7 Takeaways from Friday Night's NBA Action
Friday night's slate of games wasn't the sexiest the NBA has seen this season, at least not on paper.
But it provided for plenty of entertaining fare nonetheless. Two buzzer-beaters, a nail-biter between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies and an eye-popping performance from DeMarcus Cousins made the end of New Year's week well worth watching for any hoop head.
And that doesn't even include another big game for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a pair of grudge matches that made the grade on ESPN.
The second of which—between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers—went from a surefire blowout to an instant classic, thanks in no small part to the 20th 30-point game of the season for Twitter newbie Kobe Bryant.
Here, for your reading pleasure, are seven things that stood out from the evening on the hardwood.
Kyrie Irving Strikes Again
THIS JUST IN: Kyrie Irving is a crunch-time assassin.
At least, he was on Friday night. The star point guard scored 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, including the final two of the game to propel the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 106-104 road win over the Charlotte Bobcats. The game-winner was the sixth shot (in 12 attempts) that Irving has hit this season with his team tied or behind by five points or fewer with a minute or less to play in the game.
All told, Irving ended the evening with six assists, five rebounds, four steals and three blocks. He hit 10-of-21 from the field and all 10 of his free-throw attempts.
Oh, and he pulled it off while wearing a plastic mask to protect a broken bone in his jaw. If not for injuries (and the Cavs' abysmal 8-26 record), Kyrie would be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game.
Even so, the reigning Rookie of the Year surely deserves a trip to Houston in February, even on the strength of a brilliant performance against the lowly Bobcats.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Palace
The Detroit Pistons continue to operate contrary to the new conventional wisdom, this time bullying the small-ish Atlanta Hawks with their young size on the way to an 85-84 win at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
As with any surprising result, there was much more to this one than just the final score. The Pistons pummeled the visiting Hawks through much of the game, leading by as many as 19 points in the second quarter.
But Atlanta came back with a vengeance in the second half. The Hawks held Detroit to 34 points on 30.8 percent shooting over the final 24 minutes, including just five makes in 20 attempts in the fourth quarter. Greg Monroe pounded the Hawks for 18 points and nine boards, and Andre Drummond did Andre Drummond-like things (six points, nine boards, two blocks in 20 minutes) off the bench.
The real outlier, though, was Austin Daye. The disappointing forward out of Gonzaga dropped a season-high 20 points on 9-of-11 to help Detroit earn its fourth straight win.
That still leaves the Pistons an abysmal 13-22 on the season. Progress is progress, though, especially when it comes in the form of a win over the three-seed in the Eastern Conference.
Iso-Joe to the Rescue
Joe Johnson was a hero for the Brooklyn Nets (and basketball fans everywhere) on Friday night. The All-Star swingman went "Iso-Joe" in the closing seconds of the second overtime period, taking rookie Bradley Beal to school before hitting the game-winning jumper with 0.7 seconds left.
The shot also mercifully brought to an end what had been an abhorrent display of hoops. The two teams combined for 36 turnovers and 24 missed free throws.
Of course, the game probably would've been over after just one overtime, but Nene fouled Brook Lopez with 14 seconds left and the Wizards up by one to eventually extend the action to another fateful, unwatchable frame.
The win was the fourth in five tries for the Nets under P.J. Carlesimo, and the game as a whole further solidified Deron Williams' slide down the pecking order. The highly paid point guard shot 9-of-23 from the field, looked reluctant to attack the rim and deferred all too quickly to Johnson for the final shot. Whatever's keeping D-Will down has yet to let up.
It might not have to, so long as Iso-Joe is up to the task.
Short Hands Means Tough Times for the Miami Heat
What is it about the Miami Heat struggling to get strong results against undermanned opponents? They'd already lost to the New York Knicks sans Carmelo Anthony and the Washington Wizards without John Wall, and they were nearly embarrassed by the depleted San Antonio Spurs on national television in late November.
For their latest act of futility, LeBron James and Co. fell flat in front of the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls at home, 96-89. Carlos Boozer torched the Heat inside for 27 points, Nate Robinson sparked the Bulls off the bench down the stretch and Chicago's defense limited Miami to just five makes (on 12 attempts) while forcing six turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The Heat just couldn't seem to get it going at any particular point, even with LeBron (30 points) and Dwyane Wade (22 points) performing up to (and above) par.
To be sure, seeing the Bulls bump the Heat is nothing new. The win moved Chicago to 6-2 in regular-season meetings against Miami since the dawn of the Big Three era.
Rose's return may well propel the Bulls into the realm of legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. For now, though, the spotlight shines on the Heat, who remain atop the standings in the East despite struggling to "turn it on" when they need to.
The Houston Rockets Put Video Games to Shame
Are the Houston Rockets real life?
It's tough to tell these days. They've been blowing teams out (and getting blown out) on the regular, it seems, more than any NBA team realistically should.
Friday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks was a perfect example. The Rockets trailed by as many as 18 points in the second quarter, outscored the Bucks by 16 points in the third and entered the fourth quarter with a five-point lead on the way to a 115-101 win, on the road no less.
Teams as young as the Rockets—they're the youngest in the league, with an average age of 23.5 years—just aren't supposed to pull off turnarounds of that magnitude.
But that's precisely what Houston did, and what the team has done all season. James Harden had another efficient evening (29 points on 18 shots), Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons chipped in seven assists apiece and the Rockets raked in 60 points from their reserves.
This team may well fade in the weeks to come, but if the Rockets, at 19-14, finish the season in the Western Conference playoff picture, nobody should be particularly surprised at this point.
The Boston Celtics Bounce Back
The Boston Celtics needed a big win in the worst way. They came into Friday's festivities on a four-game losing streak and with losses in five of their last six and seven of their last nine.
All of which is to say, the C's stunk. Their numbers on both ends of the floor were patently mediocre, just as one might expect them to be for a 14-17 team. In came the Indiana Pacers, who were in the midst of bouncing back from a slow start to the season to win six of their last seven and nine of their last 11.
Not that the Celtics cared one bit. They played vintage C's basketball, limiting the Pacers to 31.8 percent shooting and forcing 18 turnovers on the way to a resounding 94-75 win at the TD Garden in Boston. Rajon Rondo controlled the game from the point, Kevin Garnett anchored the defense and the long-struggling bench finally chipped in something worthwhile.
The game was also just Avery Bradley's second in return from double-shoulder surgery. He may well make a massive difference for this team once he's back up to speed physically and mentally.
And if he does, don't be surprised if the C's make another late run into the playoffs. Remember, they were 15-17 heading into the All-Star break last season before catching fire and nearly streaking into the NBA Finals.
They're 15-17 now. Coincidence? We'll see.
The Clippers Nearly Drop the Ball in the Battle of Los Angeles
It's only fitting that the highly anticipated nightcap, between the Lakers and the Clippers, turned out to be the most thrilling game of all.
The Clips controlled the Battle of L.A. from the opening tip and led by as many as 19 points along the way. They repelled run after run by the Lakers, who drew futile efforts from Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.
But the Lakers, to their credit, made a game of it in the end. They closed the gap to 99-97 with 1:29 left in the game before Chris Paul iced the game with six free throws and a clutch jumper in the closing minute. The Clips' superstar point guard finished the game with 30 points, 13 assists, six rebounds and a pair of steals in 41 minutes.
Kobe Bryant did his best to keep the at-times lethargic Lakers in the game. He poured in 38 points on 25 shots, along with five steals and three assists, to notch his 20th 30-point performance of the season.
It was a valiant effort for the Purple and Gold, but on this night—as may be the case on many nights to come—the Clippers were just too athletic, too energetic and too deep on the way to a 107-102 win.