Monday night saw some key games in the standings as teams try to shuffle for playoff positioning. If you were trying to re-watch the last season of Game of Thrones before the new season starts, here’s what you missed.
1) Kawhi Leonard returns, Spurs move into a tie with Warriors after comeback win over Hawks. We should have had a pretty good idea how this game was going to turn out — it has been 20 years since the Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio. Seriously. It was Feb. 15, 1997. The same week that the Spice Girls “Wannabe” became the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts. It’s been that long.
The Spurs were in control starting in the first half and drained 16 threes on their way to the win (which got competitive in the fourth). Kawhi Leonard was back on the court for the Spurs after missing Saturday’s game against the Warriors with a concussion, and he picked up right where he left off — 31 points, five rebounds, and four assists, plus playing strong defense and looking like an MVP candidate.
It’s not the game itself that was the news, but rather that the win moved the Spurs into a tie with the Warriors for the best record in the NBA (technically the Spurs are on top as they have the tiebreaker in that series, having won both meetings). The Spurs need to keep finding wins however because the Warriors now head home with an easier schedule the rest of the way — the Warriors have one more home game and two fewer games against teams over. 500 through the rest of the season. The key game, of course, is a rematch in San Antonio on March 29 (and again the Spurs catch the Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back in that game).
By the way, the loss by the Hawks hurt their goal of moving up to the four seed, getting home court against the Raptors in the first round. Toronto beat Dallas Monday night, so with the Atlanta loss the Raptors now have a two-game cushion.
2) Jazz rain threes on Clippers to get the win, solidify hold on four seed in Western Conference. Nothing is set in stone, but the Clippers and Jazz appear destined for a first-round playoff matchup as the four/five seeds in the West. That made Monday night’s matchup a playoff preview, technically, but what it really meant was a chance for the Clippers to move into a tie with the Jazz with a win. Whichever team gets the four seed gets home court in the first round.
Score one for the Jazz. Which defied history — the Clippers had won 17 of the last 19 games between these teams, including nine straight in Utah.
The Jazz changed history with a barrage of threes, In the first half, the Jazz were just 3-of-9 from deep (by design or poor execution, the Jazz got a lot of good looks that half against a sagging defense but did not knock them down). That changed in the second half when the Jazz hit their first nine attempts from three — Gordon Hayward in particular got looks, coming off screens or creating his own looks near the top of the key, and hitting 4-of-5 from deep in the second half. Hayward finished with 27 points.
This was also a great battle of point guards. Chris Paul carved up the Jazz defense in the first half, scoring 18 and looking like the point god he is. In the second half, Utah’s George Hill was working secondary actions on his way to 14 points half and 19 for the game.
The win gives Utah a two-game cushion for the four seed in the West. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but you’d rather have the cushion than not. The two teams play one more time before the season ends, in Los Angeles.
3) Ricky Rubio drops 19 dimes, sets Timberwolves record in victory. There are a surprisingly large number of Ricky Rubio haters on Twitter… although should we be surprised at the number of people who hate anything or anyone once they get the anonymity of social media? Rubio is far from a consistent shooter, but the guy is one of the games great passers, one of the better defensive point guards in the league now, and a fairly consistent game manager. He’s a quality NBA point guard.
Monday night he bested Scott Skiles Minnesota record with 19 assists in a game — 10 in the first quarter. That led the Timberwolves to the win over a hot Wizards team.