Russell Westbrook scores 37, leads Thunder to easy win over Lakers

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The last time the Thunder played the Lakers, they turned the ball over just nine times, and Russell Westbrook struggled offensively, finishing with just 17 points on 6-22 shooting.

Oklahoma City dropped that one on Jan. 27 in Los Angeles, so Tuesday night at home, the team corrected itself in those two areas — in a big way — in order to come away with an easy 122-105 victory over a Lakers team that, in its current condition, really doesn’t have many answers for what the Thunder are able to do offensively.

Westbrook was magnificent, pouring in 37 points on 15-29 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. Kevin Durant wasn’t dominant, but still managed 26 points on 9-22 shooting, with nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocked shots.

As a team, the Thunder shot better than 47 percent from the field, but it was really just a 3-12 night from Kevin Martin off the bench, and an 0-5 night from Kendrick Perkins (who isn’t counted on to score) that dragged the team’s shooting number down. The key numbers were points in the paint (where the Thunder bested the Lakers by 30), fast break points (where the Thunder had 16 more), and turnovers, where the Thunder were historically excellent.

Oklahoma City turned the ball over just twice against the Lakers in this one, tying the record for the lowest in the league over the last 27 years. According to the rock solid Basketball-Reference.com, only the Bucks in 2006 and the Cavaliers in 2009 matched the two-turnover feat that the Thunder were able to replicate on Tuesday.

The thing about the Thunder and their low number of turnovers, however — at least when playing the Lakers — is that it seems to be relatively consistent. Nine turnovers in the January loss is still a very low number, so maybe, just maybe, OKC isn’t the best matchup for the Lakers defensively.

OK, that’s obviously an understatement.

The athleticism showcased by Durant and Westbrook is essentially the antithesis of this Lakers team as currently constructed. As a result, there is no scheme that L.A. can put together with its current personnel that will stop what the Thunder are trying to do offensively. OKC had put up a ridiculous 71 points by halftime, and the Lakers struggled to climb back into it the rest of the way.

The Lakers were able to rally a bit in the fourth quarter, and cut a 13-point lead down to six with 5:36 remaining, and had multiple shots to get even closer. Metta World Peace missed a three and a layup on a fast break attempt, and in between Kobe Bryant missed a 15-foot jumper and Steve Nash missed a three of his own.

Any of those shots would have brought the Lakers to within a legitimate striking distance, but all of the misses eventually gave way to a three-pointer from Serge Ibaka that ignited an 11-0 Thunder run that closed the game out, and L.A. didn’t score the rest of the way.

Bryant finished with 30 points, but left the game in the first quarter due to an “ulnar nerve contusion” to his right arm. That’s essentially a funny bone injury, and while he was able to play through it, Bryant was shooting left-handed whenever he could, which isn’t exactly a sign of confidence that everything is fine.

World Peace rolled an ankle and had an X-ray on it after the game, but seemed to be confident that he’d play in New Orleans on Wednesday. Dwight Howard grabbed 16 rebounds, but finished with just six points on 1-7 shooting. He didn’t get a shot attempt in 15 second half minutes, and fouled out with 2:24 remaining.

The loss ultimately doesn’t do anything to the Lakers’ playoff hopes; as long as L.A. continues to beat the teams it’s supposed to, the chances are good it can sneak into the postseason. What this game does remind us is how far the Lakers are from their ultimate goal of winning a championship, and how far-fetched it is for anyone to believe that should the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs, that they’d somehow actually have a fighting chance.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.