Three Stars of the Night: Two big names and a role player

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On any given night, anyone can step up to be the difference maker that leads his team to a victory. Typically, it’s the team’s best player or one of their key starters that does it. That’s why they’re paid the big bucks, after all. Sometimes, though, it’s a role player that comes out hitting shots from nowhere and he’s the guy that, for one night at least, is the hero. In tonight’s contests, we had a mix of both and they make up our three stars:

Third Star: Russell Westbrook (27 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals)

There are nights where Russell Westbrook looks like the best player on the floor. And considering he plays with Kevin Durant, that’s saying something.

Against the Cavaliers, Westbrook had one of those nights where he was the best player on the court, doing everything that he does best and helping his team to get a win in the process. Westbrook was in attack mode all night, getting to the basket with his typical force but also hitting his jumper (he finished 4-6 from three point range) with great consistency. Beyond getting his own shots to fall, he also played great defense and set up his teammates for easy baskets. Just a great overall night for Russ, with plays just like this one typical of his performance:

Second Star: Dwight Howard (23 points, 18 rebounds, 3 blocks)

Dwight Howard isn’t yet 100% physically. There are times where he’s still not as explosive or quick to react to plays as he has been in the past. Against the Kings, though, that really didn’t matter.

Without DeMarcus Cousins to put up resistance in the paint, Howard controlled the area around the basket on both ends of the floor and simply man handled the Kings en route to a great night. He finished inside with relative ease, controlled the back boards, and contested shots in the paint so nothing came easy to the Kings inside. And yes, he even had one of his typical alley oops:

First Star: Wayne Ellington (25 points, 7 made three pointers)

If you happened to miss the game and only saw the final score, you’d probably think the Grizzlies dominated the Heat by beasting them inside with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. And that would be the wrong assumption.

The Grizzlies took down the Heat by hitting a whopping 14 of their 24 three point shots, pouring it on from the outside in a way they haven’t done all year (in several years, actually). In the middle of all that was Wayne Ellington who hit bomb after bomb from behind the arc to loosen up the Heat’s defense. Ellington’s 7-11 from behind the arc fueled the Grizz in this one and gave them a statement win over the defending champs. Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph also had very good nights, but without Ellington’s sharp shooting, the Grizz likely don’t win this one. Watch for yourself:

Kevin Durant: Liking anti-Russell Westbrook Instagram comment was ‘total accident’

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.

Here we go again?

Royce Young of ESPN:

I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.

But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.

Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.

But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.

NBA apparently reviewing whether Russell Westbrook should be suspended for Thunder-Jazz Game 5

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The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.

Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.

The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.

Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?

Andy Larsen of KSL.com:

A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.

The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.

The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.

But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adamswhose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.

Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.

Russell Westbrook on matchup with Ricky Rubio: ‘Let’s get past that. We’re done with that’

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
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After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”

Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.

Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.

How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?

Westbrook:

It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.

How convenient.

Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?

Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.

But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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