Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns

The Extra Pass: Boxed out and Thursday’s Recaps

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You probably already know what I’m going to say about Shane Battier before I even say it.

For 12 seasons, Battier has largely defied conventional box scores by doing all the things that don’t show up there.

It’s been a long-standing feud between Battier and the box score, really, but it’s a feud that Battier is on the brink of losing.

Battier is maturing. Box scores are not. Box scores, actually, have stayed almost exactly the same over the last 12 years. They’re pretty much unaffected by time.

We are in the midst of the sport’s biggest analytic movement. Great strides are being made. Fantastic information is out there. But for the stat lines most commonly seen by 99 percent of fans? The best we can do for an advanced stat is a plus/minus number that is almost completely worthless on an individual game basis and borrowed from another sport, no less.

So why haven’t we seen any changes on the front lines, despite all the progress? Basketball takes its cue from baseball in this regard: keep things consistent, simple, and easy to digest. It doesn’t matter that there’s better information out there. RBI’s will be listed because RBI’s have always been listed, and also, how dare you try to sully RBI’s.

A changing sport with changing statistics requires change in representation and consumption. Would Dean Oliver’s Four Factors be nice to have available? Sure. Team efficiency numbers? Great. But I’m not asking for the world. We can walk before we run.

Tonight provided a perfect example for why things should be a little different.

Shane Battier was an afterthought on paper with 7 points in 22 minutes. But on the court? He completely changed the game.

Battier’s mobility allowed him to trap Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls, and the Clippers offense was completely stifled once the ball was forced out of Paul’s hands.

We’re still working on how best to convey that sort of thing, but there was something else Battier did in the Miami Heat’s 102-97 win that we could start listing tomorrow.

Battier drew three huge charges in the second half. Momentum shifting, backbreaking, gamechanging charges. But guess what — the stats give him no credit. That’s nowhere on his “line” for the night.

Isn’t that a problem?

It makes no sense. Blocked shots lead to a change of possession roughly 57 percent of time, but we’ll record that, we’ll base awards on that, and we’ll form opinions on that while a play that results in a change of possession 100 percent of the time only gets recorded by a few websites and never sniffs a box score.

Battier was unquestionably one of the most important players on the court Thursday night, and there’s been plenty of nights just like this one throughout his career. This particular one will be forgotten, unmarked and deemed unremarkable statistically like all the others. How many more times does that have to happen before something changes?

-D.J. Foster

 

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Heat 102, Clippers 97: We covered this in greater detail, but the short version is that there was too much Dwyane Wade for the Heat and not enough Chris Paul for the Clippers. On a night where LeBron James was far from dominant, one more big time performance on the opposing team might have been enough to steal one in Miami, but the Heat’s strategy of making sure to key the defense on the game’s best point guard ended up being enough on a night where Wade was simply sublime when it mattered most.

Nuggets 109, Hawks 107: Denver held on for its first win of the season, but it was anything but easy and the team has real issues to work through if it’s going to once again make it to the playoffs. Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, and Nate Robinson did the bulk of the damage offensively, while new head coach Brian Shaw continued to shuffle his lineups, going 11 players deep while trying to find the right combination. Atlanta’s frontcourt of Paul Millsap and Al Horford was too much for the Nuggets’ starting unit inside, but three of Denver’s six players who scored in double figures came off the bench in this one to secure the team’s victory.

Lakers 99, Rockets 98: Steve Blake hit a three-pointer off of an out of bounds play with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Lakers the victory, and despite the fact that the Rockets will be better over the course of the long regular season, it’s a comforting victory for L.A. nonetheless. The Lakers blew a big lead in this game, but it’s to be expected given the gap in talent between the two teams’ rosters. Plenty of Lakers fans wanted this one badly given the way Dwight Howard spurned the team in free agency over the summer, and they largely got their wish. Howard’s numbers were fine, but he was fouled intentionally throughout the final period and finished just 5-of-12 from the line in under six minutes of fourth quarter action. L.A. won this game on the strength of its three-point shooting and because the Rockets simply didn’t convert a high percentage of their shots. James Harden was an inefficient 9-of-24 from the field in scoring his 35 points, and Houston as a team shot just 37.7 percent from the field. Wes Johnson and Jodie Meeks were the stars for the Lakers on this night, which makes you wonder if this performance was at all repeatable under reasonably similar circumstances.

-Brett Pollakoff

Craig Sager and his flashy suits return to All-Star weekend

Craig Sager
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TORONTO (AP) — The All-Star game in New York was a little less colorful last year.

Craig Sager, the TNT sideline reporter known for wearing flashy suits, missed the NBA’s annual midseason gala for the first time since he started doing them in 1988. Another bout with the leukemia he’s been battling for the last few years resurfaced, and Sager was forced to sit out while undergoing more treatments.

Sager considers the All-Star festivities the most important weekend of the season for him, and so it pained him to have to watch on television while receiving his treatments.

“It was hard for me not to be there, but I had to address my health,” Sager said. “To be able to get that in remission and be able to go through this year, it’s going to be extra special for me. I’ve really been looking forward to this a long time.”

That’s right. Sager is back for All-Star weekend in Toronto this year.

He spent the week leading up to it in Houston receiving his monthly treatment, which included a blood transfusion, to make sure he was healthy enough for the trip. Once he arrived in Canada, he was easy to spot.

“I just saw him,” Spurs coach and longtime foil Gregg Popovich said after the Western Conference team practiced on Saturday. “His suit spoke to me. It blinded me for a second.”

It’s been an emotional run for Sager, the longtime fixture at NBA games. He has needed two bone marrow transplants and still has to make those treks to Houston once a month. He has returned to the sideline for games this season and is feeling so well that he was scheduled to do both the Saturday night activities that include the 3-point shootout and the dunk contest as well as the game on Sunday.

“I feel great. Got my weight back. Got my strength back,” Sager said. “I’m back to playing golf.”

Two of his youngest children – daughter Riley and son Ryan – will be with him on the court this weekend serving as a ball boy and ball girl.

And of course, Sager will do a round with Popovich on television during a quarter break on Sunday. The two have turned the sideline interview into a passion play,

“He’s been an iconic figure in the NBA. He does a great job,” Popovich said. “His sense of humor is obvious. we have a lot of fun going back and forth with that. To have him back where he belongs, obviously we’re happy for him and his health. But for the league it’s great too, because he’s a fixture that everybody enjoys.”

Sager called the support he has received from Commissioner Adam Silver, coaches, players and fans “humbling” and said he was looking forward to coming back to his favorite event of the season.

“It’s been very uplifting, very therapeutic,” Sager said. “Very supportive on their part. That really has been very helpful to me, my treatment and my drive to get back.”

Kevin Hart, Draymond Green get in All-Star Saturday three-point shootout

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TORONTO — This is going to come up in the Golden State locker room.

Right before Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry put on a three-point shooting exhibition, actor/comedian/self-promotor Kevin Hart came out and challenged Draymond Green to a shooting contest. Green was ready to go. They did the three-point shooting contest, and Green put up a total of 12 (which would have been dead last in the actual three-point contest, for the record).

Then Hart stepped up — and tied him with 12 points.

Steve Kerr, if you’re ever looking for a lineup to go REALLY small….

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.