On this exciting edition of Friday Night Lights in the NBA, there were two kinds of games that you could have watched with no real in between.
The first kind was the nail biter games that came down to the final possession. Games like Indiana vs. Orlando or Denver vs. Phoenix where each team’s superstar talent had to step up in the closing seconds of the ball game to help steal their victory. These are the games where each team can taste the victory, yet only one team is able to truly capitalize and come out the winner. The Detroit Pistons may have felt the brute of this kind of game as they fell just short of the win due to Jerami Grant being just a hair too late on getting his shot off in the closing seconds the Rockets.
On the other side were the blowouts or the “humble games.” These were the games like the Cleveland Cavaliers defeating the Brooklyn Nets for the second time this week and the Boston Celtics losing to the Philadelphia 76ers despite getting 42 points from Jaylen Brown. These are the kinds of games that can tell you a lot about a team’s weakness and force them to look in the mirror after simply being outmatched.
In a week filled with buzzer beaters and overtime victories, the Friday Night games did not disappoint as they continued the trend we saw throughout the week of high-level matchups, surprise performances, late game heroics and exciting finishes. Here are my Primetime Players from Friday Night’s matchups!
LaVine continues to make his case to be a 2021 All Star in the Eastern Conference. As he continues to rack up games of 20+ point games, Lavine continues to show off a bit of the point guard vision by racking up nine assists in this game. This Bulls team is still developing but LaVine is taking guys like Coby White (who dropped 18 points in this game) under his wing and you can see when they play team basketball with LaVine at the helm, they can be an exciting team to watch as an ascending team in the East.
Most would consider Markkanen to be a high-volume finesse scorer for this Chicago Bulls team and games like this only further support that viewpoint. No assists. Barely any rebounds despite being a near seven-footer and not a single free throw attempt. The aggression on the floor for Markkanen seems to come in the form of the amount of shots he takes, not what kind of shots he takes. Markkanen takes the concept of “stretch-4” to the extreme by drifting further and further away from the basket. Some nights like tonight, the Bulls can live with half of his shots coming from the arc. But most nights that will be more of a hindrance than a help and he will need to become more aggressive around the basket to make Chicago a more dangerous team.
Despite the loss, this kind of performance from Hayward is exactly why Charlotte gave him such a hefty contract this past offseason. He can shoot, create, rebound well, help facilitate an offense, and even come up big on the defensive end. Hayward’s competency as an all-around basketball player is going to play a huge factor in the development of young guys like LaMelo Ball who is the real key to unlocking this team’s true potential.
With Ball and Terry Rozier struggling on the night with a combined 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the floor, it was up to Graham to carry the load in the backcourt. Although the game may not have ended in favor of the Hornets, the big takeaway from this game for the Hornets should be that they obviously have guys who can pick up the slack when someone has a bad night or stretch of games. Early in the season it was Rozier going off for 20 and 30 a night. Then Ball had a stretch of games that showed us that he had NBA-level talent. Now it may just be Hayward and Graham’s turn to take the keys for the Hornets and lead the charge.
With Christian Wood and John Wall out, The Rockets unleashed Gordon offensively and it paid dividends. The three-point shooting obviously was not great and that comes with the lack of spacing without Wood on the floor. Nonetheless he made up for it at the line with aggressive driving and drawing contact. In spite of all the roster turnover with James Harden being the last domino to fall, Gordon has remained true to his style of play and continues to display why he is one of the most dynamic scoring options in the NBA.
Now I know what you are thinking, “Jay, Cousins shot horribly from the floor, why in the world is he on this list?” It is because he displayed something really interesting to me. Cousins rebounded like Christian Wood and assisted the ball like John Wall. That to me is astonishing because, as a guy coming off back-to-back season ending injuries, he is still showing how he can impact the game at a high level without being the 20-25 point per game scorer he used to be. This should be an extremely positive sign for Houston that this team can just get fully healthy and grow some continuity, they can be a sleeper team in the West.
