. Hm. Here’s what I’ll do: if you want a full recap of this fantastic 108-101 Milwaukee win, just head on over to Bucksketball. I couldn’t possibly do a better job telling the story. One thing to add before I move on: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is amazing. He played the best defense I’ve ever seen on Brandon Roy. Sure, Roy got his 23 points, but he needed 24 shots to get them and not a single one of them was easy when LRMAM was on him. What’s so incredible to me about Luc Richard is his versatility. I’ve seen him matched up with Brandon Roy, LeBron James, and Dirk Nowitzki this year, and each time he seems like the perfect guy to guard the superstar. What a defender.
As happy as I was to see the Bucks beat the Blazers, I was distraught to see the Wizards fall to the Pacers that same night. If you haven’t heard, it was a bit of a wild finish. Okay, that’s an understatement. It was one of the most surreal finishes I’ve ever seen. With 22 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Earl Boykins hit a seemingly-impossible shot at the end of the shot clock over T.J. Ford to put his team up 4. On the next possession, Tyler Hansbrough was fouled with 13 seconds left. Psycho T hit the first FT, missed the second intentionally, and Mike Dunleavy was fouled on the rebound. Lil Dun made both free throws to make it a one point game, and the Pacers fouled Gilbert Arenas with 6.6 seconds left on the next possession. When Gilbert stepped to the line, I wanted him to make those free throws as much as I’ve ever wanted anything in a basketball game. He had his first triple double in five and a half years and now had the opportunity to make up for that crucial 0-2 appearance at the foul line down the stretch of the Boston game 2 nights earlier. When he missed the first one this time and I saw that look of confusion/uncertainty on his face, my heart sunk. Then he missed the second. Ugh. At least it looked like his team would still win… but then T.J. Ford raced down the court and put up a crazy lay-up that ended up going out of bounds as the buzzer sounded. Relief, I thought. But no. The referees went to the replay and concluded that the ball had gone out of bounds off the Wizards and there was still half a second left in the game. Alright, fine.
“Just don’t fuck this up, Washington,” I thought. But fuck it up they did, as a foul was called on Brendan Haywood on the inbounds pass. This was a very, very questionable call – it seemed they were calling a foul on Mike Dunleavy’s shot attempt, which, to me, would have been impossible to get up in that amount of time. Lil Dun stepped to the line and calmly netted both free throws, again, and the Wizards’ JaVale McGee very confusingly stayed out on the perimeter on their final play, where he was supposed to slash to the basket and try to get an alley-oop tip-in with 0.1 seconds left. McGee received a pass behind the three-point line and chucked up a shot that had no chance of a) going in or b) counting. So it ended, 114-113 for Indiana. Blah. On TV, they kept showing Gilbert’s confused/sad face and it was killing me. It’s so strange to see him shaken. Before the injuries, Gil was one of the most upbeat, confident guys in the game and you just knew he would make clutch free throws like that. Now, there’s clearly something off and it’s not just physical. I really, really hope he gets his mojo back quickly. This was simply an awful way to lose a game. For more, read the recap at Truth About It and, if you want to get a bit depressed, watch the video at the bottom.
I should quickly touch on the other crazy finishes on Saturday. Unfortunately, with all the basketball happening on Saturday, I missed both of these ones. First, the overtime Charlotte/Dallas game. This proved a couple of things that we should already know – you really want Dirk Nowitzki on your team at the end of games and the Dallas Mavericks are a very, very good team. Dirk scored 18 of his 36 points in the 4th Q. and OT, including the game-winning jumper (surprise, surprise). Dallas won this game 98-97 even though it probably shouldn’t have, which is what good teams do. Dirk started off 1-for-10 and 7-22 as his team trailed for almost the whole second half, but they managed to put a run together and come out on top. Stephen Jackson said, “We competed and did everything we’re supposed to do to win this game,” and he might be right, but it wasn’t enough. Moving on, that Denver/Phoenix game seemed like a great one. I’m a bit pissed that I missed it, but I was watching the Laker game I haven’t got to yet whilst recording the Bucks/Blazer thriller. Carmelo Anthony had another great night in a winning effort, scoring 32 points and adding 8 rebounds. On the other side, Steve Nash contributed 28 points and 7 assists, but it wasn’t enough… Or was it? See, you could easily argue that he deserved a couple more points than that. With less than 30 seconds left, Nash drove to the basket with Nene covering him and missed a layup. The Suns were down 2 at the time and forced to foul when Denver recovered the rebound. Thing is, Nash could barely get off the ground on his shot because of the contact from Nene. There was not a hard foul on the play, but there was a quite obvious foul that prevented Nash from doing what he wanted to do, and the refs swallowed their whistles. The Nuggets ended up winning 105-99. It’s unfortunate, but these things happen. I’d be incredibly frustrated if I was a Suns fan, but it’s hard to blame the loss on that alone. Phoenix raced out to an early lead but it was their tired legs in the second half of a back-to-back in the Mile High City lost them this game, even if the refs didn’t do them any favours.
