10 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's Eye-Popping Action
The tide has turned and it's reflecting purple and gold.
The Los Angeles Lakers' comeback was just one of many turnarounds completed among marquee teams on Wednesday night, but it may have been the most purposeful and consequential. The bottom of the Western Conference is tilting in favor of the only current non-playoff team still with a shot.
Meanwhile, positioning in the already determined Eastern Conference continues to fluctuate.
It was an electric night of last-moment plays by NBA superstars, while some teams proved capable even without their top talent.
The Boston Celtics Are Hard to Kill
It was a game emblematic of the Boston Celtics’ season.
The Celtics were down, looked done and soared back.
A Paul George three-pointer placed the Indiana Pacers ahead 81-72 with 4:35 remaining before the Celtics surged ahead with an 11-0 run to seal the win. And the final play was just as symbolic as the 83-81 Boston victory.
With the game tied in the final possession, Boston coach Doc Rivers opted to draw up a set play rather than give Paul Pierce “go get me something” instructions.
Jeff Green and Kevin Garnett executed what was essentially a simple give-and-go, when Green entered the ball to Garnett just underneath the top of the arc. Green cut casually to the hoop as Pierce set a hard screen on his man, David West, which led to a wide open layup for Green with 0.5 seconds left (see video here).
The Celtics aren’t waiting around for Rajon Rondo to make a play, and Wednesday night's win was a product of that.
The Celtics-Pacers likely won’t be the No. 2 and 7 matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Celtics have won four consecutive games and are now just 1.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 4 seed in the East.
Don’t be surprised if the upward trajectory of the Celtics shoots past the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Nets.
LeBron James' Last-Second Heroics Push Heat to 16 Straight
When you have LeBron James, last-second set plays aren’t necessary.
The Miami Heat extended their win streak to 16 games when James breezed past Orlando's DeQuan Jones with six seconds remaining and finished strong with a left-handed layup for a 97-96 victory.
Al Harrington missed the obvious defensive play, failing to drop off Shane Battier and into help, and James moved easily to the hoop.
Well, give the Magic this: At least they forced LeBron to go left.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) March 7, 2013
The final play didn’t have the flash of a difficult Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant jump shot. But that’s because James is so strong to the basket that he doesn’t need to settle for tough shots—ever.
James finished with a game-high 26 points, though he only tallied three rebounds and two assists. Nikola Vucevic, who continues to impress under the radar, finished with 25 points and 21 rebounds to nearly help pull off the upset.
The Lakers Surge Back
It appears the Los Angeles Lakers were simply waiting for that furthest point of urgency.
The Lakers’ 25-point road comeback against the New Orleans Hornets serves as obvious indication that Kobe Bryant can rally his team into the playoffs.
Bryant went for 42 points and the Lakers ended on a 20-0 run to pull off the improbable 108-102 win.
Dwight Howard showed up, too.
Howard had a game-saving block (video here) when he took away a Robin Lopez dunk attempt that would have tied the game with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Howard flashed what makes him capable of being the game’s best defensive player when Eric Gordon drove past Jodie Meeks into the lane, but was forced to dish to Lopez when Howard stepped up in the lane, only to watch Howard recover in time for the block.
Howard finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
The comeback win might be more impressive as it came on a road back-to-back after Tuesday's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It also prevents more "OK, now they're finally done" rhetoric.
Dwight Howard's 4th block (to go w/ 20 &14 rebs) may have just won it for L-A. If they make playoffs, THIS is the game we'll look back on.— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) March 7, 2013
The Lakers are now just 1.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot of the Western Conference. Apparently, Bryant enjoyed the win New Orleans style.
Whew! That was a lil scary .. Ha #mambadrunkoffthatvino— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 7, 2013
Utah Is Sliding out of the Postseason
The Utah Jazz are collapsing.
Add Wednesday night's 104-101 road loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers to Utah's collection of awful away play (10-21). Utah has now lost five of its last six games overall.
Currently the West's No. 8 seed, Utah still has 10 of its 21 remaining games on the road with the Los Angeles Lakers hot on its heels.
It looks like Utah's disintegration could be what places the Lakers in the postseason.
