Archive for Net Proceeds

In case you thought this would be easy

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,” observed Dr. Johnson, “it concentrates the mind wonderfully.” The Golden State Warriors, facing elimination not in two weeks but in four quarters, buckled down from the get-go and presented their hometown crowd with the hope of one more game, mostly by controlling the paint and keeping the Thunder from easy dashes to the rim. OKC led for 14 seconds in the third quarter, but that was it; when Andre Roberson fouled out inside the two-minute mark, you could see the game slipping away. Steph Curry (of course) picked up two free throws on that foul, giving the Warriors an eight-point lead, and then stole the ball on the next possession. A layup followed, and the last Thunder rally fell short. Golden State 120, Oklahoma City 111, forcing Game Six back in the Big Breezy on Saturday night.

To win actual games, you must score points. Kevin Durant scored 40, but it took him 31 shots. (He did hit all 13 of his free throws.) Russell Westbrook came up with 31 on 28 shots. Compare to the Splash Brothers, who scored less but with a lot less work: Curry 31 on 20 shots, Klay Thompson 27 on 21 shots. The Warriors, who shot around 50 percent most of the night, fell to 47, but the Thunder never broke above the middle 40s and finished at 43. Nor would rebounding save them; the boards were even at 45 each. And the X Factor might have been Andrew Bogut, who played an unprecedented (for him, anyway) 30 minutes in the middle, collecting 15 points and 14 boards while guarding the paint. But this is the line that bugs me the most: Enes Kanter was at 0 on the plus/minus scale while scoring one point. Evidently it wasn’t his night.

Dispatching the Warriors in Game 6 becomes a bit more urgent, because if the series goes to seven, it’s back to Oakland, and I have to assume that nobody wants to go back to Oakland. And some of our own fans are, um, excitable:

If things are done right, that won’t be necessary.


And the arena goes totally nuts

The great mystery to Thunder fans was the fact that the NBA did, after all, elevate Draymond Green’s assault on Steven Adams’ dangly bits to a Flagrant Two, but did not order Green’s suspension. This was fine with me, for the sake of asterisk avoidance: if the Thunder pull off a win in this series, I don’t want to hear anyone warbling “Yeah, what did you expect would happen when they lost a starter for one whole game?” Which would have been dumb anyway, since Green hasn’t been that much of a factor in the series, though he did reel in 11 rebounds tonight. The bigger threat was Klay Thompson, who was held to four points in the first half but exploded for twenty-two in the third quarter, enabling the Warriors to shave the Thunder’s 19-point halftime lead to as little as four. Still, OKC was up 12 at the beginning of the fourth, and the forgotten Andre Roberson — the Warriors didn’t even bother to guard him when the series began — wrought havoc on Golden State during that final frame. With the Thunder up 23 at the 3:15 mark, Steve Kerr yielded; it wasn’t technically over, but it might as well have been. Oklahoma City 118, Golden State 94, and Brian Davis asked Dre at the end: “What did you have for breakfast, and can I have some?”

Statistic to ponder: Roberson finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. Further statistic to ponder: Klay Thompson, who had 26 after three quarters, finished with, um, 26. Steph Curry spent 20 shots getting 19 points, and Draymond Green made one shot all night. Meanwhile, Dre and Kevin Durant were assembling double-doubles — KD had 26 points and 11 rebounds — and just because, Russell Westbrook turned in a triple-double (36-11-11).

There will of course be a Game 5, in Oakland on Thursday. This is about where the Warriors, and all the pundits, figured they’d be wrapping it up. And ABC, which will be carrying the Finals, must be beside itself with grief; suppose the Thunder dispose of the Warriors, if not Thursday, then shortly afterward, and suppose the Raptors, dead even with Cleveland through four games, manage to finish off the Cavs. You’ve got Nielsen Small Market vs. Nielsen No Market At All. Great argument, as always, for radio.

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This time it’s personal

This one opened fairly well, with the Thunder squeezing out a six-point lead after the first quarter. As Oklahoma City started to open up some distance, there was a nasty yet ludicrous contretemps: Steven Adams fouled Golden State’s Draymond Green, and Green, in keeping with his style earlier in this series, kicked Adams in the nards. Literally.

Draymond Green on the attack

Adams’ expression says this: “You try that stunt one more time, and I find out about it…”

Green was tagged with a Flagrant One, free throws were exchanged, and the Thunder were off. Whether it was karma or simple vengefulness, OKC proceeded to pound the living crap out of the Warriors, taking a 25-point lead (72-47!) at the half, running that lead to as many as 41 in the third quarter, and the Splash Brothers were vaporized before the fourth quarter even started. Oklahoma City 133, Golden State 105, and the Thunder go up 2-1.

How bad did it get for Golden State? Steph Curry got a respectable 24 points, but it took him 17 shots; Klay Thompson poured in 18, but it took him 19 shots. Nobody else made double figures. And Draymond Green, 1-9 for six points with four turnovers, finished -43 for the evening.

Meanwhile, the two big Thunder stars got a bit of unexpected rest, with neither playing in the final frame. Kevin Durant knocked down 33 points; Russell Westbrook 30 (with eight boards and 12 dimes). Four more in double figures, with Enes Kanter collecting a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds). The Thunder shot 50 percent; the Warriors took the same number of shots (92) but missed eight more. Rebounds? OKC, 52-38. Assists? OKC, 21-19. Free throws? OKC 33-37 (89 percent), Golden State 19-25 (76 percent). But here’s where the Warriors got cut off at the knees: after 4-12 from long distance in the first quarter, they were 6-21 thereafter. A Warrior team without the three-point shot is … well, down by 28 at the horn.

Game 4 is here in the Big Breezy on Tuesday. Nobody is expecting it to be easy. But if Draymond Green sticks out that big foot one more time, the Thunder are going to force it down his throat — or up somewhere else.

(Photo: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman.)

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Swift and ferocious payback

Monday night, some folks were wondering when Stephen Curry would finally get hot. The answer turned out to be tonight in the third quarter, in which Steph knocked down something like a hundred points in a row. More or less simultaneously with this eruption, the Thunder went totally to pieces; after that 31-19 quarter, OKC was down twenty, and the Warriors opened the fourth with an 11-2 run. That was it for Billy Donovan; to give the man credit, he always knows where his towel is, especially when it’s time to throw it in. Golden State 118, Oklahoma City 91, the series is even, and, well, hey, no one figured the Thunder would win one in Oakland.

Pretty much everything went the Warriors’ way: OKC held a one-point lead for all of twelve seconds, late in the second quarter. Seven Warriors scored in double figures. (The Thunder had two, exactly the two you think.) The usual Thunder strength — rebounding — failed them tonight: the Warriors had a 45-36 edge on the boards. The long ball, which did not serve Golden State particularly well Monday night, was deployed effectively this time around: 13 of 28. (Curry was 5-8 from distance; the Thunder in aggregate was 7-23.)

