6 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action
If you're into game-winning shots, stunning mistakes that tip the scales in crunch time or nearly perfect performances from unlikely sources, Monday night's NBA action was definitely for you.
The six-game slate that kicked off the work week featured a mind-bending effort from Kevin Durant (surprise!) that could cause a broad reexamination of everything we believe to be true about NBA basketball. Without giving anything away too early, let's just say KD's possessions might soon feature a little more defensive attention.
Check out everything you need to know from Monday's exciting schedule.
Everything's Coming Up Suns
Eric Bledsoe might want to double down on his rehab as he recovers meniscus surgery; he's missing out on all the fun.
The Phoenix Suns upped their record since Bledsoe went down to a respectable 7-7 by hanging a season-high 124 points on the host Philadelphia 76ers Monday. Philly managed to pile up 113 points of its own, but never really threatened to make a game of it after halftime.
Gerald Green scored a season-high 30 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
Everything has been breaking the Suns' way lately. They've held strong in the standings despite the absence of their best player, have seen guys like Green enjoy career years and have kept fans entertained during a season in which expectations were basically nil.
Plus, Bledsoe's injury (and the team's solid play without him) might serve to drive his price as a free agent down from what certainly would have been maximum-salary levels. That constitutes another reason for Bledsoe to hurry back.
Not only is he missing out on the fun as Phoenix rolls along; he might also be costing himself money. That's money the Suns might potentially be saving, as they'll have the ability to match whatever offer Bledsoe receives on the market this summer.
So, like just about everything else lately, that situation seems to be tipping in the Suns' favor too.
Soda Abandoned Jason Kidd When He Needed It Most
And so did Deron Williams.
Jason Kidd bought himself an extra timeout earlier this year by deliberately spilling his drink on the sidelines. With just 12 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Deron Williams couldn't find an open teammate as he tried to inbound the ball.
The Brooklyn Nets were up by a single point, and the pressure was on. Kidd had no timeouts to call and no soda to spill, meaning Williams had to make the best of a rapidly deteriorating situation. In the end, he made the worst of it, passing the ball into the backcourt where Patrick Patterson stole it and subsequently buried the go-ahead jumper with just six seconds remaining.
The Toronto Raptors had stolen the lead.
Compounding the problem, though, Williams never ran to the baseline to get the ball for a final surge up the court. Paul Pierce stood quizically over the ball, as if waiting for Williams to get himself in position to rush the rock into the frontcourt for a last-second heave.
After all, Williams is the team's point guard. Isn't he supposed to want the ball in that situation?
Instead, D-Will was nowhere to be found. Pierce eventually brought the ball up the floor and settled for a highly contested, impossible heave from about 30 feet. It had no chance. The Raps snatched a thrilling 104-103 victory.
Credit the Raptors for playing a heck of a game and fighting through some very curious foul calls in the second half. Kyle Lowry was a beast, leading his team with 31 points, and Jonas Valanciunas chipped in with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
But also heap a little blame on Williams, who made a critical error and seemed totally uninterested in trying to make up for it on the Nets' final possession.
If only Kidd could have gotten his hands on a drink...
The Bigger They Are...
...the more likely they were to miss Monday's game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls.
Joakim Noah sat out the Timberwolves' 95-86 win with an illness, while Minnesota big man Nikola Pekovic had to leave the game in the first quarter with a sore Achilles tendon.
With both centers sidelined, the production fell to the power forwards. Kevin Love pumped in 31 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Carlos Boozer countered with 20 points, 14 boards and five assists.
In the end, Chicago couldn't create enough easy looks to pose a real threat. Noah's skillful facilitation certainly would have helped generate better looks, and the Bulls shot just 37 percent from the field without him. Of course, it also didn't help that Kirk Hinrich sat out with a hamstring, either.
Ultimately, Noah projects to be just fine. The larger concern should be coming from the Wolves' locker room. Pekovic is as bulky as they come, and bothersome injuries to the lower extremities can be especially problematic for guys his size.
The Wolves climbed back to .500 without their center on the floor, but if they're serious about playing up to their postseason potential, they'll need Pek at full strength.
It's Important to Find Joy Amid Sorrow
Sounds deep, huh?
Not really. The sentiment in the headline is really just an easy way to talk about how the beaten, battered Milwaukee Bucks fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center managed to take away a tiny kernel of joy from the Bucks' brutal 114-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Said kernel came toward the end of the first quarter when Blake Griffin caught the ball on a pick-and-roll with a clear path to the bucket. He gathered himself and rose, just as he had on countless flushes before.
Instead of rifling the ball through the net, Griffin came up short, pinning the rock against the side of the rim and yelling in confusion.
Per Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball, the assembled crowd got a real kick out of the whole affair: "Blake Griffin just got rim checked, much to the delight of the Milwaukee crowd. Most exciting moment in weeks."
Griffin and the Clips got the last laugh as they cruised to the easy win, but it was nice to see Milwaukee fans excited enough to cheer. Don't worry, folks; only 38 more games to go.
Kevin Durant Is Changing the Rules
So, four guys next time?
Kevin Durant buried a game-winning pull-up jumper with no fewer than three Atlanta Hawks in his face to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a 111-109 win on Monday. Clearly, a triple-team wasn't sufficient to stop the league's hottest scorer from drilling yet another clutch shot.
The Hawks immediately sent a second defender at KD when he got the ball. As Durant dribbled to his right, he picked up a third. Despite the extra attention, he rose up and fired anyway. Some rightly pointed out that it might have been smarter to find one of at least two wide open teammates.
Michael Wallace of ESPN tweeted: "Kevin Durant absolutely did not make the right basketball play. But he's Kevin Durant."
KD discussed his efforts after the game, telling Royce Young of CBS Sports: "I'm just trying to inspire the team by my play. Just playing hard, being emotional. Hopefully it helps."
And really, that's all there is to it. Durant is changing the rules of basketball. Bad shots are now good ones, and quadruple-teaming an opponent is now a legitimate consideration.
I guess that's what happens when a player puts together 11 straight games of at least 30 points. KD finished this one with 41 on 15-of-25 shooting. It was his fifth 40-point effort this month.
You know what? Forget it; the next time Durant gets the ball in a clutch situation, teams should just send all five defenders at him. Let's skip right past four, just to be safe.
Familiarity Can Be a Bummer
The Sacramento Kings dropped their fourth straight contest on Monday, this one a 106-99 defeat to the host Utah Jazz. Without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, the result wasn't particularly surprising. Considering the Jazz have played .500 ball over their past 30 games, it was actually downright predictable.
Even in a year that has seen the Kings show signs of becoming a respectable franchise, losses have been a familiar result.
Unfortunately, Sacramento is now occupying familiar territory in the standings. Its defeat dropped it into last place in the West, a half-game behind the Jazz.
At 15-29, the Kings could be in danger of slipping into the kind of malaise that has plagued them in so many recent seasons. It's a shame that injuries have accelerated their descent, but the slide doesn't look easily reversible. The sliver lining—in this contest, at least—was that Ben McLemore scored 14 points in his second straight solid game.
There's hope for the future, just not in the immediate sense.
The Kings simply can't defend anybody, as evidenced by their ridiculously high foul total against the Jazz. Sacramento committed 36 personals, usually because its disorganized defense was out of position. That can't happen, no matter how injury-riddled the roster is.
This is a situation that could spiral out of control in a hurry—especially if Cousins and Gay can't get back into the lineup soon.
Sadly, spiraling out of control is also something with which the Kings are familiar.