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’.

 

 

Warriors put up historic 45 in first quarter on way to 128-103 Game 4 rout, sweep of Blazers

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This game was never in doubt. Much like the entire first-round series.

Golden State had Kevin Durant back and he hit a pull-up three to open the game, and pretty soon the Warriors had stretched the lead to 12-0 on a Klay Thompson three (and eventually were up 14-0).

That led to the Warriors putting up a historic 45 points in the first quarter, tying for the most points in an NBA playoffs first quarter ever. The Warriors were up 23 after one, and never looked back on their way to a 128-103 Game 4 rout, completing the sweep of Blazers.

There’s not much to analyze here, this game is was similar to so many games over the past couple seasons where the Warriors overwhelmed their opponents. Portland fought, but this was not going to be their game or their series. Here are some highlights.

Stephen Curry had 37 points, Draymond Green 21, and Klay Thompson had 18.

Damian Lillard had 34 points for Portland.

It may have been a disappointing ending to the season for Portland, but the team found a center late this season in Jusuf Nurkic who balances out what Lillard and C.J. McCollum bring on the outside. The Blazers have to figure out how to become a better defensive team this summer, but they took a step forward after the All-Star break that they can build on.

The Warriors will get some rest before taking on the Jazz or Clippers in the next round.

Hawks battle back to knot series with Wizards, 2-2

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Paul Millsap shoved Markieff Morris out of the way, grabbed an offensive rebound in the middle of the paint and pushed through a shot while Marcin Gortat bumped him to the floor.

The Wizards knocked down Atlanta. They didn’t stop the Hawks.

Millsap and Atlanta showed plenty of fight, topping Washington 111-101 in Game 4 Monday to tie their first-round series 2-2 after falling behind 2-0.

Have the Hawks seized meaningful momentum? History says no.

Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home then lost the next two on the road have won 81% of the time. The Wizards’ regular-season superiority still speaks loudly, and up to two more home games – starting with Game  5 Wednesday – also help.

Still, credit Atlanta for making the series competitive after digging such a big hole.

Millsap (19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals) soundly outplayed Markieff Morris (nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, -10) in the latest round of their personal feud. Millsap also got plenty of help with seven Hawks scoring double digits.

Kent Bazemore (16 points, seven assists and three steals) played meaningful defense and hit a couple big shots. Jose Calderon (10 points, five assists, +29 in 20 minutes) provided a huge spark. Dwight Howard (16 points and 15 rebounds) asserted himself for the first time this series. Taurean Prince (11 points on 5-of-7 shooting) picked his spots well. Dennis Schroder (18 points on 6-of-15 shooting) had his ups and downs. Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points) at least offset some of his defensive shortcomings.

This was a total team win.

Washington, on the other hand, got little outside its starting backcourt. Bradley Beal (32 points) thrived, and John Wall (22 points and 10 assists) was still good in an off-by-his-standards performance. But the Wizards crumbled when either sat – especially with both on the bench in the late third/early fourth quarters. Erasing those few minutes with staggering would’ve helped, though it wouldn’t have been the answer tonight.

This has become a far less certain series than Washington hoped, but the Wizards don’t need a wild fix. They just need their top players to play better. Maybe going home will help.

Raptors break out best game of postseason, rout Bucks 118-93 to take 3-2 series lead

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Norman Powell was draining threes, throwing down dunks that would have won the contest All-Star weekend, and he finished with a career playoff-high 25 points on just 11 shots. Plus defensively he caused Khris Middleton trouble.

The Raptors finished with 28 assists, the most in a playoff game since Dwane Casey took over as coach.

Toronto shot 57.7 percent overall, a franchise playoff best.

The Raptors bench played well pitching in 27 points and growing the lead when they were in, part of an overall strong night from the role players in Toronto.

Combine that all with the expected good nights from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and you get the Raptors best game of the playoffs. It looked like a different team than the one in Milwaukee.

Toronto raced out to an early lead and went on to rout the Bucks 118-93, giving the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.

This was a game where the Bucks tried to force the ball out of the hands of Lowry and DeRozan as much as they could, using their length and athleticism. However, Lowry had 10 assists, and DeRozan would get the ball off pindown screens and feel the double coming, move the ball, and another quick pass or two later the role-playing player Raptors were getting good looks and knocking them down. Or throwing it down like this.

Or this.

Toronto just looked more comfortable against the Bucks pressure, having seen it for so many games in a row, than they have all series.

Powell had 25 points for Toronto, Serge Ibaka had 19 and three blocks, Lowry had 16 points and 10 assists, DeRozan had 18 points and six assists, even DeMarre Carroll had 12 points on six shots.

The question for the young Bucks team is how does it bounce back from this kind of loss in the biggest NBA game most of them have ever played? Can they get their defensive edge back?

“We’re going to miss some shots, and we can’t let our offense dictate our defense,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said postgame. “And also the turnovers, again. Right off the bat we had three…

“Our defense kind of got hit there in the first quarter, we knew that they were going to come after us, we had to expect that. And we just couldn’t respond.”

The Bucks had some runs in the second quarter and got the lead to nine at one point, but the Raptors always seemed to be in control.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had another strong game with 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and rookie Malcolm Brogdon pitched in 19 points on 11 shots, but for the most part the Bucks struggled with their offense in this game. As their coach noted — and as often happens to young teams — they let their offensive woes impact the other end of the court.

At home, the Bucks will likely feel more comfortable, and they will fight for their playoff lives.

The question is, can the Raptors be this sharp again and close them out? Or will the yo-yo nature of this team continue?

 

Kevin Durant will play in Game 4 for Warriors vs. Trail Blazers

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In case you were curious how serious Golden State was about closing out Portland in four…

After missing the last two games with a strained calf, both Warriors wins to put them up 3-0 in the series, the Warriors are bringing back Kevin Durant for Game 4.

Steve Kerr is also out tonight for Golden State, Mike Brown will coach the team.

There was buzz that Durant could have gone in Game 3 if needed, but the Warriors felt confident they would win without him and they don’t want this injury to linger. There’s no more holding him back now.

Durant averaged 25.1 points a game, and thanks to the space created by the other stars on the team had his most efficient season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.1. He also pulled down 8.3 rebounds a game, dished 4.9 assists, and had his best defensive season in a long time as well. If not for an injury after the All-Star break that had him missing games, he would have made a lot of voters’ All-NBA team.

He adds to Golden State’s size advantage against Portland. The Warriors would like to close out the series tonight and get additional rest before facing the Clippers or Jazz in the next round.