So what happened? Various Twitter wags will blame it on Kyle Singler, who played the last eight minutes and collected one rebound, one steal, and one foul. But the game was already lost before Singler ever made it to the scorers’ table. The OKC defense didn’t defend when they had to — Golden State shot 51 percent for the night — and while once again Curry missed game-high honors, which went to Kevin Durant with 29, there didn’t seem to be much of anything Steph couldn’t do tonight, which demonstrates why of recent MVPs, he might be the M-est.

The series resumes in Oklahoma City Sunday and continues Tuesday. No predictions: frankly, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the crystal ball.

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Curry disfavored

Come out and play? Of course the Warriors did. That’s what they do, and that’s what they did better than anyone else for 82 games, or at least 73 of them. And going into halftime, they had a nice ten-point lead — until Steph Curry delivered one of his patented buzzer-beaters. So make that a nice 13-point lead. This was apparently Russell Westbrook’s wakeup call: after a three-point first half, he scored half of the Thunder’s 38 points in the third quarter and was a factor in most of the others. At the beginning of the fourth, Golden State was up only three; halfway through the fourth, the Warriors were down four. The Thunder ran that lead to eight, only to see the Warriors trim it to three in two possessions. And then, there things sat for a couple of minutes; at 1:12 it was 101-100 OKC. Over the next 40 seconds, there followed two Steven Adams free throws — he hit six of nine! — and a Kevin Durant rebound, leading to a pullup jumper. Andre Iguodala came back with a layup to bring the Warriors back to within three; Westbrook sank one of two free throws to make it a four-point spread. The mighty Steph Curry somehow missed, Westbrook got two more free throws, Curry sent up another air ball, and all California is stunned: Oklahoma City 108, Golden State 102.

What happened? Defense, something the Thunder apparently had to nudge into position over an extended period, threw a very damp blanket over the Warriors’ offense in that second half. This is not to say that the usual suspects didn’t get their points — Curry finished with 26, Klay Thompson 25, Draymond Green 23 — but they got them early: 60 in the first half, only 42 in the second, while the Thunder squeaked out, um, 61. Durant’s terrible, no good 10-30 night yielded up 26 points; Westbrook closed out with a game-high 27 and 12 assists; but no one stood taller than Steven Adams, 5-8 from the floor, a 16-12 double-double, and +19 for the night.

Notably, Billy Donovan didn’t uproot people from the bench in a desperate search for some combination of five that might work: the only reserves who saw any playing time were Dion Waiters (10 points), Enes Kanter (8) and Randy Foye (3). I read this as Donovan’s conclusion that the Kanter/Adams Real Big combo wasn’t going to be ideal against the Golden State Small Ball unter Alles routine. Which is why he’s the coach and I’m going to stare at the box score in disbelief for a few more minutes.

Game 2 is day after tomorrow in Oakland. Cardiac patients should probably take precautions.


Get outta here, ya knuckleheads

Early in the second quarter, with the Thunder cranking up the intensity, it occurred to me what might have been said in the OKC locker room before tipoff: “Do we really want to play these guys one more time?” The answer seemed pretty obvious at the time, but the third quarter hammered it home. The Spurs, held to a miserable 31 points in the first half, got loose for 34; but the Thunder picked up 36, so San Antonio actually lost ground. So I decided to focus on Tim Duncan, the grand old man in grey and black, who had his best night of the series tonight, and just to make it interesting, the Spurs opened the fourth quarter with a 14-3 run, most of which seemed to come from Kawhi Leonard. The Thunder stumbled around a bit, as they’ve done too often in fourth quarters before, with Russell Westbrook inflicting a Flagrant One upon Danny Green. (Green, obligingly, missed one of the two free throws, and the extra San Antonio possession produced no bucket.) But order was restored to the universe, and Duncan and Andre Miller, possibly on their way to Retirementville, were allowed to finish things up in grand style. (Good call, Pop.) Oklahoma City 113, San Antonio 99, and if you had “Thunder in six,” step forward and claim whatever it is you’re supposed to be getting.

This is the juxtaposition that screamed at me from the box score: the Spurs were 13-16 on free throws. Kevin Durant was 12-12. (KD finished with 37 for the night.) And really, I’m not used to seeing San Antonio get a whole crapton of fouls; Manu Ginobili (how?) actually fouled out. Desperation will make you do strange things. And for a while there, the Spurs were flailing about like crazy. Still, you don’t get this far into the playoffs without something intangible. Maybe it was those two elderly gentlemen, Miller and Duncan, showing how it’s done. (Duncan was +13 for the night with 19 points; Miller dished up four assists and snagged three rebounds in a mere nine minutes.) You have to figure that next season’s Spurs will be plenty tough: they still have Kawhi and LaMarcus and maybe even Tony Parker. But, as the poet said, that’s next season. For now, our attention turns westward, where the Warriors will be waiting in Oakland, and they’re tough and scrappy and incredibly freaking dangerous, the way defending champions are supposed to be.


Gimme five

After the thirteenth Thunder turnover — still in the second quarter, mind you — you might reasonably have concluded that OKC was going down, and going down hard. You might not have expected that they’d learn some ball control in the second half, but they manifestly did: in those last 24 minutes they gave the ball up only seven times. And with 42 seconds left, the Thunder actually held a one-point lead, 92-91. Danny Green stripped the ball away from Kevin Durant, but the Spurs weren’t able to turn that turnover into actual points, and after a difficult inbound, Russell Westbrook made a mad dash to the rim — “and one,” as Dion Waiters is wont to say — and the Thunder were up four with six seconds left. Kawhi Leonard tried a three, Tony Parker retrieved the miss and Green tried another, but to no avail. Oklahoma City 95, San Antonio 91, the Thunder lead the series 3-2, and suddenly something the local pundits had been suggesting started to make sense: give the Spurs three days rest, and they’re fine, but with only one day — well, Tim Duncan once got a DNP-OLD, and he’s way older than that now.

Then again, Duncan played 28 minutes tonight, and if he’s lost some speed, he’s lost none of his slyness. And Danny Green, held scoreless last time out, sprang for 20 points, tied with Kawhi and six behind LaMarcus. But the San Antonio bench, while it did yeoman work keeping the Thunder away from the cylinder, didn’t make much in the way of shots: five reserves, 11 points. (Then again, the OKC second string managed only 20.) The Spurs wound up shooting just under 40 percent, which doesn’t exactly shine. And they pulled in a mere 36 rebounds, while the Thunder collected 54.

Still, it’s never just numbers. And tonight it was Westbrook, blurry like he’d taken some of those Acme earthquake pills, with 35 points, 11 boards, and nine assists. (And yes, eight turnovers.) Kevin Durant added 23. It took those two 48 shots to get 58 points, but what the heck; Steven Adams went 5-8 from the floor and posted yet another double-double.

Game 6 is in OKC. Day after tomorrow. Suddenly that seems portentous.

