Jonas Valanciunas earned a Flagrant 1 for that foul, which is about right. That’s not a basketball play, that’s putting a guy to the floor. I don’t think Valanciunas meant anything by it — if you’re going to foul LeBron James you better foul hard or he’ll go right through you for the and-1 — and that’s why he tried to help LeBron up.
But LeBron was having none of it.
From the Raptors’ perspective, I’ll take that foul. Toronto struggled to contain Cleveland’s offense all night so a little intimidation in the paint is something I could live with if I’m coach Dwane Casey. And Valanciunas put up big numbers — 26 points and 11 rebounds.
If I’m Cleveland, I’ll just take the win, thank you very much. Cleveland, Toronto, and Chicago are all in a virtual tie for the two, three and four seeds now in the East. Wins like this show why Cleveland will finish the two seed.
Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Masked Russell Westbrook just needs a cape
1) Russell Westbrook is a destroyer of worlds. Anytime you do something that can only be compared to Michael Jordan you are killing it. After Wednesday night’s 49-16-10 line, Russell Westbrook now has put up four straight games with a triple-double — the last guy to do that was MJ. Westbrook has been superhuman and has to be right in the middle of any MVP discussion — especially putting up these numbers days after surgery to his face that forced him to wear a mask. Westbrook’s 49 points against a better-than-you-think Sixers defense moved him past James Harden as the leading scorer in the NBA this season. Westbrook now averages 27 points a game, Harden 26.9. OKC needed this game (the Pelicans remain one back for the final playoff spot in the West), and Westbrook got it for them. Maybe what has impressed me most about Westbrook is we have seen numerous other athletes in other sports come back from injuries and it takes a while to get over the mental hurdle, to play fearlessly again. Not Westbrook. Mask or no mask he only knows how to attack.
2) Get that man some coffee: Marc Gasol is a closer. You’ll hear this heading into the playoffs: “But who are the Grizzlies going to give to ball to when they need to close out games? They don’t have that star.” Show them video of this game — Marc Gasol knows how to close. Alec Baldwin would get him coffee. Houston was rightfully frustrated after not getting a foul call on Harden at the other end, but the final play shows why the Rockets need Dwight Howard back for the postseason. Terrence Jones had another strong game for the Rockets, but for much of the key parts of the game Kevin McHale had him matched up on Gasol. Jones tried but he is not going to win that matchup, and he didn’t with the game on the line.
3) Anthony Davis returned and reminded us he’s as good as anyone. Here’s a name nobody is mentioning anymore in the MVP race but should be in your five-man ballot: Anthony Davis. He missed five games with his shoulder injury but was back Wednesday and had 39 points and 13 rebounds. The Pistons defended him, but Davis hit 13-of-17 contested shots. That’s insane. In the final minute, he knocked down two midrange jumpers, pulled down a rebound, and altered the potential game-tying three. Oklahoma City likely gets the eight seed but the Davis and his Pelicans are not going away.
4) Portland in the NBA Finals? It could happen. The Trail Blazers have become my dark horse team to come out of the West and this game shows why. Portland was down 10 inside three minutes to go but they close games well, they have a defense with size in the paint (hello Robin Lopez) that can get stops, they have a good defender on the perimeter in Wes Mattews, and they have guys who can knock down threes. Damian Lillard missed his first 12 shots yet Portland was able to grind out a good win against the Clippers. With the addition of Arron Afflalo, there’s just a lot to like in Portland.
5) Charlotte looked like a playoff team knocking-off Brooklyn. If you watched this game you would have had no idea these two teams came into Wednesday tied for the eighth seed in the East — Charlotte was clearly the better squad. The Hornets went on a 27-4 first quarter run, and that was about it for the game — Charlotte moved the ball better on offense and defended better on defense. Mo Williams was brilliant again for them, helping save their season. There are six teams battling for two playoff spots in the East, I like Charlotte’s chances. And remember, the Hornets get Kemba Walker back soon from injury — they are only getting better.
Kevin Garnett on Denver Nuggets: “A quitter is a quitter”
The Denver Nuggets have won two in a row, playing with a newfound effort since coach Brian Shaw was let go and Melvin Hunt was given the interim tag. Wednesday night the Nuggets outplayed Minnesota and picked up a 100-85 win.
After the game, the question was if Kevin Garnett expected that kind of effort out of the Nuggets. KG pulled no punches.
“To be honest, they quit on Brian Shaw, I thought they’d quit again. A quitter is a quitter. That was my take on that, but if you’ve got any kind of self-pride about your future, then you want to anticipate someone playing hard. I didn’t really think about the Denver Nuggets and how they was going to come out tonight, I was more concerned about us and us going forward and being better.”
It’s an interesting response after a team just outplayed you.
But it speaks to KG’s mindset about effort and professionalism. He is not alone in thinking the Nuggets players showed a lack of professionalism not playing hard for Shaw. That locker room has issues. This is what Garnett feels he needs to teach the young players in Minnesota before he walks away.
Marc Gasol drains game winner to beat Rockets (VIDEO)
It was tied and tight at the end, with the feel of a playoff game between Memphis and Houston. Both teams went to their stars at the end to get the win.
Houston isolated James Harden, who drove around his defender into the trees of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol but didn’t the call he was hunting (Randolph got away with a reach).
Marc Gasol didn’t go hunting. Through the key stretches of the game, Kevin McHale had Terrence Jones on Gasol, and while Jones had a fantastic game (again) that is a tough matchup for him. The play was Gasol isolated (it was supposed to be at the elbow, but he was almost out to the wing), he drove and Jones couldn’t stop him.
If you’re wondering “how do the Grizzlies win close games in the playoffs without a superstar” go watch that video again. They have the guys.
(Sorry that this video has the homer Rockets announcers on it. They certainly can make a case Harden deserved that late call, that’s how fans should react, but that’s also far from the only reason the Rockets lost the game.)
Anthony Davis returns to Pelicans’ lineup after five game absence
The New Orleans Pelicans are just one game out of the playoffs in the West, although catching and passing the Oklahoma City Thunder will be a tall task. One that would be nearly impossible without Anthony Davis in the lineup.
“His workouts have gone well,” Williams said of Davis. “He had a really good workout yesterday. A semi-workout this morning. He passed everything with flying colors, so we’re happy to have him back in the lineup.”
The Pelicans went an impressive 4-1 without Davis, doing it with an amazing offense scoring 109.1 points per 100 possessions (the best in the league over that stretch). Tyreke Evans should take a lot of credit for that with his play during the run.
But the Pelicans need Davis back. He has averaged 23.9 points on 54 percent shooting, plus pulled down 10.3 rebounds a game. While he’s an offensive force it’s the other end of the court where he may be more needed, he brings 2.7 blocks and a lot of intimidation in the paint to New Orleans.