Blazers 106, Mavericks 104
To those who think that regular-season basketball is boring, the Blazers and Mavericks sent a message to you. There's a decent chance that neither of these teams make the playoffs, but they staged an instant classic that ended with LaMarcus Aldridge's difficult fadeaway jumper at the buzzer.
And, in case you missed everything that led up to that shot, here's a recap of the final 33 seconds.
There have been a lot of close games this season, but this one was especially thrilling because there was so much great execution down the stretch. The hero-ball that we see so often late in games was not present in this one. Batum's first game-tying three came when Aldridge ran Vince Carter into a screen, giving Batum his open look. Nowitzki's go-ahead three came after Carter and Shawn Marion ran a perfect middle pick and roll, forcing Aldridge away from Nowitzki behind the three-point line. (Note: Rick Carlisle did not call a timeout here, which made me really, really happy).
And then, there were the final three plays. Let's take a quick look at each.
First, here's the play that got Aldridge his game-tying three. Obviously, Aldridge was not the first option, but at least Terry Stotts had to know that if the play really broke down, Aldridge would at least get a decent look without being too far out of his range. Look at how the play was set up:
The Mavericks were victimized by a Batum three on the previous play, so they damn well wouldn't let it happen again. Look at all the attention Batum gets when he catches the ball coming off Aldridge's screen,
Obviously, Batum being open was Stotts' first option, but in case he wasn't, Stotts knew that Dallas would flock so much attention to him that it would leave Aldridge open. Worst-case scenario, you have a really good jump-shooting big man taking an open shot slightly out of his range. In the end, it worked out.
The Mavericks followed by running a beautiful sideline out of bounds play from a difficult inbounds position to get what appeared to be a layup for O.J. Mayo. Unfortunately, the Mavericks got victimized by a questionable offensive foul call, as it looked like Ronnie Price slid under Mayo too late. Nevertheless, since it was a great play call, let's take a look at it:
The Mavericks line up in a stack formation, a common alignment on side out of bounds plays. The idea: by putting everyone together, the defense has trouble accounting for each player that pops open. This bears out as we roll the play forward.
First, Darren Collison comes around on the right baseline.
As Collison comes around, the Mavericks are running the same play for Mayo. This forces the defense to account for two people. But then...
Mayo's cut triggers a third option: a quick screen to get Nowitzki open for three. Knowing how deadly Nowitzki is out there, the Blazers are obviously going to pay close attention him. That opens up the pass to Mayo for what would have been a layup if Price didn't make a heads-up play and get a favorable call from the official.
Finally, there's the last play. Once again, a ton of movement confuses the Mavericks' defense. Watch how Batum loses Carter in these screenshots.
Batum is going to run to the corner, and Carter, who knows he's behind the play, will chase him. One move is to have Aldridge screen Carter out to get Batum a wide-open look.
However, as it turns out, the Blazers aren't trying to get the ball to Batum, and all this action just made their first option easier. Carter closing out hard on Batum is a good strategy to prevent Batum from getting the ball, but it also opens up the passing lane for the ball to go to Aldridge in the post. Without Carter mucking up the spacing, the Blazers are able to enter it to their best player for his pet shot: the fadeaway jumper.
The great thing about this play is that it's not hard for Stotts to switch things around and have Aldridge screen for Batum later on when the Blazers need a three. That's what happens when you can execute late-game plays.
Lakers fans should be happy with any win at this point, but before they go crazy, they should look at this Game Flow. Specifically, the parts circled:
Those parts of the game were when the Hornets used bench-heavy units. The first circled part featured a lineup of Brian Roberts, Lance Thomas, Jason Smith, Austin Rivers and Ryan Anderson. The Lakers outscored the Hornets by nine points when those five were on the floor in the first half, then an additional two points when Greivis Vasquez was in for Roberts. The second circled part is a series of three lineups that all included Thomas, Rivers and Anderson. At different points, it also included Roger Mason, Roberts and Smith. The Lakers outscored the Hornets by 10 points during that stretch.
Take away those bench-heavy units, and the Hornets outscored the Lakers by 16 points the rest of the game. In other words: when the two teams had their best players in the game, the Hornets were by far the better team.
I blame Monty Williams for this one. There's no rule that states that the Hornets' coach has to deploy all his bench players at once. If Williams staggered his lineups so that at least one key player is on the floor at all times, his team wouldn't be prone to these extended lapses that cost them games.
Milwaukee's second unit is so much fun. The lineup of Beno Udrih, Monta Ellis, Mike Dunleavy, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh erased Detroit's big early lead, and then the starters pushed the game well out of reach with a 16-point burst in the third quarter. Udoh in particular was all over the offensive glass. Detroit probably should have put a body on him.
When Klay Thompson has his shot going, it's a thing of beauty. Very few people in the league have as compact a release as him. He had 32 points, including six threes, and the Warriors got a much-needed win with half their team sidelined due to injury.