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Wrenching torque

You always have to wonder what Gregg Popovich is going to throw at you. Tonight, the Spurs didn’t put up so many treys, and David West was turned loose to wreak havoc. West delivered, Tony Parker turned in another sterling performance, and it was obvious that something was going to have to happen if the Thunder were going to climb back into this thing. That something, like so many times before, was Kevin Durant, with 17 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter, while Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge — and possibly even Pop — wondered what the hell happened. With Durant in the middle of a pair of free throws — he got one — Pop pulled the big men, and it was window-dressing from that point. The Thunder won this one decisively, 111-97, and the series is tied up 2-2. “What was going on here tonight?” asked TV guy Brian Davis. “Basketball,” answered Dion Waiters laconically. And he could afford to be laconic; he’d just played keepaway for 24 seconds to burn up what was left of the clock.

Except for free throws, the Thunder owned the major box-score numbers: 51-47 shooting, 39-17 on treys (the Spurs hoisted twelve, hit only two), 40-30 rebounding, 23-12 on assists. Neither Aldridge nor Leonard got a shot from the floor in the entire fourth quarter. Neither Tim Duncan nor Danny Green got a shot from the floor in the entire game. Still, you want a hero here, you go to Steven Adams, +21 for the night, 16 points and 11 boards, much of this late alongside Enes Kanter, Billy Donovan having concluded that going small late in the fourth wasn’t working. (Kanter checked in with 11, and Waiters was a thumping 7-11 for 17.)

Beforehand, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth: what if this were the last game ever for Kevin Durant in Thunder home white? And we’ll probably hear that again before Game 6. The important thing for right now, though, is that there will be a Game 6.


Neither Super nor Sonic

I’m wondering just how much I should read into this:

When the Seattle City Council this week blocked a developer’s effort to build a new sports arena and bring professional basketball back to the city, the disappointment among the city’s basketball fans was no surprise.

Many were still pining over the loss of the SuperSonics franchise to Oklahoma City in 2008.

But nobody seemed prepared for the vitriol unleased against the female gender.

The plan was shot down in a 5-4 vote — or more specifically, five women to four men.

I mean, I don’t think this was girls vs. boys, necessarily:

The proposal for a $550-million arena — with $200 million coming from taxpayers — was San Francisco developer Chris Hansen’s attempt to bring a National Basketball Assn. franchise back to Seattle and attract a National Hockey League team.

Disappointed fans couldn’t fathom the council’s refusal to accept a $20-million offer from Hansen to vacate part of a street needed for his arena site near the Seahawks’ and Mariners’ stadiums downtown.

“I think someone should smash Kshama Sawant’s head into a brick wall,” one Twitter user wrote, referring to one of the women who voted no.

“So this is why Ann Coulter has said that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote,” said another online commentor.

Contrary to popular belief, Sawant is the only full-blown socialist on the council.

“Perhaps I risked the promise of new, future jobs,” Councilwoman Lisa Herbold said Thursday, “but my vote was decided in favor of protecting industrial and maritime jobs that we have now so that we can maintain the diversified economy that has kept our region strong in good economic times as well as the downturns.”


And maybe some distaste for Hansen’s ways:

Weeks after his aggressive bid to buy and relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle failed, hedge fund manager Chris Hansen bankrolled an effort to undercut a deal the team’s new owners made to build an arena in Sacramento.

Hansen, who donated $100,000 on June 21 to a political action committee attempting to halt the $448 million deal to build the Kings a new downtown arena, says he “made a mistake” by giving a Los Angeles law firm $100,000.

The firm of Loeb & Loeb secretly funneled $80,000 to a group gathering signatures to force a public vote on the arena plan, which includes funding of at least $258 million in public money.

Leaving ten grand for each Loeb, I guess.

(Via Fark.)

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Another uphill slog

Things were frustrating enough this evening for me to pick out my most transcendent moment early: it was during the second quarter, when the image of Governor Fallin appeared on the big screen at the ‘Peake, and Loud City erupted in a gleeful chorus of boos. Then came the fourth quarter, and with eight minutes left the Thunder, previously down as many as 15, had pulled to within two. Then Serge Ibaka knocked down a trey — his fifth! — and Russell Westbrook added another one. Suddenly it was Thunder by four. The Spurs, of course, were not going to take that lying down; with 1:19 left, having scored on eight of nine possessions, were up seven. Over the next thirty seconds, Westbrook would knock down five; two Tony Parker free throws ran the Spur lead back to four. It took most of the clock for OKC to respond, with a Dion Waiters bank shot; Kawhi Leonard hit two more free throws, and time ran out on the Thunder. San Antonio 100, Oklahoma City 96, and now the Spurs are near, if not precisely in, the catbird seat.

Moral victories, of course, are still recorded as losses, but the Thunder did manage to hold LaMarcus Aldridge down to a mere 24 points, after 38 and 41 in the first two. The problem with that, though, is that it gave Kawhi Leonard more space, and Leonard was really good at using more space, collecting 31 points and 11 rebounds. (Leonard was 9-17 from the floor; Russell Westbrook also scored 31, but he went a startling 10-31.) OKC had the rebounding edge, by five; but they also fouled a whole lot, and they should probably consider themselves fortunate that the Spurs somehow missed 10 of 34 free throws.

The maddening inconsistency of this Thunder squad proved, once again, to be its undoing: they can put together runs, but they still yield them up much more easily. They know this. Pop knows this. Everybody knows this, except possibly Governor Fallin.


An ominous omen

Radio guy Matt Pinto served up that tautology early on, while the Spurs were busily digging out from an early hole. And he seemed prescient, because whatever holes the Thunder were able to push the Spurs into, the Spurs managed to escape with seeming alacrity. While OKC wasn’t quite so disorganized tonight as they were in Game 1, there were enough discouragingly familiar lapses to keep Thunder fans anxious, and one question remained unanswered: “What the heck do we do about LaMarcus Aldridge?” Billy Donovan seemed reluctant to double-team him, perhaps fearing that if Aldridge were doubled, Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard — but mostly Green — would just collect that many more treys. Maybe not Leonard; with the Spurs down three with 48 seconds left, Leonard put one up, and Steven Adams took it away. So Aldridge made the next trey himself, giving him 38 points. (Where have we heard that number before?) At :18, it was OKC 98, San Antonio 94; four seconds later, having persuaded Serge Ibaka to buy a pump fake, Aldridge went to the stripe to shoot three and got them all. The last Thunder possession went nowhere, Green swiping the ball from Dion Waiters; then Patty Mills readied a corner trey, and when the ball somehow ended up on the floor, Ibaka jumped on it. Ninety-eight to ninety-seven, the Thunder go back home 1-1, and suddenly it’s a whole new series.

In the meantime, we can enjoy a few OKC lines: Russell Westbrook, 29-7-10; Kevin Durant, 28 points; Steven Adams, 12 points and 17 rebounds. Only two Spurs besides Aldridge climbed into double figures: Leonard, of course, with 14, and Manu Ginobili, because he’s Manu Ginobili, with 11. And San Antonio ended up with only six treys in 23 tries; Green made half of them. Still, Aldridge has 79 points in two games. What the heck do the Thunder do about him? I guess we’ll find out Friday.

