Scott Brooks lets Omer Asik steal the show from Kevin Durant and James Harden in Thunder’s Game 5 loss to Rockets


Kevin Durant has an attitude. Kevin McHale has a sense of humor. Scott Brooks has a job (for now). James Harden has an illness.

And we have a Game 6.

The Rockets beat the increasingly vulnerable-looking Thunder, 107-100, tonight. After taking a 3-0 series lead, Oklahoma City has lost two straight, but none more embarrassingly than tonight.

During the fourth quarter, Brooks – who coaches the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference – decided his team should intentionally foul Omer Asik of the eighth-seeded Rockets. The strategy was terrible in theory, and it went terribly.

Required to rhyme whenever a team intentionally fouls a specific player off the ball, I present my Asik Critique:

Asik Critique

In theory, using Asik’s regular-season free-throw percentage as a baseline, the Rockets’ offensive rating would be 112.4 on possessions ending in a pair of Asik free throws.

For reference, the Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

It’s also reasonable to expect the Thunder’s offense to suffer, considering free throws allow Houston’s defense to set and nearly negate any chance of an Oklahoma City fastbreak

In reality, the Thunder caught a break because Harden comically launched a half-court shot mistakenly before the Thunder fouled Asik. So, that gave Oklahoma City a big lift with a zero-point Houston possession.  But Asik shot better than expected, going 8-of-12 from the line when intentionally fouled.

So, that’s eight points in seven possessions – an offensive rating of 114.3.

Reminder: The Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

With Russell Westbrook out, the Thunder are psyched out, and nothing showed it more than this feeble strategy. At the same time, the Rockets are gaining confidence.

Late in the game, a frustrated Kevin Durant picked up a technical foul, and James Harden took the free throw. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

McHale told Asik to take it, but it was too late.

Oklahoma City’s bigger problems

Assuming Brooks learns from the Asik Critique (and assuming Brooks still has a job Friday), the Thunder can’t simply stop fouling Asik and win Game 6.

Kevin Martin, who shot 1-for-10, will take a lot of blame, and he deserves it.

But, when his team needed their best defensively, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins struggled.

Westbrook is a quality defender, and he’s missed. Durant has reserved his energy for running Oklahoma City’s offense, causing his defense to suffer.

As a result, the Rockets got to the rim with ease. But Ibaka and Perkins allowed them to finish once they got there.

On the other end, Durant took on point guard duties, but his teammates didn’t convert the open looks he created. Reggie Jackson didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 of his 20 points.

Harden had help defending the rim and scoring, mostly from Asik (21 points and 11 rebounds), but Francisco Garcia (5-for-12) and Patrick Beverly (2-for-5) shot well from beyond the arc for a team that bombed 35 3-pointers.

Harden vs. Durant

Harden, despite leaving the Rockets’ shootaround earlier in the day, made his first seven 3-pointers and finished with 31 points on 16 shots and eight rebounds.

Durant was even better. He had 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists – but judging Durant by his total game misses a key element. Durant quit/wore down/tired of Brooks’ foolishness/insert your own narrative and went 0-for-5 and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. (Harden shot 1-for-5 in the period, but that will be ignored thanks to Brooks’ decision to foul Asik repeatedly.)

Foreshadowing occurred just before.

Harden, on a Rockets inbound from their own baseline with 35.9 seconds left in third quarter, walked the dog nearly to the Thunder 3-point line as Oklahoma City sagged back. Harden picked up the ball, took one dribble and nailed a 3-pointer (making him 6-for-6 on 3s in the game).

Durant answered with an isolation drive and floater for two points.

To complete the 2-for-1 Harden created, Aaron Brooks made a runner with a fraction of a second left.

Durant heaved an 81-footer that had obviously missed as the quarter ended.

Durant had to do it all for the Thunder tonight, and he couldn’t. Harden had a little help – some of it from Brooks – and that was just enough.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.