NBA Summer League’s second day features plethora of solid performances

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LAS VEGAS — The second day of NBA Summer League featured pretty the same things as the first — random cameos in the crowd by established NBA like Baron Davis, J.R. Smith and David Lee; a lot of less than stellar basketball interspersed with jaw-dropping highlights and 32 quarters of players most of the crowd in attendance has never heard of fighting to better their basketball careers.

Not everybody in attendance was able to dominate like they probably planned, but plenty of players put together solid enough performances to be included in our Day 2 bullets featuring the best — and some of the worst — players  for packed house in Las Vegas.

  • The entire Memphis Grizzlies team played well to begin things on Friday afternoon against the New York Knicks. The team’s last two first-round picks and seemingly career combo guards — Josh Selby and Tony Wroten — played stifling defense while combining for 39 points. They weren’t the only standouts, though, as current free agent Matt Janning also played very well with 13 points, four rebounds and even a block as he looks to once again parlay a successful Summer League performance into an NBA contract as he did his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns.
  • Josh Akognon has been tearing up China since leaving Cal State Fullerton, but there are very people in NBA circles familiar with his game. He showed quite a bit on Saturday, though, as he scored 25 points and nailed four 3-pointers … though the 5-foot-9 guard failed to record an assist.
  • Bradley Beal is the player most people figured would be a standout for the Washington Wizards’ Summer League entry, but it ended up being second round pick Tomas Satoransky stealing the show on Saturday night. Satoransky’s Wizards would go on to win a blowout over the Houston Rockets, but the young point guard played very solid on his way to 10 points — including a pair of dunks that would dispell some of the criticisms that he’s not athletic enough to play in America’s top league. Beal still finished better than him in the box score, however, scoring 14 points to go with five rebounds and four assists.
  • The Rockets-Wizards game was a blowout, but the two team’s young power forwards didn’t make that evident over the course of the game. Marcus Morris and Chris Singleton had to be separated at one point after a war of words and then later rookie Royce White and Singleton also exchanged some words. None of the three turned in particularly incredible performances, but it was fun to see some passion in Vegas.
  • Jeremy Lamb wasn’t overtly-amazing considering he made just two of his seven 3-pointers — and one of those misses was an airball — but he finished with 23 points in the points column. Fellow rookie Terrence Jones was quite a bit more efficient with 13 points on eight shots in 18 minutes.
  • Donatas Motiejunas didn’t look nearly as good on Saturday as he did on Friday. The Rockets big man of the future finished his second game in America with just one point after missing all five of his field goal attempts — and getting abused by Garret Siler a few times on the defensive end.
  • The majority of the Knicks looked like they had less than NBA talent, but former Memphis wing Wesley Witherspoon was able to put together a solid game with 15 points and five rebounds off the bench. It was more than most expected following a disappointing college career, but he did have one major blemish in the game — an air-balled 3-pointer that drew just the faintest chants of “Airball!” from a still-building crowd.
  • Klay Thompson got off to an impeccably-hot start on Saturday as he seemed to be on his way to cementing a Summer League MVP performance with 12 early points as he nailed the first four 3-pointers he attempted. The second-year pro for the Golden State Warriors wasn’t able to sustain that success, however, and finished with just 17 points to go with six turnovers and five fouls — though his 4-of-6 performance from beyond the arc didn’t hurt. Charles Jenkins was probably the best player on his team as he scored 24 points whereas Harrison Barnes took a stepback in scoring just 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
  • The Denver Nuggets look like they brought a Summer League All-Star team to Vegas, but they weren’t able to play like that for the majority of Saturday’s game. Jordan Hamilton had an amazing second quarter on his way to 18 points and a huge dunk (that led to him saluting opponent Draymond Green), but the remainder of his performance wasn’t quite as impressive. His veteran teammates weren’t all that impressive, either.
  • Kenneth Faried scored 10 points and had a series of three huge blocks, his 4-of-15 performance from the field can’t be sugarcoated while former first round picks Solomon Alabi and Gani Lawal combined for just six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time.

Games will continue to get more interesting on Sunday as games start to be played at both the Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center leading to even more possible standouts at NBA Summer League — and we’ll have a recap of all of them available for you right here at Pro Basketball Talk.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.