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Torched and then some

Everyone pretty much figured that the Spurs would come out breathing fire. What they didn’t figure was the temperature of that fire, which would turn out to be somewhere between Texas fire ants — dipped in sriracha, no less — and a Bessemer converter. After the first quarter, it was 43-20, and things would only deteriorate after that. Now one could reasonably expect that some of the calls, or lack of calls, would go the home team’s way, the home team having won 40 of 41 during the regular season; however, I don’t think anyone anticipated that the Spurs would be hitting better than 60 percent of their shots all night. There is dominance, and there is being crushed like, well, a Texas fire ant. Tonight, the Thunder were flattened under San Antonio’s sneakers, 124-92, and you have to wonder what sort of adjustments are going to have to be made for Game 2 on Monday.

At the very least, OKC is going to have to figure out some way to contain LaMarcus Aldridge, who went 18-23 for 38 points in less than 30 minutes. (Thirty-eight points, by coincidence, is twice the production of the Thunder’s leading scorer, Serge Ibaka, who managed 19.) And maybe they’ll have to glue Danny Green to the near end of the floor; Green was 5-6 from beyond the arc and took only one other shot. The Spurs certainly seem to have figured out how to render Enes Kanter relatively ineffective. And any night in which Kevin Durant finishes -31 (16 points on 6-15 from the floor) would seem to be devoid of hopeful signs.

Still, this is only Game 1. This is about as badly as the Thunder spanked the Mavs in that Game 1, and Dallas came back to win Game 2. I wouldn’t recommend going beyond that for an example, though, since the Mavs dropped the next three. And I can’t really deny this:

Right now, though, I’m trying to remember what it’s like for the Thunder to have a 12-point lead.


And they’re outta here

Desperate times, as the phrase goes, call for desperate measures. The Mavericks, facing elimination, kept finding strength at exactly the moments they had to. One of those moments was at the beginning of the fourth quarter: down ten, Dallas hit all their shots for the first four and a half minutes, pulling to within a single possession. But there was one factor neither the Mavs nor Rick Carlisle had considered, and that was some head-steam emitted from the Dallas front office:

Westbrook, who never reads the papers, obviously read this paper. And with 27.2 left, Justin Anderson dropped an elbow in Westbrook’s face. Frustration will do that to you. Oklahoma City 118, Dallas 104. If you had “Thunder in five,” take a bow. The Only Superstar had a creditable 33 points for the night; but Westbrook racked up 36 (on one fewer shot) and came one dime short of a triple-double. And this despite high-meh performances from Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter, who accumulated fouls nearly as quickly as they did points.

Still, if I’m Rick Carlisle, I’m looking at all five of my starters in double figures, Dirk, sweet Dirk, with 24, and I’m asking: “What just happened here?” If anyone asks Westbrook, he’ll say something to the effect of “I dunno, man, I just play the game.”

Like hell.

The Spurs are next.

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This way to the brink

During the two middle quarters, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 61-56, which demonstrated that they’re not entirely out of this series; what’s more, the Mavs, who had not shot well early on, brought their shooting percentage over 50 percent in the fourth. But the dreaded Injury Bug paid Dallas a couple of visits: Deron Williams, who did not look at all well, was pulled within a minute and a half, and Salah Mejri, who’d been effectively bothering the Thunder, bruised his hip in the second half and did not return. With J. J. Barea reduced to a nonfactor — Andre Roberson pestered Barea all night, leaving him 0-7 from the floor — it was left to Raymond Felton and Dirk Nowitzki to carry the Mavericks’ banner, and that’s a big flag for just two guys, even two guys with that much court cred. With two and a half minutes left, radio guy Matt Pinto pronounced the Mavs, then down 13, “exhausted,” and maybe they were. But at the 50-second mark, Kevin Durant disappeared in a wholly unexpected manner: a Flagrant Two at the expense of Justin Anderson. With KD thumbed, the Mavs had an opening, and by 0:38 they’d shaved that OKC lead to a mere eight. They would not get further. Oklahoma City 119, Dallas 108, the Thunder are up 3-1, and the series goes back to OKC on Monday.

And really, KD wasn’t missed that much; he was having a fairly mediocre (for Durant) night, with 19 points on 7-20 shooting. And he only hit four free throws, out of eight. But being the third leading scorer for the night didn’t hurt, with another Russell Westbrook double-double (25 points/15 dimes) and a spectacular showing, especially in the fourth quarter, from Enes Kanter, who finished with 28 on 12-13, including four free throws. Out of four. Yeah, Dirk had 27 for the night, but it took him 40 minutes; Kanter, the most expensive sixth man in the NBA and darn well worth it, did it in 26.

Still, the Mavs do not roll over and play dead. If Dirk’s okay Monday, and there’s no reason at the moment to think he won’t be, he’ll be a factor. And Raymond Felton, who’d never seemed like quite the A-list guard anywhere else he’s played, has absolutely blossomed in this series; tonight he had 19 points and 11 assists. The reliable Wesley Matthews continues to be, well, reliable. And the Thunder still have ways of giving it away: they missed ten free throws tonight. Still, it’s do or die for Dallas at the Thunderdome on Monday. Whatever tricks Rick Carlisle may have up his well-tailored sleeve, he’d better have them ready.


We got your fusillade right here

Thunder defense has been sporadically, perhaps even legendarily, iffy, which makes me wonder if the discussion in the locker room today was along the lines of “Screw it, let’s just score all over the place.” Which they did, starting from the tipoff; OKC led by six after the first quarter, ten at the half, nineteen after three, and they weren’t done yet. With J. J. Barea back, the Mavericks were bound to show some offense now and then — they shot a respectable 47 percent — but with 3:48 left and Dallas down 28, somewhere in his accoutrements Rick Carlisle found a white flag, and ultimately Game 3 went to the visitors, 131-102.

Clearly some things got shaken up a bit. The usual Russell Westbrook double-double — 26 points, 15 assists — came with no rebounds whatsoever. (The Thunder did have a 42-30 rebounding edge.) OKC shot 58 percent from the floor, and sank 15 of 27 treys; on-again off-again Dion Waiters was on again, with four of those treys and 21 points. Kevin Durant, after a horrible night earlier this week, jubilantly collected 34.

It wasn’t like the Mavs were terrible, either: Wesley Matthews, about due for some breakout scoring, led Dallas with 22, and the usual suspects turned in lines with double figures. (Raymond Felton and Steven Adams had words, then actions, then offsetting technicals.) Unexpectedly, every Maverick was on the minus side for the night, Devin Harris, at -30, being the minus-est. Harris did distinguish himself with five fouls, though. And if there was any dancing at the AA, Charlie Villanueva didn’t mention it.

