10 Takeaways from Monday Night's Wild Action
As teams head down the stretch, fantastic efforts and finishes are to be expected.
Monday night's action was no exception.
With final postseason positioning on the line—and in one team's case, hopes for simply making the playoffs being at stake—wild endings are to be expected.
As the NBA's final month of the regular season commenced, the league did not disappoint.
This season's top rookie broke a record, one Western Conference playoff team proved it could win without its superstar and contending teams played down to the final seconds.
Mike Conley Proves Enough for the Memphis Grizzlies
Rudy Gay’s absence presented a question mark as to how the contending Memphis Grizzlies could close out games.
But on Monday, Mike Conley changed the Grizzlies’ punctuation as the new go-to guy in the clutch.
Conley attacked the basket in the final seconds against the San Antonio Spurs and scored with 0.6 seconds remaining to lift the Memphis Grizzlies, 92-90.
Conley had also tied the game at 90-90 with 30 seconds to play on a 26-foot three-pointer.
The beauty of putting the ball in a guard’s hands in the final moments is the ability to spread the floor and the threat to score off the shot, drive or pass.
Conley provides each of those threats, as the 25-year-old is moving past the NBA learning curve for point guard. Conley is averaging 17.6 points on 45 percent shooting and 7.2 assists in March.
Meanwhile, Gay and the Toronto Raptors were officially eliminated from the postseason with a 108-98 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
San Antonio Suffers Another Late-Game Punch
Mike Conley's heroics was the second punch to the gut of the San Antonio Spurs in as many nights.
What Chris Bosh delivered in a last-second game-winner on Sunday, Conley delivered to the Spurs in a loss on Monday. The Spurs have now lost three of their last five games and lead the Oklahoma City Thunder by just one game for the Western Conference's top spot.
The news hasn’t been good for San Antonio, as the injury list continues to hog at least one of the team’s core talents.
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili will miss 3-4 weeks with a strained right hamstring, team announced Monday. Tough loss for Spurs.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) April 1, 2013
San Antonio did receive 25 points and four assists from Tony Parker in the loss to Memphis, proving the guard is ready for the postseason.
But the pressure is coming from Oklahoma City for home-court advantage out West.
Clippers Comeback Not Enough, Pacers Hold on
The finish at Staples Center was about as wild as they come.
The Los Angeles Clippers trailed by as many as 24 points, but the dramatic comeback fell short, 109-106, against the visiting Indiana Pacers.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro emptied his bench with the team trailing, 79-55, with 2:56 remaining.
Indiana nursed a 103-101 lead with 14.9 seconds left before Tyler Hansbrough, a 73 percent free-throw shooter, hit both with wide eyes open.
The Clippers scored quickly on a Chris Paul layup before Paul George knocked down free throws No. 3 and 4 to push the Pacers’ lead back to two possessions, at 107-103, with 9.7 seconds remaining.
But as the wild night would go, it wouldn’t be that simple.
George was called for an off-the-ball foul on Jamal Crawford, which resulted in a made Crawford free throw and possession. With time running out, Paul hoisted a three-pointer that missed, only to have Matt Barnes score on an offensive rebound (replay showed Barnes was fouled on the putback, but it was not called).
George hit another pair of free throws, and with 1.9 seconds remaining, Del Negro called for the remixed version of the 1998 Valparaiso play that led to Bryce Drew’s game-winner over Ole Miss.
On the perfect play call, Barnes quarterbacked it to Blake Griffin who leaped to a catch and quick pass to Lamar Odom whose shot missed just long as time expired.
It was the wacky ending the wild game called for.
In the midst of a battle for positioning in the West and East, both teams needed the win.Indiana moved into a virtual tie with the New York Knicks for the second seed in the Eastern Conference while the Clippers now trail the third seed Denver Nuggets by 1.5 games.
Bunched Up in the West
The Western Conference standings have the upper class and the middle class.
While the uppity San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder sit atop the standings in a fight for whose richest, the middle class is in a battle for first-round, home-court advantage.
The Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies sit at No. 3, 4 and 5 in the West’s standings. There’s plenty hanging in the balance in the final two weeks of the season.
The Clippers are essentially guaranteed at least that No. 4 spot as the Pacific Division winner. Even if the Clippers finish with a worse record than both the Nuggets and Grizzlies, they will remain in that slot. The worse record between Denver and Memphis will slip to a fifth seed.
However, if the team that finishes fifth has a better record than the Clippers, that club will have homecourt advantage over Los Angeles.
Still, the Clippers want that third spot, but after losing their third straight game on Monday against the Indiana Pacers, they are 1.5 games behind Denver.
Other than home court, the perk awarded to the team that finishes in the No. 3 spot is that club will play either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets instead of the teams playing each other.
