Chicago Bulls 94, Denver Nuggets 92
The Bulls' defense is unreal right now. The Nuggets kept trying to run pick and rolls, pick and pops and pick and slips, but nothing worked. Chicago defended everything perfectly, thanks in large part to Joakim Noah, who was everywhere. Noah was prominently involved in pretty much every play, but he somehow only managed to pick up one personal foul. That's incredible. At this point, Noah is probably the second-best center in the Eastern Conference, and he should be an all-star. His value to the Bulls is growing and growing.
Overall, the Nuggets scored just 90.2 points per 100 possessions for the game. The game was extremely fast-paced (102 possessions), so the low score is even more indicative of Chicago's defensive ability.
The Bulls would have blown Denver out if not for two things. First, Carmelo Anthony got hot for a stretch late in the third quarter, hitting difficult shots over Luol Deng. That got Denver back into the game, but it's tough to find fault with Chicago's defense. Anthony just hit tough shots. Second, the Bulls' offense is just as bad as the defense is good. The passes just aren't very crisp, which means that there's no way for anyone to get a good open shot. If not for transition play, I'm not sure how the Bulls could even score 70 points. Carlos Boozer's eventual return from injury helps, but if the Bulls can't rotate the ball crisply, it won't matter all that much.
Chauncey Billups had five turnovers in the game, including some really crucial ones down the stretch. For someone known for his leadership, Billups makes a lot of hectic decisions on the court. Ty Lawson got crunch-time minutes, but he's lacking confidence in his shot. He passed up too many open looks tonight. Other than Anthony (32 points on 22 shots, with eight rebounds), nobody really played well for the Nuggets.
Play of the game: Here's the full highlights, since no play stands out.
Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 87
Last year, the Dallas Mavericks were a slightly above-average team in pretty much every facet. This year, though, their defense has become elite. The Mavericks entered last night's game as the fifth-best defensive team in the league, and they will certainly rise after holding the Celtics to just 95.6 points per 100 possessions.
What's been the difference? A healthy Tyson Chandler. Three years ago, as a member of the Hornets, Chandler was one of the league's top defensive forces. He contested shots more than he blocked them, defended pick and roll and controlled the defensive boards. He did a lot of the same things that Noah is doing now for Chicago. Injuries robbed him of his explosiveness, so he faded into the background the past two seasons. Now, however, Chandler is healthy and doing his thing for a Mavericks team that desperately needed it.
Chandler came up big on Dallas' last two defensive possessions. First, he came over late to swat away a Paul Pierce driving left-handed layup, a play that led to Jason Terry's game-tying three. Then, Chandler was somehow able to leap up and force Pierce to dish it to Kevin Garnett, then recover to alter Garnett's layup attempt. It was the kind of athletic play that Chandler hasn't made since 2008, and it was great to see.
Overall, the Celtics shot just 18-42 inside of 10 feet, and only took seven free throws the entire game. There's no greater mark of a center's defensive ability than the combination of those two stats.
Rajon Rondo dropped another 15 assists, but he made a curious decision to pull up for three with the Celtics trailing by two in the closing seconds. The play called for Rondo to dish off to Pierce at his customary spot at the free-throw line extended, but Rondo ignored him and shot the three. As you can see here, the pass was there. Rondo just didn't make it.
I get the logic of Rondo's decision to go for the win on the road, but it was surprising to see Rondo look off Pierce, who had it going. The Mavericks let Rondo shoot because that's the scenario they wanted. Rondo should be smart enough to realize that.
The bigger concern for Boston is that the starters keep piling up the minutes. Rondo played 42 minutes despite minor plantar fascitis, and Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett played 37, 41 and 38, respectively. Overall, Rondo is averaging 40.6 minutes per game, while Pierce and Allen are averaging 37.1 and 39.3. So much for resting the veterans early in the year.
Play of the game: I can't find video of Nowitzki's game-winner, so here's Chandler doing his thing.
Orlando Magic 93, Atlanta Hawks 89
I was excited about this game, but it was kind of a dud. Neither team was able to execute well down the stretch, but Orlando's defense was just a bit better than Atlanta's. Vince Carter made a couple strong drives late, and that was enough for the Magic to hold off a Hawks team that forgot all about their motion offense when it mattered most.
Both teams didn't look like themselves. Due to injuries to Jameer Nelson and Marvin Williams, both teams had different starting lineups. Both teams elected to go big, which essentially made them unlike the teams they've been the past few years. Atlanta started Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jason Collins up front, while Orlando countered with Rashard Lewis, Ryan Anderson and Howard. Normally, Smith and Lewis match up at power forward; tonight, they matched up at small forward. Both teams looked like they were experimenting for down the road, to be honest.
Dwight Howard had it going early, scoring at will against Atlanta's post players. While you never want to take away from a guy that's so dominant on both ends of the floor, Howard really should dominate against a team like Atlanta. I liked seeing his improved post moves (and they are much improved), but 27 and 11 against a team like Atlanta should be routine. Again, don't want to take anything away from him, but I'm not going to go crazy over him dominating Atlanta again.
Meanwhile, Smith shot three more three-pointers, bringing his total attempts to 10 on the season. Last year, he attempted seven three-pointers the entire year. Stop shooting threes, Josh.
Play of the game: Here are the full highlights.
Golden State Warriors 109, Toronto Raptors 102
Anyone else remember when Monta Ellis said last year that he and Stephen Curry couldn't play together? Right now, it looks like that's the kind of moment the two of them can laugh about over a couple of beers. Yo, remember when I said we couldn't play well together, Steph. What was I thinking?
Curry had 34 points in 36 minutes, torching the Raptors with key hoops down the stretch. Ellis added 28 points on 17 shots before taking a major fall on his back late in the game. I hope he's okay, because he's been so good this season.
Toronto stinks. What more do you want me to tell you?
Play of the game: This is probably the most Stephen Curry shot ever, right?
Memphis Grizzlies 109, Phoenix Suns 99
From the blogs: Bright Side of the Sun writes that the Grizzlies are a particularly bad matchup for the Suns.
The Bobcats' offense has major issues. Check out the shooting numbers for the key offensive threats on the team.