The Los Angeles Lakers: It's kind of hard to find fault in a game that featured a superstar duel between Kobe Bryant (39 points) and Dwyane Wade (27 points, 14 assists), included 19 ties and 31 lead changes -- two more lead changes than any other game this season -- and went down to the wire in overtime...but that's my job here, and I take it seriously.
The Lakers are supposedly one of the league's top defensive teams, but the Heat shot nearly 53 percent as a team and Quentin Richardson scored a season-high on 8-for-13 shooting, including 7-for-11 from downtown. (Hand in the face guys...it's more than just a theoretical concept.) On top of that, L.A. shanked 10 of their 25 free throw attempts -- including two straight bricks by Ron Artest with 2:19 left in regulation -- which is kind of a big deal in a game that goes to OT. They also gave up a whopping 24 points off only 16 turnovers. But perhaps the most damning statistic is that the Lakers had only 15 assists on 45 field goals...which was only one more dime than D-Wade had by himself. But a lack of ball movement is pretty standard when Mamba has a big scoring game.
And sure, L.A. still managed to shoot 51 percent as a team and Kobe's shooting was solid (15-for-28). BUT...Kobe was only 2-for-7 from downtown -- the Lakers were 6-for-23 overall -- and Pau Gasol was never really featured and so never really got it going (4-for-11). Maybe it's just me, but it felt like the Lakers made scoring a little too hard on themselves.
Still, they very well could have stolen the game, especially after Kobe forced overtime with another clutch jumper. (Look, I hate Kobe and all, but can we all just agree that the numbers are wrong? There's nobody better right now with a game on the line.) But sometimes the Mamba giveth and the Mamba taketh away. With under 20 ticks to go in OT and the Lakers down a point, Bryant drove in for a layup, but Jermaine "The Drain" O'Neal was there to take the charge. What's worse, The Drain had been telling his teammates that, the next time somebody on L.A. drove, he was going to take the charge. A called charge? Really?
Said Wade: "I saw it coming the whole way. That's J.O. -- J.O. not only protects the basket by being a shotblocker, but he also protects it because he can take charges. And that's great. Everybody did their job tonight."
Everybody except the Laker defenders.
Said Kobe: "We just couldn't get stops. We basically traded baskets to start the overtime. We didn't execute well defensively."
Phil Jackson, complaint machine: Phil Jackson wouldn't be Phil Jackson if he didn't bitch about the officiating after a tough loss. And sure enough, he took exception with a call Kobe didn't get after a seeming airball with half a minute left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up one. Said P-Jax: "I'm sure he didn't shoot an airball. That's unconscionable that that call can't be made at that point in the game, because that's a shooter and there it is."
What made it especially frustrating for Jackson is that was the only missed call either way all game.
The Chicago Bulls: The Windy City Stags came out like a five-layer "asses of fire" burrito stuffed with a lightning storm...and with good reason. This was the second game of a nine-game stretch versus playoff contenders, including the division-leading Mavericks (twice), Magic and Craboliers. With a road loss to the Pacers and a home blowout to the Hawks in their rearview mirror, the Bulls really, really needed to prove they could win one without Joakim Noah, who's out semi-indefinitely with plantar fasciitis.
Problem: Noah is Chicago's leading rebounder, best interior defender and probably their second-best player overall (after Derrick Rose). And the Bulls had to face off against a Memphis frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay that came into the game averaging 55.7 PPG and 27.0 RPG.
"Uh oh" is right.
Those three players ended up with 60 points and 30 rebounds to go along with 6 steals and 5 blocked shots, while shooting 22-for-42 from the field and 15-for-18 at the foul line. To put that into perspective, Chicago’s entire starting lineup combined for 78 points and 23 rebounds, and the Bulls earned 21 free throw attempts as a team.
It gets worse. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Bulls 46-31, outscored them 62-42 in the paint and finished +9 in free throw attempts. To put things in a more science-y way, Memphis had decided advantages in Effective Field Goal Percentage, Offensive Rebound Percentage and Free Throw Rate…as illustrated by this Four Factors chart from Statsheet.com:
Science says: "Fail."
Chicago won the first quarter 32-19 and went up by as many as 17 points in the second. But teams with an strong inside game and an opposing frontcourt tend to win the battle of attrition in the NBA, which might explain why Memphis is tied for the most comeback victories from a deficit of 15 points or more this season.
The Grizzlies outscored the Bulls 29-16 in the final quarter, and the most telling stretch occurred after Memphis had tied the game at 90 on a foul shot by Randolph. The Grizzlies then got two three-point plays — a layup and one — from Gasol on back-to-back possessions to go up 95-90. Gasol missed the free throw on his second three-point play opportunity, but Gay ended up with the offensive rebound, and then O.J. Mayo swooped in for a layup.
Just like that, the Grizzlies were up 97-90 and the game was essentially over.
While Memphis was getting high percentage shots at the basket -- the Griz finished with 23 layups -- the Bulls were settling for long jumpers, or forced jumpers, or having layups blocked.
Said Rose: "It hurts. We worked so hard, then the ball bounces their way. We were right there and they made some great plays, effort plays, and they got the ball."
Zach Randolph, poster boy: He almost single-handedly beat the Bulls with 31 points and 18 boards. He also sent Taj Gibson to the bench with six fouls. But he also took a messy facial from Derrick Rose. Enjoy.
The Phoenix Suns: It's pretty tough to shoot almost 58 percent from the field and lead by double-digits for most of a critical home game against the team you're trying to leapfrog in the playoff standings and then lose anyway...but give the Suns credit. When they put their minds to it, there's nothing they can't not do.
Phoenix shot almost 74 percent in the first quarter and nearly 65 percent in the first half, but they wasted an opportunity to kick Utah into an early grave by not protecting their defensive backboards. During the first 24 minutes, the Jazz grabbed 11 rebounds -- half of their rebounding total for the first two quarters -- and scored 11 second-chance points. That kept them in the game...and helped lead to another Suns collapse from a double-digit lead.
Frankly, Phoenix just wore down. Remember, they played the Clippers the night before, and fatigue seemed to show in the fourth, during which the Suns were outscored 41-22. Utah got hot, and the Phoenix _efen_ers couldn't find their hands or any faces to put them in. The Jazz shot 7-for-11 from beyond the arc in those final 12 minutes. Meanwhile, the Suns were 5-for-19 on treys for the game. I guess turnabout is fair play.
Of course, I bet Suns fans would rather sit through 12 minutes of this than the last 12 minutes their team put them through.
Is it possible to coach an entire fourth quarter while facepalming?
Suns coach Alvin Gentry says: "Yes. Yes, sirs and madams, it is."
Said Amar''''''e Stoudemire: "I don't know if fatigue set in, but we played well most of the night. We just didn't play well defensively down the stretch. We just have to key in defensively in the fourth quarter to get some stops." Is that a stock quote or something? Because I've been hearing that refrain from Suns players since 2005.
Anyway, the Mormon Musicians were just the more aggressive team, earning a 38-28 advantage in free throw attempts on the Suns' home court. Then there were Utah's 19 offensive boards, plus the 24 points they scored off 19 Phoenix turnovers.
C.J. Miles, possibly unintentional poop humor machine: "Basketball is a game of runs, and we got ours at the right time."
Carlos Boozer, quote machine: "You never know what's going to happen and who's going to end up where in the playoffs. Especially when you're playing in the 'Wild West' where every game is monumental."
The Minnesota Timberwolves beg to differ, Carlos.
Brittney Griner: Girl fight! But, sadly, not the hot kind. Watch as college hooping phenom Brittney Griner suckerpunches a lass named Jordan Barncastle. Yes, that's a real name.
Look, we can't let this kind of thing slide. I say we settle this old school...with pillows, lingirie, a wading pool filled with baby oil and, most importantly, some carefully chosen body doubles.
Danny Ainge, quote machine: Regarding his pickup of Zombie Finley: "I certainly don't consider Mike Finley to be someone that's going to make the difference in us winning the championship."
Wait, what, really?! If a player won't make a difference, why sign that player? I'm pretty sure Brian Scalabrine has that whole "handing out Gatorade in team huddles" thing down to a science. Maybe the Celtics are just trying to pull in the always-elusive "undead American" demographic.
Lacktion report: And now for chris's very brief lacktivity update:
Lakers-Heat: Joel Anthony fouled once in 6:05 for a +1 suck differential and a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl!
Jazz-Suns: Ronnie Price bricked once from the Orpheum Theater and took a foul for a +2 in 3:14.