Kobe’s Final Game in Boston
After a career filled with many great games in Boston, last night was Kobe Bryant’s final game on the TD Garden floor. As a parting gift, the Boston Celtics presented Kobe with a piece of the floor from the 2010 finals.
Kobe got off to a rocky start at the beginning of the game, and you could tell he just didn’t quite have his legs under him. At 37 years-old, that has been a problem for Bryant all season long. Kobe finished the game shooting an ugly 5/18, but in the most Kobe way possible, he found a way to get it going in the 4th quarter.
The Lakers had led by as much as 12 points earlier in the 4th, but with just under 2 minutes to go, the Celtics cut the Lakers lead to 2 points. But, just as Kobe has come up in the clutch to save the day for the past 20 years, he did it once more, during his final game in Boston. As Brandon Bass kicked the ball out to Kobe, he launched a shot from way behind the 3-point line, and it hit nothing but net. Kobe’s 3 gave the Lakers a 5 point lead, and was ultimately the dagger in the game. The bench went wild, as did the crowd who had booed him for so many years.
Aside from Kobe’s clutch 4th quarter performance, it was the Lakers youngsters that helped give the Lakers the lead in the first place. Jordan Clarkson undoubtedly had his best game of the season last night, and maybe his best as a pro. Clarkson had 24 points (10/15 FG) and hit a bunch of important baskets down the stretch.
On top of Clarkson’s strong performance, D’Angelo Russell showed last night why he was the #2 pick in the draft this year. Russell was distributing and shooting the ball exceptionally well last night, and was getting to the rim with ease. Russell finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Julius Randle had yet another double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. While Randle’s jumpshot has been shaky all-season long, he has actually appeared to have expanded his range to the 3-point line. Randle had attempted barely any threes in the first stretch of the season, and has made one from deep in each of the Lakers past four games.
At the end of the night, the Lakers got the win, but the most important thing is that Kobe put on one final clutch performance at the TD Garden, and the Lakers youngsters gave us a glimpse of what the future holds.
Pacers – 100 @ Bulls – 102 OT
Whenever Paul George and Jimmy Butler go head-to-head, it’s an absolutely must watch matchup. These are two up-and-coming stars in the league, and it seems like each time they go at it, the game comes down to the wire.
Last night, the game came down to the final minutes once again. While Paul George finished with 19 points for the Pacers, it was Monta Ellis, who shot poorly for most of the game, that came up big for them down the stretch. After a timeout, the Pacers passed the ball in to Ellis who drove around Tony Snell and hit an incredibly difficult running lay-up to give the Pacers a 91-89 lead with 31 seconds to go. Jimmy Butler then matched Ellis’s bucket with a difficult driving basket of his own to send the game to overtime.
In OT, with 5 seconds to go, Monta Ellis missed a 3-pointer off a pass from George Hill. But, Solomon Hill was able to grab the rebound and kick it back out to Ellis who converted on his second attempt. This would tie the game at 100 with 3 seconds left on the clock.
On a beautifully designed play, Doug McDermott inbounded the ball to Pau Gasol, who lofted a perfect pass up to Jimmy Butler, who soared in the air for a tip-in to win the game 102-100.
Sixers Get 3rd Win of the Season
The Sixers may not be playoff bound, but it appears that hiring Mike D’Antoni and bringing in Ish Smith have made an immediate impact on the Sixers. Last night, Philadelphia earned their 3rd win of the season with a 110-105 win over Sacramento. The strangest thing about all of the Sixers wins is that they have all come against teams in the Pacific Division – Lakers, Suns, and the Kings.
Since hiring Mike D’Antoni and trading for Ish Smith, the Philadelphia 76ers are 2-1. In last night’s game, Smith put up another impressive performance with 18 points and 9 assists, playing a key role in their win. The victory came at the expense of the Sacramento Kings, who have also had their fair share of issues this season.
Another good sign for the 76ers is that Nerlens Noel has actually been improving a lot this season. Last night, he put on another strong showing with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 steals. Jahlil Okafor came off the bench last night, as he had been having some knee issues in the past few days. In limited minutes, Okafor earned a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Okafor and Noel certainly have an interesting dynamic. When Philadelphia drafted Okafor this summer, many questioned whether or not him and Noel could play together. Thus far, they have shown flashes of chemistry, but it is going to take a while to determine if they are ultimately a good partnership.
Curry-less Warriors Fall to Mavericks
Just 31 games into the season, it appears Stephen Curry has all but locked up the MVP award. At this point, it is his to lose. He has been phenomenal through the first stretch of the season, and has proved that he is now the best player in the league.
But, last night Curry sat out against the Mavericks as he injured his lower left leg on Christmas day against the Cavaliers. While Curry finished the game against the Cavs, and played the next night against Sacramento, it was clear that it was bothering him a bit. As the interim head coach, Luke Walton made a smart move to sit Curry out, just to play it safe.
The only issue is, last night’s Warriors team looked a bit lost without Curry in the lineup. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson each shot 4/15 from the field, and could not get into any sort of rhythm. It was evident that the ball movement and flow of the Warriors offense was simply just not the same without Steph. This should not come as a surprise, as Curry is what makes this team great. But, it is a bit concerning that the Warriors looked this bad without him in the lineup.
McCollum and Barton Battle for Most Improved
Prior to this season, both CJ McCollum and Will Barton had never played a major role on their respective teams. McCollum averaged just 15 minutes and under 7 points per game. Similarly, Barton was getting limited minutes off the bench and was never a scoring threat.
This season, both CJ and Barton are making a strong push for the most improved player award, and they went head-to-head last night in Portland. The Trail Blazers got the win 110-103, but both of these youngsters put on quite a show.
Will Barton poured in 31 points off the bench and had his 3-point shot on target, making 4/6 from downtown. That was Barton’s fifth game with 25+ points this season. Last season, Barton scored 25 points just one time.
CJ McCollum scored 29 points in the Blazers win last night and was also able to hit 3/6 from behind the 3-point line. McCollum is now averaging over 20 points per game this season. Which is a significant improvement over his previous 6.8 points per game last year. Coming out of LeHigh, no one expected McCollum to be anything special in the NBA. But, him and Damian Lillard have proved to be one of the best backcourts in the league this season.
As the year goes on, keep an eye on Will Barton, CJ McCollum, and Andre Drummond in Detroit as they all compete for the most improved player award.