Archive for Net Proceeds

This has to hurt

The Boston Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns Friday, 130-120, taking at least some of the starch out of an Historic Event:

Devin Booker scored 70 points, becoming the sixth player in NBA history to reach that total, but the Boston Celtics got 34 points from Isaiah Thomas and outlasted the Phoenix Suns 130-120 on Friday night.

Booker joined Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson and Elgin Baylor as the NBA’s 70-point scorers. Baylor also held the previous record against the Celtics with 64 points in Minneapolis for the Lakers on Nov. 8, 1959.

Booker, who played all but three minutes, made 21 of 40 shots, including four of 11 from three-point distance, and 24 of 26 free throws. He also had eight rebounds and six assists. Despite that, he finished -6 for the night.

I will have to remember this for the next time someone tells me that Russell Westbrook takes too damn many shots.

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Played great, less Philly

This year’s Sixers are so much better than last year’s Sixers it isn’t funny. Admittedly, 26-45 (so far) is probably not much to write home about, but 10-72, posted by the previous edition, is the stuff of bad comedy routines. That said, Philly was somewhat depleted coming in, missing Tiago Splitter, Jerryd Bayless, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but they put up quite a fight early on, and they were down only seven after the first quarter. Still, the Sixers have never won in Oklahoma City, and they weren’t about to start now. With the starters mostly cooped up, the Sixers bench got a chance to shine, with Nik Staukas posting a team-high 20 and the reserves grabbing 62 of Philadelphia’s 97 points. Just their luck, the Thunder bench was destined for 63 tonight, as OKC swept the Sixers for yet another year, 122-97.

The dominance of the Thunder in the usual statistical categories was pretty much total, with 55 percent shooting, a 54-29 advantage on the boards, and 26-19 on assists. (One exception: three-point shots, at which the Thunder managed only four of 16, while the Sixers made eight of 25.) Russell Westbrook had one of his more efficient outings, bagging a triple-double (18-11-14) on a mere six shots and six free throws; he didn’t miss a shot all night. Victor Oladipo came up with 18 of his own, but team high, once more, went to Enes Kanter, who hit eight of nine for 24 points. Things were going well enough that Nick Collison was pried off the bench for eight and a half minutes; he responded with seven points and five rebounds.

So ends a 2-1 homestand. Now the road beckons for three, at Houston Sunday afternoon, at Dallas Monday evening, and at Orlando Wednesday evening. The Thunder remain in the #6 slot, a game and a half behind the Clippers and a game ahead of the Grizzlies. In the first round of the playoffs, sixth seed plays third seed, which will likely be the Rockets. But you gotta beat ’em this weekend first.

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And that was the end of that

This, I think, summed up the entire four-game series:

And this game was in doubt for maybe the first twelve minutes, but no longer: the Warriors doubled up on the Thunder 34-17 in the second quarter and kept a double-digit margin, usually a substantial one, until everything dissolved into the bleakness of a 111-95 final. The Thunder couldn’t hit the three-pointers, but then they could barely hit the two- pointers. Then again, OKC had five in double figures, led by, um, Victor Oladipo with 17; the Warriors had only three, but Klay Thompson hung around long enough to collect 34, and Steph Curry bagged 23. Both of those guys hit seven treys; the Thunder in aggregate made only four.

The game had its absurd moments, most notably a second-quarter dustup that resulted in quadruple technicals. (I am not making this up. Ticketed: Curry, allegedly the instigator; Russell Westbrook; Semaj Christon; Draymond Green.) Westbrook didn’t even come close to a double-double, let alone a triple. (Enes Kanter had the only double-double on either side: 15 points, 10 rebounds.) Golden State had a smallish 46-40 edge in rebounds, a bigger one — 28-18 — in assists, and were at least marginally acceptable at the free-throw line, collecting 16 of 21. The Thunder had no trouble getting to the line, the Warriors’ reputation for Never Ever Fouling notwithstanding, but it didn’t make much difference, as they missed 14 of 31.

Twelve games to go and 40-30. Now what? OKC probably can’t really aspire to a finish much higher than fifth or sixth. The Grizzlies, also 40-30, got to that point by winning four straight. It’s highly unlikely the Thunder will slump their way out of the playoffs entirely. The next game, against the 76ers, should come close to icing that playoff spot.

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Return of (some) Kings

Today’s version of the Sacramento Kings could fairly be described as “depleted”; Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore were not available, and Arron Afflalo did not travel with the team for personal reasons. The 63-41 halftime score reflects this situation to a certain extent; however, the Kings who remained put up a decent fight in the second half, outscoring the Thunder 53-47. It wasn’t enough to give Sacramento the win — OKC tucked the W away, 110-94 — but it did make for a more entertaining spectacle than one might have expected.

The Sacramento reserves, in fact, collected bigger numbers than did the starters. Big man Georgios Papagiannis put together a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds; Skal Labissiere followed with 13. (The top scorer among the King starters was Buddy Hield, who pocketed 11.) Still, everyone in purple was on the minus side, and all the Thundermen were plus except Jerami Grant, who played one minute of garbage time.

Once again, OKC shot 50 percent, and two double-doubles were recorded, by Russell Westbrook (28 points, 10 assists) and Steven Adams (16 points, 13 boards). And the rise of Doug McDermott, who shot 8 of 9 for 21 points (4-5 from the three-point line), elicited several delighted eruptions from Loud City. Still, the Thunder were not all that wonderful in the second half, and Billy Donovan will give them a tongue-lashing or two before Monday night, when the dreaded Golden State Warriors arrive. There’s slightly less dread than usual — Kevin Iscariot is not going to suit up — but GS is still the top team in the West, if by less of a margin than they were early in the season. And the Thunder have lost three in a row to the Warriors; it would be nice to trounce them in front of the home crowd.

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Extinction alert

No, the Raptors aren’t dead. Far from it. But for much of tonight’s game in Toronto, they looked like they were far from their final form. The Thunder owned the first quarter, 29-24; the Thunder owned the second quarter, 29-24. Third quarter, you ask? 39-22. Fourth quarter, and there wasn’t much point in bringing out the starters for the stretch. Despite that, all five Thunder starters made it into double figures, and Russell Westbrook had the by-now-usual triple-double (24-10-16). Oklahoma City 123, Toronto 102, tying the season series at 1-1.

