Breakfast Special: Wait, Are the Spurs Back?

The San Antonio Spurs have come charging back from the dead during the back half of December, and they capped off 2018 with an impressive 120-111 home win over the Celtics that included a monster 46-point third quarter, where the 16-point swing in the scoreboard proved too much for a Boston squad that had to that point played solid defense.

It was 23-17 for the visitors after the first quarter, after all.

Davis Bertans was 5-of-8 from three, Bryn Forbes was 3-of-7, and Patty Mills was 3-of-6, and while the Spurs’ stars—DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge—continue to be All-Stars only if you’re applying voting criteria from 2002 to them (total combined three-point attempts: 0, as their 45 points came on a combined 41 FGA), the guys who actually can shoot from more than 24 feet away from the basket continue to play frighteningly efficient basketball from out there.

San Antonio is dead-last in 3-point attempt rate, taking just 27.6 percent of their shots from out there (Houston leads the league at 49.9; the league average is 35.2.)

But they make them at a 39.7 percent clip, by far the best in the league, and curiously, the team that shoots the second-fewest threes as a percentage of their overall shots, the Clippers, is second in percentage. And the Pacers are third-lowest in 3PAR and fifth in percentage. Maybe Gregg Popovich is on to something.

Of course, Pop also said something to the effect of “the team that makes more threes wins” when he facetiously called out the three as some kind of magic bullet…but San Antonio made 14 of them on those 26 attempts (53.8 percent!) against Boston, while the Celtics attempted 34 and only made 11.

It’s a lot easier to play old-school basketball when the three-pointers are falling. Time will tell whether using the three-pointer like a sniper rifle rather than the Rockets’ machine gun (it’s worth noting the Rockets are 15th in percentage) is still viable in 2019.

But hey, it’s a Spurs game, and that means you get to watch midrange jump shots. All the midrange jump shots, as Aldridge ended up with 32 points to lead all scorers and claim man of the match.

The Still-Nonsensical Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker had 24 points on 10-of-15, in part because he didn’t have to shoot in the clutch, and the Hornets, who are a prime example of “great teams win big and lose close but dear gods, that doesn’t mean you should lose close every other game,” beat the Magic 125-100 to draw their record level at 18-18.

Charlotte has played 21 home games (going 14-7) and just 15 road games (where they’re 4-11.) At that rate, they’re in real danger of going 36-46 again once those road games start to pile up on the back half of their schedule.

Yet they have a point differential of plus-2.7, which you’d expect from a 48-win team.

Oh, and Cody Zeller just broke his hand, so now they have to start thinking about injury ramifications to their roster.

Walker’s your man of the match, putting up his trade value reel in the blowouts.

Screw You, James Harden

James Harden had 43 points on—brace yourselves, folks—8-of-19 shooting, 6-of-12 from three, and 21-of-27 (!!) from the line.

Are you freaking kidding me, refs?

Harden also had nine turnovers, but his eighth straight game with at least 35 points and five assists tops Oscar Robertson and sets a new NBA record.

Harden had a triple-double in this one. 43 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, and a bunch of fatuous MVP talk for a game where he got half his points from the flippin’ free throw line.

But hey, the Rockets shot 41 of their 70 field goal attempts from three-point land and made 43.9 percent of them, while they hit just 13-of-29 from two-point range.

So maybe Pop is full of it.

But anyway, they beat the Grizzlies 113-101, as they shot a total of 45 free throws as a team (making 33), held Memphis to 24 percent shooting from beyond the arc, and won their fifth straight.

And here’s Harden, love him or hate him:

Lightning Round!

The Pacers closed out December with a 116-108 win over Atlanta, taking a 16-point lead into the final frame and cruising to the win.

Indiana went 12-3 in the month, which is a 66-16 full-season pace, and they lost those three games by a combined five points, every game within a single possession.

Myles Turner went out with a broken nose in this one; he will return like Jim Carrey wearing The Mask. Smokin’!

Turner had 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and four blocks, while Victor Oladipo added 22 points and Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and eight rebounds himself off the bench.

Man of the match? Nah, y’all gotta see this.

And here’s Oladipo, with seven assists and five steals to go with those 22 points:

Oklahoma City lost in Dallas to the unbeatable-at-home Mavs.

They won the return engagement 122-102 against the can’t-win-on-the-road Mavs.

And Russell Westbrook exploded for 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists, just another triple-double as you do:

The Pelicans showed some of that 14th place magic we’ve been seeing in the Western Conference all year, raising their record to 17-21 with a 123-114 win over the Timberwolves.

Andrew Wiggins stunk out the joint for Minnesota (20 points, 8-of-21 in 38 minutes) and Julius Randle led a Pellies squad that was minus Anthony Davis due to an illness, showing New Orleans what might be to come after Davis inevitably gets traded, scoring 33 points on 13-of-23.

New Orleans shot 56 percent from long range, 51.3 overall, and Randle’s your man of the match:

And finally, Stephen Curry had 34 on 5-of-9 from three, Kevin Durant added 26, Draymond Green actually made a three-pointer (going 1-of-2), and Andre Iguodala was plus-26 in 22 minutes off the bench as the Warriors smoked the Suns in Phoenix 132-109.

The Dubs shot 54.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from three, taking just two more threes in their game (28) than the Spurs took in theirs (26).

Maybe Gregg Popovich is on to something.

Steph gonna Steph:

Coming later: Pacers Tuesday, featuring a statistical breakdown of that awesome December. Grab some tacos and get ready for some fanboying from yours truly, and thanks for reading!