NBA Playoffs: Thunder nearly blow lead vs. Nuggets, take 3-0 lead, or did they?

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So this should go over well in Denver.

Let’s start with the controversy. Here’s the final play in Denver in the Thunder’s win over the Nuggets. You decide.

Did Harden get him on the arm? Did he go straight up?


That’s about as close as it gets.

Nothing will change the result, however. Thunder win, 97-94, 3-0 series lead for the young’ns from OKC.

It was a haymaker-type of game. Just when one team would think they had the advantage, the other team would storm back. Kevin Durant had an inefficient night, so Russell Westbrook stepped up with 23 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists to just two turnovers, doing most of his damage from the free-throw line (11-of-13). J.R. Smith decided to show up for Denver (15 points, 4-of-9 from the arc)? That’s OK, Serge Ibaka roars back with a career playoff-high 22 points to go along with 16 rebounds. The Thunder thought they had the game under control when they hit the afterburners and blew right past the Nuggets, only to nearly surrender the lead thanks to costly turnovers. The Nuggets roared back, they had a shot to win … and it just didn’t work out for them.

In reality, the Nuggets have never really seemed to have control of this series. They’ve had their fair share of leads, this isn’t like Sixers-Heat, or even Celtics-Knicks. But the Thunder have had an answer for every adjustment the Nuggets have made. Even on a night when Durant doesn’t have it, their role players step up. The Nuggets have little excuse for how this one ended up. They shot a better percentage from the field. They had more free throws, a constant complaint of teams against the foul-drawing Thunder. They turned the ball over a few more times, were outrebounded a few times. But the real problem was free throws.

The Nuggets left 15 points on the court at the line — 30-of-45 from the stripe, with Nene hitting just 5-of-10. It’s easy to point to those in most games, but here, with the Nuggets hitting just 67 percent, there’s no way around it. They really did lose that game, and probably the series, at the free-throw line.

So now the Thunder will try to close out the series in Game 4. Denver has been an emotional roller-coaster this entire season, and Smith’s postgame outburst at the lack of a foul will probably not endear him to the zebras. The Nuggets needed to rely on their home crowd to push the Thunder, and instead, OKC has weathered the storm. They’ve gone into a hostile environment, up 2-0, taken their opponents’ stiffest punch, and walloped them back with their Ibaka haymaker.

The Thunder look like they could be the championship contender people have started discussing them as, and they need just one more roundhouse to put the Nuggets down for the count and set off an uncertain future for Denver, while they head on to face … well, we don’t have any idea who they’ll face in the second round.

But with every game, the Thunder look stronger and stronger.

Edmond Sumner declares for NBA draft despite torn ACL

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Edmond Sumner has grown about five inches since high school.

That has helped turn the 6-foot-5 Xavier point guard into an intriguing NBA prospect — but also seemingly contributed to physical complications. Sumner missed nearly all of his freshman year with knee tendinitis. Then, after a promising second season and start to his third, he tore his ACL in January.

Still, he’s entering the NBA draft.

Sumner:

Rick Broering of Musketeer Report:

Like with Duke’s Harry Giles, medical testing will be huge with Sumner. But at least Giles ended the season on the court. Sumner might not be healthy at all during the pre-draft process.

Sumner looked like a borderline first-round pick before the injury. This probably pushes him into the second round.

His long strides provide impressive speed and quickness, and he’s still shifty. Add quality court vision, and his ability to drive by defenders is even more valuable.

A 6-foot-8 wingspan and good lateral mobility also help make him a quality defender.

But it’s also concerning that so much of his positives could be undermined by his knee issues, especially considering his unreliable jumper. If Sumner can’t move like he did before getting hurt, I don’t see how he sticks in the NBA.

If Sumner’s knees check out, it’s worth rolling the dice on him and hoping his jumper develops. He might even be OK without shooting range, though that’d lower his ceiling considerably.

Again, though, the first thing is examining his knees.

PBT Extra: Can Boston hang on to the No. 1 seed in East?

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In an unexpected twist as the season winds down, the Cavaliers have stumbled — 8-11 since the All-Star break — while the Celtics have just kept on winning. Suddenly the Boston Celtics are on top of the East with the best record.

Can they stay on top through the rest of the season?

Does it matter to the Cavaliers?

I cover all this ground in the latest PBT Extra.

Draymond Green on Raiders move to Las Vegas: I won’t attend another game

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The Raiders are moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, and Draymond Green — whose Warriors also play in Oakland is not pleased.

Green, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

I wouldn’t attend a game. I won’t attend a game.

“And I’m not a diehard Raiders fan, but I support the city of Oakland. It ain’t for me and I feel like all fans should feel that way. You just don’t do that. Come on man, that’s ridiculous.”

“If I were the fans, I wouldn’t attend a game for the next two years. But that’s just me. That’s ridiculous. No way I’d pay my money to attend a game.”

 

Um, does Green realize the Warriors are also moving from Oakland (to a new arena in San Francisco)?

Green:

“It’s one thing if you’re moving them from Oakland to Fremont or something,” Green said of the Raiders. “To Las Vegas?

OK, that’s Fair. I am just being pedantic. I don’t actually see moving across the bay as similar to the Raiders moving hundreds of miles away.

Green:

“That’s like moving the Dallas Cowboys or moving the Packers,” he said. “Moving the Raiders? You can move a lot of teams. Ain’t many fan bases like the Raiders fan base. That’s like moving the Boston Celtics from Boston or the Lakers from LA.

“You just don’t move certain franchises with the fan base they have.”

But seriously this time: Someone tell Green that the Raiders have already moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland — hundreds of miles each way and a ridiculous drive in traffic.

I get that Green — who grew up in Detroit Lions territory, roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is pictured above in a San Francisco 49ers jersey — just wants to connect with Oakland fans, but this argument is just intellectually dishonest.

Lonzo Ball: I’m better than Markelle Fultz

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Who should go No. 1 in the 2017 NBA draft?

A pair of Pac-12 freshmen point guards, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, lead the discussion.

Fultz looks like the leading contender, but Ball doesn’t buy into the conventional wisdom.

Ball, via ESPN:

“Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him,” said Ball, who led the Bruins to a pair of blowout victories over Fultz’s Huskies this season.

“I think I can lead a team better than him,” Ball added. “Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

This will get spun into a discussion of Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball. But, without digging deeply, D'Angelo Russell, Shabazz Muhammad and Enes Kanter each claimed to be the best player in their respective drafts. Look further, and there are many more examples.

Reaching Lonzo Ball’s level usually comes with supreme confidence. This is normal — not a cause for concern about the influence of his boastful dad.

And for what’s it’s worth, I’d favor Ball over Fultz right now, though there’s still more information to gather in the draft process.