The offensive barrage notwithstanding, what won this game was defense: DeMar DeRozen (22 points) was hardly DeFended into insignificance, but the other four Raptors in double figures managed only 10 to 13. (Serge Ibaka had 10.) And guard Cory Joseph somehow compiled a -30 over just under 30 minutes. And the Raptors’ prowess at the three-point line seemed to have taken leave of them: they hit only five of 20, and four of those were scored by the reserves. This is perhaps not what one expects from a team ten games over .500.

Then again, the Thunder only just crawled back to ten games over .500, and are now a game up on Memphis for the #6 seed in the West. (If anyone cares, the Brooklyn Nets, thrashed by the Thunder on Tuesday last, are the first team eliminated from the playoffs.) If they can keep shooting over 50 percent — not to mention a whopping 14-25 from beyond the arc — they might gain some ground on the frontrunners: Golden State (of course) and San Antonio (one game back).

And I’m throwing this in because it’s funny:

The honey badger of point guards, Westbrook is.

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Crushed ice

This year’s Blizzard of the Century turned out to be nothing of the sort, which surprises no one. And the Brooklyn Nets, winners of all of 12 games in the first 65, might have been figured by some for patsies, but they were, you got it, nothing of the sort. The game was tied 32-all after the first quarter, 62-all at the half, and only then did the Thunder defense get the measure of Brooklyn’s offensive machine, shutting down the Nets 122-104 and sweeping the two-game season series. Just the same, four Brooklyn starters cleared double figures, with long, tall Brook Lopez collecting 25 points and short, speedy Jeremy Lin adding 24. The Nets’ bench, despite the reputation they’d built this season, proved to be better tonight at defending than at scoring: they wrangled only 20 points. Still, the Nets shot 47 percent, splashed 12 of 24 treys, and missed only four of 30 free throws; you have to wonder where they’d be if they’d been a bit more consistent, or if they’d been able to put together a winning streak. (Longest win streak for the Nets this season: one game. That’s it.)

The Thunder had five in double figures plus Yet Another Triple-Double from Russell Westbrook (25-12-19). Victor Oladipo broke 20 again, with 21 points on 9-15 shooting. And Alex Abrines, who went 3-5 from deep and 5-7 overall, was christened by radio guy Matt Pinto “Señor Splash,” which the rookie seemed to appreciate. Abrines had 13 points, second only to Enes Kanter (17) among the Thunder reserves.

If I have any Great White North jokes left, they’ll have to wait for Thursday night in Toronto, fourth in the East at 39-28, where it’s snowing now and the predicted high for Thursday is, um, one degree Celsius. Also waiting in Toronto: Thunder expat Serge Ibaka, who will be happy to swat away anything he can.

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Jazz cooled

Rudy Gobert is the center of the Utah Jazz, in several senses of the word; his absence from this afternoon’s game proved to be a serious handicap to the team — but not the sort that kills a team’s hopes, even with Derrick Favors also sidelined. The Utah bench rose to the occasion, and then some: no Jazz starter managed double figures, but the reserves definitely carried their weight, with Dante Exum scoring a career-high 22 points and Alec Burks picking up 21 more. If the Thunder thought this was going to be easy, their wake-up call came quickly enough: a 20-plus-point lead was almost entirely erased in the fourth quarter, waiting for Russell Westbrook to take over the game. Which, of course, Westbrook did, going 33-11-14 and sinking 12 of 13 free throws. And so it was that the Thunder would win the season series, 3-1, with a 112-104 victory over the visiting Utahns, pulling OKC to within four games of the Jazz for the Northwest Division lead.

The Jazz did shoot decently — 48 percent, nine of 20 treys — and pulled off nine steals. The Thunder owned most of the rest of the statistics, though, and any day that Gordon Hayward is held to nine points, the Jazz are going down. Victor Oladipo did another of his patented 20-pointers (22, actually), and the Stache Brothers collected double figures, 11 for Steven Adams starting and 16 for Enes Kanter off the bench. (Kanter, obtained from Utah, generally does well against his former team.) Taj Gibson started up front, but was pulled in the second half with what appeared to be a minor hip ailment.

Coming up next: a two-game Chill Factor tour, starting with Brooklyn (Tuesday) and then moving to Toronto (Thursday). In this time slot next week: the Sacramento Kings come to town.

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San Antonio trolled

How did the Thunder lose four in a row to league also-rans — the Suns, the Mavericks, and the Trail Blazers twice — and then come back to crush the Spurs? If I didn’t think too long, I might say it had something to do with Taj Gibson’s being moved into a starting slot. Or I might simply point to the location: three of those losses were on the road. But maybe it’s nothing more than this: it’s all in how you execute. Tonight, the Thunder executed, and they did it just a hair better than San Antonio did. Okay, more than a hair: before garbage time, the Spurs were down 20. So the final score — Oklahoma City 102, San Antonio 92 — might be slightly deceiving.

The Spurs were admittedly slightly below full strength: Manu Ginobili had been given a day of rest, and Tony Parker was not well. Still, most of the core was on hand, with Dewayne Dedmon starting in the middle and Pau Gasol coming off the bench. As usual, Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and the scary Kawhi Leonard were responsible for the offense: they got 54 of the Spurs’ 92 points. Leonard departed early in the fourth quarter for some reason we were not told. SA shot only 42 percent, 32 percent from the three-point line, and that just doesn’t happen, does it?

The difference, of course, is (1) Russell Westbrook got another triple-double (23-13-13), and (2) he didn’t have to carry the offense alone. Victor Oladipo was healed enough to snag 20 points, and Enes Kanter produced a double-double (14-10) off the bench. Domas Sabonis played about the same 20 minutes a reserve as he did as a starter, and got the same six points. Meanwhile, Semaj Christon, one of very few players with a five-letter, three-syllable first name, seems to have worked his way back into the backup point-guard slot. He didn’t score, but he didn’t turn it over either.

