Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Game Recaps from December 23, 2008

It's been a little while since I've done any game recaps, and I happened to watch another three games last night and take some notes, so here we go.

Houston 90, Cleveland 99
The most exciting game of the night, for me. Cleveland won this game but I thought Houston played particularly well given that it was their fourth game in five nights. Houston stayed close until the end of the third, and then even had a run in the fourth to make it interesting. Zydrunas Ilgauskas did an admirable job powering Yao Ming out of low post position in the fourth quarter (when the Cavs often chose not to double-team him as they had earlier, giving up open threes), but couldn't keep himself from fouling out and helping to send Yao to the free throw line 12 times in the quarter. Anyways, I've been so busy watching the Bucks, Grizzlies, and Hawks this year that I've only had a chance to see each of these teams play about 3 or 4 times before last night. I was impressed by both. Aaron Brooks was all over the place for the Rockets in the first half, and as a team they impressed with their ability to score against an excellent Cleveland defense; meanwhile Mo Williams made some huge plays for the Cavs at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Lebron on the bench, and that was something that was missing last year (so far this year, the Cavs are playing about even with their opponents while James is on the bench, and that's a huge advantage for them). I thought the Rockets did a good job defending Lebron James, but I looked at the box score at the end of the game and James had 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists (although he was forced into 7 turnovers). So, I guess what I'm saying is that James is quite good.

Houston shot 8-16 from the three point line in the first three quarters, but only 2 for 8 in the fourth when Cleveland stopped sending regular doubles towards Yao Ming.

Chicago 98, Detroit 104
For several years now, Detroit has combined the talent to be the best team in the league with the attitude to do just enough to win. It felt like that happened again here, when the team played excellent ball in the first quarter, got a big lead, and then just kind of coasted to the win while riding the coattails of an impressive performance by Rodney Stuckey (40 points on 24 shots with just 3 turnovers). In the first quarter, Detroit went inside to Rasheed Wallace repeatedly and with great success and also succeeded in getting Derrick Rose into foul trouble (which threw off his game for the entire night), all while committing just one turnover in the entire quarter. During the first 9 minutes, Allen Iverson looked brilliant on offense, gathering 5 quick assists on all sorts of passes, hitting cutters and curlers as well as breaking the defense down off the dribble. Iverson ended up leaving the game in the third quarter with a strained groin, and Wallace shot 1-9 in the second half with 2 rebounds, after going 4-5 with 2 boards in just the first quarter, but Stuckey played well throughout and Arron Afflalo had a nice third quarter. Detroit only had 9 turnovers all game, which is impressive.

Lakers 100, Hornets 87
The Lakers played Trevor Ariza on Chris Paul for stretches, and it worked swimmingly. With Jordan Farmar getting surgery and probably set to miss several weeks of the season, I wonder if we'll see a lot more of this for the Lakers, who've had a lot of issues containing point guards so far this season.

Something I've noticed about the starting unit -- they defend well in the half court but often get beat in transition more easily than it seems like they should, given their athleticism and the pace they like to play at. Part of the reason they play so well against New Orleans is that New Orleans really doesn't like to run, but against other teams there's really no reason the Lakers shouldn't be able to get back in transition defense.

A late highlight of the game for me was a sky-high defensive rebound by Kobe Bryant with 1:30 left to play. The reason it was a highlight was the context. Rewind to about 4 minutes to go in the game, the Lakers have a 13 point lead. Here is how the ensuing three possessions go for the Hornets:

Possession 1: Chris Paul misses a shot and gets his own rebound. Then Mo Peterson misses a three-point attempt, but Paul gets another rebound. Finally, Rasual Butler makes a shot on the Hornets' third shot attempt of the possession.

Possession 2: Chris Paul hits Mo Peterson for a jumper.

Possession 3: David West misses a shot, but Rasual Butler corralls the rebound. Butler misses a three-pointer, but Tyson Chandler gets the rebound. Finally, Chris Paul hits the three-pointer, again on the Hornets' third shot attempt.

The Hornets got 7 shot attempts in three possessions, and it felt like they would have had an offensive rebound on the second possession if Peterson had missed. The Lakers' defensive lapses recently have included, among other things, an inabity to hold opponents to one shot attempt during important possessions -- for the season, defensive rebounding is the most glaring weakness for the Lakers defense, which shouldn't be the case with Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol aboard (the Lakers are currently 15th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, but are top-8 in every other defensive factor).

In any case, the Lakers still have a 10-point lead after Paul's three pointer (the Hornets are completely unable to slow Kobe down at the other end), but at this rate even if they hold on, the victory will feel hollow given the mini-collapse. The Lakers need to have a solid defensive stand on the next possession, both to ensure the win and also to stop sliding down the defensive hill they've been on. So on the ensuing possession, Paul misses a three-pointer, and the rest of the Hornets gather under the rim for what feels like the inevitable second-chance opportunity. But somehow in the middle of all those Hornets, Kobe leaps over Tyson Chandler and company and secures a very tough defensive rebound. Game over. Kobe once again hit huge shots down the stretch, but it was that rebound that I'll remember as being the most clutch moment.

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