NBA Playoffs: Thunder win the best game of these playoffs

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It was long. It was draining. It was sloppy. It was brilliant. It was physical. It had easy shots missed and impossible ones hit. It was entertaining. It was basketball you could not turn away from.

It was the best game of the playoffs so far.

And in the end — three overtimes later — Oklahoma City has evened its series with Memphis 2-2 after a 133-123 win.

For us fans, thank you Memphis and Oklahoma City.

It leaves us a tied series with this simple question — which team can bounce back better from this exhausting game? The team that does will win. Can Memphis bounce back from this kind of devastating loss? Did Oklahoma City leave everything they have on the court and can they play with the energy needed again in less than 48 hours? (The last three winners of a playoff triple overtime game lost the series.)

But oh, what a Game 4.

At first it was Oklahoma City that had to rally back — down 18 at one point in the second quarter — but they found a way to get turnovers and some fast break buckets.

Once again it looked like Oklahoma City was going to find a way to blow a lead — they were up by five points with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter.

And then they ran in to the same problem — a nine-minute stretch where Kevin Durant did not get a shot off. Russell Westbrook took a lot of heat for this the last few days around the Interwebs, and he deserves some of the blame. He can get tunnel vision on shots. But Durant becomes a spectator, not moving to get open, not doing his part to get into position. Coach Scott Brooks deserves part of the blame. Everyone deserves some blame for not getting James Harden the ball as a shot creator more in this situation because he is the best passer, best pure point guard they have. Harden was a beast in this game.

And all that takes away from what Memphis did. They created turnovers, they grabbed offensive boards (on 38.7 percent of their missed shots on the night).

And oh, did they make shots.

There was Mike Conley with a ridiculous three from 28 feet out over the outstretched arm of Kendrick Perkins with three seconds left to send it to the first overtime. (Yes, they should have fouled before the shot.)

There was rookie Greivis Vasquez — in only because Conley had fouled out — who matched Conley’s ridiculous three and upped it one with a leaning shot-put of a three to send it to a second overtime.

Through it all both teams were beating each other up inside — Nick Collison banging on Zach Randolph, Kendrick Perkins banging on everyone (but missing two key free throws that could have ended this game a lot earlier).

The thunder kept pulling away — Durant at one point hit a ridiculous catch-and-shoot three to put the Thunder up by 7 in one overtime. But O.J. Mayo answered with a three. And so it went, shot by shot, answer for answer.

Until in the third overtime, when the Grizzlies could not summon another answer to another Thunder run.

It was a roller coaster. Westbrook finished with 40 points, Durant had 35 on 20 shots, plus 13 rebounds. Harden had 19, Mayo 18.

It was amazing. Flat out stunning.

And the team that best recovers from it will win the series.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?