What you missed while watching your bracket go up in smoke…
Magic 108, Heat 102 (OT): If you were like roughly two-thirds of the people watching this game — flipping back and forth between it and the entertaining Washington/Marquette NCAA game — you felt lost. Each time you flipped back it felt like a new game.
The first half was fairly even, in large part because Jermaine O’Neal continues to by Kryptonite for Dwight Howard. O’Neal always wins that battle. We have no idea why either. Throw in some very flat Orlando defense and the usual dose of Dwyane Wade and you have a halftime tie.
The third quarter and the first seven minutes of the fourth were more what we all expected. Jameer Nelson woke up and penetrated, Orlando won the battle in the paint and even Rashard Lewis was draining shots. Orlando was in control.
Then with five minutes left and up 12, Orlando stopped playing. Their defense was non-existent and Miami scored on 8 of their last 11 trips down the court. Meanwhile Miami played its best perimeter defense in part because O’Neal was doing such a good job on Howard they didn’t need to double, and guys stayed with perimeter shooters. And even when Orlando got a good look, they missed. That opened the door, and like it was an NCAA game it was off to overtime.
Lewis scored seven points in overtime, including a dagger three from the left corner. It was a sign of how tired the Hornets were that he was wide open — top of the Magic scouting report is don’t give Rashard Lewis open looks from the corner. He’s 43.8 percent from where he hit that shot. (Lewis is shooting a higher percentage from the right corner than he does at the rim.) Add in a healthy dose of Vince Carter and the Magic pull it out. You don’t knock road wins, but that was harder than it needed to be.
Nuggets 93, Hornets 80: It is the worst back-to-back in the NBA — West Coast one night, then fly to the altitude of Denver the next night. Even the Nuggets lost the three times they did this last season. It’s a schedule-makers loss. This one live up to the billing. The game felt like it was over by the time TNT switched over — Denver just dominated early. They had 62 first half points by, 34 of those came in the paint, and they grabbed offensive boards on 48 percent of missed shots. Denver led by 25 at the half.
Denver just went through the motions in the second half, and the Hornets tried, but they didn’t have the talent and fresh legs to pull it off.
The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.
So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:
The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.
The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.
For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.
But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.
Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.
The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.
Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.
It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.
Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.
Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:
“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:
“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?
“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”
On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.