The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who wishes he could rest his starters for the rest of the regular season. When he's not trying to find some starters to rest, you can find him playing with creepy bobbleheads at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
Peja Stojakovic is totally clutchtastic. His former Sacramento teammate Chris Webber might ask "Since when?" and my answer would be "Since right now, baby!" Peja knocked in a three-pointer and hit three free throws in the final minute to help the Hornets hold on to the top spot in the Western Conference with a 98-97 win over the Orlando Magic. Peja might have finished the job, but it was started by Chris Paul (19 points, 12 assists), David West (18 points, 11 rebounds), and Mo Pete (19 points). Hedo Turkoglu pulled 26 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists out of his hat and he even threw down a dunk in the final 10 seconds to pull the Magic to within one point. The Mad Turk fouled Paul, but CP-MVP missed both 'throws, which gave Orlando life until Keyon Dooling missed a buzzer-beating jumper.
Hey...what's that smell? Oh, I think it's the rotting corpse of New Jersey's playoff hopes, which may have suffered a final, fatal blow thanks to a 108-97 homecourt loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Mind you, they haven't been "mathematically eliminated" yet, but I can't see math cutting them any slack in the next seven games. Then again, they're only trailing the Hawks and Pacers, so it's probably still anybody's playoff spot to lose. Vince Carter, who stood tall in a losing effort by scoring 29 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 7 assists, said: "We have to think we have an opportunity regardless of how many games we have left to play. We have to find a way. We have to think positive. It's still there for the taking." Okay. Who are you and what have you done with the real Vince Carter? The Sixers got double-doubles from Andre Miller (24 points, 11 assists), Samuel Dalembert (15 points, 13 rebounds), and Andre Iguodala (17 points, 10 assists) as well as three straight baskets from Lou Williams in the final 3:47 to nab the 20th win in their last 27 games.
The "Detroit Pistons" beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. The "Pistons" trotted out a starting lineup of Rodney Stucky, Jarvis Hayes, Theo Ratliff, Tayshaun Prince, and Antonio McDyess and still crawled out of a 21-point hole to beat the Timberwolves 94-90. Hell, they even got 15 minutes and 11 points out of Walter Herrmann. Welcome to the end of the NBA regular season, where most of a team's starters sitting out a meaningless game happens. Stuckey scored a career-high 27, and I hope he enjoyed each and every one of them, because it could be a while before that happens again. The Timberwolves got 26 and 7 out of Al Jefferson, but I'm guessing he spent most of the game thinking about his upcoming summer vacation. Golf or Laser Tag? Yeah, definitely Laser Tag.
Uh, Doc, it's over. Let it go. Apparently nobody told Doc Rivers it was time to rest his starters. Paul Pierce played 36 minutes, Ray Allen logged 34, and Kevin Garnett put in 32 as the Celtics continued their season-long NBA bitchslap with a 106-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls. The win helped Boston maintain a six-game lead on Detroit with eight games remaining. Allen led the Celtics with 22 points (but how're those ankles Ray?) and Tyrus Thomas scored a season-high 24 points for the Bulls (uh, where was that about 50 games ago, Ty?).
They're in, they're out, they're in, they're out. Despite the fact that they've already surpassed last season's win total by three games - and those 42 wins earned them the right to upset Dallas in the first round - the Golden State Warriors dropped back out of the playoff picture after a 116-92 loss to the "mere percentage points out of first place" Spurs. And that final score doesn't really indicate how much of an ass whoopin' this was. The Warriors shot 37 percent (to the Spurs' 55 percent), dished out only 8 assists (to 13 turnovers), and got pounded on the boards 54-37. Tony "The Annoying French Pastry" Parker led all scorers with 26 points, and Tim Duncan showed up with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and a fresh stack of D&D character sheets. Baron Davis had 19 points for the Golden Staters, who really owe Don Nelson a beer after that stinkbomb.
Deja vu. Almost. One night after giving up a big lead and losing to the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets gave up a big lead and beat the Suns 126-120. How'd the Nuggets pull this one out? Well, they made the important adjustment of having a 47-26 advantage in freethrow attempts. Ah...I just love that sweet aroma of home cooking. It smells just like warm apple pie. And dirty sock. Phoenix hit 53 percent of their field goal attempts but shot themselves in the foot by missing 12 of the freethrows they did get (thanks, Shaq), and it also didn't help that the seven-deep Suns lost their
best only defender when Raja Bell got himself ejected in the third quarter for acting the fool. Leandro Barbosa (27 points) and Amare Stoudemire (25) kept Phoenix in the game with their scoring and Steve Nash (17 points, 18 assists, 3 steals) helped out with a little bit of everything, but Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points, grabbed a couple of clutch rebounds and helped finish the Suns off with some free throws in the final 27 seconds.
The loss was especially important to Allen Iverson, who was pretty upset by the previous night's loss. "I couldn't sleep all last night because of that loss. You don't want to watch TV because you might see the highlights from that game. You stay away from the sports channels. I woke up and tried to watch movies and tried to stay away from sports." What, you expected him to practice or something?
Uh oh. Is it just me, or did the Rockets' 99-98 loss to the Kings last night feel a little ominous? Even more ominous was the fact that T-Mac (32 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) missed a shot at the buzzer that would have won the game. A possible playoff preview? No comment. Meanwhile, Ron Artest (team-high 30 points) got his wish: Mikki Moore received significant PT and the Kings won. Maybe that guy has a future in coaching. Ha. I keed.