Welcome Back, KG
Portland Trailblazers @ Boston Celtics, 98-95
Kevin Garnett returned to the Celtics on Kobe Day to help his team outlast a fiesty Brandon Roy-less Blazers team. I don’t want to offer too much recapitulation for this game, despite the title I used. There were a few plays that stood out to me. On a fastbreak, Andre Miller took the ball all the way down the court and was met by Paul Pierce, and Miller “jumped” into him to score the basket. I stress the word because neither of these two players get any lift. NBA TV has a series of highlights once a week that focus on the top 5 plays below the rim, and these two players have to be frequent non-flyers. Seriously, has there ever been a highlight of two more unathletic but good-to-great players in the league? I’m sure there have been, but few and far between. If this were NBA Live or NBA 2K, both of these players would be high 70’s to mid 80’s in rating, and that’s pretty good.
To follow that up, Andre stood in and took the charge against Paul when he tried to score the game-winning basket in regulation. As much as I hate Paul Pierce, I thought he did a great job of handling the call. I can only imagine LeBron in that situation, talking a million miles an hour, which stops me from reading his lips(which I’ve learned to do quite well), and probably storming off the court like he can’t believe anyone would ever call a foul against him. You know, kind of like that Lakers-Cavaliers game.
The other play that stood out to me was the potential game-tying three-pointer(s) by Rudy Fernandez. I know the guy is a fan-favorite up in Portland, but he has to have lost some followers after said plays. The guy was wide open, but let the defender on the fly-by alter his shot so much that he attempted to draw the foul. Do you really think you’re going to get that call on the road in Beantown? Are you being serious right now, Rudy? The ball got tipped back to him with just under 4 seconds left and he panicked and heaved it up there while falling back. This is something that I would do in an NBA game, but I’m not an NBA player. I don’t get paid to play in the league. Rudy does. Shame.
The aforementioned Andre Miller had a fantastic game, scoring 28 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and dishing out 8 assists. Pierce led Boston with 24 points on a very efficient 9 of 14 shooting before fouling out.
Toronto Avenges Bosh’s Career Game
Milwaukee Bucks @ Toronto Raptors, 96-101
Toronto is becoming one of my favorite teams this year. It’s not that they’re good, because a 22-22 record would prove otherwise. I am just drawn to them. Most of the time, the arbitrary reason I begin to like a team is their color-scheme. However homoerotic that sounds, I don’t care. Toronto is just a very likable squad, and their fans are incredibly loyal. There’s something about the International sports fan that intrigues me. They are way more into their teams than most of the fans in the U.S. are, with the exception of the teams based in cities where nothing else is going on(Portland, Salt Lake City, Cowtown). I have no idea what kind of tourist attractions the city of Toronto offers, but I know their fans are raucous as all hell.
Their home record of 14-6 is better than the division-leading Boston Celtics. After watching this game, I wasn’t surprised that they came back from being down by about 15 for the better part of the first half. Or the worst part of it, if you’re a Toronto player or fan. After switching to a zone defense, the Raptors came surging back against a Bucks team that started turning the ball over with alarming frequency. The Bucks panicked and hoisted up three after three to no avail. Toronto’s defense turned up the intensity after the switch, and ended up with 27 points off turnovers. Milwaukee can’t expect to win a game giving up 27 points off turnovers. The NBA just doesn’t work like that.
Much to the glee of critical Toronto fans and an even more critical Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu finally played with some vigor. It’s funny ’cause every time he made a play(which was extremely rare), there was a look of relief on his face as opposed to excitement. That’s not a good sign, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. He has admittedly come under fire and was more than likely crazy relieved that they didn’t lose, because he would have taken some serious heat for it after a 2 for 10 shooting performance.
One player that stepped up for Toronto was Jarrett Jack, who took advantage of his opportunities. I watched Bosh’s post-game interview and he hit the obvious nail on the head by saying, “He(Jack) was open, he had opportunities to score, and he took ’em.” Very insightful, Chris. It made me laugh listening to that. Jack had a very efficient game by anybody’s standards, converting on 7 of 9 field goals and 11 of 12 free throws. Speaking of Jack, I’ve paid relatively close attention to him since his Portland days(because my Lakers never seem to win there and he continually draws my ire), and I couldn’t help but notice the look he has on his face all the time. It’s like a combination of sadness and intensity. It’s really weird, you almost think he’s in pain.