Up next: the Jazz, on Saturday afternoon. Utah leads the Northwest by five games and is wedged between Houston and the Clippers for fourth place in the West. (The Thunder are in sixth, a tiebreaker ahead of the Grizzlies.) So this is Serious Business for a matinee game. Let’s hope nothing laughable happens.

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The triumph of Portlandia

For just a moment — okay, for twelve minutes — it looked like the Thunder were going to stomp the Trail Blazers. It was 40-29 at the first quarter break. Then Portland ran off 11 in a row to tie it up, and the Blazers didn’t let up. How dominant were they? We’re talking seven players (out of nine) in double figures, led by reserve guard Allan Crabbe with 23. (The word “reserve” matters here; seven Thunder bench players in aggregate managed only 26.) OKC did manage a tie or two, but with 31 seconds left the Blazers were up 120-116, those last four points contributed by Jusuf Nurkić. In the next five seconds, Steven Adams threw up a high screen, everyone went after Russell Westbrook, and Victor Oladipo sneaked through a trey, making it a one-point game. Inexplicably, Westbrook fouled C. J. McCollum, one of the stalwarts of the stripe. McCollum promptly swished his two charity tosses. Westbrook had a good look on his next shot, but it fell short, and Nurkić essentially finished the job. Yeah, there was one more Westbrook shot, but Damien Lillard drew a foul and knocked down two more, so it ended with Portland up 126-121, winning the season series 3-1.

It seemed like there was always one more Westbrook shot. In fact, the Thunder put up 85 shots, and Westbrook had 39 of them, making 21 and finishing with a career-high 58 points. (Before you ask: the rest of the team got 63.) I suspect he’s less impressed by that than the fact that it’s another L. The Thunder had a slight edge in rebounds (39-36), but the Blazers did that whole assist thing better (24-16). To look upward for a moment: Memphis has lost three straight and remains one game ahead of OKC for the sixth seed in the West. Denver remains in eighth, five and a half back, but the Blazers are only one and a half behind the Nuggets.

The crunch, though, is clearly on. There are only 18 regular-season games left, nine at home, nine on the road, and while the Thunder are a better-than-respectable 23-9 at home, they’re an indifferent 12-20 on the road. The next two are at home, but they’re against recognized powerhouses: first the Spurs on Thursday, followed by the Jazz on Saturday afternoon. I’m readying the fainting couch.

And about an hour after the game, ESPN’s Royce Young delivered the statistical blow:

What can we learn from this?

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Sputtering we will go

So much for that road trip. The Thunder won no road games in February, and so far they’ve won none in March; Dallas, barely within sight of the .500 mark, had more than enough vision tonight to thrash OKC, even without the ailing J. J. Barea. How bad a thrashing? We’re talking 104-89. Both sides emptied their benches before the two-minute mark. Russell Westbrook’s string of four games over 40 points came to a halt, the season series between these two teams is even at 1-1 with one to play, and, perhaps most horrifyingly, Kyle Singler got some playing time.

Perhaps we can blame it on Dirk. He’s not the consummate athlete he used to be, perhaps, but he still put his half-hour to good use, scoring 18 points and retrieving 12 rebounds. That’s more points than anyone else on the team except Seth Curry, who knocked down 22. And Wesley Matthews, who has not been well of late, came back well enough to record three of the Mavs’ six steals. The Thunder’s vaunted superiority on the boards was still evident — OKC grabbed 49 rebounds, Dallas only 38 — but obviously, it didn’t make any difference. What did matter was shooting, and the Thunder didn’t do it well, finishing just barely above 40 percent and missing 20 of 22 would-be treys. Westbrook still had a respectable line, 29-6-5, and Enes Kanter was up for a double-double (16 points, 10 boards), but nobody else except Steven Adams (19) scored more than six. Even Alex Abrines failed to produce: he missed his first three shots, and then got poked in the eye and sat the rest of the game.

Back home, at least, they can lick their wounds and prepare themselves for the next visitors, the Trail Blazers, who waxed the Thunder royally in Portland earlier this week. You’ve got to wonder at this point if being at home is going to make much of a difference.

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Now bring me a switch

The Suns’ home in Phoenix is now officially the Talking Stick Resort Arena, after a hotel/casino in Scottsdale, and I don’t know how much talking they did, but the Suns definitely beat the Thunder with whatever sticks were at hand. Oklahoma City led 28-23 after the first quarter, but Phoenix took over in the second and never, ever let up. At the obligatory around-two-minutes timeout, the Suns led by eight, the same margin they’d had at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and a minute later, they were up nine. The rest of the night, it was Thunder buckets alternating with Suns free throws, and Phoenix wins it 118-111. OKC hasn’t won a road game since late January.

Again, a balanced attack undid the Thunder. The Suns had three starters and three reserves in double figures; Eric Bledsoe posted a team-high 18 points, and Alan Williams had a 14-13 double-double off the bench. And that bench proved formidable, rolling up 55 points. Thunder reserves came up with only 22. Blame ball movement, if you will; the Suns dished up 28 assists, the Thunder merely 14. Russell Westbrook put up 48 points and corralled 17 rebounds. (No triple-double, though: only 9 dimes.) We will tiptoe past OKC’s 9-35 futility from the three-point circle. Back-to-back, you say? Well, yeah, but then Phoenix played last night too. Then again, they were in the friendly confines of the Talking Stick, and they pounded Charlotte something fierce.

Sunday night, it’s off to Dallas, where the Mavs have something to celebrate for once, having knocked off the Grizzlies this evening. The pundits say it’s the arrival of Nerlens Noel that’s making things look easy in Big D. Maybe so. Noel had 15 points and 17 rebounds tonight, and all the starters made double digits, though the Ancient God Dirk had to work hard for his 10. The Thunder aren’t about to fall out of a playoff berth just yet: six and a half games separate them from the eighth-place Nuggets. And really, you’d rather have Denver have to play Golden State, right?