Game 4 will be in Dallas Saturday night, after which the series comes back to OKC. We’re sort of hoping it ends there.

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Not quite so easy

“One thing you never want with Dallas,” said Alex Roig in the Pregame Primer, “is a close game with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor.” Unfortunately, that’s what the Thunder got for Game 2: nothing at all like the laughable blowout Saturday night, though Dirk wasn’t that much of a factor. It turned out that he wouldn’t have to be. This time around, the Mavs were ready to roll, and they rolled to an eight-point lead early while the Thunder seemed to be napping. The wakeup call came soon enough, but Dallas, after falling behind by seven halfway through the fourth quarter, went off for an 8-0 run to take a one-point lead. You’d figure that this would be the sort of thing that would spur Kevin Durant to going All KD. This was, however, not the night for All KD. With just under ten seconds left, Durant finally nailed a trey, his second in 11 tries; unfortunately, the Mavs had been up four. Raymond Felton obligingly missed a pair of free throws, but neither Durant nor Serge Ibaka could score on the last Thunder possession, and a Steven Adams stickback was just a fraction of a second too late. Dallas 85, Oklahoma City 84, and the series goes to Dallas even up.

It’s rare you see the Thunder shooting under 34 percent. But that’s what happened tonight, with Durant going an absolutely abominable 7-33 for his 21 points. (Felton, who picked up 21 for the Mavs, did so on 16 shots.) Even with KD’s numbers factored out, the Thunder was shooting only 40 percent for the night, with only Ibaka and Russell Westbrook in double figures. Statistically, the Mavs were not a great deal better; but they were better the one place where it mattered. If they had a secret weapon tonight, it was Salah Mejri, who turned in a plus-18 with 5-7 shooting (12 points) and three blocks.

The Loud City crowd, of course, was stunned after that Adams putback was negated. I’m just trying to imagine how much worse it could have been if Deron Williams had been able to stay in the game, or if J. J. Barea had been well.

Game 3 in Dallas on Thursday. Durant should be awake by then, right?


Debacle starts with a D

The Dallas Mavericks will vouch for that, having scored a mere eleven points in the first quarter of this playoff game. Amazingly, things got worse for the Mavs after that: they lost J. J. Barea to a groin strain after sixteen minutes and two points, they scored only 33 in the first half, and only 37 in the second. “Blowout” doesn’t even begin to describe the Thunder’s 108-70 win.

And if that’s not enough, try this: Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ leading scorer, went 7-15 for 18 points. He finished -28 for the night. Which wasn’t the worst on the team, either. I’m not quite sure what happened to Dallas, although I’m inclined to think they were a trifle spooked after having dropped four games to OKC during the regular season. The Mavs shot less than 30 percent — 25-84, 29.8 percent — missed ten of 26 free throws, collected only 33 rebounds, and blocked no shots. Meanwhile, the Thunder were turning in numbers that look like Thunder wins by considerably smaller margins: double-doubles for Russell Westbrook (24/11 assists) and Enes Kanter (16/13 rebounds), and 23 from Kevin Durant in 27 minutes. Then again, Serge Ibaka was ultra-fierce: 7-8 from the floor — good on all three of his treys — and three blocks.

What does all this mean for Game 2 on Monday? Not a blessed thing. (Radio guy Matt Pinto was insistent on that very point: past performance is no guarantee of future results.) But I mean, we expected to see the Warriors pound the living stuffing out of the Rockets, which they did, 104-78. Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition the total collapse of the Mavericks. Still, Monday is another day.


Almost with a flourish

Perhaps I spoke too soon. Billy Donovan did opt to rest Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka tonight; however, the only Spur getting time off, other than the wounded Boris Diaw, was Manu Ginobili. And it is the last home game in San Antonio before the playoffs; why not give them a spectacle? The Thunder certainly did that for Loud City last night. That said, the Spurs came to life rather slowly tonight, bottoming out 18 points behind during the second quarter and still down 10 at the half. Came the third quarter, and suddenly things were different: OKC managed only 19 points, with the Spurs picking up 31, and we had a barn-burner on our hands. With 1:50 left, the Spurs were up five, up to that point their largest lead; at the :16 point, the game was tied at 93 on a Dion Waiters and-1. Kawhi Leonard went up for a buzzer-beater jumper, but Andre Roberson was having none of that, and for the only time this season, the Spurs had to play overtime. Not that this worried anyone: Leonard kept on scoring, Tony Parker knocked down two freebies with ten seconds left to put the Spurs up 102-98, and that’s where it ended.

And really, it’s fitting that Parker and Leonard would finish the job; they were the only guys out there into the 20-point range. (In a reversal of the usual Thunder two-guys-get-all-the-shots scheme, four OKC players finished at 17, though Enes Kanter, the only bench player to score that much, also reeled in 16 rebounds.) Pop will rest some guys, we are told, tomorrow night in Dallas.

So it’s 55-27 for the Northwestern champs. By coincidence, the 2010-11 Thunder finished 55-27; they made it through two rounds of playoffs before losing to the Mavs in five. And we still don’t have all the Western seeds in place, so we don’t know the first-round opponent yet: it might be Memphis, it might be Dallas. The Griz are half a game up on the Mavs right now, but they’re on their way to Oakland to hand the Warriors their 73rd victory. Maybe. Weird things can happen, even at this stage.


Calling on the party line

It was the last home game of the season, which was one event: it was Kobe Bryant’s last-ever road game, which was another. The combination of the two was a bit baffling at times, but the desired results were obtained: Kobe knocked down 13 points in the first quarter, in Kobe-like fashion, and the Thunder, after a 10-point lead at halftime, went on to trounce the Lakers 31-13 in the third quarter on the way to a 112-79 blowout. And there was lots of purple and gold in the house, an appreciation for a man who almost always played like he had his eye on the Hall of Fame. Sentimental value, even in a 33-point loss.

Also evocative: a decent line from Metta World Peace. The Artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest hasn’t been taken seriously since returning to the NBA from China, but World Peace played a darned good game, 12 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. Like all the Lakers, he shot relatively poorly: at 3-10, he was actually ahead of the team average for the night; but once again, sentimental value, despite his checkered past. And those 12 points were second only to Bryant.

The Thunder contributed to the festive atmosphere by jacking up a ridiculous 37 treys, managing to make 12. (L. A. was 7-31.) Kevin Durant went over 20 by, um, 14, and Russell Westbrook put together a triple-double in a stirringly negligible 18 minutes, one off the league record. Kyle Singler hit two treys; Josh Huestis missed one. Just another night at the ‘Peake.

At this point, of course, nothing really matters. There’s one more game in the regular season, tomorrow night at San Antonio, where the Spurs finally got beaten — by, of course, the Warriors. (Golden State now has 72 wins. Will they get a record 73? Their last game is at home, against the Grizzlies, and any year other than this I’d go with Memphis.) For all I know, both Gregg Popovich and Billy Donovan will rest everyone possible. If you’ve nailed down your playoff spot, you’re like the Armed Forces short-timer: at this point, nothing really matters.


