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.
Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.
Where are they looking?
A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:
Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.
In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?
Almost certainly unavailable
Free agency or trade
- Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
- Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)
The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.
And apparently so are the Spurs.
Marc Stein of ESPN:
The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.
San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:
- Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
- Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
- Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.
The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.
But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.
The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.
The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.
“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.
“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”
There is some truth to that.
There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.
The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.
Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.