1. When Two Stars Ruled All But The Final Minute
MIAMI -- Viewed as a landscape, LeBron James and Derrick Rose staged a wonderful and fulfilling duel Sunday afternoon. On the first non-football Sunday of the year it was exactly the performance fans -- be they for the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls or somewhere in between -- always wish to see.
James had a dunk on which he literally leapt over the head of misfortunate Bulls guard John Lucas III, hit a 3-pointer while falling into the stands and blocked a shot so viciously that it looked like it had hit a trampoline. Rose hit some majestic 10-foot floaters, made layups from preposterous angles and ran the floor like a rabbit all day.
All that plus this game, billed as the best regular-season matchup thus far in a rematch of the Eastern Conference finals, went down to the final minute without being decided.
This is a fan's dream. This is when people watching the game text, call or tweet their friends to make sure they are watching too so they can all talk about it later. This is when you call people in from the kitchen and the garage and turn up the volume. It's when it matters more.
That reality is the root of classic late-game tension, the foundation of clutch. James and Rose know it well, of course, but players and coaches aren't the only ones who feel it. The officials feel it, too. All that sometimes leads to what happened in that last minute Sunday in the Heat's 97-93 victory.
The 47 minutes of execution and highlight-making play came undone, another twist in the NBA season. These moments are when great clutch plays happen and also when choking, as it is called, happens too.
If you were forecasting it based on the previous few hours, you would have predicted clutch play to win out. And there was a hint of it. But mostly there were those chokes, and the biggest offenders were the MVPs, James and Rose.
"I think that's a problem with our league sometimes, people just evaluate the last minute of games and forget that this is a complete 48-minute game," James said. "But we understand it. We understand what makes the headlines."
That's true, it does make the headlines because that is when it matters the most. Sunday, pro golfer Kyle Stanley needed a double bogey on the 72nd and last hole to get his first PGA Tour win. He made triple bogey and lost. Last week, Billy Cundiff missed a field goal, a modest 32-yarder, that cost the Baltimore Ravens a chance at the Super Bowl. It was in the game's 60th and last minute.
The examples are endless, those are just two from the last week. All three Heat-Bulls regular-season games and the close-out game in the conference finals in May came down to the last minute. They'll be here again.
Sunday, after playing a great fourth quarter when he scored nine of his 35 points and played strong defense, things went upside down for LeBron in the last 55 seconds. Same for Rose, who had led not one but two stirring comebacks earlier in the quarter, as he suddenly went unclutch. And it was bitter to swallow and hard to watch.
"It was me," Rose said. "On all the plays at the end."
Actually it was more than just him. The unraveling was happening everywhere. Just digest it:
In about the last positive thing he would do on a day when he had 34 points, six rebounds and six assists, Rose grabbed the rebound and raced to the other end for a three-point play that changed the dynamics of the game. When he made the free throw to cut it to a one-point lead he improved to 29-for-29 on free throws this season in the fourth quarter.
"I missed both of those [expletives]," Rose said. "Me missing those free throws? Both? Come on, man."
James calmly tossed the ball to an official and huddled with his teammates to talk strategy, seemingly unworried that he was now being called on to hit clutch free throws with the Heat up just one. No matter, it seemed, because James was 10-of-13 on the day at the line and 4-of-4 in the fourth quarter. Just four days earlier he'd made six clutch free throws to win a game in Detroit, saving the day for the Heat.
Now James had every reason to be thinking about it, thinking he'd let his teammates down, just like that game in Los Angeles against the Clippers a few weeks ago. That was another national TV game, when missed free throws thwarted his team's chances and left all the talk about him in the clutch. Again.
The storyline of the game was going to be how he played great after riding his bike the 4.5 miles from his house to the arena because the Miami Marathon had closed numerous streets in the area. That would've been in the headlines if he'd just made those free throws. But he didn't and it was in the last minute of a high-profile, close game.
"D-Rose had an unbelievable game, but you guys will all talk about his missed free throws," James said. "I tried to do things to help our team win, but you'll talk about my missed free throws. It's the world we live in."
