8 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action
The NBA kicked off the month of December with a bang, treating fans to eight Sunday matchups that featured historically great individual performances and season-shaping outcomes.
Out west, the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the Indiana Pacers in a game that went a long way toward legitimizing one of the participants' excellent early-season runs.
Meanwhile, back east, the New York Knicks battled a New Orleans Pelicans squad that had its wings tragically clipped. Despite flying without their biggest star, the Pellies gave the Knicks all they could handle—and then some.
Overall, five of the evening's eight contests were decided by single digits. Plus, Sunday was a night for eruptions in the fourth quarter. Nate Robinson and Chris Bosh had particularly eventful final periods.
Finally, Kevin Durant did something that no NBA player has done since 1988.
If that's not enough enticement for you to catch up on Sunday's key NBA takeaways, perhaps a lengthy discussion of Andre Drummond's foul shooting will spark your interest.
Clearly, we have something for everybody.
Andre Drummond generally produces one of two distinct storylines. Either he puts up ridiculous numbers that hint at his potential to be a game-changing center, or he can't stay on the floor because of his abysmal foul shooting.
In a 115-110 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Detroit Pistons big man's huge night generated both of those narratives.
Following a career effort that included 31 points, 19 rebounds, six steals and two blocks, Drummond still had to field questions about his ugly 7-of-18 shooting from the foul line.
Per Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News, Drummond termed the Sixers' "Hack-a-Drum" strategy "a slap in the face."
Here's the problem, though: Fouling Drummond was the only thing the Sixers could do to slow him down. Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks had to take his center off the floor during portions of the third and fourth quarters because the constant parade to the foul line (and Drummond's subsequent misses) totally sucked the life out of the Pistons.
This season, the 20-year-old behemoth has hit just 10-of-35 from the charity stripe.
So, as Drummond continues to dominate the interior, he's only going to get slapped in the face more often—both literally and figuratively.
If he can somehow find a way to knock down even half of his free throws (Grannies, anyone?), opposing defenses will be out of options.
Chris Bosh Is an Avid Streaker
Don't worry, the Miami Heat's No. 3 option remained fully clothed throughout his team's narrow 99-98 win over the surprisingly respectable Charlotte Bobcats. But Chris Bosh proved to be a big supporter of streaking in a couple of important figurative senses.
First, he reeled off three straight three-pointers in the final 2:39 that helped cap a stunningly necessary comeback against the Kitties. Miami trailed by 12 to start the fourth quarter, but scored 38 points to roar back down the stretch.
Without Bosh's streaky shooting, we'd be talking about how Charlotte has the fourth-best record in the East. Thankfully, we don't have to do that.
In a broader sense, Bosh's big finish helped his team continue a streak of its own. Miami has now won 10 in a row for the longest current run in the league.
The Math Really Likes the Pacers
The Indiana Pacers' 105-100 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers silenced skeptics who attributed Indy's gaudy record to a soft schedule. More importantly, it put the surging Pacers on course to reach the NBA Finals.
Per ESPN Stats and Information, there have been 12 teams in league history that have started a season with 16 wins in their first 17 tries. Of those 12, seven have made the finals in that season.
Viewing statistics without context is always dangerous, but it's hard to ignore the Pacers' remarkable start now.
Against the Clippers, they displayed many of the characteristics that teams that make the NBA Finals need: toughness, defense and, especially, the will to fight through adversity. Indy made just 5-of-22 shots in the fourth quarter, but was able to fall back on its dogged defense and tireless work on the offensive boards to hold off a determined Clippers team.
The numbers make a finals trip statistically likely, but numbers can be misleading. At the same time, there's just something about watching the Pacers—their grit, their confidence—that makes it seem like the numbers aren't too far off.
Sleep Train Arena Knew What Was Coming
Maybe it sounds crazy to say that Sleep Train Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings, made a preemptive strike on Sunday. I can hardly believe it myself.
But with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson coming to town, that building knew it was going to get its lights shot out. So, the arena took a precautionary measure and blew the bulbs early.
During pregame introductions, the power went out, plunging the assembled fans into darkness. It took nearly 15 minutes to get the lights back on, but Curry and Thompson quickly shot them out again.
Thompson nailed a career-best eight treys, and Curry chipped in with five of his own on his way to 36 points. Despite the hot shooting by the Golden State Warriors backcourt, the game stayed close all the way to the wire. It took a pair of Curry free throws with less than 10 seconds left to give the Dubs a narrow 115-113 victory.
