1. Clippers Get The Edge On A Tough Night
LOS ANGELES -- There are Twitter tough guys and then there are tough guys on Twitter. Twitter tough guys are best dealt with by expeditious use of the block button and a brisk move to more productive things. When true tough guys take to Twitter -- as Matt Barnes did after being ejected from the Los Angeles Clippers' victory over the Thunder on Wednesday night -- it gets complicated. In this case it will warrant a review from the NBA.
A night that began as a matchup between two potential Western Conference finalists somehow turned into a referendum on toughness. That was due in part to the Clippers finding enough defensive resolve to hold the Thunder to 41 points and 36 percent shooting in the second half. Mostly it was a reaction to a second-half skirmish that began when Serge Ibaka tangled with Blake Griffin, then escalated when Barnes entered the fray with a two-hand shove to Ibaka. The verdict from the officials: fighting fouls and ejections for Barnes and Ibaka, a technical foul on Griffin.
But that was far from the last word.
Barnes sent out a tweet during the third quarter that read: "I love my teammates like family, but Im DONE standing up for these n---as! All this s--- does is cost me money."
So that happened.
He called out his teammates. He violated league social policy (NBA guidelines implemented before the 2009-10 season prohibit use of social media by players and coaches involved in the game starting 45 minutes until tipoff and lasting until the postgame media access period begins). And he used language that's at the forefront of sports discussions right now thanks to Richie Incognito and the Miami Dolphins. It was a modern three-point play.
And it put the league office in a hole. In the midst of a national debate about locker-room language, how can it afford to tolerate use of an inflammatory word, even if this was the "as" ending, even if it was used by an African American? This was a quandary that actually goes back to the Philadelphia Eagles' Riley Cooper's use of the word earlier in the year. Even if we make social allowances for African Americans to use the same racial epithet that is instant trouble for white people, how could that be expected to hold up legally? If Kobe Bryant can be fined for using a homophobic slur, how can Barnes get off for using a derogatory term about African Americans?
Those issues are almost as difficult as trying to determine just how tough the Clippers are. They're 6-3 so far this season, with two-thirds of their victories coming against teams that made the 2013 Western Conference playoffs. They're also the team that was manhandled out of the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies last season.
Wednesday, they were the team that was prepared to let things simmer down to their own conclusion -- until Barnes stepped in. This is nothing new for Barnes. He's unafraid of physicality, willing and able to enter any fray. It's also unsurprising when he gets ejected ... with the constant possibility that he might be judged on past offenses.
And where does that leave the rest of his teammates?
"I think at times, toughness can be mistaken in the form of being ready to fight and stuff like that," said Chris Paul, who had 14 points and 16 assists. "But toughness comes down to basketball. Ain't nobody in the NBA holding the world championship belt."
Maybe Paul was feeling his pacifist side because he'd just tried to come up with an answer for his son, who repeatedly asked in the locker room, "Why did 'baka want to fight?"
Paul couldn't come up with a good response. He just called on his son to repeat the lessons he taught him about avoiding violence.
"We do it with words," Lil' Chris said.
Maybe the constant presence of children in the locker room keeps the Clippers from sliding to the thug side -- although Barnes' twin boys are fixtures in the room as well, and he's prone to the occasional slip. But that's not the team ethos.
Paul and Griffin are the two biggest names, and the team takes their personas more than anyone else's.
"If you feel like somebody was trying to hurt you, I think it's time to take action," Griffin said. "That wasn't a situation like that. It happened. Guys push after plays, hold. I didn't personally feel a need to do something in order to get myself ejected. To me, toughness isn't being ready to throw a punch or push somebody. It's about having that mental toughness as well to stay in the game."
Ibaka, diplomatically, said "It's a physical game, and anything can happen. The referee made the decision, so I will take it."
That's twice he has gotten into an altercation with Griffin though. The first came on March 3, when he hit Griffin in the groin. He wasn't ejected for that action. Didn't even draw a suspension. It's hard to envision his actions Wednesday warranting a suspension either.
The more fascinating speculation is what type of fine or stronger punishment the NBA levies for Barnes' tweet, which he later deleted.
How ironic it would be if the Clipper most likely to be a man of action took a severe hit for his words.
