Well, the individual part takes less explanation, so let’s start there: Andrew Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds, yes, 30, in San Antonio on Wednesday night as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Spurs 98-84 to become only the fifth visiting team to win at the At&T Center this season.
The 30 boards were the most in an NBA game this season, shattering the mark of 25 shared by Dwight Howard and Ersan Ilyasova.
Rajon Rondo had 20 assists, making for his 19th consecutive double-digit dime-drop, and the tired old Boston Celtics gritted out an 88-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks one day after their impressive road victory at Miami.
This was a night that included not just the Spurs, but also the Thunder losing on their home court, which tightened the races at the top of the conference standings.
There is a three-team tie in the middle of the Eastern Conference race (Boston, Atlanta and Orlando are all 34-24) and at the bottom of the Western Conference race (Dallas, Houston and Denver are all 32-26), with the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns still on the outside looking in, much like the Milwaukee Bucks are in the East after their 111-107 loss to the New York Knicks deprived them of a chance to win the season series against the ‘Bockers and move into the No. 8 spot in the East.
The Knicks hold that No. 8 spot now, a game behind the Sixers. If the season ended now, New York would play the No. 1-ranked Chicago Bulls. But the season isn’t over, we still have two Bulls-Heat game in front of us (one tonight), and much remains to be determined before we get even a semi-clear picture of who might play who in the playoffs.
But as a fan, wouldn’t it be something to have another Knicks-Heat playoff series, just like the old days? I discussed that this morning on the Armando and Perk show in Miami. Click to listen.
Let’s start with the Lakers, who were without Kobe Bryant (sore shin) for the third straight game but still showed how much of an asset their size is going to be in the postseason if they go up against an opponent that can’t contain the Twin Towers of Bynum and Pau Gasol.
From Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: There was a moment, late in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 98-84 ransacking of the Spurs on Wednesday night, that told the tale. Pau Gasol missed an 8-footer, and he and Andrew Bynum spent the next 30 seconds trying — and trying again — to tap it back in. The Lakers didn’t get points on that trip, but it was their relentlessness — on the boards, in the paint, on the road and without star guard Kobe Bryant — that sent the Spurs sprawling to a meek defeat that ranked as their most lopsided at the AT&T Center this season. “They beat us to death,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “There’s nothing else you can say about it.” Given the way the Spurs ended last season — manhandled by Memphis in the first round of the playoffs — it was alarming to watch the Lakers’ muscular frontline lead the way to a 60-33 rebounding advantage. Bynum, the Lakers’ 7-foot center, had 16 points to go with a career-best 30 rebounds, and did everything but steal the Spurs’ milk money. Gasol, a fellow 7-footer, added a 21-point, 11-rebound line that paled next to Bynum’s field day. The Lakers (37-22) limited the Spurs (40-16) to one offensive rebound — on a Tony Parker putback with 7:33 left in the third quarter that was the All-Star point guard’s second and final field goal. L.A.’s ownership of the glass was doubly concerning, considering the aforementioned Grizzlies are headed to town tonight in hopes of handing the Spurs their first three-game losing streak.
Speaking of rebounding, nobody is worse at it than the Boston Celtics, who are ranked 30th in that category league-wide.
That made their 56-39 edge over the Hawks in that category particularly impressive.
Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass were the only players to make buckets for the Celtics in the extra period, but Atlanta managed just two points.
From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “It was their fourth game in five days and that dreaded night after perhaps their biggest road win of the year. The Celtics had been near perfect in Miami, and last night a lot of shots hit the front of the rim. Passes that seared the Heat were picked off by the Hawks like Mark Sanchez floaters. Foul trouble and weariness descended like a cloud, and the result was a win that may rival the Miami game in terms of sheer toughness. The Celtics, in their 88-86 overtime victory, beat an Atlanta team that had come in off three days of rest. They outrebounded the Hawks by a season-high 17 (56-39), and survived one of their worst turnover gorges (23 for 23 Atlanta points) of the season. In an overtime period marred by repeated whistles, and the departure of Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma with disqualifications, the Celtics ground out their fourth straight win. But in all truth, that verb doesn’t begin to describe the grimy, ugly nature of last night’s game. “That was the worst game we’ve ever won,” said Doc Rivers, who sounds like he’s been holding onto that punch line since he first took over the program in the summer of 2003. But there was nothing ugly about the player who once again drove this game down the stretch. Rajon Rondo, with 10 points, 20 assists and 10 rebounds, produced his sixth triple double of the season and 19th of his career, 13 of those in the regular season. It was also his 19th straight double-digit assist game, placing Rondo 10 games behind the NBA record of 29 straight, set by Utah’s John Stockton in 1992. But even with Rondo’s mastery, the Celtics were in prime position to fall. Indeed, as Rivers readily agreed, this was a game the C’s would have lost prior to their rebirth at the All-Star break.”
