Don Nelson threw a D-League team out on an NBA floor Wednesday night. Almost literally. Anthony Tolliver was playing in Idaho in January. Reggie Williams was playing for Sioux Falls last month. Chris Hunter was playing for Fort Wayne when the season started.
Three guys who were sharing hotel rooms, flying in coach, carrying all their own gear and trying to impress in the D-League this season.
Three guys beat the New Orleans Hornets Wednesday night.
The trio combined for 69 points on 66 percent shooting — 8 of 14 from three — leading Golden State to a 131-121 upset of New Orleans. They helped spark Golden State’s dramatic comeback from 21 down in the third to get that win.
It would be easy to rip the Hornets “defense,” which was downright bad. Without Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic, plus Emeka Okafor playing limited minutes, New Orleans is not going to be confused with a good NBA team. But give the D-Leaguers some credit, they battled. They earned this.
Tolliver had 30 points in his role as the starting center (even though at 6’9″ he’s no NBA center, he’s more of a combo forward). He showed off his athleticism all night and the man can attack the rim (and dunk).
Chris Hunter is a real center at 6’11” and during the comeback he took charge in the paint (something that likely confused Warriors fans at first as they had not seen someone dominate the paint in a long time, it’s not in Nelson’s playbook). He was grabbing offensive boards and getting tip ins. Reggie Williams was just draining threes (4 of 6) whether there was a guy contesting the shot or not. He seems unphased by hands in his face.
Golden State has more success with D-League call-ups than any other team in the league. Likely because of Nelson’s open system. But the Tolliver/Hunter/Williams trio was moving the ball — and moving without the ball — in a way the Warriors starters never did. The D-League guys were playing right, making the extra pass, finding the open man.
A 21-point comeback in an NBA game is huge. As is scoring 30 like Tolliver did. Don’t care who is defending you (or not defending, as the case may be). You’ve got to earn it at this level.
These three earned it.
Jusuf Nurkic did not enjoy his time as a member of the Denver Nuggets. His trade to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Mason Plumlee was a welcome change of scenery.
On Tuesday night, Nurkic got to take on his old team with huge playoff implications at stake. Portland beat the Nuggets, 122-113, moving a game ahead of their rivals in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and giving them the best tiebreaker between the two.
Nurkic was impressive, blasting his old squad with 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting, adding 16 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists.
Nurkic was interviewed in the arena after the game, and he was obviously happy he helped his team while also sticking it to Denver. Speaking with Portland reporter Brooke Olzendam, Nurkic took one last shot at the Nuggets, telling them to enjoy their summer.
Nurkic quite possibly sent the Nuggets packing for the year with the game at the Moda Center on Tuesday, so he might have been the guy who helped start their summer.
Still, that is ice cold.
Miami Heat forward James Johnson is one of the NBA’s best in-game dunkers. On Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons, he yammed down a huge one-handed slam that embarrassed Marcus Morris and drew gasps from the crowd at the Palace.
The play came midway through the fourth quarter with Johnson at the top of the key. After a quick pass over to him, Johnson gave a quick hesitation before driving to his left and past his defender.
With the quick step, Johnson’s only remaining opponent at the basket was Morris, who was unfortunate enough to find himself between the high-flying Heat and the rim.
This is what happened next:
Morris was whistled for a foul on the play.
The Miami Heat took until the final moments on Tuesday night to beat the Detroit Pistons, but it was worth it. With just a handful of games left to play, the Heat need to stave off the Chicago Bulls for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Thanks to a tip at the buzzer by Hassan Whiteside, they’re one step closer to achieving that goal.
The play came with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. James Johnson missed a shot with six seconds to go, and the Heat grabbed the rebound. Goran Dragic then tried his hand, but he couldn’t get it to go, either.
That’s when Whiteside came back with a tip at the buzzer that ended the game.
Miami now sits at 36-38, a game above the Bulls for the No. 8 seed.
Whiteside, meanwhile, is never going to wash that hand again:
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a pretty consistent player in the NBA. Save for his final injury-laden seasons and the lockout year of 2011-12, Bryant played in no fewer than 65 regular season games in a single season.
Coaches also had no reason or want to ask Bryant — a notorious worker — to sit out in order to rest. That wasn’t really on the menu, and Bryant knew that.
Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Bryant said no coach really asked him to ever take a rest, “I’ve never been approached by a coach and asked to rest.”
Bryant remarked that he took queues from Michael Jordan during tough stretches of the season — back-to-backs or four games in five night scenarios — where he could switch his game up, floating from perimeter to post, in order to save energy during those matchups.
Bryant also said during the same interview that he understands the complexity of the modern game, and that players like LeBron James deserve to take a rest if they’ve earned it.
“LeBron has done so much for the game. He’s earned the opportunity to take a rest,” said Bryant.
The debate on this subject will continue, it seems.