Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

Thunder learn one more painful lesson, talk about taking one more step


To a man, as they hugged the Larry O’Brien trophy, Miami Heat players said the sting of losing in the finals last year drove them to their win this year. They felt the pain, absorbed the lessons and got better.

As the clock was winding down and the party was winding up inside AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden stood together, huddled at the end of the bench talking. Saying exactly what Heat players said a year ago.

“We hugged each other and told each other to embrace this feeling and remember this feeling,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got to be the guys that just got to get better, man, before we can find a way to get back here.”

And everyone — including LeBron James, who said as much after the game — expect the Thunder will be back on this stage. And they will be better.

We’ve seen it before. For the past three years the Thunder have been eliminated by the eventual champion — first the Lakers, last year the Mavericks and this year the Heat. The previous two years the Thunder used those lessons to come back a smarter, more ready NBA team.

To a man after they were eliminated from the finals in Game 5 — a 121-106 Heat win — the Thunder players talked about what it will take to get back to here and be better next year.

“There’s things that wen have to work on,” coach Scott Brooks said. “I’ve never used age as an excuse. But we got some incredible experience these last three years of being the playoffs and it kind of – it has helped us get to this point and to compete at this level.”

The next step is on the defensive end for this team — they were a solid defensive team (OKC was ninth in the league in points allowed per possession) but the Heat won this series because they could find a level of defense the Thunder could not.

“But just one thing, (the Heat) played extremely physical basketball,” Brooks said. “They are a very athletic team and they use it every possession, and that’s something we will talk about. You have it, you better use it.”

There is also the focus that is needed.

“I think now we know that every possession in the finals matters. It counts,” James Harden said. “There were several possessions that we just gave away (in Game 5). I think that third quarter, we brought the lead out to five quick (it was 7), and then they hit two threes in a row. Every possession matters in the finals. We just gave too many away.”

They gave away a few all series. And that stung the Thunder. A lot. Thunder players all talked about being a family and you could see the tears and feel the emotion as they left the floor. You could see it as Kevin Durant talked to his mom. The key — the thing the Thunder’s three leaders were already talking about — was to use that as fuel.

“You just have a lot of regrets but the only thing you can do is get back to work,” Kendrick Perkins said. “And each individual has to think about it when you’re lifting weights, as you run suicides, just think about this feeling, think about this moment and how close we came. We just fell short.”

You get the sense this team will be back. And once again they will have learned a lesson. They will be better. And that could be scary good.

Thabo Sefolosha throws down reverse dunk in transition (video)

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Was Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha making the smart play to beat the defender or just showing off?

Either way, I’m glad he did it.

Lauren Holtkamp ends Clippers-Trail Blazers with strange foul call (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03:  Referee  Lauren Holtkamp looks on during a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 3, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Lauren Holtkamp once again created controversy with Chris Paul on the floor.

But, this time, Paul wasn’t the aggrieved party.

With the Clippers up 113-106 on the Trail Blazers, J.J. Redick held the ball to run out the final few seconds. But before the game ended, Holtkamp called a foul on Shabazz Napier.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

Napier did touch Redick’s side with his left hand just before the whistle. So, this isn’t completely inexplicable. But juxtapose this call with all the times a player is hacking away to intentionally foul and a whistle takes a while.

In case you’re wondering, the teams had already cleared the over, and the Clippers were already up on the 2.5-point spread.

John Wall has words for Kent Bazemore after flagrant foul (VIDEO)


There is history here: In Atlanta on May 3, 2015, John Wall took a hard fall after a foul by then Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, breaking Wall’s hand and effectively ending his playoffs (he did return three games later but the Wizards were all but done by then).

Thursday night after a Dennis Schroder turnover, the Hawks Kent Bazemore chased Wall down on a breakaway layup, but rather than make a play on the ball tried to stop and in the process undercut Wall, sending the guard hard to the floor. Wall bounced back up jawing at Bazemore, and quickly officials and teammates stepped between them.

Bazemore rightfully was given a flagrant I foul for that play — once in the air Wall was helpless, and Bazemore took his legs out from under him. Bazemore said it wasn’t intentional and that the two North Carolinians hugged and made up later.

The Hawks were down six at the time of this play but pulled away in the fourth for the win.

Three things we learned Thursday: Dwight Howard can go home again

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) makes his way through the crowd as he leaves the court following a win over the Washington Wizards in an NBA basketball game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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The NBA is back, as is PBT with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. This is what you missed while checking out the Pokemon statue in New Orleans.

1) Dwight Howard can go home again (at least for one game).
What has everyone been asking of Dwight Howard for years and years? Simply play hard defense, crash the boards, and let the offense come to you. Maybe Howard needed to go home for those lessons to sink in. Playing his first game for his hometown Hawks, Howard was a beast on the boards, particularly in the first half. He had seven boards in the first six minutes, and by half he had corralled 15 boards and scored nine points. He finished the night with 19 rebounds and 11 points, which included some highlight dunks.

Howard also played good defense, and the Hawks got the win at home over the Wizards. We’ll see if this Howard keeps showing up night after night, but it was a promising start.

While Howard was good, make no mistake Paul Millsap is still the Hawks best player. He finished the game with 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists and was a plus 22. He took over in the second half and was part of the reason the Hawks pulled away with a 23-5 run in the fourth.

2) What spacing problems? Bulls shoot 44 percent from three in win over Celtics. Boston’s defensive game plan was the one every team is going to employ against Chicago: With Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler on the floor, just go under all the picks and dare for the Bulls to win with jumpers. Because we all know the Bulls can’t shoot. Except Thursday night the Rondo/Wade/Butler trio hit 9-of-14 from thee, and as a team the Bulls shot 44 percent from deep. That included Wade knocking down the dagger three in a win over the Celtics.

Make no mistake, the Bulls still had shooting woes — they shot 37.3 percent inside the arc — they just got bailed out by the threes and 18 offensive rebounds. Chicago is not going to shoot from deep like this every game. Expect them to regress to the mean over the next few games. But it’s a hopeful sign for Bulls fans, this team was knocking down shots when it needed to for a night. Or, maybe it’s just the Bulls save their best games for TNT.

3) Blake Griffin is healthy and people seem to forget just how good he is. There was Reggie Miller on the TNT broadcast saying “Blake Griffin is back” as the Clippers’ forward scored 27 and pulled down 13 boards in a win in Portland. Some were expressing the same sentiment on Twitter. Their wrong. Griffin isn’t back, he’s healthy. And when he’s healthy he is an awesome force of nature who can score inside and out, crashes the boards, and is a deft passer. He’s as good as any power forward in the game when right. Remember, back in 2014 when Chris Paul had to miss extended time Griffin came in third in the MVP voting? That wasn’t a fluke.

Griffin and CP3 are healthy, and so long as they stay that way this Clippers team is one of the top four in the NBA and a real threat to at least make the conference finals. They just need to keep themselves together for 81 more games.