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Arena of Doom

It didn’t matter, really, that the Trail Blazers had been 11 games below .500; getting a win in Portland is always a little more difficult than you’d think, so you have to rely on things going Just Right. With 1:35 left in the first half, the Blazers had a solid nine-point lead. Russell Westbrook tossed up a trey. The Blazers could not score, and Westbrook tossed up another trey. The Blazers could not score, but they were damned if Westbrook would get another trey, so they fouled him. He hit all three free throws. And at the end of the half, just for the hell of it, Taj Gibson pulled off a steal, 70 feet or so from the bucket, and hoisted the shot. It went in. Thunder up 62-59 at the half. But OKC could not pull away from the pesky Blazers; they ran their lead to eight early in the fourth quarter, but by 3:43 Portland had tied it up again, and shortly thereafter the Blazers were up seven, then nine. At :32 the Thunder had pulled to within four again; 15 seconds later, Alex Abrines knocked down a trey from the corner, and suddenly it was 110-109. But that was the end of it; Damien Lillard came up with four free throws to put it out of reach. The Thunder hadn’t won in Portland since 2014, and they would not tonight; the Blazers finished them off, 114-109, and took a 2-1 lead in the season series.

One of the Blazers’ unsecret weapons is the Balanced Attack. Six of them made double figures, led by the sturdy Lillard with 33. Manning the middle was Jusuf Nurkić, who rang up an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double. Meanwhile, Thunder starters came up with 57 points, but 45 of them came from Westbrook. The bench did better, Enes Kanter with 18 and Taj Gibson with 15, but that’s an awful lot of points that weren’t gotten. (The newly arrived Norris Cole played 11 minutes and scored 7.)

No time to nurse their wounds, either; the Thunder are due in Phoenix Friday night. The Suns aren’t all that good, but they aren’t all that bad either.

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Brinkmanship illustrated

Among the most unheard-of things you ever heard of: the Thunder, generally regarded as the worst 3-point shooters in the league, hit their first 12 treys tonight. This could not possibly last, and of course it didn’t; they wound up at 15-22. But that was hardly the worst thing that happened to OKC.

The Jazz, who trailed most of the night, came up with a 18-2 run in the fourth quarter, which got them a three-point lead inside the three-minute mark. “Crumbling at both ends of the floor,” observed radio guy Matt Pinto, and that describes the Thunder well enough during that protracted collapse. Once again, Russell Westbrook had to pull off something, well, Westbrookian to save the day. With 15 seconds left, the Thunder, pretty much all Westbrook at this point, went up 108-106, and the Jazz spent 13 of them trying to get off a shot. Jerami Grant took the ball away, was immediately fouled, and nailed one of two free throws. Utah had one possession left in the final 1.1 seconds, which they used to get off a buzzer-beater; unfortunately, it failed to reach the net. Oklahoma City 109, Utah 106, as the Thunder go up 2-1 in the season series and pulled to within two games of the Jazz.

Triple-double, you ask? But of course: Westbrook’s line was 43-11-10. And they needed every last one of those points, since Enes Kanter had a fairly prosaic night (15 points) and Victor Oladipo is still missing in action. Still, Bulls expat Doug McDermott was good for 16, and starting in place of the Big V was Alex Abrines, who took only four shots, three of then treys, and made them all.

As you might expect, Utah had six players in double figures, including four of five starters. Gordon Hayward had a team-high 19, and Rudy Gobert put together a 13-10 double-double. Telltale Statistic: The Jazz put up 93 shots, the Thunder only 76.

OKC is now even with Memphis at 35-25, but the Thunder, for now, own the tiebreaker for sixth. There now follows a three-game road trip, to Portland, Phoenix and Dallas. Norris Cole will be arriving shortly.

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Somewhat angrier birds

Down 3-0 in the season series, the New Orleans Pelicans came to Oklahoma City with a chip on their collective shoulder and a new non-secret weapon: DeMarcus Cousins, recently arrived from Sacramento. Cousins is as surly as ever — the only NBA player so far this season to be suspended for too many technicals, he got T’d up once more tonight. Not that anyone noticed, there being six other techs tonight. And it was a close one, the Birds up three after the first quarter, a 59-all tie at the half, the Thunder up three after the third. Cousins proved to be as wily as ever, drawing double- and even triple-teams, leaving superstar forward Anthony Davis all alone to knock ’em down. And knock ’em down Davis did. Still, things were fierce going both ways, and both Cousins and Andre Roberson wound up getting broomed after six fouls, which didn’t make the windup any quieter; it took an even hairier than usual performance from Russell Westbrook — 41 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists — to finally put away the Pels, 118-110. Of those 41 points, 21 came in the fourth quarter.

Before Cousins fouled out — Westbrook, of course, drew that foul — he’d rung up 31 points, including 15 of 15 from the stripe. Davis went 15-28 for 38 points. Didn’t leave much for the other Pelicans, but such is the way of the team with two very strong players. (Like, for instance, the Thunder through last season.) Enes Kanter was much closer to form, with 20 points and 9 boards; Steven Adams did the double-double with 13-10. And there were a lot of free throws: 37 on either side, with New Orleans bagging 30, the Thunder 28.

Tuesday night, the Jazz, who lead the Northwest Division by three games, will come to OKC. Anything can happen in Thunder-Jazz, and more often than not, it will. Just you wait.

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New look, sort of

The Thunder this week looked mostly like the Thunder last week, but there were some marked differences. For one, Enes Kanter was back in the lineup. For another, the most recent act of Prestidigitation brought the team Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott (and a draft pick, but you won’t see that for a while), while Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne were dealt to the Bulls. And just to confound matters, Alex Abrines got the start at shooting guard, filling in for Victor Oladipo, who complained of back spams. (I don’t blame ya, VO; if I had ’em, I’d complain too.) Expected result: Sr. Abrines collects a career high, 19 points. Unexpected result: Andre Roberson collects a career high, also 19 points. And the Lakers, not privy to any of this maneuvering, did what they usually do these days: they lost on the road. Oklahoma City 110, Los Angeles 93, the season series is finished at 3-1, and perhaps we’ll have some happy pundits in town.