The Utah Jazz Take Sole Possession of the West's 8th Spot
The beauty of erratic play is eventually it swings your way.
And with that, the fickle Utah Jazz are rolling, winners of five consecutive games.
With a 112-102 home victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah is now driving the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and Kobe Bryant’s postseason guarantee is in peril.
The Jazz (39-36) move a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers (38-36) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Utah is flying high, as presented by this Jeremy Evans' throwdown.
Utah has seven games remaining, four at home and four against winning teams. The Lakers play six of their remaining eight games at home, and five come against teams above .500.
The five-game win streak has included four home wins, but pressure for Utah will come in the form of away games against the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies. Utah is 11-27 on the road this season.
Utah hosts the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Lakers look to fend off the Dallas Mavericks when the two teams meet on Tuesday. Dallas trails the Lakers by 1.5 games and Utah by two games.
The Jazz got production out of a starting perimeter of Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Gordon Hayward. Williams tallied 20 points and nine assists. Foye and Hayward combined for 23 points and six assists.
The Celtics Continue to Slide
This isn’t how the Boston Celtics envisioned the regular season winding down. Boston has now lost seven of its last nine, and the talent continues to slip off the already hazardous rope.
Paul Pierce did not travel with the Celtics for Monday's second consecutive loss, a 110-100 loss at the Minnesota Timberwolves, for personal reasons, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston.
My 3 hopes for the postseason: KG, Pierce, and Defense... none of them were available for tonight's game— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) April 2, 2013
Kevin Garnett remains week-to-week with his ankle injury.
Since Rajon Rondo went down for the season, the Celtics have gone 18-13, and Pierce has averaged team highs with 18.8 points, 7.1 defensive rebounds and 6.3 assists. This is only the second game Pierce has missed this season.
But any hope of climbing into a top-four spot in the East that may have existed a couple weeks ago has now vanished.
Boston is not playing good basketball down the stretch, and they now remain just 1.5 games ahead of the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee Bucks Surge to Avoid the Heat
The Milwaukee Bucks have a shot at avoiding the Miami Heat.
If the Bucks continue their creep on the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics, they can avoid a first-round matchup against the league’s Goliath.
Milwaukee took care of the Charlotte Bobcats, 131-102, on Monday and are now just 1.5 games behind the Celtics.
While the Bucks are all but guaranteed at least the eighth spot, six games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, either the flaky New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers would be a more desirable matchup.
Larry Sanders hit a new career high with 24 points, and Milwaukee scored its highest total points since 2009.
Damian Lillard Sets Rookie Record for Three-Pointers
Great careers begin with great records, and no player has ever connected on more three-pointers in his rookie season than Damian Lillard.
The rookie of the year favorite hit the record-breaking three-pointer, No. 167 on the season, in the first quarter of the Trail Blazers' 112-102 loss against the Utah Jazz.
The rookie record had belonged to Stephen Curry, who hit 166 three-pointers in his 2009-10 rookie campaign.
The Golden State Warriors scorer was much more efficient in setting the record, shooting at 43.7 percent from behind the arc, while Lillard, who grew up in Oakland, is shooting just 37.3 percent this season.
No Foolin': Proof That Good Perimeter Shooters Don't Always Prove It at the Line
Omri Casspi may be the first Israeli to play in the NBA, but he isn’t the first quality shooter to embarrass himself at the free-throw line.
Casspi air-balled his free throw in the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-94 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, providing entertainment for a Cleveland team missing superstar Kyrie Irving.
Casspi, a perimeter shooter with a career shooting percentage of 41.9 is shooting just 55.6 percent from the free-throw line this season.
How some of the world's best players can miss that badly doesn’t always make sense, but it’s a good speech to tell a middle-school kid who’s bummed out on the bench.
Or maybe, it's a speech for a Cavs fan, as the team has now lost nine consecutive games.
Rockets Win Without James Harden
The Houston Rockets didn’t need their top two scorers to maintain pace in the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Without the 26-point average of James Harden or the 15.1 points per game from Chandler Parson, the Rockets still had enough juice to defeat the visiting Orlando Magic, 111-103.
The Rockets, on Saturday, also beat the Los Angeles Clippers without Harden. Houston trails idle Golden State by one game for the West’s seventh seed.
Stepping in for Harden, who sat the second consecutive game with a sore right foot, Omer Asik tied his career high with 22 points.
Asik, still making a name for himself as one of the league's most improved players, also added 18 rebounds. Jeremy Lin added 19 points and 11 assists.
Lin told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
(Asik) has grown a lot. He really has. Just even little things like being in the right place at the right time or finishing quickly before the defense gets there or catching balls that he might not have caught before. He has definitely come a long way.