Nobody sleeping here

The last NBA game ever at Sleep Train Arena, formerly Arco Arena, might well have been every bit as loud as the games during the Good Old Days, one of which made it into Guinness, and the Sacramento Kings took full advantage of that noisy crowd to administer a thrashing to the Thunder, 114-112, evening the season series at two games each (1-1 in both Oklahoma City and Sacramento) and making some folks wonder how OKC is going to get through a whole playoff round if they can’t beat a team with 48 losses. It was mostly close all night, with the Thunder managing to win the first and third quarters, the Kings the second and fourth. This is not to say that the Kings had it easy in that final frame: with 24 seconds left, the Kings were up seven, but seventeen seconds later, that lead was cut to three, and Russell Westbrook knocked out three free throws to tie it. After “the longest five-count” radio guy Matt Pinto said he’d ever seen, a foul was called, Rudy Gay, who’d obligingly missed a few free throws in those waning moments, hit two of them, and that was the end of that.

Part of the problem for the Thunder was Curry. No, not Steph, but his younger brother Seth, coming off the Kings bench to collect 20 points, hitting six of ten treys. Darren Collison, running the offense while Rajon Rondo got some rest, had 27 points, his season high, and those Rudy Gay freebies brought him up to 22. The Kings, as noted, had problems from the stripe, hitting only 11 of 20, but they more than made up for that with actual field goals, 45-94 versus 39-80. (Weirdly, both teams were 13-32 from outside the arc.) And as has been often the case, the glaring number was 21: the number of turnovers given up by the Thunder. The Kings coughed it up only 11 times. Westbrook ended up with 24 points and 10 assist, the game’s only double-double; Kevin Durant made it up to 31, but he had to make 29 shots to get there.

None of this changes the playoff picture. OKC, third in the West, will play the #6 team; both Portland and Memphis lost tonight, leaving the Blazers in fifth, half a game in front of the Griz. The Rockets are in ninth, one game behind the Jazz with three to play. The marquee game tomorrow, of course, is Golden State at San Antonio: no team, not even the mighty Warriors, has beaten the Spurs at home all year. It says something about this season that even that game doesn’t change the playoff picture.


Have one on us

Preview of the playoffs? Let’s hope not. Billy Donovan seems to be on a “Let’s see how many players we can rest” kick, and his current Magic Number is four: of the usual starting five, only Steven Adams actually played tonight. Some of this might have been justifiable if (1) the Trail Blazers had given any indication that they might do the same or (2) the Thunder actually had a point guard out there. (You know how they used to say that Russell Westbrook is not really a point guard? Randy Foye is not really a point guard like Michael J. Fox is not really a point guard.) Not that Cameron Payne, who is a point guard, had such a great night. (On the other hand, Payne served up six assists, Foye four, and Foye played five minutes more.) Then again, Enes Kanter starting next to Adams worked out to be a swell idea; in the absence of Kevin Durant, Kanter turned in a KD-like line and was instrumental in cutting a 23-point Portland lead down to ten. Still, the utter absence of perimeter defense — the Blazers knocked down ten treys in the first half — would prove to be the undoing of this version of the Thunder. And maybe it’s just me, but I’m not keen on simply handing a game to a team that needed a win just then to clinch a playoff slot. That said, no one pays me to make these fine judgment calls. For the record, the season series was split 2-2, each game won by the home team.

Oh, yeah, the score. Portland 120, Oklahoma City 115. And that Kanter line deserves more attention: 33 points, a career high, and a startling 20 rebounds. If that man could block shots he could be a demigod. Well, okay, a semidemigod. (Okay, he was credited with a block.) The Thunder next encounter the Kings, for the last game ever in the Sleep Train Arena, on what promises to be a raucous Saturday night, assuming the players actually play.


Rocky Mountain hives

If I were running this team, I thought, I’d take out all my frustrations on the unsuspecting Nuggets. Well, I’m not running this team, and there are very good reasons why I’m not, but this advice seemed obvious enough, and the Thunder did exactly that to Denver tonight, getting a sweep of the four-game season series with the Nuggets to the tune of 124-102. It didn’t look like that in the first quarter, with Denver down only two thanks to a D. J. Augustin 70-foot (!) bank shot at the buzzer. The second, however, brought an 18-0 run, and the Thunder never looked back.

Still, any game in which both Billy Donovan and Nazr Mohammed are rung up for technical fouls is at least slightly weird. Mike Malone decided to hand out some DNP-CDs to starters and give the bench a chance, which probably didn’t help the Nuggets’ chances, and while it makes a certain amount of sense to rest the A-team before playing the Spurs, that Spurs game is three days away. But hey, it’s the end of the season, and for 14 of 30 teams, Denver included, it might as well be preseason, amirite? The Nuggets’ twin guards, Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay, did pretty well, though Joffrey Lauvergne, the only non-minus on the Denver plus/minus card, squeaked out a double-double from the, um, bench. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook was adding to his list of triple-doubles, this one a few degrees out of phase: 13-14-12. Yes, Kevin Durant got his 20, for the thousandth game in a row; yes, Enes Kanter led the reserves with another double-double. So maybe this game wasn’t so weird after all.

Third place in the West is now clinched. Had this been the season finale, the Thunder would be playing the sixth-place Trail Blazers in the first post-season round. As it happens, the Thunder are playing the sixth-place Trail Blazers in Game 79, tomorrow night. Really weird things can happen in Portland. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers have failed to make history by winning their 10th game out of 78, thereby insuring they will finish at least one game better than the 1972-73 Sixers, who went 9-73. (We won’t mention the Pelicans the team they beat.)


Ignominious splashdown

The game plan for the Rockets today seemed simple enough: put up a hell of a lot of shots, and hope enough of them fall. This is doable if half your rebounds come off the offensive glass, as Houston’s were, and if you get at least 20 more shots than the opponents, as Houston did. It didn’t hurt that the Thunder were at least fairly lethargic during several stretches of the game, and with OKC up five with five and a half minutes left, the Rockets utterly shut down the Thunder to earn a 118-110 win, a 2-2 split of the season series — each team won twice at home — and a bit of momentum as they try to climb above ninth and into the playoff picture.

“A hell of a lot of shots” sounds unspecific, so let’s get the numbers: 41 of 102, just a tick above 40 percent. Thirteen of 42 made treys. Twenty-two offensive rebounds out of 45. The only place where the Thunder got bigger numbers was in, you guessed it, turnovers: 21 for OKC, a mere nine for Houston. James Harden went off for 41 points on 12-25, with Trevor Ariza going 5-13 for 18 points. Patrick Beverley did not shoot well until the fourth quarter, but his +14 was the highest of all.

Kevin Durant shot well until the fourth quarter, when the Rockets ratcheted up the defense. He finished with 33. Russell Westbrook came up just short of a triple-double, at 23-13-9. Nobody else into double digits except Enes Kanter, who managed 16.