2. Around The Association
MVP: Blake Griffin did a little bit of everything Wednesday night, finishing with 22 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. His passing out of the high post was key to the Clippers win.
Defining moment: With only a few seconds remaining in the second quarter, Griffin and Matt Barnes got into a scuffle with Serge Ibaka. In the end, Ibaka and Barnes were ejected and the Thunder never really recovered without their best big man.
That was ... worth an asterisk: Yes, the Clippers beat the Thunder, but it was on a night when Ibaka played only one half, Steven Adams and Nick Collison were in foul trouble, and Kendrick Perkins didnt play. No bigs means little success.
MVP: Gordon Hayward was all over the place, totaling 27 points on 12 shots (12-for-14 from the free throw line and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc) to go along with 10 assists and five boards.
X factor: Hayward wasn't the only Jazz player to finish with more than two points per shot. Enes Kanter scored 21 points on 10 attempts (8-of-10 from the field) in addition to 10 rebounds and three blocks.
That was ... typical: The Pelicans continued their complete aversion to the 3-point line, shooting only 12 (making five). New Orleans is last in the NBA in 3-point attempts despite their top-five 3-point percentage.
MVP: After starting the Kings' first five games, Marcus Thornton was demoted to the bench in favor of rookie Ben McLemore. But the streak-scoring guard responded to his coach's decision with his best game of the season. As a reserve, Thornton scored 13 of his 24 total points in the second quarter of the victory.
That was ... Michael Malones kind-of-game: For the first time this season, the Kings played with a level of energy the rookie head coach has wanted to see out of his team. They didn't shoot particularly well, but their effort on defense won them the game.
X factor: Like Thornton, Greivis Vasquez came alive for his best game of the season. The Kings' starting point guard made an impact with his passing, racking up a season-high 12 assists. Six of those dimes came in the third quarter.
MVP: It was a balanced scoring night for the Blazers, but the spark Thomas Robinson provided off the bench in the fourth quarter ignited Portland's comeback victory. He led all Blazers with 15 points.
X factor: Robin Lopez got revenge against his former team with his rim protection and 15 rebounds. Even bigger, and perhaps more surprising? He committed zero fouls against a Suns team that thrives on attacking the paint.
That was .... exhilarating: For much of the game, neither team could knock down a 3-pointer, and there was some truly sloppy play. But the second half became a back-and-forth track meet that made this game one of the best of the night.
MVP: Timofey Mozgov made his case to supplant J.J. Hickson as the new starting center as he tied his career high with 23 points on 8 of 12 shots in less than 28 minutes of play.
LVP: It took Pau Gasol 27 shots to muster up 25 points as he went up against the supremely undersized Hickson and Kenneth Faried in the post all night, missing bunny after bunny at the rim.
That was ... a return to form: The up-and-down style of play Denver used to beat L.A. was reminiscent of the run-and-gun days of George Karl, a far cry from the borderline league worst offense that Denver had displayed so far this season.
MVP: In a game in which no player distinguished himself from the rest, Tiago Splitter gets the game's MVP. Splitter scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
X factor: Often playing alongside Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli does a little bit of everything for the Spurs. Against Washington, Belinelli posted a 10-point, eight-assist, five-rebound line off the bench.
Defining moment: After cutting San Antonio's lead to three points in the third quarter, Ginobili drove and scored a runner high off the glass. The next play featured a long pass from Ginobili to Belinelli to Patty Mills for an open corner 3-pointer. The Spurs never looked back.
MVP: The Celtics had no answer for Al Jefferson around the basket. Although the Bobcats went away from Big Al in the second half, he bruised his way to 22 points while grabbing 11 rebounds.
LVP: Nine rebounds is a nice stat from a point guard, but it doesn't make up for a 1-for-13 shooting performance in which Kemba Walker's turnovers (two) equaled his assists.
That was ... gross: The Celtics shot 37.7 percent and managed to outshoot the Bobcats at 36.6 percent. What's more, Boston committed 26 personal fouls to Charlotte's 20, slowing a tough-to-watch game down to a snail's pace.
MVP: Kevin Love scored 33 points, but it was Ricky Rubio who controlled the pace of this one. His career-high 16 assists, along with 16 points and disruptive defense, never let the Cavs up for air.