The two ex-Bulls acquitted themselves well, with Gibson picking up 12 points and McDermott eight. (Not so well: Kanter, a little rusty after a month off, with four.) Oh, and there was another Russell Westbrook triple-double: 17-18-17. The shocker, though, was Roberson, who hit eight of nine shots including all three 3-pointers. (Although, to remind you he’s still Dre, he missed both his free throws.) The Lakers had some offense to fling, much of it supplied by D’Angelo Russell, with a game-high 29, albeit on 26 shots. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench for 14 more. L.A. did not shoot well overall, landing just short of 40 percent and nailing only seven 3-pointers out of 35 tries. They did, however, pull off 15 steals (four by Russell), and they blocked eight shots. (OKC: nine steals, seven blocks.)

For the first game after the All-Star break, “not horrible” is satisfactory. The Pelicans, who arrive Sunday, will likely put up more of a fight.

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Sort of level-headed

Samuel Shenton, who founded the International Flat Earth Society in, um, 1956, was not impressed by satellite photos which purported to show the Earth as some sort of sphere: “It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye.”

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving would not be fooled by such ruses:

In an interview with Cleveland teammates Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson on their podcast, “Road Trippin,” Irving explained to his Cavs teammates with an authoritative tone that there are aliens living somewhere in the universe and the Earth is a flat surface, not a round object as we know to be scientifically and visually proven in countless ways for centuries upon centuries. “This is not even a conspiracy,” Irving said. “The Earth is flat.”

Yes, he got the usual grade-school indoctrination:

“What I’ve been taught is that the Earth is round,” Irving explained, demonstrating that he did pay attention in elementary school when we are all taught such a thing. “But I mean, if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that, can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all planets aligned, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these planets and stuff like this.”

I think I’d find this a bit more plausible if he’d explained that the earth is flat because one weekend LeBron James pounded the hell, and the curvature, out of it.

Still: Kyrie Irving is averaging 24.4 points per game. Someone averaging three or four wouldn’t have gotten this much attention.

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New York regrooved

So the Knickerbockers came to town, and they proceeded to beat the living snot out of the Thunder — for the first quarter, anyway, in which New York rolled up a 39-27 lead. It turned out that OKC took rather a lot of time to figure out how to defend against the Knicks’ mostly half-court offense, and once they did, they ran off 61 points in the next two quarters, against a mere 41 for the Knicks. New York stiffened, as New York will, in the last twelve minutes, but so did OKC, rolling to a 15-point lead just outside the four-minute mark and dispatching the New Yorkers, 116-105, sweeping the two-game season series.

Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine running at the Peake:

Still, the work got done when it had to be. Carmelo Anthony rolled up the majority of his 30 points before Andre Roberson put the squeeze on him; Derrick Rose knocked down 25; but the four Knick reserves who saw playing time managed a mere 15 points. (The Thunder bench produced 30, 13 from Jerami Grant.) There was, yet again, a Russell Westbrook triple-double (38-14-12), another big outing for Victor Oladipo (21 points), and there was something of an anomaly: both sides shot better from the three-point line than they did overall. Really. The Knicks were 41-86 overall (48 percent) and 11-21 from downtown (52 percent); the Thunder went 41-88 (47 percent) and 12-23 from way out there (52 percent). If your job is to make the dullest highlight reel possible, this is your game.

And that concludes the first half, so to speak, of the season. (Actually, about two-thirds of the season is done, but there’s that whole All-Star weekend thing.) The Thunder are 32-25, which projects to 46-36 for the season. Might be enough for seventh or eighth. It doesn’t hurt that six of the next nine games are against lottery likelies; on the other hand, one’s against the Spurs and two are against the Jazz. Where this one ends up, nobody knows.

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No sorcery required

You have to figure that any night Russell Westbrook finished with a -36 is a night that did not go well, and indeed it didn’t; the Wizards hit their first eight shots, and about five minutes in, they had an absurd 22-6 lead. The Thunder stabilized a bit, and were down a workable 67-54 at the half; however, coming out of the locker room, they missed a dozen shots in a row, and by then the Wizards had sailed. In a game notable mostly for its extensive garbage minutes, Washington, coached by Thunder castoff Scott Brooks, thoroughly trounced OKC, 120-98, in a game that wasn’t even that close: the Wizards, at one point in the third, were up 34.

Mainly, the Thunder couldn’t shoot. We’re talking 34-96, which is barely 35 percent. (The Wizards took only 73 shots, but made 42.) Westbrook managed only 17 points on 5-19 shooting. Andre Roberson got two early fouls and basically was never heard from again. On the upside, Kyle Singler came up with six points in 16 minutes. OKC won the battle of the boards, 47-40, but was otherwise eclipsed. Meanwhile, all five D.C. starters managed double figures, Marcin Gortat getting the least with 12, and two double-doubles to show: John Wall with 15 points and 14 assists, Otto Porter with 18 points and 11 boards. Game-high? That would be Markieff Morris, with 23, and right behind, Bradley Beal with 22.

One to go before the All-Star break: the Knicks come to OKC on Wednesday. New York has been inconsistent, and has been rewarded for its inconsistency with a sub-.500 record; they’d dearly love to trip up the Thunder, and if the Thunder play like this, it won’t get the Knicks out of eleventh place, but it will make OKC’s playoff chances that much dimmer.

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Grudge match

First, to get Crowd Response out of the way:

Subtle, Mr. Mayor, sir.

Anyway, were there collars on NBA uniforms, they would have been hot under; late in the third, KD and Andre Roberson nearly came to blows, and trash talk was the rule rather than the exception. Down 23 at the half — the Warriors had a picture-perfect 43 points in the second quarter — the Thunder managed to pull within 12 in the fourth. But that was as close as they would get; a 27-footer by Yonder Cupcake (I have no idea where KD picked up that pejorative) put Golden State up 19 with three and a half minutes left, and with all the air sucked out of the room at 1:52, both benches were emptied. Warriors 130, Thunder 114, the season series goes to 3-0, and if nothing else, Houston’s James Harden probably went up a couple of points in local regard.

