The Skip Pass is your home on FanRag Sports for insights and nuggets on each game played in the NBA. This is different from your regular game recap or box score. We want to take you inside the game and call out things you might have missed.
Focus Games: Magic at Spurs
Other Games: Pistons at Hornets, Clippers at Nets, Cavaliers at Bucks, Lakers at Pelicans, Rockets at Jazz
MAGIC 95 – SPURS 83
In a night of upsets around the league, this was the most surprising one. The Magic controlled the entire game defensively by locking down the paint while also staying attached to shooters outside. In a sense, this was the defensive group the Magic envisioned when the roster came together this summer. Serge Ibaka hedged on screens and dropped back to protect the paint. Bismack Biyombo was constantly lurking around the rim. Aaron Gordon got up into Kawhi Leonard enough to make him uncomfortable. And the Magic guards stayed on the San Antonio guards, which is no small task, given how much the Spurs move guys around the court.
Offensively, the Magic still weren’t good, but they were better than they have been. At this point, with how putrid they’ve looked, any improvement is welcomed. Evan Fournier seems to be adapting well to his role as more of a primary playmaker while D.J. Augustin starts. He had seven assists, but more importantly he was able to get into the defense and free up shots for others. This is something that Elfrid Payton has struggled to do, because defenses are sagging so far off him that it makes it nearly impossible to get into the paint.
On the flip side, Payton is looking solid off the bench against weaker second-unit defenders. He got into the paint repeatedly to create easier looks. He also got out and ran more in transition, which is something Frank Vogel wants to see.
On the San Antonio side, it was one of those nights where things just weren’t working. Perhaps quicker than any other coach, Gregg Popovich recognizes when his team doesn’t have it, and he went to his bench for big minutes. One thing to monitor, after defending their home court better than anyone else over the years, the Spurs are just 4-4 at home so far this season.
PISTONS 112 – HORNETS 89
Detroit made an effort to push pace against a Charlotte team on the second night of a back-to-back with travel. The Pistons got up 92 shots and shot over 48 percent. Andre Drummond got ejected in the second quarter, but Detroit didn’t miss him at all. Their offense has been somewhat more efficient without Drummond, which has caused some to suggest they could be better off without their franchise center.
It was Kemba Walker and no one else for the Hornets. The tired legs were evident on both ends of the floor. Jumpers were short all night and Charlotte looked like it was running in mud. Normally you would chalk this one up to a schedule loss, but the Hornets are on a bit of a slide. Losses in five of their last seven games could be indicative of bigger issues. This is something to watch for in the Queen City.
NETS 127 – CLIPPERS 122 (2OT)
Blake Griffin had the night off to rest, and it seems like some of his teammates joined him mentally as well. Brooklyn played its loose, bombs-away style and stole the win from the lackadaisical Clippers. Sean Kilpatrick racked up 38 points and 14 rebounds in one of the best performances ever from a former D-Leaguer. Joe Harris and Bojan Bogdanovic attacked the Clippers’ wings, combining for 29 points and 13-17 from the charity stripe.
Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan started hot, but seemed to wear down in the second half. Without Griffin, a lot of the scoring burden was put on them, especially with J.J. Redick suffering through a 7-18 shooting night. Paul Pierce started for Griffin, but he truly looks washed. He was just 1-7 from the field and was overpowered by Trevor Booker several times:
BUCKS 118 – CAVALIERS 101
The Cavaliers’ supreme focus this year was tested in Milwaukee. Cleveland has been relatively locked in and was due for a letdown game at some point. Witness J.R. Smith greeting Jason Terry vs. playing defense. Fortunately for the defending champs, they can afford to throw a game or two away throughout the year:
Giannis Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat sheet with 34 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks. If you watched the game, he was the best player on the floor. He got to the basket, rose up for clean jumpers and made plays for his teammates. Speaking of teammates, the bench trio of Greg Monroe, Michael Beasley and Malcolm Brogdon had another strong game with 41 combined points. They attacked the Cavaliers’ reserves all game to great success.
PELICANS 105 – LAKERS 88
New Orleans rolled as injuries hampered someone else for a change. Jrue Holiday made his return to the starting lineup and scored 22 points. More importantly, his chemistry with Anthony Davis was as solid as ever. Davis dominated the Lakers to the tune of 41 points and 16 rebounds. He also blocked two shots and had four steals.
Already without D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers saw Nick Young go down in the opening minutes with an Achilles strain. Without anyone to guard the quick Pelicans guards, or to help carry the scoring load, Los Angeles didn’t really have a chance in this one.
JAZZ 120 – ROCKETS 101
The Jazz won their fourth straight game on the second night of a back-to-back, with travel involved from Minnesota to Utah and against a very good opponent. Utah won by focusing its defense on funneling James Harden into the paint and playing him straight up without fouling. The Jazz also threw different defenders at Harden, as I counted at least six different defenders who guarded Harden for a good amount of possessions. By giving him different looks, he was never able to get into any sort of rhythm.
The Rockets have been very good this year, but this game showed the fears of what happens when they run into a patient offensive team that executes well. Utah was able to get the shots it wanted and got to the line 27 times. One game doesn’t make it a trend, but there is a blueprint for attacking Houston that doesn’t involve trying to outscore them in a running game.