One more game to talk about on Saturday (I’m not doing all of them): Jazz vs. Lakers. I’m just going to focus on two wing players: Kobe Bryant and Wesley Matthews. Wait, Wesley Matthews? Really? Yes. This undrafted rookie was absolutely huge. I believe he had 15 points in the first half and he finished with 19 and 6 assists in 37 minutes. Him starting for Jerry Sloan is one of the best under-the-radar stories in the NBA. I want a full feature on this guy because I don’t know enough about him. I do know he has some game, though. He can knock down open shots, slash to the basket, and defend better than almost any other rookie. I’m loving what’s happening in Utah with this kid. Anyway, next, Kobe. Looking at the boxscore without knowing the context, you’d think I’m crazy for singling him out. 16 points on 24 shots, going 1-9 from the line? Ouch. I can’t remember the last time Kobe had a line that bad. But that’s not the story. The story is that Kobe played 37 minutes in this game despite his broken index finger and his stomach bug. That stomach bug meant he had to get IV fluids pre-game and at half-time. But he still played as hard as he possibly could because he’s Kobe Bryant. It was an odd thing to see, Kobe so… mortal. All he had was not enough this time. There were tons of missed jumpers and he was moving in slow motion, but he wanted to play and he believed he could help his team win. It wasn’t to be, as the Jazz won 102-94, but that’s alright. The Lakers aren’t hurting in the win department right now, at 18-4. It was just inspiring (and, at the very end, admittedly a bit sad) to see him out there when maybe no one else in the league would have been. Again, there is only one Kobe.
Okay, finally, Sunday! This day started out swimmingly for me as a Raptors fan. I had thought of getting tickets to see the Raps/Rockets matinee, as I love the way Houston plays and Toronto always seems to find a way to beat them at home, but I was scared off by the Raptors’ recent performances. This club has struggled mightily against good teams and, in my eyes, the Rockets are a good team. If Toronto was going to win, everyone on the team would have to bring the same energy they always get from All-OTN Team member Amir Johnson. Yesterday, that happened. The Rockets fell 101-88 and it was fantastic. The Raptors out-worked Houston, the team that out-works everyone. Hedo Turkoglu (23 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast) had his best game of the year and Jarrett Jack (17 pts, 8 reb, 8 ast) stepped up big-time in Jose Calderon’s absence. Sonny Weems was given minutes that had previously gone to Antoine Wright and Marco Belinelli and he made the most of them. 11 points and 4 rebounds in 30 minutes sounds okay, but what’s great is how he brought energy and defense and contributed where he could on offense. Wright is a solid defender, but his offensive decision-making has been very lacking this year. Belinelli is a great shooter, but he lacks the athleticism that makes Weems such a threat in the open court and such a nuisance for offensive players. I’m not saying Sonny has earned himself a permanent 6th man role based on one performance, but it was very encouraging. This, from a guy who played 55 minutes all of last season. On the Rockets’ end, I should mention the horrible day for Trevor Ariza and the great one for Carl Landry. Ariza lost his cool after starting the game 0-9 from the field. With his team down big, he swung his elbow at DeMar DeRozan after he coughed up the ball. It wasn’t close to connecting, and one has to wonder if he was actually *trying* to connect, but it was scary. He was tossed from the game immediately. Good news, there seems to be no bad blood between these two L.A. guys after the incident. Onto Landry: 25 points on 10-13 shooting, with 7 rebounds (6 offensive). And, again, I’m not surprised. If you’ve been following along since the season began, you’ll know how high I am on this guy. It was great to hear the Raptors’ announcers fawning over him last night; he deserved it. No Toronto player could deal with him down low. If his team had properly moved the ball and connected on more open shots, his effort could have been part of a winning effort, but today wasn’t Houston’s day. Thankfully.
Atlanta beat New Jersey by 27 yesterday and it went exactly how you might expect. New Jersey started off pretty well, keeping it close for the entire first quarter. Then, Atlanta separated itself. New Jersey has some talent at the top of its roster, but it’s really hard to stay close with teams when they go to their bench. I want to say New Jersey should have more wins right now, but look at who’s playing the minutes. Trenton Hassell and Josh Boone started last night and combined for 40 minutes. Rafer Alston shot 0-8 in his 23 minutes and yesterday was far form his first awful-shooting game this year. Bobby Simmons saw 21 minutes of action, Eduardo Najera 13, and Sean Williams 7. Terrence Williams ended up with some nice numbers, though, getting 18 points and 7 rebounds in Chris Douglas-Roberts’s absence. Atlanta is just too talented for New Jersey and that’s the way it’s going to be most nights. Brook Lopez and Devin Harris are great, but Courtney Lee should not be a third option (as much as I dig his game). Atlanta has no such depth problems. With Marvin Williams out, Mo Evans stepped into the starting lineup and kept up the hot shooting that we saw in the Toronto game. He shot 4-4 from downtown and finished with 22 points on 13 shots. Not bad at all. The strange part of this game was that the Nets actually didn’t shoot too porly – even with Alston going 0-8, they finished the game 44-87 from the field. That doesn’t matter when you can’t stop anybody or grab a rebound, though – Atlanta went 49-99 from the floor in this 130-107 victory.