In the Battle of the Superstars, Russell Westbrook, 47-11-8, edged KD, 34-9-3, though both committed five fouls. Only four Warriors scored in double figures, but the Thunder had only three. The scary aspect was that JaVale McGee came within one point of a season high, with 16; it’s never a good sign when the more marginal players come up big. This wasn’t a great night for either bench — Golden State’s scored 22, OKC’s 19 — but note should be taken of Andre Iguodala’s +30 for the night, far and away the greatest plusser.

There will be one face-saver in March in OKC. Maybe Kanter will be back. Maybe one of the Warriors will develop flu-like symptoms. But definitely, things will be loud.

Two games before the All-Star break: at Washington on Monday, followed by a visit from the Knicks on Wednesday. I expect little snarling in either case.

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When we were 35

Ross Stracke states the case for not booing Kevin Durant tonight:

If we were just talking basketball, I’d say boo away. And I get why we want to boo him. He was our prodigal adopted son. He took on our ideals, displayed our hopes, and then squashed our dreams by fleeing to our biggest rival. I’ve seen all the quotes of his forgotten promises and insincere loyalty. I get it, I do.

This is why I’m not advocating for cheers or a standing ovation. That comes later, a few years down the road when the wounds aren’t so fresh.

But KD was more than a star athlete in a forgotten city. He adopted us back and did all that he could to bring our city with him on his journey to success. No other superstar did that, or at least they didn’t succeed in the way KD did. And for that, he is one of a kind.

So put aside his bullshit for a night, because when it mattered and counted KD shined for us the past 9 years.

Besides, we’ll always (or for several years, anyway) have Patrick Beverley to boo.

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Unpsyched

Tyronn Lue was trolling, evidently; all that pre-game talk about possibly sitting his stars on the second night of a back-to-back proved to be nothing more than talk. Lue’s Cavaliers, minus the walking-wounded Iman Shumpert, were close to full strength, and they pretty much played like it, with Kyrie Irving running the point to perfection and LeBron James being LeBron James. Add a Kevin Love double-double, and you have to wonder how the Thunder were going to respond. Answer: Strongly, and late. After plenty of time on the teeter-totter in the fourth quarter, the Thunder found themselves up 111-101 with two minutes left, still led by 10 after one minute more, and had thoroughly stymied the Cavs’ big three. Lue knew he was licked, the aforementioned big three withdrew, and OKC won it 118-109, their first win over Cleveland in over a year.

Lots of good numbers: Russell Westbrook was 29-12-11, Steven Adams scored 20 and retrieved 13 boards, Victor Oladipo knocked down 23. Perhaps the most remarkable was this: despite losing the shooting percentage battle by something like 0.9, the Thunder made tons of shots: 50 out of 106. (The Cavs were 38-79.) Cleveland made more trips to the stripe — the Cavs never, ever foul — but King James, who had a healthy 16-point first half, finished with, um, 18. Andre Roberson can so guard LeBron. Irving was the default sharpshooter, and he wound up with a respectable 28. The Cavs’ bench, however, was held to 20, or about what Enes Kanter gets on a good night. Despite Kanter’s absence, the Thunder reserves popped up 30, half of them from Cameron Payne.

Once you’ve beaten the champs — well, the runners-up are showing up Saturday night. Heaven knows how the Loud City crowd will respond to the appearance of Kevin Iscariot, and you can be absolutely certain Heaven will hear it. We won’t think about that for a while.

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Pieces gone to

Three seconds before the end of the second quarter, the Thunder were thrashing the Pacers by 14 points. Then Glenn Robinson III nailed a trey from the corner, Russell Westbrook’s 35-footer at the horn went nowhere useful, and for most of the rest of the night, the Pacers were in control, outscoring OKC by an appalling 32-18 margin in the third and outlasting the Thunder’s inconsistent defense in the fourth. Suddenly, the Thunder started to get stops, and an 11-2 run closed the gap to a single point with a minute and a half left. But that’s where they ran out of steam, and the last Thunder possession, started with 7.6 seconds left, ended with two three-point attempts by Westbrook. So the Pacers sweep the Thunder, 2-0, with a 93-90 win, Indiana’s seventh straight victory, the third-longest win streak in the league. (Miami’s won 10 straight somehow, and Boston seven.)

Thaddeus Young was sitting tonight, due to a sprained wrist, but the Pacers didn’t need him that badly; George delivered 21 points, Jeff Teague 17, and Robinson, coming off the bench, brought 14. Myles Turner scored 10 and blocked four shots. Weirdly, the Pacers shot only 38 percent and gathered only 37 rebounds; OKC shot 39 percent and picked up 61 boards. Westbrook’s final line: 27-18-9. Yeah, he missed the triple-double, but 18 rebounds would be just short of his career high. Andre Roberson, despite catching an elbow to the larynx in the second half, hung around for a double-double (11 points/11 rebounds).

Two more games this week. Good: the Thunder are back home. Not so good: the first one is against the Cavaliers, who are already one up on OKC this season. If possible, even less good: the second one is against the Warriors, who blah blah blah Durant blah blah. At least they aren’t back-to-back.

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In lieu of the various Critter Bowls

The NBA wasn’t going to cede the entire day to those characters with the oblong balls, so they scheduled three matinee games which would at least finish early. The last of the three was Portland vs. Oklahoma City, and it was pretty much what you’d expect when only one of the two teams has any three-point prowess. Early on, the Blazers had little problem collecting three-pointers, using eight of them to go up 52-46 at the half. Somewhere in the third quarter, though, the Thunder developed something resembling defense around the periphery; the Blazers would be able to splash only two more treys the rest of the way, Russell Westbrook came up big in the fourth quarter (19 of 42 points) and the Thunder landed a close home win, 105-99, against a Northwest rival.

Portland ended up at 10-28 on three-pointers; the Thunder were a feeble 4-18. Less than a percentage point separated the two teams in overall shooting, with OKC hitting 40 of 98 (40.8 percent) and Postland 35 of 87 (40.2). A lot of that difference in shot count, surprisingly, came on the very first possession, when the Thunder picked up what can only be described as sixth-chance points.

