Three Stars of the Night: Volatile Stars Edition

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On a night where the Atlanta Hawks scored 58 points, the Memphis Grizzlies shot 30 percent from the field, and the Orlando Magic lost by 29 points…to the Washington Wizards…we could probably use some offensive outbursts to distract us, right? Well, I’ll tell you what — if it’s outbursts you want, our Three Stars are plenty capable of providing them. When O.J. Mayo (20 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists) is too cool of a customer to join the group, you know we mean business. To the stars!

Third Star: DeMarcus Cousins – (26 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks)

Toss in a flagrant foul and a technical foul to that gaudy line, and tonight’s showing against Cleveland really was the full DeMarcus Cousins experience. Cousins played like a man possessed, bullying through double teams and multiple defenders to show off some sweet spin moves and a nice touch with his baby hook. Although referees have been extra strict with him on the extra curricular stuff, Cousins forced a ton of whistles by leveraging his overwhelming strength advantage against Tyler Zeller and Tristain Thompson. Cousins, who is surprisingly a 77 percent free throw shooter, knocked in all 12 free ones and really showed the skill level that makes him such a hot commodity. There isn’t a thing he can’t do offensively, and there aren’t an awful lot of centers in the NBA who can lay stake to that claim.

 

Second Star: Russell Westbrook – (36 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists)

Westbrook doesn’t get enough praise for being one of the game’s best competitors. How many times have you seen Westbrook aloof or unaffected by what’s going out on the court? The guy has never missed a game in his NBA career and he plays his heart out every time he takes the floor. No one should be as jacked up about a third quarter fast break conversion in a game in January against the Phoenix Suns as Westbrook is. It’s a little frightening, actually, but I guess it’s not as scary as he is to opposing defenses when that jumper is falling. That stop on a dime pull-up J from the free throw line is virtually impossible to stop, and Westbrook hit about 6 or 7 shots right in that area en route to his big scoring night. If that shot ever becomes as consistent as Westbrook’s energy and effort level is on a nightly basis, head for the hills.

First Star: Rajon Rondo – (17 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists)

No player in the league is quite as mercurial as Rajon Rondo. He’ll float through games, not giving you much, and then all of the sudden he’ll snap into takeover mode where he’s pulling off fake around-the-back passes for layups. It’s confusing and a little unpredictable, but that’s Rondo. This was sort of the “take care of business” Rondo we saw tonight — his 8-for-11 shooting was tidy and efficient, and his 26th career triple-double was bare bones, yet still fulfilling. I’m not sure why any team would ever hedge on Rondo in a pick-and-roll, but he split the pick multiple times before turning Charlotte’s backline defenders into statues.

NBA fines Chicago’s Rajon Rondo $25,000 for attempting to trip Jae Crowder (VIDEO)

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Rajon Rondo‘s end-of-season performance may have helped him earn a little extra coin this offseason. He’s certainly going to need it given that the NBA has fined the Chicago Bulls PG $25,000 after he attempted to trip Boston Celtics wing Jae Crowder.

The league released the decision in a statement on Sunday morning.

The incident occured with 31 seconds left in the first quarter of Game 3, a game the Celtics won, 104-87. Rondo was on the bench, and as possession changed Crowder took a wide sweeping angle along the sideline, right in front of Rondo.

Rondo casually stuck his leg out as Crowder passed by, but didn’t seem to make any contact.

Chicago leads the series, 2-1.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.