That was an amazing game. The two best offensive and arguably defensive players at the PG and SG positions faced off.. and they were very nearly overshadowed by their teammates. It was an instant classic, a game that will be saved to my computer for a while.
Let's start at the end and work our way backwards. First up, David West. Heading into Overtime, DX had missed 11 straight jumpers and 2 of his last 3 free throws. His shot wasn't there, his dribble game wasn't there, and minus Butler's heave, the impending loss could have been pinned squarely on his shoulders. His aggressiveness in the OT period is all the more impressive for that reason. He could have dialed back his game a little bit, considering that Peja and CP had it going. Instead, he knocked down the two critical shots of the game, waving off Chris Paul with 8 seconds left and drilling the 17 footer.
West brought back memories of his previous game winning exploits; he has quite an impressive end-game resume for a big man. Seriously, how many bigs get the ball in crunch situations? Crunch time has become a game of the wingman; even the top big men- the Howards, the Garnetts, the Duncans- give way to the Turkoglus and Pierces in crunch time. The Hornets certainly have a very unique end-game option in their hands, and they've used it successfully time and time again.
Aand let's keep moving on back. I believe Rasual Butler is up next. I don't have much to say about it really... it was just crazy. A 1 in a 100 sort of shot. Credit Sool for his presence of his mind to launch it up there, but it was a very fortunate shot. I thought the play was dead for sure when CP got stopped in his tracks, then lost the ball to the sidelines. It would've been an insane shot even if Butler didn't have two guys draped all over him. Last Tuesday, the buzzer beating three at Sacramento, this Tuesday, the buzzer beating three at Miami. Not a bad week for Butler.
The play that led into the Butler three was the Dwyane Wade missed free throw. People rag on the 77.6% FT shooting LBJ all the time, but how come the 76.6% FT shooting Wade gets a pass? If he hits both free throws, the game's over, and he doesn't even have to complain about phantom fouls at the end, prior to an ejection. All that said, I don't feel too bad for Miami.
In my estimation, both teams gave the game away in the 4th quarter. Miami's giveaway was obviously the Wade missed free throw. New Orleans' giveaway occurred with 3:33 left in the 4th. The Hornets led by 6, with the ball. Wade had missed his last two jumpers, and three of his last four shots. The momentum was clearly swinging New Orleans' way, and Miami's offense was sputtering. Chris Paul brought the ball up that play and attempted to force a horrible pass to Hilton Armstrong. It was picked, leading to a Mike Beasley layup on the fast break. If Paul brings that ball out and bleeds the clock to ~3:10, the Hornets are still sitting pretty, regardless of whether they score or not. Miami would still have to get into a halfcourt set (where they were struggling), without many possessions to work with. That CP error let Miami surge right ahead, with the Heat scoring 5 fast break points over the next two possessions.
The re-emergence of Peja was beautiful to see. The stat sheet will say he only shot 7-18, but he did finish with an effective field goal percentage of 53 and a true shooting percentage of 59. He hit important threes that curtailed Miami rallies, and he got great elevation in all of his attempts. Three of his four steals were created by Chris Paul, but hey, at least he was in the right place at the right time. And in case that 0-2 FT performance vs. Utah put any doubts in your mind, he canned the two clinchers tonight.
On to some bullets:
- Dwyane Wade. Guy's amazing. He carried the Heat on his shoulders down the stretch, and leaving the FT be for a moment, was perfect in the 4th. Rasual Butler normally does a great job even on the elite scorers... but he had zero chance tonight. Wade did finish with 16 misses and 6 turnovers, but even on a "bad" night, he was spectacular to watch....
- ... but not as spectacular as Chris Paul! 29 pts, 9 asts, 9 rbs, 6 stls, 3 tos. And I would venture a guess that 99% of you are not even remotely surprised. I'm certainly not. Paul did what he wanted, how he wanted, when he wanted. Right now, Mario Chalmers is still sitting alone in the Heat locker room, weeping.
- Staying on the CP-Wade subject, there is no matchup in the league I'd rather watch than Chris Paul-Dwyane Wade. LeBron James obviously is slightly more efficient than either of the two. But if you watch LBJ play, it's dunk after dunk after dunk. I'm not saying that's not a valuable skill. LeBron's ability to get to the rim and finish is unmatched in the history of basketball. He could very well finish his career as the greatest player to play the game. Yet he's not as fun to watch. There's something madly appealing in the midrange game, something Paul and Wade have mastered. The way they glide around the floor, create space, fade away over taller defenders and drill insane jumpers will always be more appealing to me than LBJ's 40% jump shot. It's also why I'd rather watch Kobe than LeBron, even though LeBron is the exponentially more efficient basketball player.
- Anyways, back to the game. Speaking of the midrange jumper... anyone else remember that pump fake Butler gave to Wade? Nasty. For those who missed it, he faked, let Wade fly by and right out the building, sidestepped, then drilled the 15 footer.
- Michael Beasley torched David West. I'm not saying I don't like Beasley, but a lot of his moves might as well have come against no defense. I know this is beating a very, very dead horse, but if we don't have Tyson for the playoffs, we are in trouble.
- Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong were mediocre and downright terrible, respectively. JuJu missed a point blank layup and blew several defensive rotations, but his soft, spinning, 3 foot jumper was truly something to behold. Hilton Armstrong grabbed 1 rebound in 30 minutes. ONE REBOUND IN THIRTY MINUTES!!! Jamaal Magloire looked like an All-Star against him (ha ha). On top of that, he blew Chris Paul's prettiest pass of the season due to his
rock-likeKwame Brown-esque hands. Get it together Hilton, I was actually starting to like you.
- 9 minutes for Mo, 0 for Devin. 6 pts and 5 rbs for Sean Marks, including 4 fls, all of which I liked. Poor night from Daniels, including a carrying violation. All in all, the bench left a lot to be desired.
The Hornets square off Wednesday against the Suns, who are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.