The rest of this road trip may or may not be fraught with peril. Denver (Tuesday) is decidedly more dangerous at home; Portland (Wednesday) is dangerous everywhere; Sacramento (Saturday) is, well, Sacramento. (The Kings have beaten the Thunder once already this season.) It’s not likely that the standings will change, though theoretically OKC could fall behind the Clippers if they lose the rest of the way. Then again, if they keep playing like they did in the fourth quarter — but never mind, let’s not go there.


Barrage sale

First thought: this game would be a heck of an audition for Sixth Man of the Year, with both the Thunder’s Enes Kanter and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford in the hunt. This was before I found out that Doc Rivers had decided to rest J. J. Redick, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. With that dread threesome left behind in Los Angeles, and with Paul Pierce injured and Blake Griffin still suspended, Crawford wouldn’t be coming off the bench: he started in the backcourt alongside Austin Rivers. And some strange synergy between Rivers and Crawford created something amazing in the first half, with the two combining for 40 of L.A.’s 69 points, each hitting four treys with such alacrity you had to wonder if the Thunder’s famed defense had been rested. Or if not that, you had to wonder how it was that OKC was shooting 58 percent, had four more rebounds, hadn’t missed a free throw (out of 11), and was still trailing by four.

Crawford and Rivers didn’t slow down much in the second half, either, though they did actually miss a trey here and there. With 40 seconds left and the score tied at 117, Wesley Johnson grabbed a Kevin Durant miss, and Russell Westbrook stole it back. Westbrook couldn’t knock down the shot, but a Steven Adams putback gave the Thunder an actual two-point lead. Rivers saw an opportunity for an almost-last-second layup, but the ball wouldn’t drop, and Westbrook took that one away. Then came the Last Gesture, and it was a beaut: to avoid drawing a foul in those last two seconds, Westbrook cast the ball skyward. Buzzer, W, cheers. 119-117, despite 32 from Crawford, 32 (a career high) from Rivers, and 48 Clipper points off the long ball (16-29). Season series ends at 3-1 OKC, and if third place in the West isn’t officially clinched, it’s pretty darn secure.

Oddly, with this profusion of scoring, there was only one double-double all night: Westbrook (of course), with 26 points and 11 assists. (Eight rebounds, so two away from the triple.) KD finished with 31, because of course he did.

Next outing: Sunday afternoon at Houston. The Rockets just fell out of the eighth playoff spot, and will have something to prove.


Not what they meant by “rest”

As speculated, a couple of Thunder starters — Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant — were given the night off: in their stead, Billy Donovan opted to start Kyle Singler and Dion Waiters. He probably needn’t have bothered; after sort of holding their own through the first half, the Thunder basically fell asleep in the third quarter, outscored by an embarrassing 25-9. Detroit, of course, is actually fighting for a playoff spot: at gametime, they were occupying the #8 spot in the East, 2½ games ahead of the Bulls and the Wizards. And while the Pistons weren’t entirely brilliant, the Thunder were utterly terrible, especially in that third quarter, during which Royce Young observed: There is absolutely zero offensive movement for the Thunder. Just standing around waiting for Westbrook to create a shot for somebody.” Things improved a little in the fourth, with OKC briefly pulling to within one point; however, nothing, up to and including deliberately fouling Andre Drummond, would close the difference. (And once Stan Van Gundy saw successive hits on Drummond, the Notorious S.V.G. immediately swapped in Tobias Harris.) A Russell Westbrook trey in the last minute brought OKC to within two, but Reggie Jackson got two freebies to ice it, and Aron Baynes finished the job with two more, making the final 88-82 and evening the season series at 1-1. For a team averaging over 110 points the last couple of weeks, this qualifies as, um, feeble.

Then again, you want points, you gotta hit shots. The Thunder mostly didn’t do that: 38 percent from the field, 6-21 from Way Out There, and only two players in double figures, which would be Westbrook, who took 28 shots to get 24 points, and Enes Kanter, again making his case for Sixth Man of the Year with 14 points and 14 boards. Between them, Waiters and Singler managed a whole ten. Meanwhile, Marcus Morris, written off after being shipped out of Phoenix, turned in a 24-point performance on a mere 13 shots to lead the Pistons.

I don’t think the Thursday-night clash with the Los Angeles Clippers will be a snooze-fest like this, but I could be wrong. And once that happens, it’s back on the road for four more: Houston, Denver, Portland and Sacramento. Grind time is upon us, boys and girls.


T owed

The Raptors administered a fair thrashing to the Thunder in Oklahoma City in early November, so payback was the first order of business. But this would not be an easy proposition: Toronto is a better team now than they were then, and hey, it’s their house. It was going to take at least another 20-point, maybe a 30-point performance by Kevin Durant, and at least a double-double, maybe even a triple-double, from Russell Westbrook. Even harder, the Thunder would have to figure out some way to DeTer DeMar DeRozen. How did they do? KD, 34 points; Westbrook, 26-11-12; DeRozen, 8 of 22 for a team-high 19. The occasional lapse aside, OKC made it look sort of easy, dispatching the Dinos, 119-100.

In fact, this game was so unexpectedly uneventful that radio guy Matt Pinto spent a fair amount of time speculating who, if anyone, might be given the night off tomorrow against the Pistons. Of course, resting a starter or three — or four, as the Spurs did the other night — puts additional pressure on the reserves to perform, and the OKC bench has been somewhat inconsistent of late, rolling up only 25 points tonight, 15 of which came from Dion Waiters. (How hard can it be for both Waiters and Enes Kanter to get hot on the same night?) And the DeFense against DeRozen, largely the work of Andre Roberson, gave the too-lightly regarded Norman Thomas — how lightly? Not even his own Wikipedia page — the opportunity to crank out 18 points on 7-13.

Still, one should shed no tears for the Raptors, who still enjoy a five-game cushion over the third-place Atlanta Hawks. And perhaps one should think forward to Detroit tomorrow night; the Pistons lead the Bulls by two, the Wizards by two and a half, to hold, however tenuously, the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. And they’re 24-13 at the Palace, nothing to sneer at. Then again, the Raptors were 28-8 at the Air Canada Centre until tonight.


The JV comes to town

Gregg Popovich has rested players before, but usually not so many that Boban Marjanović actually gets to start at center: tonight four starters — Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge — plus super sixth man Manu Ginobili were given the night off. That said, the Substitute Spurs outplayed the Thunder for the first 15 minutes or so, until OKC started to get a grip on the situation, and the Thunder were up four at the half. A 35-19 third quarter settled the matter, and OKC went up 2-1 in the season series with a somewhat unsatisfying 111-92 win.

There are things Billy Donovan will not like, and one of them is that the Thunder bench scored only 22 points — and Enes Kanter had 20 of them. (Randy Foye got the other bucket; forget the other guys, especially Kyle Singler, who missed one shot and collected three fouls in seven minutes.) On the upside, shooting was a more-than-respectable 52 percent, Kevin Durant went up for 31 plus 10 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook, despite one little bout with temper that cost him a technical, threw down 29.

