I’d say that the torch in the West has been passed, but that’s not what it felt like.
It felt like James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder grabbed the torch and ran off with it.
Harden scored seven in a row — and had 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter — to spark the Thunder as they came from 13 points back in the fourth quarter to sweep the defending champions Mavericks out of the playoffs, winning Game 4 103-97.
Harden is the guy the Thunder want to have the ball late in games because he makes plays — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fall into hero ball when given the ball late, Harden looks to make plays. Oh, he can score, but he will just as likely set up others. He sparks the Thunder. He sparked this comeback.
If you’re just noticing that now, you seeing what other GMs have been noticing for a couple years — there are a lot of teams that covet him. Doesn’t matter, the Thunder are not letting him go.
For Dallas, this outcome was really decided last summer when Mark Cuban decided not bring Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler back — he rolled the dice on this season to set up the room to offer a max deal to Deron Williams this summer. They had hoped Lamar Odom could fill in that gap, but he couldn’t. That lack of depth showed during the comeback — Dirk Nowitizki had 34 but he did not have enough help anymore. The Mavs put up a fight, but they no longer had the horses.
But it was not all Dallas — Oklahoma City has grown as a team and were far the best side in this series. They have grown and evolved at both ends of the floor, and sent a message with this sweep that they are the team to beat in the West. They have the best scorer in the league — Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds in this one. They have Westbrook’s speed and scoring. They have Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the paint.
And they have Harden coming off the bench. Dallas couldn’t match him. And they are gone because of it.
The No. 28 pick, R.J. Hunter became the first first-rounder from last year’s draft to fall out of the NBA when the Celtics waived him.
He won’t be out of the league for long.
The Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot, appear close to adding him.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
Hunter belongs in the league. Though he must knock down shots far more reliably than he has, Hunter has potential as an outside shooter with complementary ball skills to provide value. Boston just had more NBA-caliber players than roster spots.
He’s far from a lock to succeed in the NBA, but I value Hunter about as much as Tony Snell – whom the Bulls just traded for an upgrade at backup point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. That they could so cheaply replace Snell makes that deal look even better.
Gerald Green was drafted by the Celtics and spent two seasons with them before being traded (in the Kevin Garnett deal).
After stints with the Timberwolves, Rockets, Mavericks, Nets, Pacers, Suns and Heat, he signed with Boston this summer.
Think he’s happy to be back?
Abby Chin of CSN Mid-Atlantic:
Joel Embiid couldn’t endear himself by playing in an NBA game, because he’s been too injured to do that in two pro seasons.
He’s had to resort to witty nicknames, practice-gym dunks, fun-loving stunts, attention-seeking tweets and self-deprecating humor.
Embiid is scheduled to make his NBA debut tonight, when the 76ers play the Thunder. Soon, we’ll judge him more for what he does on the court.
But, first, Embiid went out with one last bang of a quote.
Embiid, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:
“You know how I learned to shoot?” Embiid says. “I watched white people. Just regular white people. They really put their elbow in and finish up top. You can find videos of them online.”
LeBron James might be the greatest athlete in NBA history.
But even he has shown signs of decline at age 31.
He has gotten multiple back injections and even took a break during the season to rehabilitate in Miami. The forward has treated the last two regular-seasons as glorified warmups for the playoffs.
Just where does LeBron stand physically?
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue gave quite the answer.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:
Lue said James, at 31, “had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year old. Maybe he’s getting younger. Benjamin Button.”
It was a little perplexing because neither James, nor his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, nor general manager David Griffin had any real idea what test Lue was talking about.
This reminds me of Derrick Rose attributing the Knicks and Warriors being super teams to “They’re saying.” Who is they, and what are they smoking?
That LeBron, Mancias and Griffin won’t cop to knowing is quite revealing.
LeBron does not have the body of a 19-year-old. Years of other-worldly play and long playoff runs has taken a toll.
Because he’s declining from such a high peak, LeBron should remain elite for a while. His athleticism might even fluctuate as it trends downward overall.
But Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron didn’t just get a mid-career reset to his rookie physical form.