Defining moment: As part of an 18-6 first-quarter run, Rubio assisted on or scored every basket, finishing the quarter with a near double-double. The game was never close again.
X factor: Corey Brewer drained all five of his shots from deep, as part of a 27-point performance. The Wolves outscored the Cavs by 31 points in his 30 minutes.
3. Wednesday's Best
Arron Afflalo, Magic:
Afflalo scored 29 of his 36 in the second half, including 11 straight Magic points in a 94-91 win over Milwaukee. For the game, he hit 11 of 15 shots, including 8 of 11 on 3-pointers, and had eight rebounds and six assists.
4. Wednesday's Worst
The Brooklyn Nets: These guys could use a Brooklyn Lantern to find their way home. When the Kings beat you by 21, your high hopes to challenge in the East face serious doubts. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce combined to shoot 6-for 21 for the Nets, who are 2-5 this season, including 0-4 on the road.
NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"There is no more 'Let's get it next time.' This is unacceptable! This is our time right now.'"
-- Jazz forward Richard Jefferson, exhorting his team after falling behind by 16 points early in the second half. The Jazz rallied to beat the Hornets 111-105 for their first win of the season.
8. Impressive First Start
9. Stat Check
James Anderson scored a career-high 36 points against his former team while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to an overtime victory over the Houston Rockets. Anderson, who hadn't scored more than 19 points in any of his previous 123 games in the league, became only the second player in NBA history to score 35 points or more in a game that far into his career without ever before posting a 20-point game. The only other player to do so was Toronto's Acie Earl, who dropped 40 points at Boston on April 12, 1996, after he entered that game with a career high of 16 points in his 140 previous games in the NBA. And like Anderson, Earl did that against his former team.
10. TrueHoop TV
Around the Association
MVP: The honors go to Arron Afflalo, who set career-highs in points (36) and 3-point field goals made (eight). The crazy part is that it didn't seem out of the ordinary. He has been that good so far this season.
X factor: Entering the game, Ronnie Price had played a total of 21 minutes on the season. He eclipsed that total against the Bucks, as his defense and hustle earned him extended playing time -- 25 minutes to be exact.
That was ... special: This was the best performance of Afflalo's career and makes you wonder, given that he has been the subject of trade rumors, if the Magic will consider keeping him around if he continues to play at this level.
MVP: Wednesday was all about James Anderson. Against the team that waived him over the summer, the guard scored a career-high 36 points on 12-of-16 shooting -- including a circus 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime -- and contributed exactly zero of the Sixers' 29 assists.
X factor: No James Harden, no Michael Carter-Williams ... no problem? With two of the matchup's stars sidelined with foot injuries, Houston-Philly figured to be a bummer. It wasn't. Jeremy Lin had a season-high 34 points and 12 assists in Harden's stead while Anderson, Evan Turner (23 points), and Tony Wroten (18-11-10) shined for the 76ers.
That was ... fast: The Sixers are striving to be the Rockets. They hired Sam Hinkie, bought into the analytics thing full bore, and even go by Rockets East in some circles. Nine games into 2013-14, the transformation looks pretty complete: The Sixers and the object of their emulation are an identical 5-4.
MVP: After his horrific 11-for-37 shooting performance against Houston, Rudy Gay had 23 points on 18 shots while adding good passing and great defense against his former team.
That was ... excruciating: Memphis has been known for its grit-'n'-grind ethic, but the offense flat-out ground to a halt on Wednesday night. The few fans left at the final buzzer peppered the Griz with some salty boos.
Turning point: Raptors' run. With the score was tied 70-70 late in the third quarter, Toronto uncorked a 26-7 run that buried the Grizzlies for good by midway through the fourth quarter.
MVP: Andrea Bargnani? Yes, Andrea Bargnani! He had 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. This was his first 20-10 game since January 2012 when he was with the Raptors.
X factor: Iman Shumpert didn't do much scoring, but he defended the Hawks well, had four steals, and was a team-high plus-15 for the game.
Defining moment: It was 87-81, Knicks, with less than three minutes to go when Bargnani banked in a 3-pointer to give New York a nine-point lead that the Hawks couldn't recover from.