Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Behind the Boxscore: Raptors will not be bucked

GOOD MORNING, PEOPLE!

Toronto 116, Brooklyn 102

All the hallmarks of an unwinnable game were in place, shots that spun out, tired turnovers, either-way calls that didn’t go Toronto’s way – had Phil Jackson coached here he would have stuck square daggers at the refs all night before blaming the inevitable defeat on some slackened grip, some discarnate explanation that would leave his staff far, far away from the scene of the tangible crime.

The Raptors didn’t leak ahead for excuses as the night moved along. Brooklyn ran out of possessions, and Toronto wasn’t even heroic in its ability to stave everything off. This is just a fantastic basketball team working as it should, at the end of the ribbon.

Toronto has lost once since the All-Star break and that was by three points, in overtime, to the Bucks. The club entered Brooklyn with eight consecutive wins and left with nine, the team had every chance to pack it in. That defense, though, is developing before our eyes.

DeMar DeRozan was tired and it showed, four turnovers, while Kyle Lowry’s eight attempts at run-killing three-pointers only resulted in one (badly needed) make. Fred VanVleet was also dragging, yet he somehow spilled in half his shots and ran a prickly-enough offense to make sure his role sustained.

In Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl the Raptors got 34 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks out of their centers – and those centers played like centers used to do. Uncomfortably.

Toronto: 50-17, tops in the East, four games up on Boston.

Brooklyn: 21-37, and it genuinely looks like a blast to see a game at this team’s home arena. I’d never get in, because I still say things are “a blast.”

Oklahoma City 119, Atlanta 107

There were a lotta shoulders in the right places for the Hawks, Mike Budenholzer and the whole forgettable gang were ready to compete and the Hawks were happy to take chances with what they’ve created this season.

That’s not much, the Hawks were built to lose and they were built right, but the team could be annoying in the last month. The energy on Tuesday was appreciated.

ATL had a double-figure lead at one point, taking quick advantage of Thunder turnovers, but Oklahoma City is better and Jerami Grant (20 points on 14 shots, 2-4 from outside and zero turnovers, even tried to take a charge or four) played like how Cliff Levingston was supposed to work in Atlanta. Before Cliff hit free agency.

Paul George was allowed to glide and Carmelo Anthony (21 points, 6-11 from long range) continued his accurate play. The game closed up once OKC got into its defense, Russell Westbrook (32, 12 and 12) performed well alongside Raymond Felton, a tough gig considering Raymond probably owes him $200.

Hawks rookie Damion Lee, a 25-year old call-up, impressed with the balance needed to hit for 13 points. The 6-6 swingman hit half his shots and appeared to know enough of the plays to fit in. Lee had four rebounds, all defensive, on a night where the Hawks found their hands on plenty of loose ones.

Oklahoma City: 41-21, half-game up on the Pelicans at No. 4 out West.

Atlanta: 20-48, tied with Orlando for last in the Conference.

New Orleans 119, Charlotte 115

Anthony Davis played and nothing fell off, that’s a good enough start, we didn’t lose an MVP candidate just because someone forget to put the tarp on the damn thing.

The Pelicans center managed 25 points and nine assists, he had quite the competitor in Dwight Howard to try to work around and both big men looked far better than their (very good) lines. Dwight managed 22 points with 11 boards and three blocks, he was curious and careful with angles and did his best to keep everything in front of him. It’s been a long time since 2011, but Dwight was on it.

The whole Hornet team was around, Nicolas Batum (20 and eight assists) still grits through those impressive March numbers, Frank Kaminsky is taking chances on his way out the door, and we got another Jeremy Lamb game – 16 points and six defensive rebounds because he’s showing you.

Davis saw the floor, though, something about sitting close to it for all those alternating contests. He saw the movement that was about to develop and he chose wisely against a team that works hard. This has nothing to do with nine assists.

Jrue Holiday made all the tough plays down the stretch for NOLA, and Emeka Okafor had 14 points with eight rebounds and foul fouls alongside three steals in 26 minutes. Against Dwight Howard.

New Orleans: 39-28, tied for fifth in the West alongside Minnesota.

Charlotte: 29-39, seven games out of the Eastern bracket.

San Antonio 108, Orlando 72

There it was, on my computer. Tuesday night and then again on Wednesday morning. And yet I don’t recall a thing.

San Antonio: 38-30, tied with the Jazz for No. 8.

Orlando: 20-48, nobody would be sad.

Let’s hear from the band:

PAPER

(the bird on the branch says that pitchers and catchers recently reported)

Dallas 110, New York 97

The Mavericks were crisp, even when this was a close game. Screens set accurately and with purpose but without too many moving feet – this is Dallas, remember.

The Knicks also have that thing where they turn the ball over a ton, but also that bit where they don’t guard you in transition. This is where New York lost the crowd.

The Mavs won’t follow you on the break either, but Dallas had half-court help: Harrison Barnes continued a sturdy-enough season with 30 points, Doug McDermott tilted the floor and the starters (Yogi Ferrell, Dennis Smith Jr.) hit 5-13 three-pointers on a night where you had to fire away.

