Thunder find a little of their magic, came from behind to close out Rockets


For a night, Oklahoma City showed some progress, found a little of the old magic, and that was something to celebrate. And that was something that was too much for the Rockets.

We all know the Thunder are not themselves right now, that their biggest tests lie ahead (started Sunday against Memphis). But for a night it was enough.

The Thunder battled back from a 10-point third quarter deficit, took control with a 14-4 run at the start of the fourth quarter and went on to beat the Rockets 103-94 Friday night.

With the win the Thunder win the series 4-2 and advance to the second round — which starts Sunday in OKC against a tough Memphis Grizzlies squad.

But to get there the Thunder had to find a little of their magic again, which was missing in the couple of Rockets wins since Russell Westbrook went down for the playoffs with a torn meniscus. This was easily the best Thunder game since that injury.

What they found in the first half was the good Kevin Martin — 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting as he was getting to the line and knocking down threes. Martin would finish the game with 25 points. Reggie Jackson added 17 points, eight assists and  seven rebounds.

Of course, this is still Kevin Durant’s team and he pretty much carried the Thunder this series and for the game 27 points (on 11-of-23 shooting) with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Or look at it this way: In the four games since Westbrook went down Durant has averaged 35.5 points on 51 percent shooting, while adding 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists — those are monster numbers from the guy that has to carry a bigger load on offense.

Led by Durant, we say a more focused Thunder team, one that on offense scored 113 points per 100 possessions and looked more like one of the best offenses in the NBA.

All of which was too much for the Rockets. Houston got 26 points out of James Harden and another strong performance form Chandler Parsons (25 points on 14 shots).

This was all a learning process for a young team. The Rockets picked up James Harden in a great deal before the season and he has proved he can be the alpha dog for the team. Parsons, Omer Asik and Patrick Beverly are some good role players (as is Jeremy Lin most of the time). But this was always going to be a learning experience for the Rockets — and I think they did grow from it. This team got better and better as the season went on. They should have their chins up.

But the Thunder have already been where the Rockets are trying to get. And they looked more like that team on Friday, showing some heart n a comeback and eventual win==. Which was good enough to send them to the second round

The Thunder have survived and advanced and that should be celebrated. You can start the new task in a couple days.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell with shot of night to force OT with Spurs


One of the factors to consider in the Rookie of the Year race: clutch plays.

Down three with less than 10 seconds to go Friday night, the Utah Jazz put the ball in the hands of their rookie playmaker Donovan Mitchell — and he made the play, draining a three to force overtime. It’s an impressive play.

In the clutch this season (last five minutes of a game, within five points), Mitchell has averaged 3.2 shots per contest (by far the most of any rookie) and has a true shooting percentage of 51 percent. Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, the other front-runner in the ROY race, averages less than a shot per game in those clutch situations (0.8) and has a true shooting percentage of 66.7 percent.

Mitchell made the big shot, but the Spurs made plenty too, had 45 points on the night from LaMarcus Aldridge, and got the win.


PBT Extra: Who is coming out of the Eastern Conference?

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The Toronto Raptors will finish with the No. 1 seed and all the best metrics in the East, but they have a history of playoff flameouts. The Boston Celtics’ have been hit hard by injuries. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James but also a dreadful defense, this is the most vulnerable a LeBron led team has been since he bolted Cleveland seven years ago.

So what team is coming out of the East?

We get into that in this latest PBT Extra. A poll on Twitter found most of you think the Cavaliers, but personally, I think the Raptors — who have been better defensively all season than the Cavs — may finally have their year.

LaMarcus Aldridge drops career-high 45 points, Spurs beat Jazz in OT

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell‘s 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs’ 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah’s 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Aldridge averaged 32.2 points and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak, including two double-doubles.

Aldridge scored 28 points in the first half on 12-for-16 shooting, including a 3-pointer.

Utah missed its first six shots and was 4 for 14 as San Antonio grabbed a 19-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Mitchell settled the Jazz, scoring six points to cut the Spurs lead to 29-21 heading into the second quarter.

Mitchell was 14-for-35 shooting while falling six points shy of his season-high.

Derrick Favors added 22 points for Utah and Ricky Rubio had 20.

Ginobili finished with 18 points for the Spurs.


Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury


In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.

He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.

Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.

Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.