Three Stars of the Night: Welcome Back, Z-Bo.

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What a night. Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George scored nearly half of his team’s points (34 points on 14-for-25 shooting) in a victory over the Bulls, and he didn’t make the list. Deron Williams had 33 points and 7 assists, nearly carrying the Nets to a victory over the Thunder, and you won’t find him here. Jordan Crawford dropped 22 and 6 in a Wizards win (!) over the Miami Heat (!!!) and, yup, he didn’t make the cut either. Who were Tuesday’s Three Stars of the Night? We’ve got ’em right here:

Third Star: Greg Smith – (21 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes)

Everyone made fun of the Rockets for having a roster that consisted of roughly 14 power forwards, but Rockets GM Daryl Morey is probably the one laughing now. With all the viable frontcourt options the Rockets possess, who would have thought that an undrafted free agent would actually outplay Dwight Howard and lock up a come from behind victory over the Los Angeles Lakers? While Howard squirmed uncomfortably on the free throw line (8-for-16) again during Hack-A-Howard, little known reserve big man Greg Smith actually made his clutch free throws and attacked hard for the Rockets, taking little dump off passes strong to the tin with a fearlessness not commonly used around the league’s biggest defensive presence. Smith’s 11 fourth quarter points were a testament to his tough play, but his four offensive rebounds illustrated an even bigger problem among the Lakers frontline (21 offensive rebounds allowed total). With Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons combining to go a dreadful 10-for-44 from the field, the Rockets needed everything they could get from Smith (and Toney Douglas) to make up for a double digit deficit and take the win.

Second Star: Kevin Durant (32 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds)

Durant has you dead in the water the second he gets the ball, which is why you’ll see teams fight through those pindown screens so hard to try and prevent him from catching the ball. Durant’s ability to turn the corner and reach those comically long arms out towards the rim was just too much for Brooklyn to stop — especially without Brook Lopez in the lineup to protect the basket. The Thunder didn’t run anything particularly pretty down the stretch, but Durant was a foul magnet and converted all his chances (12-for-12) on the evening. Pairing a True Shooting Percentage of about 65 percent with such a high usage rate is just absurd and largely unprecedented, but that’s Durant for ya.

First Star:  Zach Randolph (38 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks, 15-for-22 shooting)

What a bully. Z-Bo had only scored more than 20 points in a game once this season, but he definitely made his rounds on the block and beat up anyone who got in his way. Randolph got ridiculously low post position all night, and in a sign that he’s healthy and ready to go again, even threw down a one-handed jam off an overpowering post move. Randolph grabbed 7 offensive rebounds (or Z-bounds, for the Grizz fans out there), and really just lived right next to the rim all day. After scoring all 13 of his field goals in the paint during regulation, Randolph showed off his outside touch in overtime, knocking in two mid-range jumpers to effectively put the game away.

Kevin Durant apparently likes Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook (photo)

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Last summer Kevin Durant tweeted and deleted that the Thunder’s surrounding cast around him and Russell Westbrook was lacking when he played for Oklahoma City. Those tweets – another criticized Thunder coach Billy Donovan – appeared to be intended to come from a burner account, but Durant said he actually meant to send them from his own account.

Now, he apparently liked an Instagram comment with the opposite message about Westbrook. (I say apparently, because I can’t verify the authenticity of these screenshots, but they at least pass the initial smell test.)

“Like” is Instagram’s word. Maybe Durant uses the function for a different purpose – to note a comment, rather than endorse it.

Perhaps, Durant misread the conversation. The comment he liked rejected the notion that the Thunder were “subpar,” but it criticized Westbrook for them not living up to their ability. Perhaps, Durant focused on the comment sticking up for Oklahoma City overall and missed the part about Westbrook being the shortcoming. Skimming that conversation, it’s a plausible mistake.

Maybe Durant just actually hit the like button. It’s easy enough to do.

Or maybe Durant and Westbrook haven’t really gotten less hostile toward each other. Maybe Durant meant to like this from a burner account.

Those nefarious possibilities are the scintillating ones.

After getting crushed for those tweets last summer and repeatedly downplaying his feud with Westbrook, the Warriors star clearly wanted to move on from these storylines. But all those questions have suddenly reemerged. Perhaps for legitimate reasons, perhaps for benign ones. But we won’t know more about Durant’s intent until he answers to this.

Amir Johnson on South Beach: 2006 Pistons ‘let the streets beat us’

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Amir Johnson is a savvy veteran on the young 76ers.

On the 2006 Pistons, he was a scarcely used rookie straight out of high school.

But he was learning lessons he’d apply to his current role.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Philadelphia heeded Johnson’s advice. The 76ers won Games 3 and 4 in Miami to take a 3-1 series lead.

The Pistons went 0-3 in Miami during the six-game 2006 Eastern Conference finals. There was little shame in losing to those Heat. They pushed Detroit to seven games in the 2005 conference finals and were – with Dwyane Wade transcendent while Shaquille O’Neal remained in his prime – even better the following year.

But too much partying is a major charge and a somewhat surprising one. The Pistons were led by the same veteran core – Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace – that made the previous two NBA Finals and won the 2004 title. They’d been around long enough to know better.

Gregg Popovich to miss Spurs-Warriors Game 5

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has missed Games 3 and 4 of his team’s first-round series against the Warriors following the death of his wife, Erin.

Unsurprisingly, he won’t coach the Spurs as they leave San Antonio for Game 5 tomorrow at Golden State.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Popovich should take all the time he needs. Ettore Messina is capable as acting coach, and Popovich being with his family now is more important anyway.

This will probably be the final game of the series. Up 3-1, the Warriors are the better team and at home.

LeBron James on Lance Stephenson-drawn technical foul: ‘I gave him a little nudge, and he falls to half court. Come on’

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LeBron James and Lance Stephenson have met in 23 playoff games.

Stephenson has tried to agitate LeBron throughout all of them.

From the choke sign back when Stephenson was still a benchwarmer to the infamous ear blow to the tapping of LeBron’s face the next game, Stephenson has been relentless. And LeBron has mostly kept his cool.

But not last night.

Midway through the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ Game 4 win over the Pacers, Stephenson stuck close to LeBron as LeBron went to the Cleveland bench. LeBron pushed Stephenson away and received a technical foul.

LeBron:

I mean, I should never have gotten a tech in the first place. There’s a timeout called, and this guy’s following me to my bench. I gave him a little nudge, and he falls to half court. Come on. But I should know better. I should know better. I’ve been dealing with this since elementary. It’s like I tell you a joke – I tell you a joke and then you laugh, and you get caught. That’s what happened. Lance told me a joke. I laughed. Teacher caught me. Now, I’ve got to go see the principal. That’s what happened.

Stephenson earned that technical foul. He did just enough to bait LeBron, but too much where Stephenson would get a tech. Then, Stephenson exaggerated the contract.

LeBron got got, and he knows it.

He’s also probably savvy enough to remain on greater alert to Stephenson’s antics the rest of the series and avoid responding again.