Close but no cigar. Grant came up just short as the replay at the end of regulation revealed his game winner was indeed a tick too late. In a game where the rest of the front court (Blake Griffin/Mason Plumlee/Isaiah Stewart) combined for 20 points on the night, Grant was really the only big that put up a fight. Obviously, all-season Grant has stepped into the role as the number one guy for the Pistons relatively smoothly, but there is a question as to whether or not him wanting to be the top guy is worth all the losing Detroit will face this season. Just food for thought, Jerami.
I could not tell if this was actually Wayne Ellington or a reincarnation of JJ Redick. SIX THREES?! Typically, when you have a hot shooting night like this alongside Delon Wright who also gave the Pistons 18, you typically win the game but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough. Moving forward, Ellington does not need to be a 60% three-point shooter, but the Pistons would welcome if he can become a reliable knockdown shooter on a nightly basis. Tough loss but Detroit is more competitive than most assumed they would be entering the season.
I feel like I say this about Vucevic every Friday but get you a guy like this on your fantasy teams. BUCKETS AND BOARDS! Everybody could use a guy who is a walking double-double and can step out and hit the three at a relatively efficient clip. Now the ten makes on 29 shot attempts did come to surprise because he is typically a lot more efficient. But he was also the only reason why this game was even close so the poor shooting splits comes with the territory of being the only consistent and competent scoring option for an Orlando Magic team that is still trying to hold onto relevancy.
I feel like Fournier is always due for a game or two a season where he just balls out unexpectedly. A near double-double on 50% shooting from three is great but the glaring stat of course is the free throw shooting. In a one possession game, those six missed free throws were crucial and it’s stuff like that will continue to hurt their chances of truly being competitive amongst the best teams in the Eastern Conference. That and not having Johnathan Isaac…
NO MORE SLEEPING ON THE INDIANA PACERS! For the last two or three seasons I have come into the season doubting the Pacers as a real threat in the East. And the last two or three seasons they have been a top-5 seed in the conference. This year I am done sleeping on the Pacers and that has a lot to do with Domantas Sabonis. On track for back-to-back All-Star Selections, this guy has been on a tear offensively and the defense only continues to improve. Five steals for a big is impressive and that somehow still gets buried under the fact that the man nearly recorded yet another triple-double on the season. Right now, I think there should be a legitimate argument as to who is the best big in the East: Joel Embiid or Domantas Sabonis. I think Sabonis is still behind but he’s closing the gap.
Anything you can do, I can do better! He saw Cole Anthony hit the buzzer beater the other night to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. He watched Sabonis hit a sweet layup in regulation to help force this game against the Magic to overtime. But now it was time for Brogdon to hit a clutch bucket of his own as he hit the shot to seal the game and secure the 120-118 victory. The grizzled veteran is back at it again steering the ship for the Pacers and stepping up big as a scorer in the absence of TJ Warren and the departure of Victor Oladipo.
Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb might be the unsung heroes of this game as they combined for 44 points and 16 rebounds on the night. Obviously Sabonis and Brogdon hit the biggest shots in the game, but this serviceable play from Turner and Lamb back from injury off the bench is what makes Indiana so dangerous. Turner has really embraced his role as a shot blocker and glass cleaner with the occasional shot from beyond the arc to keep the defense honest. Turner is slowly starting to take the leap that we were expecting from him last season and it’s paying dividends in the Conference standings.
After taking down the Nets trio in their big debut, Sexton came back for seconds. It may not have been as spectacular as the 42-point performance on Wednesday, but it was something special, nonetheless. Once again carrying this team offensively, Sexton traded buckets with Kyrie Irving and James Harden and emerged victorious once again. Call him Collin Two Times!
I need to put something in perspective for you guys. In this game the Brooklyn Nets had a total of 29 rebounds on the night with Joe Harris leading the way with seven. Drummond had more than half the Nets total rebounds by himself! If I could make a Buckets and Boards award, Drummond might be wearing the crown so far this season because the way this guy competes on the glass is ridiculous. And as usual he chipped in on the defensive end, making his presence felt in the middle of the Cavs top-4 scoring defense.
