1. The Return Of Bogut: Australian For Cheer
TORONTO -- Andrew Bogut broke his shoelace in the visitors locker room postgame at the Air Canada Centre on Monday and joked it was a result of his brute strength. Then he complained about the weather in Toronto -- the Australian center who spends most of his time in California can't show off his muscles wearing an undershirt in January up here. Bogut wore a smile through all of this and exited the locker room in a musical mood, singing, "Hello, hello, it's good to be back."
Bogut's first game since the first week of November was good for both him and his team, as the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 114-102, a needed victory after dropping the first two games of their Eastern Conference road trip in Chicago and Milwaukee. Returning from rehabilitating his surgically repaired left ankle and suiting up for just the fifth time since being acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks two days before last season's trade deadline, he was pleased to be playing after what he called a "bumpy ride."
"It's been a long season for me so far, a frustrating season both mentally and physically," Bogut said. "Just to be out there running up and down the court again, especially getting the win, it was very satisfying."
He made an impact early, scoring on a hook shot 14 seconds into the game. He finished with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks and a steal in 24 solid minutes. Three of the six field goals were dunks, including a particularly powerful one in the second quarter. "That kind of showed my ankle's feeling pretty good," Bogut said.
Perhaps the prettiest play of the night was his first slam, a simple two-hander just more than two minutes into the game. Stephen Curry and David Lee ran a pick-and-roll on the right wing and Curry threw a left-handed pass to the All-Star power forward. Just as soon as Bogut's man, Aaron Gray, rotated to Lee, a touch pass headed Bogut's way for the finish. It was the kind of chemistry Warriors fans have been looking forward to since last March.
"It's very easy," Bogut said of sharing the frontcourt with Lee. "We're both high basketball IQ guys so it's not like some issues where we need to practice together for a month to get to know each other. I've been studying the way he plays when I've been hurt. I'm watching guys' tendencies, not just David's but everybody's. I think we're both great passers, great ball handlers; we complement each other pretty well."
"I think that as we go on our high-low game is going to be very effective just because it's hard for teams to help in on that high-low because you have such good shooters on the wings," Lee said. "So it's going to create some more problems for other teams' defenses."
Lee could barely get that sentence out before praising Bogut's defense, though. In Milwaukee, Bogut was one of the best defenders on the planet -- strong and smart, directing his teammates, the rare big man who plays great post defense and pick-and-roll defense, blocks shots and takes charges. That's the main reason Bogut was brought to the Bay Area. Late in the second quarter, he blocked a DeMar DeRozan driving layup. Then, after his pass to Curry didn't connect, he blocked a Gray layup. It happened in a span of 10 seconds.
"I felt like I became a better defender tonight because he's constantly talking to me and constantly rotating to get my back and vice versa," Lee said. "That's going to be the major improvement and I'm excited for us to continue to get used to playing on the same frontline and being even better."
"Some guys might think, 'Whoa, this guy's been out for all this time, he's already telling us where to go.' But I think defensively I see a lot," Bogut said. "I'm a pretty vocal guy, so I'm [calling] out screens, making sure guys don't get nailed, making sure there's help at all times. I've got no problem doing that."
Bogut's teammates have no problem with it either. "To have a veteran like that -- obviously we had Festus [Ezeli], who was playing most of his minutes, so a guy that knows the game a little better, I think it'll show in our defensive performances," Curry said.
It certainly helped down low -- Golden State scored a season-high 62 points in the paint and gave up just 34. Curry referred to him as a "presence" inside and Warriors coach Mark Jackson was more than excited to have his missing piece back in action.
"He was great," Jackson said. "You can tell we're a different basketball team with him on the floor. He's a weapon on the offensive end. His ability to pass, his ability to rebound, block shots and also make plays -- it's great to have him. Makes me a better coach."
Golden State's biggest run of the game came at the beginning of the third quarter, turning a 54-52 halftime deficit into a 71-60 lead in less than five minutes with Bogut on the floor. Almost immediately after he went to the bench, Toronto went on a 16-4 run in just more than three minutes.
Bogut said the plan is to stick to a 25-minute limit until the All-Star break in mid-February, without playing on back-to-back nights, then "lifting the lid off everything and being back to normal." He said he has no complaints physically and feels nothing he did when he tried to give it a go at the start of the season, when "my ankle just felt like jelly and just kind of collapsed on itself." He was encouraged by his explosiveness and his ability to give second and third efforts.
"I didn't feel too bad," Bogut said. "Our trainers here have done a great job of making sure that I'm getting my conditioning in when I was hurt -- [anti-gravity] treadmill and elliptical -- so I've been doing a fair bit. But it's very hard to simulate on-court conditioning when you're nervous and there's fans, people cheering when the lights come on. It's a little different. For the most part I felt pretty good, but there's still a little ways to go."
There may be a little way to go, but Bogut will enjoy getting himself there. The ride should be a lot less bumpy from here on out.
James Herbert's work appears on Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him @outsidethenba
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Spearheading a balanced attack that saw seven Warriors score in double-figures, David Lee played one of his finest all-around games of the season. The All-Star had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists on 10-of-17 shooting from the field.
Defining moment: Trailing 86-85 after a John Lucas III 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, Toronto went scoreless for the next 5:53. By then, the Golden State lead was 11 and the Raptors couldn't recover.
