San Antonio Spurs 113, Denver Nuggets 112
Just a phenomenal game. For a while, this felt like a Spurs-Nuggets playoff game from a few years back, with the Spurs consistently holding the Nuggets at arms length down the stretch despite an obvious athletic disadvantage. But then, all hell broke loose in the final seconds. Here's a quick rundown:
- Carmelo Anthony scores a quick layup to bring Denver to within 111-110.
- Antonio McDyess tries to quickly throw it in to Manu Ginobili instead of calling timeout to bring the ball away from him own hoop.
- J.R. Smith pokes it away and Anthony gets a dunk to give Denver the lead.
- Ginobili hits an acrobatic left-handed runner to give the Spurs the lead again.
- Anthony drives and appears to win the game with a layup, but Ginobili stepped in and took a game-winning charge.
The referees absolutely did the right thing blowing the whistle: To me, this is obvious, but to some, there's something wrong about a referee making a call like that in the closing seconds. They don't like seeing the referee "decide the game" like that. But if the player did everything he could to get in position to take a charge, then he should be rewarded for it with a call you'd make at any other point in the game. I realize there's an unspoken code to not blow your whistle late, but I think it's dumb. At the end of the day, it was indeed Manu Ginobili who decided this game by positioning himself to take the charge. The referees just made the right call.
Now, it's true that the referees better be right when they blow that whistle, but that doesn't mean they should just not attempt to make the right call. The pressure is heightened for a player when they have to take a last-second shot, but that doesn't mean you pass on the opportunity. You take it and live with the results. It's the same for a referee when making a call like this.
Don't tell that to Carmelo Anthony, though, who said after the game that it was a bad call. His facial expression made that much clear.
Gregg Popovich designed an incredible inbounds play: We haven't seen a breakdown yet by NBA Playbook, but it's still worth noting that this was one of the best plays I've ever seen. The Spurs decided to run everyone to the ball and then have Ginobili fade to the opposite side for a catch over the head. It's a risky play, because you're forcing your inbounder to make a tough pass, but it's still brilliant because the defense is trained to contest inbounds passes heavily. Credit Popovich for using the Nuggets' pressure against them. Look how open the backside is for this pass.
But still, Ginobili hit a sick shot: You tell me how he squeezed this one off.
It was really a great game all around. The one thing I will say in terms of analysis is that the Spurs should be a bit concerned with their defensive performance. Denver scored 116.7 points per 100 possessions, and while they're a high-scoring team, a lot of what they got was too easy. Down the stretch, the Spurs lazily switched a lot of ball screens for Anthony, and the Nuggets made them pay. That's not the Spurs' defense I remember. Their offense was so overwhelmingly good that it didn't matter, but there has to be a bit of concern for the so-so defensive performance.
(Naturally, all Reggie Miller wanted to focus on was the "shutdown" defense the Spurs played early in the fourth quarter, even though they scored on eight of their first nine offensive possessions. Reggie also said at one point that the Houston Rockets would be dangerous once they got Yao Ming back. Please fire Reggie).
Play of the Game: This game also featured the early leader for dunk of the year from J.R. Smith. Aat the end of the first quarter, Smith crossed over on Ime Udoka, came down the lane and embarrassed Gary Neal. Here's video,via Ben Golliver:
Some of my favorite things about this dunk:
-Smith jumped from really, really far away. Seriously, he was just inside the free-throw line. Look at this:
I don't know what's more impressive - that he jumped over a guy, or that he jumped from that far away in traffic.
-If you're into reading way too much into a person's body language, then Carmelo Anthony's facial expression after the dunk is right up your alley. Via @johnctownsend.
HE WANTS OUT AND IS DETACHED FROM THE TEAM. HE WANTS TO BE IN NEW YORK!
-Finally, is it better to be in a poster trying to block a shot or trying to take a charge? I say the former. At least you made an effort.
Boston Celtics 102, Atlanta Hawks 90
I realize the Hawks were playing without Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, two immensely players, but I still was impressed with how the Celtics managed to control the game one night after playing such an emotional game in New York. Keep in mind, they were missing two key players too, with Rajon Rondo and Shaquille O'Neal both out of action. Yet, save for a poor stretch early in the second quarter, the Celtics were largely in the lead. They really took control midway through the third quarter, and then pulled away in the fourth for a comfortable win.
The scary thing about Boston is just how many guys can beat you on a given night. Even when they won the title back in 2008, they didn't have incredible depth. But now, as Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have gotten older, the Celtics have retooled. Six players scored in double figures in this win, and guys like Nate Robinson, Glen Davis and some dude named Semih Erden were big-time contributors. It's tempting to attribute this to the Celtics' culture and the team concept that has developed under Doc Rivers, but that's only a part of the story. The real truth is that Danny Ainge continues to do a great job of finding talent, taking a flyer on Robinson when nobody else would and stealing Erden with the very last pick of the 2008 draft.
The depth means that Garnett, Pierce and Allen have enough left in the tank for these tough back-to-back games. Sure, Pierce and Allen played 38 and 39 minutes, respectively, but they weren't strenuous minutes like they were in 2009, for example. They don't need to carry the whole team just to stay competitive, so they have more energy to pick it up when it really matters. Celtics Blog tweeted that the Cs would have lost this game last year, and I agree. That's what depth does for you.
The Hawks, meanwhile, have got to get Josh Smith to snap out of his funk. He was abysmal, scoring just one point on 0-8 shooting. Smith's shot chart has been out of whack all season -- he's taking, and making, way more long jumpers and threes than he did last year -- and things might finally be catching up to him. With Johnson injured, Smith is playing a lot of small forward, and he didn't look comfortable in that role last night. It'll probably help to get him back in his normal role.
Jeff Teague was big for the Hawks off the bench, scoring 18 points on 11 shots, but he still plays a bit too fast for my liking. Using him as a bench spark seems like the right move. He can get you back into games quickly, like he did in that second quarter, and then you can take him out before his deficiencies take over.
Play of the Game: For some reason, this Glen Davis flagrant foul cracked me up.
New Jersey Nets 97, Washington Wizards 89
Just an ugly game. The Wizards, despite being 0-12 on the road and having a day of rest to prepare themselves, came out like they just got off the plane in an awful first-half performance. They got it together in the second half, and spurred by Brook Lopez's fourth foul, they made a big run and even tied the game in the fourth quarter. Eventually, though, Lopez returned, the Wizards ran out of energy and Gilbert Arenas lost his poise, with a technical foul inside of two minutes and a horrendous sixth foul at midcourt with the Wizards trailing by three points with 30 seconds left. The Wizards could have stopped the Nets and had a chance to tie late, but instead, they went down by two possessions and lost Arenas to boot.
Arenas showed flashes of his old self late, but he doesn't create contact like he used to and can't get as many calls. His frustration stems from a combination of those two things, as well as the heavy minutes he played trying to help bring the Wizards back. Kirk Hinrich also looked sloppy late after being so good in the third quarter.
Devin Harris was big for the Nets, scoring 29 points. He took 25 shots to get there, but with Lopez in foul trouble, nobody else on the Nets would have been able to create a shot anyway. The Nets need Harris to be aggressive, because when he has been, they've won. John Schuhmann of NBA.com put out this amazing stat: the Nets are 6-1 when Harris gets at least 21 points and 1-18 when he doesn't. There was a time when Harris was one of the league's best point guards, and he needs to realize that and play like he did then.
Play of the Game: Here are the full highlights.