The evening of Friday, Feb. 7, was one of those rare occasions when the NBA's marquee matchup not only lived up to the hype, but turned into the game of the night.
The Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers needed more than the regulation 48 minutes to settle things on Friday, thanks to a clutch shot from Indiana point guard George Hill. The Pacers eventually held off the Trail Blazers in overtime, 118-113.
In New Orleans, 20-year-old Anthony Davis led his team to victory. In Philadelphia, 40-year-old birthday boy Steve Nash did the same for his Los Angeles Lakers.
The Indiana Pacers are a team brimming with stars. Three of their starting five (Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West) have been named to an All-Star team in their careers, and a fourth (Lance Stephenson) probably should have been named to this year's squad.
But it was the unsung Pacer, point guard George Hill, who led Indiana to victory in Friday's exciting matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. Hill went toe-to-toe with Portland's All-Star point guard, Damian Lillard. He hit a clutch three to send the game into overtime and led all Pacers with a career-high 37 points in the 118-113 victory.
After the game, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel went out of his way to praise Hill, per NBA.com's Conrad Brunner:
George Hill is a special player, probably our most underrated player. David West could probably argue that, as well. He knew with Lance [Stephenson] out he was going to have to be more assertive and the way Lillard was going, he had to go back at him. That's his competitive spirit.
Hill might not be a household name, like the other Pacers starters, but he is far from the weak link in their starting lineup.
Feb. 7 was a big day for Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash. The wily old point guard lead his boys to a 112-98 win against the Philadelphia 76ers. More importantly, Nash is celebrating his 40th birthday, per the Orange County Register's Bill Oram:
On 40th birthday, Steve Nash says, “It’s great being known for being old.“— Bill Oram (@bill_oram) February 7, 2014
Nash didn't play like and old man on Friday, scoring a season-high 19 points and dishing five assists. The Lakers have now won two games in a row for only the second time since Dec. 20.
Nash hasn't played much this season (or last season, for that matter) as he has struggled through the gauntlet of injuries one might expect of a NBA guard playing into his fifth decade. But he showed on Friday that he still might have something left in the tank after all.
On a night when the New York Knicks honored hero dog Orlando (hat tip to SB Nation), their own bulldog point guard finally showed up to play.
Raymond Felton had a nice, efficient game at the point in New York's 117-90 win over the Denver Nuggets: nine points (on 4-of-5 shooting), eight assists and one turnover. Two nights after coach Mike Woodson benched Felton for the fourth quarter of New York's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Felton helped make sure none of the starters needed to play big minutes in the fourth quarter of Friday's blowout win.
Woodson had good things to say about the play of both Felton and point guard Pablo Prigioni after the game, per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
Woodson: "Raymond stepped up and moved the team in the right direction." Praised Pablo's play, despite not scoring— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 8, 2014
Felton has been dreadful for the Knicks this season, and they could really use more performances like this from their point guard.
Perhaps the only thing more shocking than witnessing a 14-win team like the Orlando Magic beat a 40-win team like the Oklahoma City Thunder is watching a game-winning, buzzer-beating, fast-break dunk.
Well, Magic forward Tobias Harris gave NBA fans a little bit of everything in Friday night's upset win.
Victor Oladipo swiped the ball off a rare clutch miss from Thunder forward Kevin Durant and dished to teammate Maurice Harkless, who hit Harris trailing the play for the game-winning throwdown.
The Magic haven't had many highlights this season, but their fans can hope tonight's ending is a glimpse at the future, with promising young players like Victor Oladipo (21 years old), Harris (21) and Moe Harkless (20) leading Orlando to many more victories.
It looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers finally had enough of getting embarrassed.
Though they did not even vaguely resemble a professional basketball team during their recent six-game losing streak, the Cavs rallied to beat a good Washington Wizards team on the road, 115-113.
Star point guard Kyrie Irving scored 23 points and equaled a career high with 12 assists.
The win comes one day after the Cavs fired general manager, Chris Grant. Guard Dion Waiters believes that Grant's dismissal sent a message to the players, according to NBA.com's Rich Durboff: "The energy was different, these guys knew what was at stake after going through a situation where we went through."
The Cavaliers finally have their victory; now they must bring that desperate energy every single night.
Friday was a great day for fans of New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.
Commissioner Adam Silver named the 20-year-old phenom to his first All-Star game as an injury replacement. And the freshly minted All-Star played up that billing in a rare nationally televised appearance for the Pelicans.
Davis outplayed an All-Star starter in Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love en route to a 98-91 Pelicans victory. Both Davis and Love scored 26 points, but Davis got his points on an efficient 10-of-14 shooting, while Love needed 20 shots. Love did grab 19 rebounds to Davis' 10, but Davis single-handedly kept his team in the game in the first half until Pelican teammates caught fire on offense and propelled New Orleans to victory.
Davis showed the country what he can do on Friday, and thanks to the new commissioner, he will give fans another peak at his astounding talents in the All-Star Game.
The Brooklyn Nets were the NBA's hottest team in January and coming off a win over the San Antonio Suprs on Thursday night. They were all set to run over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.
And then they ran into Pistons center Andre Drummond.
Drummond battered the smaller Nets on the boards, grabbing a career-high 22 rebounds, as the Pistons stunned the Nets, 111-95. Forward Josh Smith scored 23 points, dished seven assists and blocked four shots, as the Pistons grabbed a crucial win over the favored Nets.
According to NBA.com's Dana Gauruder, Drummond's 22 rebounds were the most by a Piston since Antonio McDyess reached that total against the New York Knicks on March 11, 2009.
The Pistons are still 1.5 games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If they're going to make the playoffs, they will need more of these types of games from their exciting young center.
The Dallas Mavericks scored more than 100 points for the 14th time in their last 15 games in Friday's 103-81 win over the Utah Jazz.
Monta Ellis led the scoring effort for Dallas with 22 points, while Dirk Nowitzki chipped in 20. Ten Mavericks scored at least three points in the rout.
The Mavericks have quietly put together an offensive juggernaut. They came into Friday ranked third in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference.
Unfortunately, they are far too reliant on that offense picking up their dreadful D. They rank just 25th in the league in defensive efficiency. Friday's win was a good start, as they held Utah to only 81 points. If they want to rise in the Western Conference standings, the Mavericks will need to start playing more consistent defense.
The Boston Celtics were one of the pleasant surprises of the young season, but they seemed to run out of gas in mid-December. Between Dec. 18 and Jan. 29, the Celtics lost 19 of 22 games.
But the Celtics have played well since the calendar flipped over to February. They won their third game in a row on Friday, 99-89, over the Sacramento Kings.
Forward Jared Sullinger had a monster game for Boston, scoring 31 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.
The Celtics aren't going to compete for a playoff spot this year, but it's nice to see them once against playing hard for rookie head coach Brad Stevens.
Griffin led the Clippers with 36 points in Friday's 118-105 win over the Toronto Raptors. This marks the first time in his career Griffin has scored more than 35 points in three consecutive games.
He also captured a piece of Clippers history, according to ESPN Stats:
Blake Griffin is 1st Clippers player since World B. Free in 1979 to top 35 points in 3 straight games.—ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2014
Griffin is not only setting team records, he is also redefining the way the basketball world views him.