The first game I ever attended was Game 3 of the 1972 NBA Finals, which featured seven members of the 50 Greatest Players – Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas, Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere and Willis Reed, who was injured. It also featured Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, two of the 10 Greatest Coaches.
I grew up in Brooklyn, which wasn’t wired for cable. You could watch whatever the game of the week was on ABC or CBS, or watch your local teams when they played on the road. I remember watching this game on TV, in which Julius Erving forever changed my idea of how you were supposed to play basketball.
When I was in the seventh and eighth grade, I delivered the New York Daily News every morning. When I finished my route, the first thing I did was open to the NBA boxscores and recaps, then known as “capsules.” There was no internet. Sometimes the standings – the standings! – didn’t reflect the previous night’s results from Los Angeles and Seattle. So you had to wait until the next day, when there was a little section headed, “Wednesday’s Late NBA Boxes.”
Forty-plus years later, I still watch as many NBA games as I can – much to my wife’s dismay – and the first thing I do every morning is still open – the laptop, not the newspaper – to the boxscores and recaps. Old habits die hard, I guess.
It seems silly to read recaps and boxscores just to read them, so I use the information to help compile my weekly column and this, my third annual roundup of the best and worst of the NBA season.
BEST QUOTES OF THE SEASON: I am a firm believer that today’s NBA players are better than those of 20 years ago, who were better than those 20 years before them, and so on. But one area where players are not improving is in their collective personality. It seems like there are less and less players every season who enjoy the back and forth with the media.
Among our 23 Quotes of the Week, just nine came from players, including one from the usually boring Tim Duncan. Clippers guard Chris Paul was the only player who appeared twice.
Conversely, 10 came from coaches, including two from Doc Rivers of the Clippers. And four came from outside the league, including one from President Barack Obama for the second straight year.
Here are the season’s five best:
Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, on his shorthanded, young team taking on the league-leading Golden State Warriors:
“Ever play Risk? I feel like I’m Macedonia with two people and I’m surrounded by 50 people and have to roll 12s 49 straight times.”
Utah Jazz rookie Joe Ingles, a native of Australia who also has played in Europe and the Middle East, on the pleasures of playing in the NBA:
“It’s nice to be able to just go into an arena and not get abused and stuff thrown at you every week.”
NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, on how he fared in the Slam Dunk Contest during his playing days:
“I won four. I got credit for two.”
Former NBA player Charles Oakley, on whether he was surprised that the Toronto Raptors created a bobblehead doll of him:
“Well, I have a head, so you never know what could happen.”
Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez, after throwing away an inbounds pass with 3.2 seconds left and his team leading Charlotte by three points:
“It might have looked like I was point shaving, like I made a call to my Uncle Huey in Vegas.”
BEST BOXSCORE LINES OF THE SEASON: We don’t dismiss spectacular performances in losing efforts, but we don’t trumpet them, either. Winning remains the goal, which is why Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook was the only player honored this season for his outburst in a loss.
Believe it or not, the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves had two players in this category – guards Kevin Martin and Mo Williams.
There were plenty of repeat appearances. Klay Thompson won twice, as did fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry. Also making two appearances were Cleveland Cavaliers teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.
Triple-double machine Westbrook appeared an apropos three times. But that was one shy of James Harden of the Houston Rockets, whose four appearances all came after January, including three in succession. And no, that wasn’t why we felt Harden deserves to win MVP.
Here are the five best boxscore lines of the season:
Damian Lillard, Portland at San Antonio, Dec. 19: 53 minutes, 16-29 FGs, 4-9 3-pointers, 7-8 FTs, three rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block, four turnovers, 43 points in a 129-119 triple-overtime win. In establishing a career high, Lillard scored 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtimes. He had a driving layup with 1.4 seconds left to force the first OT and a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining to push it to double overtime before scoring nine points in triple OT to seal it. “Damian was unbelievable,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He was unguardable. He just took it upon himself and single-handedly did us in. He was amazing.”
Klay Thompson, Golden State vs. Sacramento, Jan. 23: 33 minutes, 16-25 FGs, 11-15 3-pointers, 9-10 FTs, two rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocks, four turnovers, 52 points in a 126-101 win. This week, James Harden had a game with 45 points on 18 shots and Brandon Jennings had the first 20-20 game in over five years. And their performances were obliterated by Thompson, who had the best individual quarter in NBA history in the third period, scoring a league-record 37 points on 13-of-13 shooting, including 9-of-9 from the arc. On an 11-game night, only one team had a 37-point quarter. Thompson’s career high equaled the league season high set last week by Minnesota’s Mo Williams, and he was one 3-pointer shy of the NBA record shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. “As many spectacular things as Michael (Jordan) did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City vs. Philadelphia, March 4: 42 minutes, 16-33 FGs, 1-4 3-pointers, 16-20 FTs, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, one block, three steals, four turnovers, 49 points in a 123-118 overtime win. It was the fourth straight triple-double for Westbrook, who had career highs in points and rebounds. He joined Michael Jordan (1988-89) and Pete Maravich (1974-75) as the only players with consecutive 40-point triple-doubles.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland at San Antonio, March 12: 47 minutes, 20-32 FGs, 7-7 3-pointers, 10-10 FTs, three rebounds, five assists, four steals, two turnovers, 57 points in a 128-125 overtime win. Irving scored 20 points in the last minute of regulation plus overtime as he surpassed his career high of 55 set Jan. 28 vs. Portland. His eruption was the most ever by a member of the Cavaliers, the most ever against the Spurs, the most by any player in the AT&T Center and marked the first time a player scored at least 50 against Gregg Popovich, who said afterward, “I don’t know how to guard that.”