OKC, as usual, dominated the boards, 56-44. The Blazers’ tandem of guards, Damien Lillard and C. J. McCollum, scored nearly half of Portland’s points, Lillard coming up with 29 and McCollum 19. OKC produced two double-doubles, one from Andre Roberson (14 points, 11 rebounds) and one from Victor Oladipo (24 points, 13 boards). Steven Adams snagged 13 rebounds, and Joffrey Lauvergne added nine more. This didn’t leave much for Westbrook, who finished 42-4-8.

And there’s not much time between now and tomorrow’s game in Indiana; the Pacers have won six straight and are 19-6 at home, suggesting that everyone’s going to have to come up big to make it work.

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Leaving the slaughterhouse behind

The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t predictable, exactly, but they know what works for them: control the pace of the game, and occasionally knock down a shot. Tonight, they knocked down lots of shots, coming back from a ten-point halftime deficit to take a two-point lead after the third quarter. With 2:35 left, Russell Westbrook splashed three free throws to tie it up at 102, which is, let’s face it, a lot of points for a game involving the Grizzlies. Half a minute later, Westbrook dropped in a trey from the left wing to make it 105-102 Thunder; half a minute later, he did it again to make it 108-102. And just inside 1:00, he hit two more free throws; yet another empty Memphis possession, a Westbrook dunk, another empty Memphis possession, and two more free throws. That made it 114-102, and appropriately, Westbrook, after that 15-0 run, got to dribble it out. Thunder 2, Grizzlies 1 for the season with one to go.

And this was despite the Griz landing four starters in double figures. (JaMychal Green did not score, but he did contribute six fouls in 24 minutes.) Marc Gasol was scary in the way only a Gasol can be, collecting 31 points, and Zach Randolph, coming off the bench, delivered a creditable 16. But nothing was going to stop Westbrook, who finished up with 38-13-12, including 17 out of 17 free throws. Nor did it hurt that the OKC bench stepped up big, with Joffrey Lauvergne nailing a season-high 16 and Anthony Morrow reeling in 15.

That was the middle game of a three-game home stand; the last will be Sunday afternoon, against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then Monday evening, they’re off to Indianapolis, where the Pacers have worked themselves into sixth place in the East. Assuming they survive that jaunt, the Thunder will come home to meet the Cavaliers (gasp!) and the Warriors (gasp!!).

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Angry beef

The Bulls, reckoned the people who reckon these things, didn’t figure to figure in this one. I have to assume that Fred Hoiberg gave his troops the proper encouragement in the wake of this dismissive talk, because the Bulls absolutely dominated the proceedings from late in the second quarter on. Chicago led 55-47 at the half, and then trounced the Thunder 39-26 in the third quarter. Nor did they let up in the fourth, and the final was an embarrassing (for the home team, anyway) 128-100, evening up the season series at 1-1 and spurring mumbles of “Trap game!” out in the cheap(er) seats.

Jimmy Butler, who didn’t get a chance to show off in front of OKC earlier this year, dropped 11 of 17 shots for 28 points. And the youngster was spelled by the veteran: Dwyane Wade, a game-high +32 for the night, grabbed 18 points and seven rebounds. Four more Bulls finished in double figures, which can happen when you hit 60.5 percent for 48 minutes. And this may be instructive: the Bulls made six of 15 treys, while the Thunder made ten of, um, 37. Russell Westbrook, like Butler, scored 28; unlike Butler, Westbrook went 10-23. Second scorer? Jerami Grant, who came up with 15. (Big brother Jerian scored 12 for the Bulls.) A flurry of garbage-time activity brought OKC up to 38 percent shooting, but you have to be appalled at the sort of roundball ineptitude that can be improved to 38 percent. (Hint: The Thunder took 19 more shots, and made 11 fewer.) Bright, or at least not-so-dim spot: Joffrey Lauvergne was +5 after 14 minutes, the only player in Thunder blue to finish on the good side of the line.

Oh, and the Grizzlies are coming to town day after tomorrow. There may be some heavy drinking to do between now and then.

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Alamopery

Not such a random statistic: both the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder had 16-6 home records before tipoff tonight. The Spurs’ lofty seeding — they’re second only to Golden State — is due to their 20-5 record on the road. The Thunder, meanwhile, was 12-14 on the road. A third-grader, looking at those numbers, possibly might have predicted that OKC would be down 31-17 after the first quarter and 52-42 at the half. The youngster, however, would not have anticipated that the Thunder would rebound in the third, at one point making a 23-2 run to take a three-point lead, before the Spurs girded up their loins, or whatever the hell it is Pop makes them do, and went back up 79-75 to end the quarter. And then suddenly Kawhi Leonard discarded the Clark Kent persona and spun the planet backwards on its axis, or something, finishing with 36 points on 13-26 shooting. With LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points) by his side, Leonard made it a blowout after all: San Antonio 108, Oklahoma City 94, the Spurs’ first win in the last three and the Thunder’s second loss in the last two.

You like statistics? Here’s another one. Neither Aldridge nor Leonard, nor any other Spur, posted a double-double. Meanwhile, the Thunder collected three of them: Russell Westbrook (27 points, 14 assists), Steven Adams (16 points, 12 rebounds), and Domas Sabonis (13 points, 10 boards). Alex Abrines was down for the count with back spasms, giving Anthony Morrow extended minutes, during which he scored 11 points. No reserve Spur made double figures. And yet all you have to do is look at this: Spur benchman Davis Bertans scored two but posted +20 for his 23 minutes. How do you beat someone like that?

Back home overnight, and the Bulls show up around eight-thirty, an hour and a half later than the usual OKC start time. The Thunder should not be too tired — no one played more than 35 minutes — but there’s always the danger of demoralization.

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The usual Cavalier treatment

Cleveland has not been doing wonderfully of late, and Kevin Love departed during the second quarter with back spams, but no matter: the Thunder managed to miss both point-blank and long-distance shots, shooting a mere 37 percent, while losing to the Cavs 107-91. One could, perhaps, blame Enes Kanter’s absence for at least some of OKC’s offensive juicelessness — what was he thinking when he punched out that chair? — but the Cavs were technically undermanned as well: neither Chris “Birdman” Andersen nor J. R. Smith was available. And it should be noted that the Thunder actually put up eight more shots than did the Cavs — 100 versus 92 — but Cleveland hit four more (41 versus 37). And this might perplex some folks: OKC made six treys (out of 26), Imam Shumpert, all by his lonesome, made five (out of eight). Yes, Russell Westbrook had another triple-double (20-12-10), but the Cavs had three double-doubles (Kyrie Irving, 29 points, 10 assists; LeBron James, 25 points, 14 rebounds; Tristan Thompson, 19 points, 13 rebounds).