The Spurs, perhaps unsurprisingly, were led by two bench guys, David West and Jonathon Simmons, each with 17 points. And Andre Miller’s line — 11 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes — is pretty darn good for a guy who just turned forty, you know? And yes, Marjanović got into the act, with 13 points and six boards. Still, you have to wonder if at least one of the chaps on the bench cringed at the debacle.

With Sunday off, the Thunder now face a road trip consisting of a single back-to-back: at Toronto on Monday, at Detroit on Tuesday. Both are playoff-caliber teams, the Pistons having fought their way from ignominy back to eighth in the East, the Raptors comfortably ensconced in second. The Clippers come to OKC on Thursday, and then it’s back to the road once more.


Curiously Jazzless

The Jazz were on a roll of sorts: they’d beaten up on Houston last night, displacing the Rockets from eighth place while assuming that position themselves. But that was last night: tonight, the Thunder forced them to assume the position for the fourth time in four tries this season, and unlike the last two — two days apart in December — it wasn’t particularly close. OKC 113, Utah 91, though if the Jazz were tired, they made the effort not to look like it.

Still, this one was enough of a blowout that Josh Huestis, the bargain player of the decade — after being drafted, he was stashed in the D-League for two seasons, earning Burger King dollars — actually got minutes; after bricking a couple of free throws, he took a pass from Dion Waiters and knocked down a trey from the left wing. You might infer from this that the Big Names checked out early, and they did: Kevin Durant played just barely thirty minutes (20 points, of course), and only Waiters exceeded 29. (The Russell Westbrook line: 15-7-9. Not a triple-, or even a double-double, but heck, he was busy enough for the 27 minutes he was out there.) The Utah scoring leaders: basically, everyone named Trey. Trey Burke had 17 points off the bench, Trey Lyles 14. (Only Burke actually hit a trey.) Unfortunately for the Jazz, this loss drops them into a tie with Houston, and worse, the King Missiles own the tiebreaker and get to claim eighth.

Meanwhile, the Thunder, now 50-22, have moved six games ahead of the fourth-place Clippers; the Grizzlies are pretty solidly ensconced in fifth, but sixth is still up in the air, with Portland a game and a half in front of Dallas. Complicating matters: next home game is against the mighty Spurs, and the rest of the season, except for two visits from Angelenos (the Clippers next Thursday, the Lakers on the 11th of April), is on the road. And while winning out, thus finishing at 60-22, seems unlikely, third place in the West seems fairly secure; the Northwest championship has already been clinched.


Blood and gore and guts

Thunder/Rockets games have long been amazingly physical, ever since Patrick Beverley did a number on Russell Westbrook in 2013, and maybe even longer than that. No blood was drawn tonight at the ‘Peake — at least, we didn’t see any being mopped up from the floor — but there were plenty of menacing snarls. Kevin Durant, for instance, didn’t seem at all pleased by having Trevor Ariza epoxied to his backside, and James Harden exhibited his long-standing talent for looking like he was fouled on just about every shot. (To be fair to the Beard, he was more efficient at the free-throw line than anyone else tonight: eight out of eight.) Of course, the game was close all night: OKC up by one after the first quarter, Houston by one after the second, OKC by one after the third, and enough lead changes to make your head spin. With half a minute left, the Thunder had the ball and a four-point lead; a Durant free throw made it a five-point lead, a Jason Terry trey cut it to two, Durant dished to Andre Roberson for a dunk, a Harden trey cut it to one, Serge Ibaka hit one of two freebies. Then Dion Waiters (!) popped the ball away from Dwight Howard, Westbrook snagged it, Harden fouled him — his sixth — and Westbrook calmly, to the extent that Westbrook does anything calmly, sank two free throws and the Rockets with them, 111-107.

Harden, who played longer than anyone else (40:23), did come up with 24 points, game-high, and 16 assists, a personal best. All the starting Rockets scored in double figures, as did reserve Michael Beasley, who knocked down 11 points in 15 minutes. The long ball served the Rockets well, the Thunder a little less well: Houston made 13 of 37, OKC 8 of 35. (Wait a minute. Seventy-two treys? Is this artillery school?) Somewhere in the second quarter, I decided that if Westbrook got another triple-double, which would have been his 15th of the season, this game was a cinch. And Westbrook delivered, to the tune of 21-13-15. KD had a KD-ish 23; when was the last time he scored less than 20? And the OKC bench was either wonderful (Waiters 17, Enes Kanter a 10/10 double-double) or absent (Randy Foye took five shots, four of them from beyond the arc, and missed them all).

Next time (3 April), these two teams meet in Houston. In the meantime, the Thunder have to deal with the Jazz and the Spurs at home before going back on the road.


Breaking through in Circle City

Alex Roig predicted in the Pregame Primer: “This just feels like a game where [Paul] George will get hot from deep. Maybe 30+ points on 5+ 3’s.” Ask Roig whom he likes in the World Series, because Paul George got hot from everywhere through three quarters, right until the moment when Kevin Durant swatted away a sure thing, accompanied to the sound of the third-quarter buzzer. The Thunder were up one at that point, having frittered away a ten-point halftime lead, but a couple minutes into the fourth they suddenly seemed to remember that they could still play defense. With a minute left, OKC was up by eight; George, not dead yet, hit a wicked trey and got fouled, erasing half that lead, and with 13 seconds left, the Pacers were within three. George got a clean look, but backrimmed a trey, and Durant’s retrieval, followed by two free throws on the inevitable foul, made it a four-point game; Myles Turner came up with a dunk, but KD ended up back on the line; he missed the second foul shot, but he gathered the rebound, and the Thunder won over the Pacers 115-111, tying the season series.

Statistic of note: The Thunder bench scored 45 points. Paul George scored 45 points. (He was 4-10 on treys, just missing Roig’s prediction.) The Indiana bench managed only 14 points, one fewer than Enes Kanter, though you have to wonder how much that matters when all the Pacer starters hit double figures and, as noted, Paul George had 45 freaking points. Then again, Kevin Durant was doing Kevin Durant things all night, finishing with a 33-point, 13-rebound double-double. And only Russell Westbrook could collect a triple-double while shooting 4-17: he finished 14-11-14. You have to wonder how this would have looked with Kyle Singler in the rotation. (Singler apparently was a late scratch, after lower-back pain during workouts.) Or maybe you don’t. Saving Serge Ibaka for tonight didn’t prove miraculous; Ibaka logged only 24 minutes, scored eight, rebounded four.

So three in a row against the East, which was not something I would have predicted: the Thunder have lost 22 games this season, 11 against Western teams, 11 against Eastern teams — but they’ve played the East only 28 times, the West 42. Only two games remain against the East, both on the road: at Toronto a week from Monday, at Detroit the next night. Between now and then, three Western foes will keep OKC busy at home.