FOX Sports NBA Analyst
The inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament continued on Tuesday with a pair of semifinals matchups.
These were the biggest moments of the night:
Bucks 146, Knicks 122
The Punching Bag was nearly perfect. It didn’t matter.
Ask a New York Knicks’ fan for the No. 1 shortcoming of their favorite team, and they’re more than likely to say their power forward, Julius Randle — a.k.a., The Punching Bag — shoots too much and scores too little. He took the floor for Tuesday’s quarterfinal showdown against the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament, averaging the second-most field-goal attempts for the Knicks while shooting their 11th-best field-goal percentage.
None of that was apparent Tuesday night. Randle took a total of 31 shots — 12 from the free-throw line, two from beyond the arc — and made 25 of them for a game-high 41 points. He did not miss a shot at all in the first half, going 9 for 9 from the field and 6 for 6 at the free-throw line.
All of that was only enough to keep the Knicks within three at halftime and not nearly enough to offset one of their worst defensive performances in decades as the Bucks throttled them, 146-122. The 146 points were the most a Knicks’ team has allowed since 1979. The 37, 38 and 37 points they gave up in the first, second and third quarters represented the first time since 1962 that they allowed an opponent to score 30-plus points in each of the first three quarters. That game occurred in Hershey, PA, against the Philadelphia Warriors, whose center, Wilt Chamberlain, scored 100 of their 169 points.
Yeah, not since that game has the Knicks’ defense been that porous.
And while Randle shot well for the Knicks, everybody shot well for the Bucks, regardless of distance. They made 23 of 38 three-pointers, their long-range percentage (60.5) actually a touch better than their overall percentage (59.8). Credit that to their ball movement and collective unselfishness, which produced 32 assists and six players scoring in double figures, with Brook Lopez and AJ Green nearly making it eight with 9 points each.
There’s a good chance that the Bucks will need to be nearly as prolific in their semifinal matchup against the league’s No. 1 offense, the Indiana Pacers. That game is set for Thursday in Las Vegas at 2 p.m.
The league provided cash prizes as an added tournament incentive. Each quarterfinalist player earned $50,000. Every semifinalist makes $100,000. Losers in the final receive $200,000, while the winners get $500,000.
The money apparently isn’t a motivating factor for Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was surprised to hear he’d already earned the 100K. “We get money now?” Antetokounmpo asked. “The rich get richer.”
Lakers 106, Suns 103
Devin Booker switched hats at halftime, removing his single-minded scoring chapeau for a playmaking one. LeBron James wore both the entire night. The takeaway: Booker is getting closer to being the kind of player who can lead a team somewhere notable. He’s just not there yet.
James, a few weeks away from his 39th birthday, is. Still.
James logged 40 minutes — including all 12 of the fourth quarter — as a dual threat, resulting in a 31-point and 11-assist night and needing only two more rebounds for a triple double. Booker seemed to be on a mission through the first two quarters to prove he could score on whatever defense the Lakers threw at him; it was not very productive either for him or the team. The Suns trailed by 12 at halftime and had more turnovers (13) than assists (12). Booker was a big reason for the negative ratio and the deficit with five turnovers, two assists and needing nine shots to score eight points.
That changed immediately at the start of the third quarter and restarted the contest from scratch. Booker had three assists in the first three minutes, finding Grayson Allen for all three buckets, two of them from long range. Combined with a pair of Booker free throws and a swooping dunk by Kevin Durant, it was a 12-0 run that made it 59-all with 9:16 left in the period.
Both Durant and the Lakers’ Anthony Davis had their moments. Or, more accurately, their halves. Davis dominated the first two quarters, outscoring the Suns’ center combo of Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks, 20-6, and out-rebounding them 6-5. Durant had a relatively quiet nine-point first half but went nuclear in the second, drilling 9 of 12 shots for 22 points.
The performances of all four stars underscored their team’s respective hierarchies. AD and KD are essential contributors; VPs, if you will. But the top of the org charts belong to James and Booker. With James still holding rank as the better CEO.
One last note: the game ended with a bizarre sequence that isn’t going to quell the notion that James and the Lakers get unique deference from officials, fueled largely by the massive disparity between their free-throw attempts and those of their opponents. (Last year the Lakers attempted a league-high 2,182 while their opponents were awarded a league-low of 1,706; this year the difference is a fourth-best 538 vs. a third-lowest 386.) The Suns, trailing by two after a Durant reverse layup with 11 seconds left, forced Austin Reaves to cough up the ball, with Grayson Allen retrieving it near the baseline. Allen had a clear lane for an easy layup to tie the score. But referee Tom Washington signaled that James had called a timeout and the Lakers retained possession of the ball, forcing the Suns to foul Davis on the subsequent inbound play. Davis made 1 of 2 free throws and Durant’s last-second heave to force overtime fell short.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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