Next we turn to Milwaukee, where the Knicks needed a win to tie the season series 2-2 and found themselves trailing by 8 points with under 9 minutes left. Carmelo Anthony drew a technical foul when he slammed the ball on the floor in frustration with 8:53 left in the game, saying later it was a reaction to hurting his fingers on the play.
But Brandon Jennings missed the foul shot and the Knicks used a scoring spurt to tie it at 99 on a 3-pointer by J.R. Smith. New York then took a 101-99 lead on a pair of free throws by Smith with 3:16 left, and Smith nailed a key 3-pointer for the lead with 1:04 left.
From Howard Beck of the New York Times: “Definitely the biggest shot I’ve made since I’ve been here so far,” Smith said softly. “Especially on the road, in this atmosphere. A team that we are batting for that eighth spot with. It’s big for us.”The victory kept the Knicks (30-28) from falling into an eighth-place tie and losing the season series tiebreaker. Instead, they emerged with a two-game lead over the Bucks (28-30) and firm control over their destiny as they navigate the final eight games of the regular season. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 32 points and 10 rebounds and hit a huge turnaround jumper down the stretch as the game tipped back and forth. But it was Smith who played the unlikely savior after Luc Mbah a Moute’s second-chance layup gave Milwaukee a 107-105 lead. Smith had been erratic, even by Smith’s standards, missing 8 of 12 shots up to that point, and committing several glaring errors. But Coach Mike Woodson stuck with him, then called a pick-and-roll for Smith and Anthony that created the winning shot. “I need J. R.,” Woodson said. “I’m a big believer in J. R. I told him that after the game. I’m in his corner and I’m going to do everything I can to see that he’s successful for this ball club. I think he has a talent and he showed it at the end of the game.” The Bucks disintegrated down the stretch, missing eight of their last 10 shots, including all five attempts after Smith’s 3-pointer.
So the Bucks are on the outside looking to get in, as are the Utah Jazz.
The difference is that the Jazz did exactly what the Knicks did — went out on the road and secured a must-win (despite missing five key players because of injuries) that kept them 1 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the West by deheating Houston 103-91 to snap the Rockets’ four-game winning streak.
From Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune: “Who needs a roster filled with 15 healthy players? Who needs a big-name, flashy All-Star to finish off crucial games? Who needs experienced, proven veterans to carry them into the playoffs? Not the Jazz. Not when second-year small forward Gordon Hayward is playing out of his mind. Throwing down his best overall performance as a professional and pouring in the most meaningful statistics of his young career, the 22-year-old rising star was often untouchable Wednesday at Toyota Center. G-Man finished with a season- and game-high 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting, drilling four of five 3-pointers, hitting all seven of his free throws and adding in six assists and two steals. Utah (31-28) rode Hayward for 48 uncompromising minutes. The Jazz ripped the Houston Rockets, 103-91. And Utah again thrust itself back into the Western Conference playoff picture. “The mentality now is we’ve just got to find ways to win,” Hayward said. “This was a huge win for us as a team, and I don’t think you can ever doubt the heart of our team.” Phoenix’s loss to Memphis was music to the team’s ears. The Jazz walked off the hardwood ninth in the West, 1.5 games behind Denver, Houston and Dallas, who are tied for sixth. Utah gained a potential playoff tiebreaker against the Rockets by winning the season series, the Jazz started a pivotal three-game road trip the right way and Utah captured back-to-back victories for the first time since March 22-23.
The Jazz are a half-game ahead of the 10th-place Suns because of that aforementioned loss to the Grizzlies, who rose Rudy Gay’s season-high 32 points to their fourth straight victory, 104-93. Memphis outscored the Suns 17-6 after Phoenix tied the game at 87-87 with 6:27 left.
From Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Rudy Gay just smiles when he hears the question. Other people forget. But the Grizzlies’ forward has been reminded of never having appeared in the playoffs every step of his comeback journey this season. So when a reporter asks — like one did Wednesday night — if these final regular-season games feel like playoff basketball, Gay’s answer indicates part of this motivation. “I still haven’t had a taste,” Gay said. “I still feel like I’m trying to make the playoffs.” Barring injury or a major collapse by the Griz in their final nine games, Gay’s first crack at postseason hoops is little more than two weeks away. Gay made sure the Griz inched closer to clinching a playoff berth by tossing in a season-high 32 points in a 104-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns in FedExForum. Before a crowd of 15,239, Memphis won its fourth straight behind Gay’s efficient scoring and a 17-6 fourth-quarter run after the game was knotted at 87 with six minutes left. “He’s a heck of a player,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of Gay. “I mean, if he’s shooting channeled jump shots and making them, there’s not anything you can do unless you want to put a 7-foot guy on him to try and block it.” Gay collected 17 points by halftime when the Griz led 59-53. He finished the game making 13 of 20 shots to go with seven rebounds and two steals. Gay buried jump shots in rhythm but he didn’t settle. He had an offensive rebound and put-back basket during the Grizzlies’ decisive run down the stretch.”
This roundup is running a little long, this morning, but we would be remiss if we did not give you a few more details of the Clippers’ victory at Oklahoma City, only the Thunder’s fifth home loss of the season.
Maybe those details will convince you of how worthy Chris Paul is of being mentioned in the MVP debate.
From Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times: “The media had formed a semi-circle around an exhausted-looking Chris Paul sitting inside the locker room, the group waiting for the All-Star guard to explain how he was able to be the ultimate closer again.Paul, with a towel wrapped around his waist, looked up at the gathering and uttered, “Whew! I’m tired.”
He had just scored nine of the last 11 Clippers points, 31 all total, having carried his team to a 100-98 victory over the host Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. He scored the game-winning shot on a layup with 8.8 seconds left, played 36 minutes 48 seconds, turned the ball over just once, handed out four assists and grabbed six rebounds — good reasons for Paul to be tired. And after all he had done, the Clippers didn’t escape until Kevin Durant (22 points) missed a potential game-winning three-pointer and after Blake Griffin (16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists) tipped the rebound away as time expired. … So much of this was because of the way Paul took charge of the game after it was tied, 89-89.
That’s when Paul went on his run of scoring nine of the last 11 points. “He has that competitive edge about everything,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “There’s a play that shows how competitive and tough he is when he split a defender, threw the ball off the glass and then tipped it in. That was a big tip-in for us. But his demeanor and his attitude and his approach obviously rubs off on guys. And tonight he was locked in.”
A few words on the night’s other five games:
- Ty Lawson scored 24 points, including four free throws in the final 17.6 seconds, to help the Nuggets hold on after blowing a 24-point lead for a 113-107 win over the Timberwolves, who lost All-Star forward Kevin Love to a mild concussion in the first quarter. “Worst win of the year,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. Denver’s next seven games are against playoff contenders before they finish the season at Minnesota.
- Danny Granger and George Hill made key 3-pointers in overtime, lifting Indiana to a 104-98 victory over Cleveland as the Pacers stayed No. 3 spot in the East, just ahead of Boston, Atlanta and Orlando in the standings. During pregame introductions, West got into a mock fight with Moondog, the Cavs’ floppy-eared mascot, who often interacts and teases opposing players. West accidentally struck the character in the mask, sending him to the hospital with an eye injury.
- Thaddeus Young scored 17 points, new starting center Nikola Vucevic had 12 and the 76ers beat Toronto 93-75. Elton Brand scored 11 points and Andre Iguodala, Spencer Hawes and Louis Williams each had 10 as the 76ers avenged a 21-point home loss to Toronto last Wednesday, a game in which the Raptors held the Sixers to 22 points in the second half, and just seven points in the fourth quarter. This time, the 76ers blew the game open in the fourth quarter, outscoring Toronto 30-18. The Raptors went scoreless for 4:16 late in the game.
- Jamal Crawford scored a season-high 34 points, Wesley Matthews had two baskets in the final minute and the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors 118-110. An examination of LaMarcus Aldridge’s hip showed an “abnormality,” according to interim general manager Chad Buchanan. That could cause Portland to shut him down for the rest of the season and effectively end its faint playoff hopes. The Blazers are 4½ games back of Denver.
- Jason Smith scored 22 points, hitting 10 of 12 shots, to lead New Orleans to a 105-96 victory over Sacramento, which has lost six in a row.