The Warriors had to have this one. Fresh off a gut-wrenching defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder, they were in danger of dropping to an unimpressive 9-9 on the season. Even the efforts of an apparently self-aware arena weren't enough to throw the league's best-shooting backcourt duo off of their games.
Michael Jordan Has Company
Listen, nobody's saying Kevin Durant is anywhere close to joining Michael Jordan at the top level of everyone's NBA pantheon.
But after a fantasy night to end all fantasy nights, KD has joined His Airness in some pretty rare statistical company.
According to NBA.com, nobody since Jordan had posted a night of at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and four blocks. Durant pulled off the feat for the first time since 1988 in a 113-103 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
If we adjust for Durant's two extra points and assists, the history gets even crazier.
Per the Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN.com:
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first NBA player to record 30 or more points, 10 or more rebounds, 12 or more assists, four or more steals and four or more blocks in the same game since blocks and steals became official NBA stats during the 1973-74 season.
It was Durant's fourth career triple-double.
If you have him on your fantasy team, congratulations are probably in order.
The World Is Not Fair
There's a lot to discuss in the aftermath of the New Orleans Pelicans' 103-99 triumph over the New York Knicks.
For example, we should probably mention that the Knicks have now lost a franchise-record seven straight home games.
In addition, it'd be pertinent to talk about Mike Woodson's maddening decision to keep Pablo Prigioni on the bench during a critical stretch when the point guard's passing and steady demeanor could have made the difference in the game. As a result, the Knicks are now 3-13 on the season, tied for the worst record in a flat-out awful Eastern Conference.
Ryan Anderson's 31 points probably also deserve to be acknowledged.
But I don't care about any of that stuff. None of it matters. It's insignificant because Anthony Davis, the single greatest source of joy for NBA fans across the world, fractured his left hand.
Flags will now fly at half-mast, and in a show of genuine melancholy, bars in New Orleans will only stay open until 4 a.m.
Support groups are already forming for those seeking solidarity.
The Pelicans haven't yet announced a timetable for Davis' return, and it's a positive sign that he was on the bench to cheer on his teammates down the stretch, but that's small consolation for fans who have come to love watching the incredible growth of the league's youngest superstar.
The world is a cruel, dispassionate place.
Hurry back, AD.
Nate Robinson Can Solve the Energy Crisis
Governments and scientific organizations across the globe are looking for ways to reduce a growing reliance on fossil fuels. Wind, solar and hydroelectric power are pretty much the best solutions anyone has come up with so far.
But maybe somebody should commission a study on Nate Robinson.
The Denver Nuggets live wire generated plenty of fourth quarter electricity in 112-98 defeat of the Toronto Raptors. He helped Denver turn a narrow advantage into a blowout by exploding for 18 points in the final period.
Throughout the game, Robinson provided his benchmates a jolt, helping them outscore Toronto's reserves by an incredible 72-16 margin.
That wasn't a fluke, either. Robinson has made a career out of power surges like that one.
Because of his hit-or-miss volatility, Robinson has bounced around the league for the better part of nine seasons. Any efforts to convert him into a sustainable energy source will have to contend with his unstable nature.
But the spark is there—that's for sure.
It's Going to Be an Interesting Week in Los Angeles
For the legions of diehard Bryant apologists, the Black Mamba's prospective return is, unequivocally, the greatest thing to ever happen.
But after watching the Lakers' ragtag cast of misfits share the ball and battle their hearts out in a 114-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, it's fair to wonder whether Kobe's comeback will derail the good things that have been going on during L.A.'s pleasantly surprising start.
Xavier Henry continued his redemption narrative with 27 points—including a four-point play, Nick Young dunked on bigs like there was no tomorrow and Robert Sacre posted career highs with 12 points and seven boards.
Even though they lost, the Lakers are in the midst of a feel-good story that simply wouldn't be the same with a ball-stopping alpha dog in the lineup.
Will Bryant make the Lakers a bigger playoff threat than they were without him? Most likely.
Will his presence necessitate a massive, top-down adjustment from every player on the roster? Yes there, as well.
Those questions, and plenty of others, will fill the week leading up to Bryant's likely return. Buckle up, everybody. Things are about to get very interesting in Los Angeles.