Friday, December 28, 2007

Worth The Price of Admission

Normally, when someone refers to a televised game as being worth the price of admission, they follow up with a joke about it being free. But in my case, I'm paying $50 a month for the NBA League Pass, so there actually is a price of admission. Therefore, the title is appropriate in reference to the Nuggets-Warriors game tonight.

For starters, the game was at Oracle, which is always a good time. Warriors home games might be the most consistently exciting events in pro sports right now. Not only that, but I have a certain fondness for the Warriors broadcasters who cover the games for Fox Sports Net. So GSW has been getting top priority for a while now when it comes to my viewing/TiVoing habits. But tonight the intriguing Warriors-Nuggets clash was butting up against my hometown Blazers going for their 12th win in a row. So I toggled as best I could, but ultimately sided with the track meet in Oakland. And what a treat.

First, just to get them out of the way, here were the only things that didn't go well: Monta Ellis had a poor shooting night (bad for my fantasy teams), Carmelo Anthony was in foul trouble, the Warriors didn't find a way to send the game to overtime, and, well, that's about it. Everything else was pure excitement. I mean, the final score was 124 to 120. Can't ask for much more than that. Here were the highlights:

- Stephen Jackson playing like only he can. That phrase embodies so much. The clutch shots, the complete lack of conscience regarding shot selection, the "glue plays" that he's becoming known for, the dogged effort on defense, and everything else. He had a vintage "Stephen Jack!" (as he's known, apparently, in Oak-Town) moment at the end of the third quarter when he was as cold as ice under pressure, catching a pass with two seconds remaining, pump-faking, and then draining a 27-footer at the buzzer. He has to be one of the 20 most entertaining and (gulp) valuable players in the league right now. Unfortunately, he missed the potential game-winning three with 9 seconds left, which left him 5-for-15 from behind the arc for the night and kind of cuts against all the "clutch" stuff above. Plus, it was a bummer because had he made the shot, the place would have gone nuts. That said, he still finished with 32 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists.

- Allen Iverson continuing to defy all logic. Basic reasoning would dictate that AI would have to lose a step at some point. Instead, he seems faster than ever. Golden State has a ton of team speed, yet Iverson made them look like they were playing while wearing body weights ala that old Shawn Marion commercial. He got to the rim, made his usual assortment of ridiculous floaters and leaners, and consistently got his teammates to the line via great passes (he only had 6 assists, but he would have had 7 or 8 more if generating free throws counted as an assist, which it should, especially if the guy makes both, but I digress). Baron Davis is an incredibly quick and powerful defensive point guard (see more on that below), but he just couldn't keep Iverson in front of him for large portions of the second half. That's how fast and how skilled with the ball AI is. And when you throw in both his improved shot selection and shot-making, you get a game-high 39 points on just 21 field goal attempts.

- Baron continued to be a beast. He made the usual Baron Miracle Shots down the stretch and is just playing at such a high level night in and night out. His scoring and playmaking are to be expected at this point and he delivered on that front with 29 points (on 10-for-17 shooting) and 13 assists, but I remain amazed at the havoc he can create on the defensive end. He has to be one of the best shot-blocking point guards in the history of the league, with the ability to fly across the floor and wipe away shots from the weakside. Tonight he had two blocks, which matched the total of league leader Marcus Camby, and made one amazing play when he got switched on to Melo in the post and blocked a turnaround jumper.

- Carmelo Anthony, when not in foul trouble, was incredibly efficient and impossible to guard. Stephen Jackson was doing his best crowd/body/bump/move-the-feet act that he used to such great effect against Dirk in the playoffs last year, but it was to no avail against Melo, who is just too versatile and powerful to be stopped. When you haven't seen Anthony play in a few weeks, it can be jolting to see how powerful and smooth he is. He finished with 30 points in 32 minutes, but could have had 40+ if not for the foul trouble.

- There was this great sequence down the stretch when Baron was going into "Baron Mode" and had just abused Anthony Carter in the post to tie the game with just over a minute to go when Iverson came right back down the court (after deferring to Melo on the previous two fruitless trips) and hit a tough leaner to recapture the lead.

- The Nuggets went an incredible 33-for-37 from the line and got two huge hits from Camby to seal the victory.

I love the Nuggets and count them as one of my favorite teams in the league, but I have to admit that I was pulling for Jackson to hit that three and send Oracle into mass hysteria. Oh well, you can't have it all.

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