While the ship seems to be sinking, the return of Mo Williams should help. Williams played for the first time in two months following thumb surgery, and the guard scored eight points on 3-of-12 shooting with six assists in 27 minutes.
The Cavaliers trailed by eight points with less than three minutes remaining before finishing the game on a 12-1 run. NBA.com's Tom Withers quoted Cleveland coach Byron Scott: "Merry Christmas to us. We got lucky. That was a gift, basically."
The gift was playing at home against Utah.
Rockets Open a Bigger Window for the Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be getting help from just about everywhere.
The Houston Rockets fell, 112-108, on the road to the Dallas Mavericks, their third loss in five games. Houston, in the West's seventh spot, now have just a two-game buffer between the ninth-seed Lakers.
The Lakers are watching Mavs-Rockets in the locker room. Metta yelling at the tv screen: "Come on Dallas, do what you got to do!"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 7, 2013
The Warriors Struggle for a Crucial Win
For at least one night, Golden State Warriors' young shooter Klay Thompson had reason to smile.
A recent goat for the struggling Warriors, Thompson hit a baseline three-pointer with seven seconds remaining in Golden State's 87-83 win against the Sacramento Kings.
The Warriors shot 36 percent and committed 17 turnovers in the hideous win against the West's cellar-dwelling Kings.
It was ugly, but the win allowed the Warriors to gain a game on both the flailing Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz. The Warriors remain four games on the ninth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
These four teams will continue to battle through the final quarter of the season for the final three playoff spots.
Knicks Grab Road Victory Without Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony sat out the New York Knicks' 87-77 win in Detroit.
Anthony remains day-to-day with a stiff and sore knee that continues to be somewhat concealed. Howard Beck of the New York Times wrote:
Coach Mike Woodson disclosed earlier Wednesday that the discomfort was being caused by fluid in the knee. “Rest will probably be the best thing for him,” Woodson said, adding, “If he wants to sit down and rest a game or two, we’ll do that. It’s still a long season.”
The swelling of the knee can be serious; the fluid could be from a recent injury or simply a gradual onset that will require rest.
For now, New York is picking up the pieces.
The Knicks had two separate 16-0 runs in the fourth quarter and received 19 of Raymond Felton's 26 points in the second half.
Amar'e Stoudemire (22 points) and J.R. Smith (20 points) also helped manufacture scoring off the bench in the absence of Anthony.
Spurs Seem Fine Without Parker
Google might be behind the San Antonio Spurs' success.
It seems so automatic—like some algorithm in which the pieces just plug right in. No Tony Parker? Apparently, no problem.
The Spurs, with a 101-83 victory against the visiting Chicago Bulls, won their second game without Parker since the superstar guard's severe ankle sprain.
Said it before, I'll say it again. Spurs could win by double-digits with none of their players playing.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 7, 2013
Cory Joseph and Danny Green started in the backcourt, combining for 11 points and four assists in 24 minutes each. The Spurs received 18 points and nine assists from Manu Ginobili and 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting (3-of-3 from three) from Patty Mills.
Memphis Grizzlies Continue Streaking Even Without Zach Randolph
The Memphis Grizzlies don't seem to be going anywhere.
We already learned they can win without Rudy Gay, but the Grizzlies are now proving they can win without Zach Randolph, too.
Well, for now at least.
Wednesday night's 91-85 home win against the Portland Trail Blazers was the team's second win without Randolph, who has sat out back-to-back games with a sprained left ankle.
The Grizzlies, also without backup forward Darrell Arthur, got 23 points and 12 rebounds from Marc Gasol.
The fourth-seeded Grizzlies are still, somehow, floating under the radar despite winning 10 of their last 11 games. The team's only loss during that stretch was on March 1 against the also-streaking Miami Heat.
Lob City Alert
And if that action wasn't enough, the Los Angeles Clippers presented Lob City as highlight closure.
In the Clippers' 117-101 home victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, Jamal Crawford went through his legs before lofting it up to a hulking Blake Griffin windmill.
Griffin ended with his third career triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists), but that's not what the cool kids will be talking about on Thursday.
As you can imagine, that Jamal Crawford between-the-legs oop to Blake Griffin was the big topic in Clipper locker room...— J.A. Adande (@jadande) March 7, 2013
Follow Jimmy Spencer on Twitter at @JimmySpencerNBA