James Harden, Houston vs. Denver, March 19: 40 minutes, 12-17 FGs, 4-12 3-pointers, 22-25 FTs, 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal, four turnovers, 50 points in a 118-108 win. It was a career high for Harden, who had 11 career 40-point games, the most of any active player who had yet to score 50. His performance included a league season high in free throws made and came in front of Hakeem Olajuwon, who was the last member of the Rockets to score 50 on Jan. 18, 1996.
WORST BOX SCORE LINES OF THE SEASON: In the same way that it is tough to have the bext boxscore line of the week if your team loses, it is even tougher to have the worst line if your team wins. Hey, at least your awful play didn’t cost your team a win. And in most cases, we will forgive a poor shooting game or a high turnover count if the other numbers are acceptable.
In other words, you have to really stink up the joint. And plenty of guys did.
Stars still show up here a lot, because we expect them to maintain their level of excellence. Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Dwyane Wade all made an appearance. And those registering best boxscore lines and worst boxscore lines this season include Klay Thompson and the joint entry of Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The only player to appear more than once was Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who is low-hanging fruit when it comes to this stuff. His two appearances gave the Pacers four as a team, as C.J. Miles and Solomon Hill also had nights to forget. The Utah Jazz had three entries – Trey Burke, Dante Exum and their bench.
Eric Gordon, New Orleans vs. Dallas, Nov. 1: 34 minutes, 0-6 FGs, 0-1 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, one rebound, one assist, zero steals, zero blocks, four fouls, two turnovers, zero points in a 109-104 loss. It was the first donut since his first month as an NBA player for Gordon, who also is somehow a max player.
Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers vs. San Antonio, Nov. 14: 36 minutes, 1-14 FGs, 0-5 3-pointers, 7-9 FTs, four rebounds, six assists, two blocks, one steal, four turnovers, nine points in a 93-80 loss. Bryant was minus-16 overall, but this was the worst shooting performance of his career in any game in which he took at least 10 shots.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia at Utah, Dec. 27: 37 minutes, 2-20 FGs, 1-7 3-pointers, 3-4 FTs, four rebounds, six assists, zero steals, zero blocks, six turnovers, eight points in an 88-71 loss. In one of the worst games of the season – the teams combined to shoot 34 percent overall and 9-of-49 from the arc – Carter-Williams was at his worst, accounting for a maximum of 24 empty possessions by himself.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver at Boston, Feb. 4: 25 minutes, 1-9 FGs, 0-5 3-pointers, 5-6 FTs, seven rebounds, one assist, zero blocks, zero steals, two fouls, three turnovers, five points in a 104-100 loss. Wait, it gets worse. With the Nuggets down two with 22 seconds to play, Gallinari came toward an inbounds pass too slowly and allowed Jae Crowder to jump in front of him and steal it. On the next possession, he fumbled the inbounds pass out of bounds.
Tony Parker, San Antonio at Portland, Feb. 25: 27 minutes, 1-8 FGs, 0-0 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, two rebounds, four assists, zero blocks, one steal, four fouls, four turnovers, two points in a 111-95 loss. This was the last of a brutal three-game stretch that saw the former Finals MVP manage nine points on 3-of-21 shooting with 14 assists and 10 turnovers in 69 minutes.
OUR TRIBUTE TO TRILLIONS: The heroes of zeros have had better campaigns.
There were the usual occasional bouts of cluelessness from rookies – four made the list – and a remarkable low-level run in March by Clippers guard Dahntay Jones, who had 2 trillions in three straight games.
But a 5 trillion or “better” was posted just 16 times this season. No one had higher than a 9 trillion and no one crashed the leaderboard more than once.
Contrast that with last season, when there were 20 showings of at least 5 trillion, with two at 10 trillion and two repeaters – Perry Jones III and Doron Lamb. Or the previous season, when there were 19 efforts of at least 5 trillion, with a high of 11 trillion and one repeater – Jones.
Jones, the stretch forward of the Oklahoma City Thunder, apparently has a flair for this. He made the leaderboard again this season when he posted a 6 trillion in December. He is the only player to register a 5 trillion or better in each of the last three seasons.
Jones’ uniform number is 3. He should ask Russell Westbrook for his number 0.
Here are the top trillions this season:
|PLAYER, TEAM||OPPONENT||DATE||BOX LINE|
|Joel Anthony, Detroit||at Memphis||Mar. 17||9 trillion|
|Xavier Henry, LA Lakers||at Golden State||Nov. 1||9 trillion|
|Tony Snell, Chicago||vs. Detroit||April 11||7 trillion|
|Kyle Anderson, San Antonio||at LA Clippers||Nov. 10||7 trillion|
|Randy Foye, Denver||vs. Washington||Jan. 25||7 trillion|
|Kirk Hinrich, Chicago||vs. Philadelphia||April 11||6 trillion|
|Elton Brand, Atlanta||at Brooklyn||Dec. 12||6 trillion|
|Cameron Bairstow, Chicago||at Sacramento||Nov. 20||6 trillion|
|Perry Jones III, Oklahoma City||at Minnesota||Dec. 12||6 trillion|
|A.J. Price, Cleveland||at Orlando||Dec. 26||6 trillion|
|Reggie Evans, Sacramento||at New Orleans||March 27||5 trillion|
|Ryan Hollins, Sacramento||vs. Washington||March 22||5 trillion|
|Jason Maxiell, Charlotte||at Detroit||March 8||5 trillion|
|Noah Vonleh, Charlotte||at Brooklyn||March 4||5 trillion|
|Anthony Tolliver, Detroit||vs. Brooklyn||Jan. 10||5 trillion|
|Shelvin Mack, Atlanta||vs. New York||Nov. 8||5 trillion|
|Zach LaVine, Minnesota||vs. Detroit||Oct. 30||5 trillion|
As always, we greatly appreciate our readers. Enjoy the playoffs.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.