Rudy Gay KO’s OKC
Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 86-84
I’m not going to talk too much about this game, but I was glad to see Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies avenge their recent loss to the Thunder. Gay went NBA 2K10 on OKC and hit the game-winner OVER Kevin Durant in the final seconds of the game, setting up a missed three-pointer by Durant to put the nail in the coffin. Both of these young teams are heating up and are on the cusp of making the playoffs. Durant and Gay are a good matchup, each with great length, superb offensive skills, and great length that makes them potentially great defenders. Durant finished with 30 points and 8 rebounds, and the real Rudy finished with 25 points and 6 rebounds.
Kobe, Pau Lead Lakers Past Knickerbockers
Los Angeles Lakers @ New York Knicks, 115-105
The Lakers haven’t been great lately, and as most experts have pointed out, are winners of just 5 of 6 of their last road games. I’m assuming most of my readers watched this game seeing as how I’m based out of L.A., so I won’t go too much into the obvious. As a fan, I’m disturbed by Ron Artest lately. His defense on Danilo Gallinari was repulsive. I also don’t like how he has fit into the Lakers offense these past few weeks, being relegated to an outside shooter. The Lakers have too many post-up weapons, and they haven’t taken advantage of Artest’s ability to abuse the lighter swingmen of the league. I understand that he’s not the most efficient or athletic forward, but he is still a solid option on the block.
While on Artest, I can’t help but notice how little respect the guy gets from the referees. I know that I’m a Laker fan, but seriously, the guy gets hammered down there when shooting, and grabbed when fighting for position. If it’s not him getting called for the foul, it’s him not getting the call for being fouled. It’s really frustrating.
I really like what Shannon Brown has been doing for the Lakers off the bench. He is not hesitant at all when he comes in, shooting almost at will, and often times bypassing the entry pass to whoever’s posting up. That’s really the only knock I have on Shannon of late, as his defense has been a difference maker. In the Orlando game, he and Jordan Farmar led the Lakers back in the beginning of the 4th quarter. This game, Shannon was given significant minutes down the stretch, teamed up with Derek Fisher in a rarely-seen backcourt combination. I was pleased with his play, as was Phil Jackson, seeing as how he left him in.
I feel like Kobe got caught up in the lure of Madison Square Garden’s mystique, hoisting up shots that should have been passes to Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. But then again, that’s how Kobe plays every game. He did make a dagger three-pointer from the land that 2005-2006 Kobe used to make three-pointers(some 28 feet from the basket). Other than that, he couldn’t quite live up last year’s 61-point game at MSG. Some blame the finger, others blame the back, but mostly, we can just blame Kobe. If he sat out for a while, it might give the rest of the Lakers a chance to develop the kind of toughness he’s been hoping they would develop as he’s led by example for a while now.
I admit, I changed how I felt about his playing-through-injury situation the past few weeks. At first, it was just a testament to the type of player he was, and it proved to all the people who don’t watch the Lakers that Kobe wouldn’t sit unless he absolutely couldn’t play. This is something I already knew. However, now I want him to sit for two reasons.
1. It would allow his finger and back to heal, and therefore improve his chances of having great playoff performances. That’s when the Lakers and Laker fans really need him to play well. Sacrifice January for June, Kobe.
2. The other Lakers would have to sink-or-swim, a situation they’ve been forced to avoid due to over-reliance on Kobe’s late-game heroics. Artest might get into rhythm, Pau might improve his mental toughness, Lamar might get his game going entirely, and Mountain Drew might get out of Phil’s doghouse.
If you’ve managed to read this far, I’m going to include my NFL post-season picks. You know, just for kicks.
Colts end the Jets surprising run, 24-13.
Saints force the Vikings’ Favre to retire again, 31-27.