Tennis is really heating up, you guys. Just like we said it would. But before we get to that, there’s basketball to break down – including the first faceoff between the Knicks and Celtics since this went down. Let’s get to it.
Carmelo got the best of KG this time.
Well, either Kevin Garnett said nothing inappropriate about Carmelo Anthony’s wife – or whatever he actually said to get under Carmelo’s skin on Jan. 7, since no one ever specified – or Carmelo was able to better ignore it this time – he scored 28 points in an 89-86 Knicks win in Boston. Yeah, it tok him 28 shots to get those 28 points, but: baby steps.
Well, in fairness, this was a lot more than baby steps for the Knicks. The Celtics are struggling, true, but winning in Boston is still a big deal for a Knicks team that had failed to do just that in its last 11 tries. Games between these teams are generally spirited and tightly contested, and this one was no different. The Knicks had to deal with peak Rajon Rondo (23 points/10 rebounds/11 assists), J.R. Smith shot 3-for-16, Carmelo had far from a banner shooting night himself, the Knicks shot 8-for-28 from three overall… and they still won. Why, for Carmelo it must taste as sweet as honey.
Oh, and one area from which the Knicks did get some efficient scoring contributions: Amar’e Stoudemire. He posted 15 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes, marking his third straight game with 15 or more. Not exactly $100 million man numbers, but that’s not what the Knicks need him to be anyway – for now, they need him to give some inside scoring punch off the bench to bulk up the frontcourt. Right now, he’s giving it to them, and if he keeps playing at this level – which he’ll need to for the Knicks to be a legitimate threat to win the East – he’ll be a valuable asset.
Around the Association…
Sometimes the Clippers look unbeatable even without Chris Paul (see that blowout win over the Grizzlies earlier this month). Other times you think, “Boy, bet they could really use Chris Paul right now.” Safe to say, last night’s 93-88 loss to the Suns fit the latter category. It’s not that Eric Bledsoe was bad – he posted 15 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in 30 minutes (and fouled out) – but it’s sure nice being able to use him and Paul as a tag team.
And while the Clippers didn’t play much of an offensive game, period, shooting 39.8 percent from the field (in particular, the bench aside from Jamal Crawford struggled; the Clips’ other reserves combined to shoot 7-for-32), this game was won and lost at the line. The Clippers made just 16 of their 26 free throw attempts, while the Suns connected on 28 of their 37. This was the Clippers’ third straight loss – granted, the previous two were to very good Warriors and Thunder teams, but the incredible run they had where they pretty much won just by showing up is a thing of the past. They’re still an excellent team filled with quality players, but to be at their best, they need their best, and that’s Paul.
In the NBA’s other action of the night, the Raptors edged the Magic, 97-95. The bad news for the Magic: they’ve lost 15 of 17 after a surprisingly decent start, reverting to the team most imagined they’d be after trading away Dwight Howard. The good news: they continue to look like they’ve really found something in Nikola Vucevic (19 and 14 last night), and, well, not sure if you’ve heard, but things aren’t going so great for Howard either.
College basketball upset watch:
UCLA got the better of No. 6 Arizona on the road, 84-73. While this certainly qualifies as an upset since it was an unranked squad over a top-10 team on the road, UCLA’s actually becoming an awfully tough team itself. They’re now 6-1 in the Pac-12, Shabazz Muhammad (23 points last night) is the difference-maker he was expected to be, and Kyle Anderson (eight points, 12 rebounds, four steals) continues to be a unique hybrid player with a weird skill set that we’re looking forward to see him try to adapt to the NBA game eventually. Oh, and also VCU fell to Richmond 86-74 in overtime, the Rams’ first loss in 14 games.
The Aussie Open gets real.
This is why we were excited. You know how we kept saying we were fine with the lack of upsets in the early going at the Australian Open, because it was setting up great tennis from the world’s best players in the later rounds? Well, last night/this morning, Andy Murray and Roger Federer showed exactly why. Murray, who’s finally consistently delivering on all his potential, prevailed, but not before Federer pushed him to five sets in a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2 classic that spanned four hours. Those two tiebreaks represented Murray’s first dropped sets of the tournament, but surely those are excusable against the greatest player of all time.
Federer might not be quite what he once was, but any victory against him is still fully earned, and he’s still unquestionably one of the game’s elite players. The loss to Murray isn’t a sign of his own decline – it’s a sign that Murray is putting it all together. 2012 featured a lot of breakthroughs for Murray – reaching the Wimbledon final before losing to Federer, getting revenge on Federer on that same court during the Olympics, beating Novak Djokovic for his first major at the U.S. Open – and so far, that momentum’s carrying over into 2013. Men’s tennis, already top-heavy with some of the greatest talents ever to play, is even better now that Murray’s even better. That’s great for the sport.
And speaking of Djokovic: he and Murray will face off for the title, just as they did two years ago. This, though, is a very different Murray, and overall, he’s had a more impressive tournament than Djokovic. Djokovic, however, might be rounding into peak form just in time, if his 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 semifinal romp over David Ferrer is any indication (Djokovic on his semifinal performance: “I played perfectly”). At the moment, Djokovic and Murray are the two best players on tour, just like Djokovic and Rafa Nadal were when they played in the Aussie finals last year. That match was an all-time classic. We’ve got high hopes for this one, too.
Go crazy, but not this crazy.
Photos via Getty