Also hors de combat: radio guy Matt Pinto, who was wrestling with an uncharacteristic rasp all day. He expects to be better by Tuesday, when the Thunder head to San Antonio. The Spurs, as seemingly always, rank just below the Warriors in overall record and sheer panache; the spirit of Tim Duncan still hangs over the place. And just to complicate matters, the Thunder immediately come home, to be visited by the Bulls on Wednesday and the Grizzlies on Friday. Chicago, at this writing, is two games under .500, but still in seventh place in the East; they will not be pushovers. Not that the Thunder can assume anyone is, at this point.

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This is no second string

So the Mavericks show up at the ‘Peake without J. J. Barea. Without Wesley Matthews. Without Deron Williams. Without Dirk Nowitzki, fercrissake. Talk about being lulled into a false sense of security. You may be sure Rick Carlisle always has a plan, and tonight this plan was to play hard and slow, a sort of clean-shaven Memphis Grizzlies surrogate. And for twenty-four minutes, it worked remarkably well; Dallas kept the Thunder at bay through halftime and took a 55-53 lead into the locker room. But OKC came back, piling on to the tune of 34-18 in the third, and when the Mavs made some serious inroads into the Thunder lead, newly-minted (for the sixth time) All-Star Russell Westbrook ran showed his stuff and then some, delivering 17 points in the fourth quarter. The final was 109-98, and of those 109, Westbrook had 45 on 16-29 shooting. No triple-double, or even a double-double, but he’ll take the W any day. Just ask him.

It helped that three other Thunder starters banged out double figures, 17 from Victor Oladipo, 15 from Steven Adams, and 10 from Domantas Sabonis. (Only two from Andre Roberson, but he swept up eight rebounds.) Downside: Usual bench power Enes Kanter banged up his wrist in the first half, apparently a self-inflicted wound, and did not return. Meanwhile, the Mavs were scoring with Curry, Bogut, and Harrison Barnes. Okay, it’s Seth Curry, not Steph, but Barnes turned in a Golden State-y 31 points, Curry added 11, and Bogut six. Justin Anderson led the Dallas bench with 17.

The Thunder are now nine games over .500, with 35 to play. Unfortunately, the next one is against the league champs, and it’s in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon. Two days later: the Spurs. And then it’s back home for the second half of a back-to-back, against the struggling Chicago Bulls. Just because it’s February doesn’t mean it gets easier.

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Angrier birds

A laugher in the Big Easy? Not a chance. The Thunder did have a 19-point lead at the half, but the Pelicans pecked away at it, and let’s face it, the Pelicans have serious beak. That lead was down to 10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and New Orleans would pull to within five with five minutes left. Oddly, they made the biggest gains without superstar Anthony Davis, who managed to reopen an old wound late in the first half and disappeared into the locker room. Fortunately, the fourth-quarter Thunder defense was better than the third-quarter Thunder defense of late, and it ended OKC 114-105, up 3-0 in the season series and 3-3 for this six-game road trip.

With Davis (8 points) sidelined, six Pelicans stepped up into double figures, led by E’Twaun Moore with 18; Jrue Holiday and Solomon Hill led the starters with 14 each. One does not expect a balanced attack from OKC, but five from the Thunder doubled up, led (of course) by the de rigueur triple-double from Russell Westbrook (27-12-10). Steven Adams muscled his way to a double-double (20 points, 14 boards), as did Enes Kanter (17 points, 11 boards). The numbers were mostly pretty close, with the Thunder generally having a small edge.

So we’re back to good news/bad news. Good: the road trip is finally over. Bad: the Thunder lost as many as they won. Good: They’ll be at home for the next game, against the woeful Mavericks. Bad: It’s 21 hours and a few minutes from now. If Billy Donovan was hoping to rest up some of his troops — well, they shouldn’t have blown that big halftime lead, right? And the Mavs truly haven’t caught fire this year, sitting at 15-29, a baby step beyond the Lakers and the Suns. One should never, however, underestimate the power, or lack thereof, of pure old-fashioned fatigue.

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Tight arrangement

You might have thought this one was going to turn into a laugher, had you noticed that the Thunder were up three at halftime and the Jazz scored only 19 points in the third quarter. Then you choked at how OKC choked: the Thunder managed only 11 points in the third quarter. With 1:22 to play, the Jazz were up 90-89. Before 1:00 appeared, Russell Westbrook had knocked down two free throws and assisted on a Steven Adams dunk. As the 12.9 mark approached, the Jazz had answered, then Adams salvaged a busted play, got the rock to Westbrook, and Westbrook was duly fouled. Two more free throws from The Force, as radio guy Matt Pinto has been calling him lately, and it was 95-92 OKC. Gordon Hayward spent only two and a half seconds to send up an angle-right three to tie it. With 1.4 left, Westbrook again, with a 20-foot pullup. Alec Burks drew the last-shot assignment, and it missed. Oklahoma City 97, Utah 95, evening the season series and putting the kibosh on the Jazz’ six-game winning streak.

Westbrook, incidentally, did that triple-double thing again: 38-10-10. This despite scoring nothing in the third quarter. Wildly, both teams shot 43 percent (36 of 83), though neither was all that swift from the three-point line: the Thunder made six of 20, the Jazz five of 21. Other numbers from the stats bin were similarly close. Derrick Favors got the one Utah double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). But there were 16 lead changes in 48 minutes, which is enough to make you dizzy. Or me, anyway.

One last road game: Wednesday at New Orleans. The bad news: it’s the first night of a back-to-back. The good news: it’s against the Mavericks, who are one game out of the Western Conference basement. Then again, everyone’s tired and waiting for the All-Star break, so it is not wise to assume that things will fall according to plan.

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