Trey Burke (16 points in 15 minutes) and Michael Beasley (21 points on 13 shots) continued their Year of Years, both are quite capable in the room that Jeff Hornacek’s offense provides. Such as it is.

Dallas: 22-46, No. 12 in the West.

New York: 24-44, No. 11 in the East.

Minnesota 116, Washington 111

The reason the big kids hit Karl-Anthony Towns is because they’re not as good as him, Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi were never as good as Karl-Anthony Towns and this is what second halves of basketball games are for. The point isn’t to rise above, the point is to remain yourself.

Watch how fun this is:

Remember that Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t learning how to play center in the NBA, still, he’s teaching us how it’s done as best he knows how. This game is brand new, we don’t know where it’s going and we’re not quite sure where most 7-footers fit in.

Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi know where to go, they’re keen to play hard and act as the pincushion when things go wrong – a pivot player’s typical burden, forever clapping at your breastplate, mouthing “my bad” to guards and coaches and country.

The Towns-led Timberwolves just rushed from Minneapolis to D.C. and toppled the Warriors and Wizards in 48 hours’ time. Andrew Wiggins worked well defensively late in this win and Taj Gibson was around for the buckets the Wolves badly needed when Washington looked to pull away at home, but Towns is the reason we’re all here.

He had 37 points on 17 shots.

Minnesota: 40-29, still percentage points behind NOLA, sixth seed.

Washington: 38-30, a game and a half behind Cleveland, fifth seed.

Cleveland 129, Phoenix 107

The Cavs pushed Kyle Korver into the starting lineup on Tuesday, ahead of J.R. Smith, and Phoenix was like “sure, whatever, it’s not like we have a lot going on.”

The Cavs immediately went to isolating LBJ on side with Korver, and on improvised possessions Kyle would go where the ball was and the Suns would lose their shit. Devin Booker fouled Korver on a three-point play in the first quarter, he’d finish with 22 points on, holy cow dude, seven shots.

Cleveland: 39-28, half-game behind Indiana, No. 4 in the East.

Phoenix: 19-50, probably not all that uncomfortable with Uncle Kracker, either.

John Wall looks like he’s about to buy an entire album’s worth of songs off of Leon Ware:

Utah 110, Detroit 79

All the Pistons wanted was a scrum, something ugly that Anthony Tolliver and Jameer Nelson could roll their way into, but the Jazz were not interested.

Utah wanted to hit shots on Tuesday, they wanted to end this early and this is still the difference between the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference. The Jazz doubled Detroit up in the first quarter, 41 to 21, the team built a 39-point lead at one point and Jae Crowder looks every bit the mini-LeBron James that Cleveland appeared to order sometime last summer.

Rudy Gobert has a way of making things look like they revolve around him.

Utah: 38-30, tied with San Antonio at No. 8.

Detroit: 30-37, five and a half games behind Miami for the East’s final spot.

Los Angeles Lakers 112, Denver 103

The Lakers ran the risk of running out of tokens, Los Angeles’ spirited start in the face of Jamal Murray may have had something to do with that burp of a second quarter, but in the end nobody had to bother coach Walton while he fed another one into Laguna Seca.

Denver fell apart late, helpers like Trey Lyles and Will Barton were no fun, the Lakers’ length and energy were enough to keep a good team from getting what it needed.

Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle combined for 52 points and 26 rebounds in the win, we should all get to write that so many more times.  

Los Angeles Lakers: 31-36, keep pushing.

Denver: 37-31, one game out of the playoff race.

Indiana 101, Philadelphia 98

Indiana’s legs come and go – Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic struggled in this road performance, combining to miss 27 of 32 shots – yet the Pacers can still surprise. Oladipo did all he could, especially when it came time to leave it out there late, and Thaddeus Young’s return to form was exactly what Indiana needed. He was covered in paint.

Young managed 19 and 10 in the building he used to play regular season games in, and Myles Turner had enough skirt for everyone – 25 points in the face of Joel Embiid’s dragging.

Embiid loped his way toward 29 points but he took and missed five three-pointers and the attempts were sadder than the misses. Eight turnovers for the big man in the loss.

Indiana: 40-28, half-game up on Cleveland, third in the East.

Philadelphia: 36-30, a game behind Washington, a sixth seed right now.  

Los Angeles Clippers 112, Chicago 106

The Bulls led for stretches in this game and competed well, there are several engaging players to really glom onto with this club as it enters the final month:

David Nwaba we all know, he’s still running and reaching like Christmas is coming, Antonio Blakeney looks potent enough to follow for a second quarter, Noah Vonleh is now in the starting lineup to see what he’s capable of in Year Four.

Seven rebounds, in 27 minutes, it turns out. Noah missed eight of 11 shots and took five three-pointers because that Mark Madsen anecdote is pretty old by this point.

The lady in the back was really wearing a sombrero, this shot did not go in.

The Clippers just spread the floor out, waiting for the Bulls to make a mistake on defense. The Bulls were created to be outlasted.

(Don’t take your eyes off DeAndre Jordan.)

Los Angeles Clippers: 37-29, seventh in the West, percentage points ahead of the Jazz and Spurs.

Chicago: 23-44, 12th in the East.

CAN I CALL YOU BABY

(More to come.)