That was a double-edged sword: Andrew Bogut played for the first time since Nov. 7, and the Warriors were finally at full strength. Then Steph Curry tweaked his fragile right ankle and was forced to leave the game for good.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay -- the latter perpetual trade bait, the former an All-Star snub -- were tremendous. The pair combined for 53 points on 20-of-32 shooting, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and both saved their best for crunch time. Gay scored the go-ahead bucket with 13.3 seconds left while Gasol blocked Nick Young as time expired.
LVP: Though Zach Randolph pulled down 12 rebounds against the undersized Sixers, Z-Bo managed just a season-low four points on 2-of-7 shooting and was conspicuously inactive on an evening when seemingly everyone else in uniform was making plays.
That was terrific: Seven ties, 15 lead changes, five 20+-point scorers, both teams better than 54 percent from the floor, the outcome in doubt until Nick Young spotted up to take a 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left -- not bad for what looked to the world to be a ho-hum contest between two unevenly matched teams who sit in the bottom third of the NBA in offensive efficiency.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Isaiah Thomas. After a slow, quietly effective early game, Thomas turned it on in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in the final seven minutes of the contest, including a wild buzzer-beater in which he dribbled around two Wizards. Also got seven crucial assists for his trouble.
LVP: With six turnovers, 2-of-8 shooting, and four points, including one completely wide open dunk created by Emeka Okafor, Nene Hilario barely sopped up 30 minutes. Any more offense from Nene and the Wizards likely win this.
X factor: The Kings' passing. Surprisingly, despite several possessions in which the concept of "off-ball movement" seemed foreign to the young Kings, occasional bouts of brilliant, correct passing broke out and the Kings finished with 24 assists on 36 buckets.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Deron Williams did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 18 of his 20 points to give the Nets a 16-point lead at the break. Williams played the role of facilitator in the second half and finished with nine assists.
X factor: The "Bench Mob" for Brooklyn were the difference-makers against the Magic. The Nets' second unit outscored Orlando's bench, 41-14, and helped blow the game wide open in the fourth quarter.
Defining moment: After a lackluster third quarter, in which Brooklyn was outscored 23-14 by the Magic and relinquished a double-digit lead, the Nets opened the final period on a 23-4 run and cruised to a 97-77 victory.
Recap | Box score
MVP: As he has done throughout the season, Joakim Noah did it all for the Bulls. He tallied 18 rebounds, 13 points, 7 assists and 5 blocks. He is the first Bull since 1998 to grab 15 or more rebounds in four straight games.
LVP: Ramon Sessions was a real spark off the bench the last time the Bulls and Bobcats met, scoring 15. But Monday night he went 2-for-9 from the field and missed multiple layups, which translated into a negative-15 plus/minus.
That was unusual: Luol Deng, in his first game back from a hamstring injury, played just 31 minutes. That's his third lowest total of the season. With the emergence of Jimmy Butler (19 points), Deng may finally start to get some much needed rest.
3. Monday's Best
Rudy Gay, Grizzlies: The man around whom trade talks swirl like a winter storm scored 26 points, including the winning basket off his own rebound with 13.3 seconds left, to lead Memphis to a 103-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
4. Monday's Worst
Historic Utah beatdown: Most foes roll into Salt Lake City not expecting a win, usually with good reason. But the Jazz saw a six-game home win streak snapped with their worst home loss ever, a 125-80 thrashing by Houston. Rockets guard Jeremy Lin was sharp, riding high like a subject of a movie at Sundance. Which he is.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Naturally, he may be a fun, outgoing guy, but for you to walk around every now and then with a scowl on your face or to get in someone's face, it puts everyone on notice and it puts everyone on edge."
-- Kobe Bryant, going over the recent closed-door meeting and the demeanor he believes Dwight Howard should carry himself with.
8. Winning Celebration
9. Stat Check
David Lee posted team-high totals of 21 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists in Warriors' victory at Toronto. It was the second game this season in which Lee reached those minimums in each of those three categories. The only other NBA players to have more than one such game this season are LeBron James (four), Kevin Durant (three) and Josh Smith (three).
See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night
Most valuable player: Danilo Gallinari scored 19 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, including seven of his team's final 11 points. Winning by just one, Denver obviously needed every last bucket, but this was magnified by a near-five-minute scoreless stretch late that almost cost the Nuggets the game.
X factor: Lance Stephenson scored a season-high 20 points and was the entire offense during a furious late-game comeback by Indiana. With his team down 14 and just more than six minutes to play, he scored or assisted on 13 of the Pacers' next 15 points as they cut the lead to just two.
That was redemption: Andre Iguodala was fouled in transition on back-to-back Nuggets possessions with less than 2:30 to play. He missed all four free throws. Then, after a controversial foul was called on Paul George as Iguodala leapt for a lob on a desperation out-of-bounds play with less than a second remaining, Andre stepped back to the line. He knocked down the shot, and Denver won by one.
MVP: James Harden scored a coldly efficient 25 points on just 15 shots and in just 28 minutes. He was the leader of the second-quarter offensive ambush that killed any chances of a Utah comeback.
Least valuable player: The Jazz's starting frontcourt. Not only did Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap combine to shoot a cringe-inducing 7-of-29 from the field, their defense was little more than a runway for Houston layups and dunks.
That was an evisceration: Houston dominated this game as completely as an NBA team could dominate another. At tip-off, Houston staked a claim in the paint and defended it for 48 minutes.
Max & Marcellus: 1/28 [hr3]
Black Mamba Kobe Bryant calls Max & Marcellus and talks about taking on different rolls to help his team win. Kobe talks about the difficulty of showing patience. Kobe compares his relationship with Shaq to his relationship with Dwight.