0-2 in his old stomping grounds and 0-2 in his first two games back from his much unanticipated hiatus. Whether it was with Kevin Durant on Wednesday or without him last night, Irving continued to assert himself as the lead scoring option that absorbed the lion share of the shots. While people like myself assumed that Irving would be the third guy in this trio, it is clear as day that he is trying to prove us all wrong and might be doing so at the expense of his team’s success.
This is the guy that I am actually worried about the most. He is not being aggressive and drawing contact to get to the line as much as normal. He is openly accepting the passive role as the pseudo-facilitator for this team and on top of that, he looks like he is purposely trying to overcompensate as a way of trying to fit next to KD and Kyrie. We know Harden can lead the league in the assists. But we also know that he can do that in the midst of dropping 20+ a night and so far it looks like his passiveness is drawing him away from the downhill style that made him great. His ability to co-exist with Irving is going to be a big question for the rest of the season and for good reason. These two are the key to deciding whether or not this too heavy team is actually capable of winning a title this season or not.
Continuing to thrive individually in Jayson Tatum’s absence. If you are not on the “Jaylen Brown for 2021 All Star” bandwagon now, you better hop on soon before this train leaves the station. Brown continues to put up gaudy statistics and is slowly becoming the centerpiece of this young Celtics team.
Big night from Smart on both sides of the ball. Not the greatest shooting performance, but he’s not on the Celtics for his offense so 20 points on the night is just a plus. Smart continues to be a force on defense, unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to outlast the Sixers.
Kemba is slowly re-establishing himself as the primary scoring option for this Celtics team while giving them much needed depth at the position. You can tell from the poor shooting night from three that he is still getting his court legs back. Not only are seven three-point attempts too high for Walker, it also is a sign that he is settling for jumpers instead of playing his usual downhill style. Walker’s health is critical to the team’s playoff chances because if he is not Cardiac Kemba in the postseason then they do not have any chance of making a deep playoff run.
A game like this is the mark of the most dominant offensive center in the game. Crazy efficient shooting splits. Aggressive play down low, drawing contact, taking what the defense gives him, and scoring in all facets of the game. This will be a game we look back to when we reflect on what Embiid’s potential is and what caliber of a player Philly will need him to become in playoff time. This is the kind of matchup against a conference opponent where showing up big should boost his confidence and set a certain standard for what he could become by the end of the season. I said Sabonis is closing in for the top spot in the East, but games like this is why I still have Embiid at No.1!
This is the best version of Tobias Harris right here. Last season, Harris was asked to be Philly’s best three-point shooter despite not having the spacing or the real skill set to become a one-dimensional catch and shoot guy. This year the roster is more tailored to allow him to move freely without the ball and get to his spots. Clearly it’s maximizing his skill set and the shooting splits support that.
Simmons’ stats might not scream off the page that he is a superstar talent, but he undeniably is. At 6-foot-9 he is assisting the ball at a high clip, scoring in double figures consistently without taking threes and still finds the time to lock up defensively. Similar to last year, he should be in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year as he is hands down the anchor of the 5th best defensive team in the league.
Adebayo is really the only model of consistency for this Miami Heat team so far this season. With Jimmy Butler in and out of the lineup and Tyler Herro regressing from last season, a greater offensive load has been thrust onto Bam and I’m not sure how conducive that is to the Heat being a competitive playoff caliber team this year. This team needs to get healthy and get Bam back to doing Bam things.
As mentioned before, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro did not play in this game which opened things up for Kendrick Nunn to have a splash performance coming off the bench in a losing effort. Nunn was a top-3 candidate in the Rookie of the Year last season and since catching Covid last year prior to the bubble, he has not really been the same player. Hopefully, this will be the game that gets him out of his funk and motivates him to turn back into that guy that was so lethal early in the season last year.
This guy’s potential is unbelievable. Anyone who watches Anunoby on defense knows that he has the chance to lead the league in steals while becoming a 1st or 2nd team All Defensive player. But as he continues to grow as an offensive player and integrates that three-point shot, he could quickly ascend into one of the best two-way players in the league. Scary player with scary potential.
Received the start because Kyle Lowry did not play. I think I may have been sleeping on Powell as a scoring threat for this team. I knew that he could put the ball in the basket at a high clip when unleashed but I expected him to be relatively under lock and key as guys like Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Anunoby took the lead. Not a great shooting night from beyond the arc, but he is slowly starting to become one of the Raptors’ top scoring options and is making the most of this new potential opportunity.
Solid overall performance for the big guy. Not a great shooting performance on the night but was a bona fide Buckets and Boards guy in the win for the Raptors as they held on to close out Miami in a big way.
I THINK HE GOT HIS SWAGGER BACK! Young started the season out on an MVP level trajectory and then drastically started to dip over the course of the last two weeks. This is definitely an Ice Trae kind of game especially with the way he shot from beyond the arc and might be the perfect spark plug game to get him and the Atlanta Hawks back on track in their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
A TRIPLE DOUBLE WITH BLOCKS?! This takes Buckets and Boards to a whole new level. Almost 20 rebounds along with showing off fly swatter-like rim protection ability. This is the version of Capela that will elevate the Hawks to the next level and although he may not get ten blocks every night, he has shown that he can be a high-level rim defender. He is in the running with Andre Drummond for Buckets and Boards King of the Week for sure.
The only breathing option offensively for the Timberwolves. With Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell struggling, Beasley was nothing more than clean up duty in the scoring department to help avoid the scoreboard from looking worse.
One of the bigger bright spots in the game definitely came in the form of Naz Reid who may not have lit the scoreboard, but he flashed in a lot of ways that were promising. A near double-double along with four blocks shows that Reid is growing into his own on both sides of the floor that Minnesota can count on to be a serviceable piece off the bench behind Karl Anthony-Towns when/if he returns.
Luka continues to carry the Dallas Mavericks to victory in spite of his significant struggles from beyond the arc. It was primarily because of Doncic that Dallas was able to hold San Antonio’s late game run in order to pull out the close 122-117 victory. I believe he is still a guy in the MVP conversation if we are talking strictly about statistics but from a team success standpoint he still has a way to go. This big win to kick off back-to-back victories might be just what the doctor ordered to get this team back on track.
I say it every time: Porzingis is an animal. As this guy continues to get his court legs under him, he will become the secondary superstar next to Doncic that the Mavs need in order to truly compete in the West. Games like this show you the potential of what this duo can become when firing on all cylinders.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
It’s this simple: Tim Hardaway Jr. doing Tim Hardaway Jr. things. He is just consistent. It’s always so hard to say a lot about him because it almost feels like every week I’m copy and pasting his stats in. Just extremely consistent for this Mavs team and they need a guy like that to be serviceable night in and night out. I just wish he would create for others more and really open up his offensive game a bit more. Still a bucket getter though.
I do not know where this transformation into Point Guard Demar Derozan came from, but I like it. Over the last two seasons and most of this season so far, Derozan has slowly become one of the better facilitators for this Spurs offense. He is displaying that he has added a little crafty passing to his game while still in the same breath being a high-volume mid-range jump shooter. I do not know how conducive this style is to helping San Antonio win games, but it definitely does make this young Spurs team more exciting when they are sharing the ball.
Aldridge is just a bucket. Similar to Derozan, he has one of the sweetest mid-range and in between play styles in the league, but you can see that he is starting to drift out to the three-point line. Although we all know that the young guys are the cornerstones of this franchise moving forward, the Spurs will always be in the playoff hunt when Derozan and Aldridge are playing at a high level.
Probably the most exciting and promising young piece for this San Antonio team. He really gives them high energy and effort on both sides of the floor. He plays aggressive, gives you one highlight level play a game and gets a lot of his buckets within the flow of the game. Really like the upside of this guy and I think if he can become a competent shooter from three, he may become the centerpiece of the Spurs rebuild.
One of the best offensive Centers in the game and he is slowly showing off his potential as a sneaky defender as well. Jokic has been/should be in the conversation as a top-5 MVP candidate so far this season as he has been putting up stat lines like this all season long. Just too lethal and can kill you in too many ways.