Next up, Memphis vs. Miami. I saw the first half of this game and, just like the Atlanta/New Jersey game, didn’t really need to watch the second half. I might go back and watch the third quarter, though, as Rudy Gay put on a show. After an impressive first half where he scored 20 points, he exploded for 15 more in the third quarter that saw Memphis outscore Miami 31-18 to give them a 26-point lead before the beginning of the fourth. The final score? 118-90. Jeez. From what I saw in the first half, the Grizzlies made the Heat look old and slow. They pushed the ball at every opportunity and converted most of the time. Rudy Gay had an amazing reverse dunk on the break and, for the first time in my life, I saw Zach Randolph throw an alley-oop pass. It still boggles my mind how this team is playing. This is the last team I expected to come together as a team and play exciting ball. It’s great to watch, even though I’d have preferred Miami gave them more of a fight on this particular evening. Dwyane Wade did as much as he could in the half of action that I saw, matching Gay’s 20 points in the first half. He only scored 5 in the remainder of the game, though, finishing with 25 to Gay’s 41. He really needs his teammates to step up, though. When your second-leading scorer is Dorell Wright with 16, you’re not winning the game.
You remember what I said about the Bucks/Blazers game? Yeah, if you can watch the Thunder/Cavs game from last night I highly suggest you do that too. The Cavs’ dominant fourth quarter soured all of it a bit for me, but it’s still more than worth your time. You can see Kevin Durant looking like a true megastar in the first half, All-OTN Team member Serge Ibaka putting in a perfect 4-4 performance and making me proud by moving his feet so well on D, and… well… You can see the LeBron James Show. You can analyze this game from many angles, but no matter how you look at it LeBron won this one for his team. After eating a kid’s french fry in the second quarter, he had numerous consecutive highlight plays, including a vicious reverse dunk on the break, a deep three-pointer, and a chasedown block on Thabo Sefolosha. Still, the Thunder had the lead, which they kept for most of the third. With a minute and a half left in that 3rd Q., James scored 7 straight points and he added another three-pointer before the quarter was done. It’s amazing now looking at the boxscore and seeing that he went 5-8 from downtown because these threes weren’t regular threes. The majority were pull-ups from a few feet behind the line. This is an impressive shot to begin with, but, when LeBron hits it, it must make you feel helpless. He’s impossible to stop when going to the basket, so you have to give up the outside shots. Now, when he’s willingly launching them and they are dropping in perfectly? You’re screwed. I can’t fault Thabo or the Thunder for how they defended James last night; LBJ was just too good. As I said, though, the 4th was a bit of a bummer. Oklahoma City tried to match James’s heroics from downtown and didn’t have the same results – they went 1-8 from downtown in the quarter. Their other attempts were mostly 2-point jumpers. Rough. Still, they had a chance to win. They were down only 4 with just a little over 4 minutes left in the game when Mo Williams broke their hearts. Just as it seemed the Thunder had gotten an important stop, Mo drained a three from past halfcourt as the shot clock expired. The only word for this is deflating. The crowd was silenced and the Thunder saw the writing on the wall, losing their energy and failing to score for the next 3 and a half minutes. Watching the ball drop through the net and seeing the reactions from the young players on the Thunder killed me. Oh well. Still a nice effort in a great game, and these guys will have plenty of opportunities to get their revenge. Final score: 102-89, Cavs. But it felt much closer.
In the last game of the week, San Antonio went to the Staples Center to match up with the Clippers and came away with a convincing 115-90 win. Like the other blowouts, I only caught the first half. The Spurs had balanced scoring, with 21 from Duncan and 17 apiece from Manu and RJ. Rookie DeJuan Blair chipped in with 14 and 9 in just 17 minutes, as well. The Spurs dominated in the first Q., but the Clips ended the second on a run and cut the lead to 10 before San Antonio ran away with it in the 2nd half. Gotta say, the Spurs impressed me in the first half. I can’t say they had their Eff You moment, but I was encouraged with what I saw, even though it came against some kinda crappy Clipper defense. They spread the floor like the Spurs of old, they got contributions from everyone, and Manu looked kind of like the old Manu. Slower, I’ll give you that, but still deadly. We might have to get used to the fact that Ginobili will never be as explosive as he used to be, but he’s still got his smarts. He’s got his jump shot. He’s got his crazy ability to see angles other people don’t. There is still room for improvement here, but if he just plays like he did last night the Spurs are in pretty good shape. As for the Clippers, um, you have to hand it to Baron Davis for suiting up and coming off the bench despite a stomach ailment, but they didn’t play winning basketball on either end. I should also mention that Ricky Davis played 21 minutes. That was a bit weird.
We’ll finish this off with a few highlights:
An additional lucky break for Indiana against Washington:
My man Pops Mensah-Bonsu pleasing the home crowd with a nasty block:
Rudy Gay’s amazing reverse: