7 Takeaways from Saturday Night's Exciting NBA Action
That is, if the first Saturday of 2013 was any indication. Four games were worthy of League Pass Alerts, while a fifth featured a 30-point swing between two Eastern Conference foes.
Sure, there were more than a few blowouts. The San Antonio Spurs, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers created plenty of separation between themselves and teams that were supposedly on their respective levels.
But even those no-contests featured implications that may extend far beyond their respective box scores.
In any case, Saturday night's all right for ballin', as these seven takeaways will surely show.
Boston Celtics' Resurgence Is Real
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What could be more impressive than a 19-point win over a surging Eastern Conference squad? How about a comeback victory against the current No. 3 seed in the East?
The Boston Celtics finished off just such a parlay. Just 24 hours after pounding the Indiana Pacers in Beantown, the C's traveled down to the Dirty Dirty to squawk the Atlanta Hawks, 89-81.
The game itself was a microcosm of Boston's season so far and, perhaps, what's yet to come. The C's looked old and slow out of the gate, falling behind the speedy, sweet-shooting Hawks by as many as 19 points in the first half.
It didn't take long for the Celtics to turn things around, though. They outscored the Hawks 33-9 in the third, with Paul Pierce pouring in 17 of his 26 points in the frame. All told, Boston limited Atlanta to just seven makes in 28 attempts over the final 24 minutes.
Throw in Rajon Rondo's triple-double and stifling D from Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley, and you've got yourself a formula for a C's turnaround over the final 49 games of the 2012-13 season.
The New York Knicks' Swinging Pendulum
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If the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic had played just the first and third quarters, the Magic would've won by 21. If these two teams had considered only the second and the fourth frames, the Knicks would've come out on top by 29 points.
Which is to say, the Knicks beat the Magic by eight points on Saturday night, 114-106, and did so despite an uneven effort. New York was once again without Raymond Felton, and Marcus Camby replaced Kurt Thomas in the starting five (and the rotation entirely).
But even all of that change couldn't stop steady (if not spectacular) contributions from the usual suspects. Jason Kidd nailed 5-of-8 from three-point range to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists and a pair of steals. Tyson Chandler chipped in 14 points (on a perfect 6-of-6 from the field) and 12 rebounds. J.R. Smith led the way off the bench with 18 points, six rebounds, two steals and two assists. Amar'e Stoudemire added 11 in support but looked slow and old once again.
And, of course, Carmelo Anthony went bonkers, with 40 points, six rebounds and six assists.
In a way, this was exactly the sort of game that shows just how good the Knicks really are. They posted some strong individual performances but didn't exactly play all that well or that consistently as a whole on either end of the floor. Yet, New York still managed to pull out the W on the road against a plucky opponent.
The Indiana Pacers Bounce Back
What better way for the Pacers to recover from a stomping at the feet of the Celtics than with a blowout of their own, opposite a Central Division rival?
The Milwaukee Bucks proved to be the panacea that Indiana had been searching for. The Pacers ground the Bucks to a pulp defensively, holding them to 37.8 percent shooting and building a 59-39 edge on the boards on the way to a 95-80 victory. Roy Hibbert had himself a monstrous evening in the middle, posting a line of 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.
But the highlight of the night belonged to Paul George, who showed Larry Sanders where to shove all of his shot blocks. George finished the game with a mere eight points but has seen his scoring pick up considerably of late.
He will have to continue in that vein if the Pacers are to increase their altitude in the Eastern Conference even further.
Battle of Brilliant Youths Goes to the Beard
Question of the night: Which young talent has made the more definitive leap into superstardom so far this season—James Harden or Kyrie Irving?
The answer wasn't made all that much clearer on Saturday night when the two went head-to-head. But if team success has anything to do with it, then The Beard has to get The Nod. Harden scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half to lead the Houston Rockets to a 112-104 road win over Kyrie's Cleveland Cavaliers.
Irving did his best to counter Harden's brilliance. The reigning Rookie of the Year led all scorers with 30 points to go along with six assists, four rebounds and four steals. He was also "tops" in turnovers with eight giveaways, though he made enough spectacular plays throughout to make up for his miscues.
Not to be outdone, Harden notched seven steals and needed only 17 shots to extend his streak of 25-plus-point games to 12. He's the sort of player who can light up the scoreboard even when he can't find the range (6-of-17), thanks in no small part to his ability to get to the hoop; Harden hit 14-of-15 free-throw attempts to boost his scoring total.
The win moved Houston to 20-14 on the season and dropped Cleveland to 8-27. The records clearly favor Harden's superstardom over Irving's, though hoops heads can only hope they'll both be on hand for the 2013 All-Star Game in mid-February.
The Brooklyn Nets Learn Their Lesson
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A night after outlasting the Washington Wizards for a double-overtime win, the Brooklyn Nets wasted little time jumping all over another bottom-of-the-barrel opponent to avoid such a drawn-out result.
The Nets used a 16-2 second-quarter run to build a comfortable cushion against the hapless Sacramento Kings on the way to an easy 113-93 victory at the Barclays Center. The win was Brooklyn's fifth in sixth tries since Avery Johnson was deposed.
Six Nets scored in double-figures, with Brook Lopez's 18 points and 15 apiece for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, MarShon Brooks and Andray Blatche leading the way.
Of course, Brooklyn got a hefty helping hand from five Kings who combined to shoot 0-of-19 from the field. DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 11 rebounds, three assists) did his part but once again found little assistance.
Not that the Nets cared. They were evidently more concerned with getting an easy win over an inferior opponent and were loath to go to OT to do so this time around.
The New Orleans Hornets Find Their Closer
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The 2012-13 NBA season was always going to be a lost cause for the New Orleans Hornets. But now, at least, they have reason to hope that better days aren't all that far off.
Eric Gordon's return would seem to suggest as much.
In some ways, anyway. His shooting thus far has been abysmal; he's hit just 32.6 percent of his attempts from the field.
But when the Hornets have needed someone to step up and take a big shot, E.G. has been ready, willing and able to deliver. That much was clear against the Dallas Mavericks in Dirk Nowitzki's first start of the season. Gordon scored the final eight points of the overtime period for the Hornets, including the bank-shot three-point play to seal the 99-96 road win over the slumping Mavericks.
Gordon's play ensured that the Mavs would tie the all-time record for consecutive overtime losses at 10. More importantly, it showed what fans in New Orleans can look forward to in the years to come, as their young core of Gordon, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson grows together.
Some Serious Pacific Division Payback
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Clippers didn't wait to defenestrate any debate over which team was truly the top dog in the Pacific Division. They jumped all over the Golden State Warriors from the opening tip on the way to a 115-89 victory—their franchise-record 12th straight at home.
The Clips dominated this game in just about every way imaginable. They outshot (52.2 percent to 44.4 percent), outrebounded (41-30) and outscored the Warriors in the paint (56-28) as well as in transition (21-11). Blake Griffin (20 points, five rebounds, seven assists) and Chris Paul (27 points, five rebounds, nine assists) were both brilliant, and the bench managed to cobble together 34 points, despite Jamal Crawford missing his second game in as many nights with a sore left foot.
This, just three days after the Dubs demolished the Clips up in Oakland, 115-94.
Not that such a turnaround should come as too much of a surprise—not for a team as good as the Clippers evidently are. They were out to prove that their last loss to the Warriors was a fluke, and they did just that.
In rather convincing fashion, no less.