For most of the NBA, it was getaway night before the All-Star break, with 28 teams in action. Here are the three stories we pulled out as worth knowing from the busy night around the league.
1) Russell Westbrook’s triple-double enough to out duel Carmelo Anthony, Knicks. This looked like Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks’ night to start. While the Thunder started out ice-cold shooting, hitting just 1-of-10, Anthony made Adam Silver look smart for picking him as an All-Star and could not miss. Oklahoma City had assigned their best wing defender in Andre Roberson on Anthony and Roberson was doing his job — Anthony was not getting shots from his spots on the floor, and everything was contested. Didn’t matter. Anthony started the game 7-of-7 and had 19 points in the first quarter on his way to an eventual 30 points.
The Knicks even got a little defensive help inside from Kristaps Porzingis.
Then Russell Westbrook started doing Russell Westbrook things.
The MVP candidate finished with his 27th triple-double of the season: 38 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists, shooting 13-of-22. It was another powerful performance in a powerful season from Westbrook.
2) Suns’ Derrick Jones Jr. finally dunks in an NBA game. Looking for someone to challenge Aaron Gordon in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, the NBA went deep in the Suns’ bench to get Derrick Jones Jr. — a rookie who can dunk but has now only played 24 minutes all season, spending most of his time in the D-League. But in limited minutes against the Lakers Wednesday night, Jones got loose and threw down three big dunks.
Consider this a little All-Star Saturday taste.
3) Raptors come from 17 down to start fourth to win. Serge Ibaka didn’t suit up in a battle of struggling teams, and for three quarters the Raptors showed why they needed him — the lane was clogged, the offense couldn’t hit shots, and the entire thing was like watching an elephant walk through mud. Charlotte, maybe more desperately needing a win than Toronto, had built a 17-point lead after three quarters behind 20 points (to that point) from Kemba Walker.
Then Raptors coach Dwane Casey started the fourth using a lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll, Delon Wright, Cory Joseph, and Jakob Poeltl, and they went on a 24-2 run to regain the lead. What I love is that Casey rode the hot hand — he didn’t go back to DeRozan or Jonas Valanciunas or Norman Powell, those guys stayed glued to the bench and the five that started the run stayed in. And sealed up a much-needed win for Toronto 90-85.