Yes, that is true. As dismissive as James is about the sentiment he also must accept it. But it was far from the end of the choking from everywhere.
When Gibson appeared to grab the ball Williams blew his whistle and pointed to the Bulls' bench to indicate they had used their last timeout. But Gibson didn't have the ball cleanly, Dwyane Wade had stripped it. Not all the players and other officials heard the whistle and play moved at half speed for a few odd moments. In the end the ball was in Chris Bosh's hands but should've belonged to the Bulls because Wade had stepped out of bounds when grabbing the ball.
After a huddle, Williams realized he'd jumped the gun and potentially changed the outcome of the game by blowing the whistle too soon. It was, in an official's view, a choke. They were mounting.
To resolve it this quagmire, there was a jump ball at center court, which certainly upset the Bulls. Bosh, the tallest player on the floor, was ready to jump. But James denied him, wanting a chance at redemption.
"Chris looked at me and said, 'I've got the tip.' And I said, 'No you don't'", James said. "I had to do something after missing two free throws."
James' opponent at the circle was Gibson. The best coaching decision would've been to have Noah for such a job. But, oh that darn foul out. Oops. James won the tip easily.
But Chalmers, undeterred by all the other choking going on around him, decided to keep it himself. And a few seconds later, it was Chalmers' turn on the line under pressure.
He made the first, a reason to celebrate across the basketball world. But then missed the second -- of course he did -- giving the Bulls a chance to win the game. After the events of the last few minutes, that was a minor miracle. They still had that last timeout left and Boozer, who got the rebound on the latest missed pressure free throw, wanted to use it.
He looked to Williams and called for it. But this time Williams didn't move a muscle, not after what had just happened. So Boozer, it appeared, tried to get it by raising his arms to form the classic "T." In the process, he fumbled the ball without anyone touching him. And it was free again. Finally, Rose tracked it down and got a timeout even as he committed a traveling violation. At this point, though, that wasn't getting called.
Rip Hamilton inbounded the ball to Boozer at the elbow. But Boozer is not a great passer. The better choice here would've been Noah, but he was already in his warmups.
That fact stung again when Boozer did not see, or for some reason rejected, Hamilton as he stepped inbounds and made a clean and clear back cut to the basket. He was wide open for a layup, but Boozer just held the ball. Would Noah have made the proper pass? The world will never know.
Instead the ball went to Rose, which isn't a bad choice and probably the safest option considering everything else that had been happening. Still frustrated from the missed free throws, Rose wanted to tie the game just as James wanted to win that jump ball. So he grabbed Boozer's pass and went toward the basket. His path, however, was blocked.
Rose lowered his head and knocked Udonis Haslem to the ground for what looked like a charge. But at this point, the officials understandably wanted it to be settled without the whistle. Stymied, Rose spun 360 degrees and lost his momentum and timing.
Rose is a willing passer in times like these. A few days earlier he passed the ball to Brian Scalabrine in nearly the same situation for a game-winning attempt. This time it was the more accomplished Hamilton, who had run to the corner after zipping past the basket, who was wide open. Had Rose made the same pass, Hamilton had a wide open 3-pointer to win the game. But this was Rose under a bit of duress, uncomfortable with this mess of a finish, and instead he tried a floater.
It missed. Game over, mercifully and dramatically. A great game that ended with a series of failures. Not a defining game at all, but one that will be remembered more for that ending than anything else.
"I know I can live with it," Rose said. "But it doesn't feel good."
2. Daily Dime Live Rewind
Relive and note all the chatter, memes and Photoshops of Sunday's Daily Dime Live.
3. Extreme Behavior
The Comeback Cavs: You probably can now count Kyrie Irving's winning drive to the hoop with 2.6 seconds left to be atop the clip reel for his Rookie of the Year candidacy. Irving (23 points) planted the dagger, capping a night in which the Cavs scored the last 12 points of the game for an 88-87 win over a hot Boston team.
