USA TODAY Sports
In what was the last game before the All-Star break for most teams, the Clippers held off the Rockets and the Celtics won their bloody death match against the Bulls Wednesday night.
Clippers 106, Rockets 96
For all of the Houston Rockets' impressive offensive exploits this year, many games of theirs (mostly losses) have been defined by their horrendous defense more than their ability to fill it up. Wednesday night against the Clippers, that was certainly the case, as the Clips shot 77.3 percent in a 46-point first quarter and the Rockets didn't have a chance after that.
For the game, the Clippers had a terrific .580 eFG percentage, according to Basketball Reference, led by Chauncey Billups, who shot 4-7 from deep and 6-9 from the field for 19 points. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul each notched double-doubles — Griffin with 20 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals and Paul with 10 points and 11 assists.
The Rockets were playing without All-Star James Harden, who was a late scratch with a sprained right ankle. He hurt the ankle during Tuesday night's game against the Warriors and played through it, though he was noticeably limping. He went through warmups and decided not to push it, and now said he's not a lock to play in the All-Star Game right in Houston. And WHO KNOWS what his status will be for the Shooting Stars!
The Rockets still played pretty well offensively, which is Harden's specialty. James Anderson came off the bench to score 14, largely occupying Harden's penetrating attack. Chandler Parsons led the team with 17 and Jeremy Lin had 14 points and seven assists, but shot just 4-12.
What this game crystallized from the Rockets is that no matter who's on the floor, the defense just won't happen. Harden has proven thus far that he isn't a capable defender, but neither is Carlos Delfino, who started in his place, or Anderson. Lin's long arms are great at getting in the passing lanes, but his lack of footspeed hurts him in one-on-one situations. Omer Asik is still great, but there doesn't seem to be another plus defender on the whole team. This is a problem.
Speaking of defense, this game probably had too much of it. The Bulls and Celtics each shot 37 percent from the field, Brandon Bass led all scorers with 14(!) points and, what likely was the difference in this game, the Bulls turned the ball over 20 times to the Celtics' 10.
This has to be the first instance since, like, the 1960s in which a team scored 11 points in the second quarter, eight points in the third quarter and still won the game. That's what the Celtics did, scoring 28 points — a veritable scoring explosion — in the fourth quarter, forcing the Bulls into 1-9 shooting from range. Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson missed three-pointers with time expiring and the Celtics hung on.
B-R gave the Celtics an offensive rating of 84.8 and the Bulls 82.4. Just to give you an idea, the Clippers' O-Rating against the Rockets was 109.6, and they didn't even shoot 50 percent from the field in the game. This was an atrocious offensive performance.
The reason for this, other than the focus of the two teams having long ago shifted toward defense with little regard to offensive ability, is that each team is playing without one of the NBA's five best point guards. ACL tears have felled Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose and, with them, most of the offensive creativity on each team. If Rose indeed sits out the rest of this year, the worst thing that can possibly happen to the NBA is if these two teams face off in the playoffs.
Deron Williams has missed the Nets' past two games so, naturally, the Nets win both of them against playoff games. In this one, C.J. Watson, Williams' backup, scored 25 points with six assists and shot 5-7 from deep. That's otherwise known as exactly what Nets fans have been clamoring for from D-Will. Joe Johnson also had 26 points and nine assists, going full Fredo on Williams.
The Nuggets finished the first half of the season on a road trip, and it did not go well, except for Ty Lawson, who again played spectacularly. He was perfect (5-5) from three-point range, pouring in 26 points and chipping in nine assists. On the other hand, he was guarding C.J. Watson and Watson exploded, so yeah. Andre Iguodala is being missed.
Kawhi Leonard hit a game-winner in this one — go Team Chuck! — and Kyrie Irving slipped and fell attempting his, which was so incredibly bizarre to watch considering his ridiculous success rate already in late-game situations in his career. This might have just been one of those games for Kyrie, who shot just 2-15. Considering the Spurs have the best record in the NBA and had a full contingent of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and only won by one point ... I honestly have no idea. What was this game?
Hornets 99, Blazers 63
The Portland Trail Blazers, just the night before, gave the Miami Heat — in the middle of LeBron James playing the best basketball a human ever has — a legitimate run for their money, leading during parts of the second half. It only makes sense that they manage just 63 poins in a 36-point blowout to the New Orleans Hornets the next night. Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge combined to shoot 3-21, so there's your explanation.
As ugly as the Bulls-Celtics game was, this might actually have been worse. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were pretty cold down the stretch, but it didn't matter because the Sixers were even worse. Jrue Holiday missed a jumper that could have tied the game with 7.9 seconds left, and that was that. Royal Ivey was on the court down the stretch for the Sixers, so that was a thing.
Jazz 97, Timberwolves 93
Ricky Rubio was one rebound shy of a triple-double, which is especially sad considering there were 102 total rebounds to be had in this game. Derrick Williams had 16, Nikola Pekovic had 13, Al Jefferson had 11 and six other Jazzes had at least five. Randy Foye had zero rebounds and shot 2-11, but was 4-4 from the line in the last 15 seconds, which was huge.
Alan Anderson exploded for 26 points off the bench, sapping all of Carmelo Anthony's magic powers. 'Melo shot 5-24 and scored 12 points. J.R. Smith scored 26 points off the bench, too, but come on. Alan Anderson was always going to steal the show in Madison Square Garden.
Pistons 96, Wizards 85
Leave it to the Detroit Pistons to pour cold water over the Wizards' resurgence. The 15-36 Wiz were this close to playoff relevance.
I hope you enjoyed that game-winner over the Celtics, Cats fans. The way this season is going, it might be until March when you get your next win.