Thunder get right with blowout destruction of Raptors

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If you want the short version of how things went for the Raptors in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, we have that for you here and here. For those that want the excruciating details, feel free to continue.

It’s amazing how any the talk of chemistry issues and in-house bickering suddenly disappears when a weaker opponent comes to town, and is dismantled with ease by the defending Western Conference champs. That’s essentially what the Thunder did in the team’s 108-88 win over Toronto — they made their problems vanish, if only for a night.

OKC had this game in hand, even before Kyle Lowry — who had been sensational to start the season — went down with an ankle injury less than two minutes before halftime, with his team already trailing by 17 points.

It started early for the Thunder, when their attacking offense and unselfish ball movement led to wide-open looks for the team’s lesser players. Thabo Sefolosha led OKC in scoring with nine at the end of the first quarter, after hitting all three of his three-point field goal attempts — all of which were assisted by his teammates.

The unselfishness was truly the theme for the Thunder on this night, as proven by the blowout coming when neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook had anywhere close to the dominant games they’re each capable of. Westbrook got to the line plenty, and led the team in scoring with 19 points, but shot just 5-of-12 from the field. Durant had his moments, but finished with just 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Part of the reason for the low numbers from the Thunder’s stars was due to the low minutes they played in such a lopsided game — under 30 for Durant, and under 29 for Westbrook. But the team was picked up by 17 points in 23 minutes from Serge Ibaka on 8-of-9 shooting, and solid contributions from Kevin Martin and Hasheem Thabeet off the bench.

The energy level just wasn’t there from the Raptors in this one, and they couldn’t find a way to get anyone into a consistent rhythm to help carry the load offensively. DeMar DeRozan had one of those forgettable nights people point to when balking at the large contract extension he just received, and Andrea Bargnani continues to be unreliable as the team’s go-to offensive threat.

The loss of Lowry early on certainly didn’t help, but again, the game was over long before then. This one will go down as a get-right night for the Thunder, and the Raptors will leave Oklahoma City in the same state that they entered — still searching for answers.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.