The night of Wednesday, December 11, was an emotional one in the National Basketball Association.
In Boston, a title-winning coach came back to the arena of his glory days to face his old team. In Memphis, a hot Oklahoma City squad sought revenge against the struggling team that knocked them out of last season's playoffs. In New York, two old foes met...and played perhaps the ugliest basketball game of the season.
We had a young stud seal one game at the buzzer and an old war horse summon a throwback performance in another game.
Let's get to it!
Wednesday marked the return of former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who forced his way off the team in the offseason and now coaches the Los Angeles Clippers.
If there were any doubts that the fans in Boston would cheer their prodigal coach, they laid those doubts to rest with a thunderous standing ovation.
Rivers was clearly appreciative after the game.
It was just nice. It didn't surprise me [that they cheered] because that's just the way -- you've got to live here to understand it -- that's just the way they are. It's an amazing fan base. It really is. And I just want everything to go well for them.
Though the Celtics may have lost the game, 96-88, they still lead the Atlantic, and new head coach Brad Stevens looks like a dark-horse candidate for Coach of the Year. Also, the draft pick they will receive from the Clippers for Rivers will come as a nice consolation. It seems everything has worked out well for both franchises.
...unless you play for the other team, that is.
The Golden State Warriors rallied from 18 points down to tie the game against the Dallas Mavericks at 93-93,and had a shot to win the game with mere seconds on the clock.
The Dallas defense did force a 19-foot jumper, but, tragically for their fans, the wrong guy was shooting that jumper.
That man, of course, was Stephen Curry.
Curry has something of a talent for shooting jump shots, particularly from distance.
Courtesy of ESPN Stats:
Entering tonight, Stephen Curry had career 3-point FG pct of 44.5%. That would be the 2nd-highest in NBA history behind Steve Kerr (45.4%).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 12, 2013
Naturally, Curry sank the shot, and the Warriors held on for the 95-93 victory. For a guy like Curry, a 19-footer is practically a layup.
Eastern Conference Basketball: Catch the Fever!
The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls put on a display of basketball that likely set the sport back a few decades, and a national ESPN audience got to share in the misery.
New York blew a 23-point lead but was able to hang on for 83-78 the win because Chicago simply had nobody to put the ball in the basket down the stretch.
While both teams were plagued by injuries (Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose for Chicago; Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton for New York), there are some serious doubts as to each team's ceiling for the rest of the season.
The Bulls will get Deng and Butler back, but will they be able to score? Even if they can't, they still might fare better than the Knicks, who can't seem to do anything right at the moment.
One thing's for sure: These two better not play each other again on national TV this season.
It's always fun to beat the team that knocked you out of last season's playoffs, even if that team happens to be struggling.
The Oklahoma City Thunder extracted a bit of revenge on their vanquishers, the Memphis Grizzlies, besting the Grizz on their home court by the score of 116-100.
The tables have certainly turned for these two squads in 2013-14. Last spring it was the Thunder missing a key player—Russell Westbrook. At the moment, however, it is the Grizzlies who are short-handed, with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol still on the shelf.
Wednesday's loss sends the Grizzlies to the basement of the Southwest Division with a 10-11 record, while the Thunder are tied in the loss column with the Northwest-leading Portland Trail Blazers. These are two teams headed in opposite directions.
Go East, young men!
In a reverse of Horace Greeley's famous statement, the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves are finding success by heading back East, where "pop" is called "soda" and the teams are all horrible.
The Wolves have climbed back to .500 after back-to-back wins against Eastern Conference teams—first the Detroit Pistons and now the Philadelphia 76ers.
Minnesota rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat the Sixers, 106-99, thanks to a very Kevin Love-like performance from Kevin Love, who led the way with 26 points and 15 rebounds.
The 'Wolves will really have to work, though, if they want to climb above .500—their next game is at San Antonio.
When emerging star Anthony Davis went down with a broken hand on December 1, his New Orleans Pelicans' playoff hopes seemed to die with him. After all, they were already in a difficult spot, playing in the toughest division (the Southwest) in the toughest conference in the NBA.
But the stubborn Pelicans refuse to die. If you include the game in which Davis was injured—he left in the first half of that December 1 game against the Knicks—the Pelicans have now won three of the five games they've played since the injury following Wednesday's 111-106 overtime win over the Detroit Pistons.
Like Minnesota, the Pelicans have feasted on the weaker East—all three of those victories have come against Eastern Conference foes. But for a young team that has yet to taste real success, the Pelicans are showing some quality form even without their best player.
Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks are a terrible team—quite possibly the worst in the NBA. So Tim Duncan's 21 points and 16 rebounds in a 109-77 San Antonio Spurs victory in Milwaukee might not seem like a particularly impressive accomplishment.
But when it comes to a grizzled old legend like Duncan, vintage performances like these are something to be cherished.
Duncan is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, the kind of player you will tell your grandchildren about, and performances like these will not be around forever.