Kevin Durant & Thunder solve Rockets’ gameplan; Chandler Parsons comes up big in Rockets’ win


Chandler Parsons stood on the court and said, “It’s unbelievable.”

Moments ago, Serge Ibaka laid on the same court court and covered his eyes with both hands before making his body limp as two of his teammates tried to pick him. A few feet away, Reggie Jackson, knocked to the ground, sat up and reached across his body to smack the floor softly. Derek Fisher crouched down and then landed flat on his stomach. Thabo Sefolosha threw up his arms. Kevin Durant licked his lips and stared straight ahead.

Certainly, those Thunder players also found it unbelievable.

But here is the most unbelievable part of the Rockets’ 105-103 Game 4 win over Oklahoma City tonight: Houston’s plan failed.

The Thunder made the first move with Russell Westbrook out, running all their offense through Durant in Game 3. He took 30 shots and scored 41 points.

The Rockets countered by double-, triple- and even quadruple-teaming Durant. Initially, they were successful. Durant forced opportunities, and Oklahoma City’s offense struggled as a result. But eventually Durant became more patient, and Thunder’s scoring took off.

The Rockets kept focusing on Durant, though, throwing a physical defense at him. Durant committed seven turnovers, including two two charges, but he also drew 13 fouls. That seemed to be just how Houston wanted it.

But the plan did not work. Yes, the Rockets held Durant to 16 shots, but he scored 38 points. Durant also had six assists, and his teammates made 9-of-17 3-pointers with him on the floor.

So how did the Rockets win?

It wasn’t because of James Harden, who had more turnovers (10) than field goals (4), rebounds (1) and assists (3) combined.

Again, how did the Rockets win?

Their complementary players – led by Parsons (27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) – were awesome.

Carlos Delinfo made 3-of-5 3-pointers and dunked on Durant. Omer Asik had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Francisco Garcia made 3-of-7, Patrick Beverly 2-of-4 and Aaron Brookes 1-of-1 from beyond the arc. Houston’s bench players had so much swagger tonight, they could send the excess to the early-season Clippers, who lacked confidence in comparison.

Parsons especially picked a heck of a time for the best game of his career. He scored inside (7-of-9 in the restricted area) and out (3-of-6 on 3-pointers), drove and spotted up, dished and boarded. He was just incredible.

But, despite all the focus on him, so was Durant.

Even Durant playing within himself still meant plenty of shots that wouldn’t be reasonable for other players.

Down seven points in the final two minutes, Durant pulled up for a 3-pointer. Thunder down four with 1:42 left.

On Oklahoma City’s next possession, Durant crossed over Parsons and Brooks on the perimeter, drove and dunked over Asik and Delfino. Thunder down two with 1:13 left.

But Durant stayed true to Oklahoma City’s adjusted gameplan. Even on the game’s final play, when he ran out of space, Durant passed to Reggie Jackson. Jackson drove to the rim and was probably fouled by Asik, but it wasn’t called, and Serge Ibaka’s putback just missed as the buzzer sounded.

Durant’s last five points were the only five scored by either team in the final two minutes. He wasn’t the hero tonight, but the stage is set for him to fill that role soon.

LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.


Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson has another surgery, will miss entire season now

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans say rookie guard Frank Jackson won’t make his NBA debut this season after having follow-up surgery to remove residual scar tissue from earlier right foot operations.

The Pelicans say Jackson also received an injection in his foot.

The club says a specialist in New York handled Jackson’s latest procedure.

The Pelicans acquired the 6-foot-4 Jackson through a draft-night trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected the former Duke player with the first pick of the second round last summer.

Following the draft, the Pelicans signed Jackson to a three-year contract at the NBA minimum with two years guaranteed, but Jackson needed a second foot surgery last summer to address a setback following his initial surgery last May.

Jackson spent one season at Duke, averaging 10.9 points.


Giannis Antetokounmpo turns bad pass into ridiculous alley-oop (VIDEO)

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That is just not fair.

Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo that was off the mark — high and behind him — but it just doesn’t matter. The Greek Freak gets up and throws it down.

It’s early, but it’s going to be hard to beat that one for dunk of the night.

League’s Last Two Minute Report backs referees (mostly) in Raptors/Thunder game

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Anyone who watched the Thunder’s win over the Raptors Sunday afternoon in Toronto — especially the final few minutes — thought it was not referee Marc Davis and crew’s finest hour. There were missed calls and three-straight ejections of Raptors players, which all seemed rather hair-trigger (especially coach Dwane Casey, who was tossed for something a fan behind him said).

The NBA’s Last Two Minute report doesn’t see it that way — it says the referees nailed it.

According to the report, there was only one missed call in the final two minutes: Carmelo Anthony held Pascal Siakam as a pass came to him with 11.7 seconds left, and that should have been called.

What about the play that set DeMar DeRozan off and ultimately got him ejected, the drive to the basket with 33 seconds left (and the Raptors down two) where DeRozan thought Corey Brewer fouled him? The report said that was a good no call:

DeRozan (TOR) starts his drive and Brewer (OKC) moves laterally in his path and there is contact. The contact is incidental as both players attempt to perform normal basketball moves….

RHH shows Brewer (OKC) make contact with the ball and the part of DeRozan’s (TOR) hand that is on the ball. The hand is considered “part of the ball” when it is in contact with the ball and therefore, contact on that part of the hand by a defender while it is in contact with the ball is not illegal.

(I didn’t see it that way, I think the contact was more than incidental, and to me looking at the replay Brewer catches some wrist and impedes the shot in a way that was not legal. Just my two cents.)

The report does not cover the ejections, which are reviewed by league operations but not part of this report.

Three thoughts out of all this:

1) Raptors fans/management/players have every right to feel the calls went against them in this game. As for calls always going against them — as DeRozan complained about after the game — 29 other teams and fan bases are convinced the officials have it out for them, too. I never bought that.

2) The Raptors didn’t lose this game solely because of the officiating. Russell Westbrook was clutch down the stretch, the Thunder were part of it, and the Raptors had other issues, too (Serge Ibaka had a rough game, for example).

3) This loss also does not say a thing about the Raptors in the postseason (even if they went a little too much isolation at the end) — this was their third game in four days, they looked tired and flat at the end. That will not be the case in the playoffs.