In a weekend full of high intensity, close games full of excitement, it was only fitting that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets provided one last fireworks show. The game was the equivalent of some sort of bizarre video game. You have expected a mythical creature to burst through the floor and battle the players.
The Nuggets lead for the majority of the game, thanks to everything that got them to the fifth seed in the first place: ball movement, crack shooting, even scoring distribution with an attitude of “ruin all before you.” But the consistency from the Thunder was too much. If by consistency you mean Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant had the playoff game he was unable to muster against the Lakers last year, scoring 41 points on just 22 shots, while Westbrook had 31 points on 23 shots.
It would be easy to look at the Nuggets and consider their problem down the stretch to have been that lack of a star player. Then you look across the way and see what Carmelo Anthony managed against the Knicks especially on his final possession and maybe that wasn’t the answer. The Nuggets lost, but A. they pushed the Thunder on the road in the opener and B. did so without Aaron Afflalo. The Nuggets have a lot to feel good about going forward, except the biggest question entering the series: who’s going to guard Kevin Durant?
One thing that will be apparent going forward is that Nene is an unstoppable machine-man sent from the future to destroy us all. Nene banged knees with Kendrick Perkins in the third quarter, then came back in and helped spark the run which gave the Nuggets back momentum before the final Thunder push. He finished with 22 points and 8 rebounds, but the impact was greater considering how many people he posterized in the course of the night. That the Nuggets went away from him was mind boggling.
The Thunder have to be concerned with their defense. They eventually out-ran the Nuggets, but Denver shot 51% from the field despite shooting just 25% from 3-point land after starting 3-3. They surrendered a 110 efficiency and only slightly won the four factors battle. They had enough weapons to finish off the Nuggets Sunday but Game 1 proved this is likely to be a long, brutal series, and one that is likely to wind up with a few scuffles along the way. Put simply, these teams don’t like one another.
- Eric Maynor was huge off the bench for the Thunder, particularly from the perimeter, hitting two spot-up threes. With Raymond Felton struggling across the board, that’s a big swing vote for OKC. Felton did have 8 assists, but he and J.R. Smith combined for 7-19 shooting off the bench. Denver’s strength is its depth. It can’t afford to lose points off the pine.
- Kenyon Martin took 12 shots for Denver. Yeah, we don’t know either.
- The Nuggets went away from Gallinari late for reasons which seem to confuse beyond all reason. He was just as unguardable for the Thunder, working both off the cut and from the perimeter. Balanced offense is great, but maybe give the players playing well more opportunities?
- Durant had 16 at the half and finished with 41. He had 22 of 25 points the Thunder scored between the third and fourth quarter. In a round of Game 1s full of insane performances from stars, Durant may have topped them all.
The Rockets and Clippers both turned aggressive with today’s Chris Paul trade.
Houston is making a bold attempt to overtake the Warriors (a plan that could include other big moves). The Clippers are launching into rebuilding.
Kurt Helin breaks down what it means for both teams.
The Knicks did well to part ways with Phil Jackson, but where does New York go from here?
Masai Ujiri? David Griffin? Someone else?
Kurt Helin breaks down Jim Dolan’s options – and the approach the Knicks owner should take.
The Kings have a decent crop of low-paid young players: Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis and Malachi Richardson.
Soon, Sacramento will add a highly paid young player to the group: Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose rights the Kings acquired when trading down from No. 8 with the Suns in last year’s draft.
Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:
Because Bogdanovic was drafted three years ago (No. 27 by Phoenix in 2014), the Kings can exceed the rookie scale to sign him.
Bogdanovic is a talented 24-year-old, but this deal removes much of the value usually tied to rookies on cost-controlled scale contracts. It’s hard to see Bogdanovic’s production exceeding his salary over the next four years.
Still, what else was Sacramento supposed to do with its cap space? Just getting Bogdanovic to jump from Europe might be worth it. The Kings already have more cap flexibility than they know what to do with – especially after letting Ben McLemore become an unrestricted free agent.
Chris Haynes of ESPN:
Sacramento took McLemore No. 7 in the 2013 draft then spent the next four years watching his value depreciate.
Teams will line up to take a flier on him. Will someone pay him as if he’ll pan out even a little? That question will drive his unrestricted free agency.
Chris Paul is on his way to Houston in an attempt to form a superteam to challenge Golden State.
Now what for the Clippers?
They have two options: One, tear it all the way down and rebuild.
The other: Re-sign Blake Griffin, run the offense through him and put his underrated passing skills to the test while surrounded by shooters.
The Clippers are opting for door No. 2, at least for now, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
The fundamental question is: Does Griffin want to stay? The Clippers can offer more money and a larger contract, five -years starting just shy of $30 million a year. However, he will have good teams from the East calling. Miami is interested, and they have a strong point guard in Goran Dragic, a good wing defender in Justise Winslow, and a guy inside who can defend, rebound, and finish dunks in Hassan Whiteside. Plus, no state taxes on all that new money. Also, Boston (if they strike out with Gordon Hayward) and other teams will come calling. Griffin will have options.
If Griffin does stay, this could be interesting if the team is built right. Griffin is an underrated passer and playmaker — he averaged more than five assists per game last season, and that was with Chris Paul on the team. The Clippers would need to use him sort of like Denver uses Nikola Jokic, running the offense through him out high where he is a threat to score from with a midrange jumper, put the ball on the floor, or make a pass. Griffin would need to be surrounded by shooters and guys willing to work off the ball, such as J.J. Redick. Who is almost certainly gone.
If Griffin leaves, the Clippers don’t have much a choice and will have to start shopping DeAndre Jordan around and rebuilding the team (they got a fairly good haul for CP3 for that, considering the situation, Sam Decker and Montrezl Harrell are good young players who can be part of a rotation). Then Los Angeles will have two rebuilding teams, and that always makes for a great rivalry.