Combining with Gary Harris for 37 points on the night along with another 17 from Monte Morris off the bench, the guards for Denver were cooking all night. This is the version of the Denver Nuggets that propelled to the Western Conference Finals last season. It was a knockdown, drag out game that took overtime, but it was Denver that pulled out the 130-126 win in the end with the Nuggets’ backcourt playing a huge role in the victory. Did I mention that it was Murray who hit the dagger three to close out the game? Looks like he might be getting some of that Bubble Clutch Gene back!
Booker has not been spectacular for the most of the season but even in a loss I think this was a breakout game for him this season. A 21-shooting attempt night with almost ten threes taken is the kind of green light that he needs to have all season. Especially with a guy like Chris Paul by his side dishing out 15 assists on the night. Paul is there to facilitate and run the offense. Booker needs to realize that now he is free to cook with hot grease and do what he does best which is put the ball in the basket as a high-volume scorer that gets better with every shot he takes.
Outstanding night for Ayton in this game. One of my favorite big men in the league right now and he is showing signs of being an All-NBA caliber player this season as we are seeing the kind of Year 3 leap that you hope to see in a guy selected No. 1 overall.
Hands down one of the best 3-and-D wings in the league already and he is only in his third season. We saw flashes in the early stages of the NBA bubble last season that he could be this elite three-point shooter that could also be a versatile Swiss Army knife for Phoenix, and this is yet another game where he shows off his potential. Bridges playing at a high level will be one of the big keys to the Suns having their first playoff appearance in what feels like forever.
Put on a show against his old team despite the loss. Gilgeous-Alexander is already being recognized as one of the most talented young guards in the NBA and continues to display why the OKC Thunder gave him the keys to the organization as the next big cornerstone following greats like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The dude is a beast. He signed a four-year contract that totals to about five million or so and it is starting to look like the best value deal contract in the league next to Lou Williams for the Clippers. The three-point shooting in the bubble was clearly not a fluke and the fact that he can guard three to four positions on the floor makes him even scarier when you realize this is only his second year in the league out of Arizona State.
Paul George is on a revenge tour and although the real test starts in the playoffs, he sure is making the league pay in the meantime. The Clippers are on a six-game winning streak now as you can tell that they are really starting to gel and play together as a unit alongside their star duo. Although it was a tough shooting night from behind the arc for the team overall (10-of-33) the two superstars rose to the occasion, superseding the shooting woes and securing the 14-point victory.
Leonard was doing it on both sides of the floor and was a big help in the rebounding department. He and PG combined for 60 points and 15 assists along with Serge Ibaka who chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Clippers won the battle on the boards 48 to 29 and that telling stat was difference on the floor. That and having two MVP caliber players on one team obviously.
The most UNDERRATED power forward in the league right now. There I said it and I’m sticking to it. He is the head of the snake that is the New York Knicks, and this team goes as Randle goes. This guy is an absolute BULLY down low and you can see it in through his rebounding and free throw attempts in this game. Definitely needs to fall out of love with that three-point shot, but he is so lethal inside that I can’t even blame him for taking shots from the outside just to keep the defense honest.
If there was a Sophomore of the Year award, it would easily go to RJ Barrett hands down with maybe Zion Williamson in New Orleans right behind him. This guy has stepped up in a big way for the Knicks this season and is a part of a real youth movement in New York. Of course, when it comes to culture changing, it’s easy to give credit to coach Thibodeau. But honestly I think the bulk of the credit should go to this team for embracing the underdog mentality and raising hell every time they step on the floor. Barrett may not have looked great his rookie year, but it is more than clear to me that he has been locked in the lab and has taken a significant leap from year one to year two.
Another all-around game for Harrison Barnes. As always, Barnes showed the entire arsenal offensively for the Kings and did so in a winning effort against the Knicks.
Rough shooting night for Fox but he is still going to find a way to get his. The big story in this game was how bad the Knicks shot from three (5-of-22) in comparison to the Kings (12-of-34) and that was really all the difference. Fox and Barnes matched the aggression of the Knicks by driving and drawing contact while Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes each got double-doubles by crashing the glass for a combined 21 points and 25 rebounds. Kings are always a fun team watch when everyone is clicking and playing up to their potential.