Is a triple-double worth running it up? The Ibaka-Hawks conundrum

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New Year’s Eve, the Thunder managed a solid win against the Hawks, and were up 101-92 with less than 24 seconds remaining. Game over, baby. Except that Russell Westbrook was one assist shy of a triple-double. Serge Ibaka leaked out in transition, caught an outlet, and dunked it home, making it 103-92. Okay, Ibaka was just playing hard. Except the clock was off. The Thunder could have just dribbled out the possession, game over, no biggie. Instead the Thunder went stat hounding and wound up ticking off the Hawks.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“That’s a sign of disrespect,” Smith said. “Everybody in the whole league knows that you don’t do nothing like that. We remember something like that.”

Smith had a conversation with Durant about the play.

“He said he was going to handle it because he knew that wasn’t right,” Smith said.

via Johnson’s shooting slows Hawks’ offense  | ajc.com.

First, let’s take a second and credit Josh Smith here. Instead of taking a hard foul at Ibaka or getting into a fight, or even just lobbing insults which would warrant a technical, Smith talked to the floor leader for the Thunder, Kevin Durant, and explained it to him. Respectful leadership and conflict resolution in the NBA? Be still, my leaping heart.

Now then, this situation is going to get judged by whatever your pre-conceived notions are. If you’re the type that thinks that running up the score should be allowed, that it’s the objective of the defense to stop the offense, and we shouldn’t punish players for going to the whistle, even when the game is very clearly over and there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from such endeavors, then you’re probably going to side with Westbrook and Ibaka. If you’re the type that thinks there should be limits and rules regarding how you behave in a professional sporting contest where the objective at all times is to create baskets while preventing the same from your opponent, then you’re probably not going to like this. We’re not going to settle it, because we all have our opinions and they’re unlikely to change in this matter.

But it does show a level of immaturity on the part of the Thunder. You avoid riling a team up by just running out the clock, and you do right by your fellow athlete. The Hawks and Thunder don’t have a rivalry, they’re not even in the same conference. It’s not going to be well received by veterans like Smith, and in fact, Scott Brooks wasn’t a fan of it either. From Thunder blog Daily Thunder:

However, Scott Brooks wasn’t a fan of the play and said he talked to Westbrook about it. “When you’ve got the game won, you run the clock out,” Brooks said.

via OKC gets hot from outside to take down Atlanta, 103-94 | Daily Thunder.com.

It’s just kind of what you do. Daily Thunder argues that the Hawks were still trying to score in a similar situation. And that’s accurate. No one’s saying the Thunder shouldn’t play defense, or if the Hawks were to somehow close the gap, that the Thunder should miss free throws or not score to extend the lead if pressured, but in this situation, the Hawks had capitulated. And when the opponent throws in the towel, you don’t give them one more punch on the way down, even if it does get you the triple-double.

That triple-double is what is at the heart of this whole thing, the pursuit of a bit of statistical greatness for a single night. But while all triple-doubles are subject to the same kinds of arbitrary stat attribution that all great games are (“Was that really his rebound?” “Was that really an assist?”), this one feels like it needs more of an asterisk than most. It’s reminiscent of Brett Favre taking a dive to give Strahan the sack record. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it still takes it away to a certain degree.

Should be fun next time these two teams meet.

Oh, and in case you believe in Karma, the Thunder were blown out of the building, down the street, into the river, down the stream, and into the Gulf of Mexico the next night by the Spurs, 101-74. Just sayin’.

 

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.