The Orlando Magic: Losing a home game by 21? Wow. OK, Indy is good and Jameer was out. More painfully, Hack-A-Howard re-emerged, with D12 not rising to the occasion with a 4-for-15 night from the line. The Magic have now lost three in a row. At least there's that bus trip from Cincinnati to Indy at the end of the week to look forward to.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I thought it was good, but I guess it was too good to be true."
-- The Spurs' Danny Green, whose shot at the end of regulation was barely on his fingertips as the buzzer sounded. His team lost to Dallas in OT.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
I've been watching games for over 3 decades, and Kevin Love has 2 of the greatest non-dunk tip ins I've ever seen. And both came tonight.— david b. thorpe (@coachthorpe) January 29, 2012
4. Tough Ending
5. NBA Video Channel
6. JET Saves Mavs
DALLAS -- Jason Terry has long deemed the Spurs-Mavericks matchup as a big brother-little brother brawl with the Mavs serving as the younger sibling.
At 34, Terry doesn't face many opponents that can truly be called a big brother and that was especially true in the final 20 minutes of regulation and overtime Sunday. The Spurs used a crop of four unheralded youngsters with a total of nine NBA seasons under their belts -- plus Matt Bonner -- in those 20 minutes in place of an ineffective starting five to rally from 18 down and nearly win.
Terry tied it up at 91-91 with a clutch, 16-foot pull-up jumper with 0.5 seconds showing on the clock to give him 30 in regulation. Danny Green's apparent game-winner at the buzzer was overruled and we went to overtime. Terry had four of Dallas' 10 points in OT to help preserve a wild, 101-100, victory in which Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stuck with his reserves from the 2:44 mark of the third quarter on (only little-known starter Kawli Leonard checked in for about a second late in OT).
"No, not all," Terry said when asked if he was surprised Popovich didn't go back to his starters. "Again, that's just him being him."
7. D'Antoni Future, Knick Woes
When the game ended in Houston on Saturday night, long after it became abundantly clear that the New York Knicks have a problem, Tyson Chandler swore that he "refuses" to lose, demanded that teammates "man up" and generally revealed that things are every bit as bad as they seem.
What he didn't expound upon is what exactly needs to be done to remedy the situation -- which is the best indication that a solution may be beyond anybody's control.
It is all in jeopardy, folks! The Knicks' playoff aspirations. The allure of a dynamic duo or a big three. The future employment of head coach Mike D'Antoni.
I believe that D'Antoni is done. Eventually, but inevitably. The Knicks will either deny this or avoid the questions altogether, but who cares? No one gets to hide from their record.
Let it be said that such proclamations are without provocation from these pages. Despite how horrid the Knicks have looked offensively, how subpar they looked defensively on Friday in surrendering 10 -- count 'em, 10 -- dunks to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, nobody who works for ESPNNewYork.com is calling for D'Antoni to be axed as if it's all his fault.
8. Blame It On Booz
MIAMI -- As usual, Derrick Rose tried to take the blame for the Chicago Bulls' 97-93 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon. After all, he was the guy who missed two crucial free throws with 22.7 seconds left that would have given the Bulls the lead and he was the guy who missed another shot with 3.7 seconds that probably would have sent the game into overtime. He was the guy who stood in a quiet visitor's locker room after the game, trying to wrap his brain around what had just happened as he got dressed.
The man who should take a long look in the mirror after this game is the same man who failed to show up throughout most of the Bulls' postseason contests last season: Carlos Boozer. The veteran forward spent much of the day in foul trouble and struggled defensively -- per usual. While many Bulls fans will spin the loss as a valiant effort without Luol Deng and C.J. Watson, both out with wrist injuries, they shouldn't lose sight of the bigger issue.
9. Another Kobe Mark
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant set a franchise record in Sunday's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabaar as the team's all-time leader in field goals made. Bryant had 14 field goals and 35 points in the win. Bryant is now the team's all-time leader with 9,946 field goals made, 11 more than Abdul-Jabaar. Bryant is 54 field goals shy of becoming the 10th player to make 10,000 field goals in the NBA.