The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who knows he can't compete with March Madness but is going to try anyway. When he's not begging and pleading for you to read this column, he can be found celebrating his alma mater (HAIL PURDUE!) at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Ray Allen stuck a dagger deep in the heart of Texas. The Celtics finished stuffing the dreaded Texas Triangle into a box of pain last night, following up big wins in San Antonio and Houston with a 94-90 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Boston overcame 34 percent shooting - including a combined 1-for-16 from Rajon Rondo and Sam Cassell - by holding Dallas to a bricktastic 39 percent, forcing turnovers (16), blocking shots (9) and, most importantly, getting to the freethrow line (35 for the game, 18 in the fourth quarter). Paul Pierce scored 22 and had a season-high 13 rebounds, Kevin Garnett did his thing with 20 and 13, and Ray Allen returned from a few days of rest to score 21 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 31.7 seconds left. (After being benched for most of the fourth quarter, no less.)
Dirk Nowitzki had 22 points and 19 rebounds, and he could have tied the game after Allen's three but - SURPRISE! - he missed it. Jason Kidd added 11 rebounds and 9 assists, but his scoring anemia continued: Only 2 points on 1-for-8 shooting. And this after he showed up three hours early to get in some extra shooting practice. Otherwise he might have gone 0-for-8.
And that's what we call homecourt disadvantage. With a chance to set a new franchise record for consecutive home victories, the Jazz - who were 29-3 at the
Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena - promptly sunk to the occasion. Utah fell behind 38-18 after one quarter, and the final three quarter were played only because Jerry Sloan wouldn't let his guys run into the locker room and hide. Andre Kirilenko did manage to slip on a "Hillary for President" t-shirt and blend in with the crowd for a few minutes, but Sloan eventually grabbed him by the ear and pushed him back into the game. The Mamba had 27 points in the Lakers' 106-95 victory, and he received a little help from Lamar Odom (21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists) and Vladman Radman (13 points, 5-for-6). Deron Williams led the Jazz with 26 points and 12 assists, and Carlos Boozer had 23 and 15.
It's always the little things that get you. If you stop think about it, the only real difference between the Spurs and the Bulls is Tim Duncan. That's it. So my advice to John Paxson is to simply go out, find his own Tim Duncan and then - BAM!! - sit back and watch the championships roll in. (Mr. Paxson, if you're reading this, just make my consulting check out to Basket Bartholomew Bawful Jr.) In the meantime, the Tim Duncan-less Bulls took on the Tim Duncan-ful Spurs and it...didn't go well. Duncan set up camp in the paint and went off for 22 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in only 25 minutes of action, leading his team to a 102-80 victory. Tony Parker added 23 points, 6 assists and a lot of annoying French trivia (for instance, it is illegal in France to call a pig Napoleon. Seriously.) The Bulls - who shot 37 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers - barely put up any fight at all. Which didn't exactly shock the socks off of Ben Gordon. "We've been inconsistent all year. I can't say I'm surprised by the effort tonight." Way to bring it, Ben.