Thursday Olympics recap: Spain almost falls to host nation

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On a day that the USA routed Nigeria and looked pretty invincible doing it, some of the other supposed powers of the Olympics showed signs of vulnerability.

Now comes the disclaimer — d read too much into that. Once you get into the one-and-done medal round tournament a sloppy game a week before doesn’t matter. It’s like the NCAA tournament that way. Still, Thursday was a day to feel pretty good about the USA’s gold medal chances.

We’ve already broken down the USA’s record rout of Nigeria and told you how Russia needed a buzzer-beater to beat Brazil in the best game of the day (see the game winning shot here), now we’ve got a roundup of the rest of the day’s action.

Spain 79, Great Britain 78: The host country almost pulled off a real shocker of an upset, then in the final seconds looked like the inexperienced team that they are.

This game was never supposed to be close but Spain let them hang around. Still, Spain had a small but hard-to-lose lead in the final minutes. But Great Britain’s players just kept knocking down threes and chipping away at it — give up two, hit a three, give up two, hit a three. Then down 79-75 with 7 seconds left in the game Luol Deng hit a leaning, contested three (giving him 26 on the night) and it was a one-point game.

The British needed to foul and then hope for a miracle three… except they never fouled. Deng almost fouled but pulled up because four fouls (they needed him on the court and in international ball you are out on the fifth) but nobody else knew what to do and they watched Spain dribble out the clock. Jose Calderon had 19 to lead Spain, Pau Gasol had 17.

Spain may have been looking ahead to the big game Saturday — they play Russia. Both are undefeated and he winner will take Group B, and avoid facing the USA until a gold medal game.

France 82, Lithuania 74: Tony Parker is looking better and better with each game as he gets his conditioning back and gets used to the goggles. He had 27 points in this contest including 7 of the final 8 for France in a tight game down the stretch. Nicolas Batum added 21 for France. Lithuania was led by Martynas Pocius who had 18 points, followed by Linas Kleiza with 17.

With this win, combined with their win over Argentina previously, France is going to finish No. 2 in Group A. Which may well set them up with Brazil in the first round of medal play.

Argentina 92, Tunisia 69: Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Team USA for their slow start against Tunisia on Tuesday, it could have been worse — Argentina was tied with them 40-40 at the half. The second half was like a different game, the one we all expected where Argentina cruised to a win.

Manu Ginobili had 24 points and arguably has been the best player in the games, he has been fantastic at both ends of the court. Carlos Delfino added 21. Argentina is now 2-1 in pool play (and faces the USA next Monday). Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni — who has signed with the Knicks — missed Thursday’s game against Tunisia with what likely is a kidney stone.

Australia 81, China 61: Not only is China now 0-3 in pool play they may have lost their best player — Yi Jianlian took a blow above his right knee and his status for the next two games is unclear.

The Chinese came out hitting seemingly everything and took an early lead, but they eventually cooled down and Australia took control of the contest. Australia did a good job denying Yi the ball, forcing China to get its offense from other sources. Patty Mills led Australia with 20 points.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.