Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka make history in Thunder win over Nuggets

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Numbers so rarely tell the story in retrospect. Every number based on human performance requires interpretation, it requires understanding. The idea that numbers are meaningless in the context of basketball is asinine, but the idea that in 20 years, some kid will check basketball reference and see the box score for the Thunder’s 124-118 win over the Nuggets, marvel at it, and never really understand its texture is a shame. Because it felt like Kevin Durant scored 100, not 51, that Russell Westbrook was every bit as dominant as Durant, though he wasn’t, and that Serge Ibaka rendered the Nuggets limb from limb when in reality his man defense was questionable as ever, his weakside as brilliant as always.

But us? We’re lucky to have been here to witness it. We witnessed history. Sunday night was the first time in NBA history a team has had a 50-point scorer, a 40-point scorer, and a triple double, all by three different players. It was historic, it was legendary, it was all completely necessary to get past the Nuggets.

– Kevin Durant scored 51 points on 28 shots, includig 5 of 6 from the arc and 9-10 from the stripe. Durant was at once aggressive in his assault on the rim and opportunistic, slipping in crevices to find open looks from mid and long-range. It is a career high for Durant and his highest since scoring 47 on 28 shots lat year against Minnesota. Down 2 at the end of regulation, Durant slipped off a screen, caught the inbounds and burst past Chris Anderson to the rim for a dunk to tie. In overtime, a Serge Ibaka offensive rebound was kicked out to Durant who calmly slipped back from transition to find the perimeter line. That’s the key with Durant. He worked out of such a wide variety of situations, he flowed seemlessly through the offense on his way to those 51. It is a pinnacle game in Durant’s career.

– Russell Westbrook dropped 40 points in a game, and yet was completely overshadowed. Westbrook had nine asssists, which will be completely overlooked and just two turnovers. but the perception will remain that Westbrook shoots too much. Do you know how few 40-point scorers there on this league? Westbroook repeatedly rose and daggered the Nuggets late. His ballhawking ways put constant pressure on the Nuggets and forced turnovers. Kevin Durant took 28 shots and Westbrook still found his way to assist or score on 58 points. The fact he is so underrated is criminal.

– Serge Ibaka finished with the first triple-double using blocks in franchise history, OKC or Seattle. He finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 blocks. He ate up the Denver attacks at the rim, blocking and swatting and rejecting. It was his clutch offensive rebound and kickout to Kevin Durant in overtime that really cemented the game for OKC.

There is plenty to be concerned about beneath the surface for OKC. James Harden had a bad night. Kendrick Perkins does not seem like the defensive powerhouse he was brought in to be. The Thunder needed their two best players to score 91 points just to win a game, at home, against a depleted team, in overtime. But for a night, three players put the team on their shoulders and produced at a Herculean level. It was the stuff of legend.

Just another night in the NBA.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?