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


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.

Byron Scott isn’t thinking about next year’s draft

Byron Scott

A month into the season, the Lakers the only team in the Western Conference that can absolutely be written out of any hopes of playoff contention. They’re in an awkward position with the upcoming draft: they still need talent long-term, and they owe their pick to the Sixers if it’s outside of the top three. Not surprisingly, Byron Scott isn’t thinking about it at all.

Via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

With the Lakers fielding the NBA’s second-worst record, how much effort will the franchise put in retaining its top-3 protected draft pick?

“I don’t think about that whatsoever,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “I probably won’t until April. That’s something I can’t control.”

The Lakers are in a precarious position. They appear likely bad enough to lose a lot of games. But will they lose enough to land in the top three? Otherwise, the Lakers owe Philadelphia their first-round pick as part of the Steve Nash trade.

“It’s impossible to think about the team, try to get our young guys better, the team better and also thinking about a pick,” Scott said. “That’s six months away and you might not even get it.”

Given Scott’s mentality, it’s not at all surprising that he isn’t thinking about the draft. But with his insistence on playing Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams more crunch-time minutes on this dismal Lakers team than D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, it’s pretty laughable that he talks about wanting to develop their young players.

Scott may not be thinking about the draft, but with the position the franchise is in and the likelihood that they lose their pick, he should be.

Report: Jahlil Okafor stopped for driving 108 MPH three weeks ago

Jahlil Okafor, Derrick Favors

Jahlil Okafor‘s first month in the NBA has been eventful for all the wrong reasons. Early Thanksgiving morning, he was caught on video getting into a fight with a heckler in Boston. Then, a report surfaced of another altercation from October, in which Okafor apparently had a gun pulled on him. Now, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Okafor was recently pulled over in Philadelphia for driving 108 miles per hour:

Four sources independently confirmed to The Inquirer the 76ers center was pulled over on the Ben Franklin Bridge around three weeks ago for 108 miles per hour. Anything over 40 m.p.h. is considered reckless driving.

108 miles per hour in a 40-mile zone isn’t a minor speeding infraction—it’s incredibly dangerous. It might be possible to write off any of these incidents by themselves—particularly the one where he had a gun pulled on him, which doesn’t seem to have been his fault at all. But together, the Boston incident and this speeding report aren’t a good look at all for Okafor. He’s had a solid start to the year for the Sixers, but off the court has been another story.

Harrison Barnes could be out “a few weeks” with ankle injury

Harrison Barnes
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The Warriors’ Friday night 135-116 win over the Suns was bittersweet: Harrison Barnes suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter and left for the remainder of the game. He missed Saturday night’s blowout win over the Kings as well, which extended the Warriors’ best-ever start to the season to 18-0.

Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton didn’t have an answer for how long Barnes will be out, but he said it could be a few weeks.

Via ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

“He’s being evaluated [Saturday]. We haven’t gotten the results back yet,” interim head coach Luke Walton told reporters before Saturday’s game. “It’s all speculation. It could be a few weeks. It could be a week.

“We’re not going to rush him back because we want to be healthy for later in the season and we don’t want lingering injures, so we’ll have him take his time.”

Losing a starter is never good news, but the silver lining for the Warriors is that they have enough depth and enough of a cushion to be able to take their time and not rush Barnes back. Saturday night, Walton opted to keep Andre Iguodala in his usual sixth-man role and instead start the little-used Brandon Rush in Barnes’ place. Rush responded with a 16-point performance, shooting 4-of-5 from the three-point line. If they can keep getting that kind of production out of their reserves, the Warriors will be able to withstand the loss of Barnes just fine.

Emmanuel Mudiay with the no-look, behind-the-head assist (VIDEO)

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Emmanuel Mudiay is still a work in progress on the court — he’s a rookie, what did you expect? — but he has the court vision and flair you cannot teach.

As evidence, I present this pass from Saturday night, where in transition Mudiay goes with the no-look, behind-the-head dish to Darrell Arthur for the dunk.

The Nuggets dropped this game to the Mavericks 92-81 and have lost six in a row.