It was what made Dallas’ run to the championship last year so special — at the end of games they always seemed to make the right play, Dirk Nowitzki always seemed to hit the shot.
In two games against Oklahoma City, it has been the opposite. In Game 2, Nowitzki had a wide-open look at a three and missed it. He is 0-3 in the final two minutes of this playoff series when the score is within five points (according to the NBA’s on stats database). Jason Terry is 1-3 in that same situation.
At the other end of the court, Kevin Durant is 2-3 in that same situation, even if one of those shots had to touch a lot of the rim to go down. Serge Ibaka is 2-2 and James Harden has gotten to the free throw line four times (and hit them all).
This has been an incredibly close and entertaining first round playoff series, which is was last year but now the roles have reversed on who can close out well. All season Dallas has been pretty pedestrian at the end of games (which is being kind, they are one of the worst shooting teams at the ends of games this year by the NBA’s own stats), but if they don’t do it Thursday night in Game 3 they can start booking their family vacations for next week.
The real hero in this series for Oklahoma City has been Russell Westbrook, averaging 28.5 points per game. Westbrook is a tough defensive match for Jason Kidd but Dallas has done a good job forcing Westbrook to be a jump shooter. The problem is he is 15-27 (55.6 percent) from 10 feet out to the arc (according to Hoopdata). When a guy that fast is knocking down his jumpers, he’s impossible to stop.
And at some point, you know Kevin Durant will find his shot (he is 15-44 this series). Part of the credit there should go to Shawn Marion for his defense, which has been so good he mmay get time on Westbrook in Game 3, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
Jason Terry has called this the Game 7 for the Mavericks, which it is in a lot of ways. Lose and they are done. But can these Mavericks find that old spark, especially late in the game? Maybe. You know it’s going to be close if the first two games are any indication.
Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.
Here we go again?
Royce Young of ESPN:
I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.
But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.
Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.
But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.
Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.
The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.
Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.
The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.
Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?
Andy Larsen of KSL.com:
A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.
The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.
The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.
But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adams – whose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.
Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.
After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”
Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.
Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.
How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?
It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.
Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?
Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.
But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.
James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.
Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.
The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:
Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.
The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.
It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.
The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard: