Summer League Notes: The svelte Draymond Green and other Day 2 highlights

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LAS VEGAS — Saturday saw some rough rookie debuts but also some strong performances. Here are a few notes and highlights from Day 2 of Summer League in Vegas.

• Ben McLemore had a rough shooting Summer League debut at 4-of-23, but as noted in PBT’s story it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

• Golden State’s Draymond Green showed why he went from second round pick to playoff rotation guy, he looked aggressive — 15 points on just 1-of-9 shooting but he earned 14 free throw attempts. He was just going to the rim every chance he got.

Green also was showing off a more svelte form — the first thing you notice about him now is how he changed his body and lost weight.

“One of the main things I did was change up my diet, just making sure I eat healthier,” Green said after the game. “I’m also doing a lot of extra cardio, doing a lot more lifting, and really just staying in the gym working out.”

Green had energy from that new look and he was attacking.

“This is an opportunity to showcase your talent,” Green said. “Showcase what it is you bring to a team. It’s not time to do the ‘I played on the Warriors for a year I’m going to come out and chill.’ It’s an opportunity for me, there is no Steph (Curry) on the court, there’s no Klay (Thompson) on the court, there’s no Harrison (Barnes), no David (Lee). It’s an opportunity for guys to come out and show what they can do.”

Green did show it, and he got noticed.

“I like the way he is passing up some shots, putting the ball on the floor and drawing contact,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. “That put him in position to make some free throws for us down the stretch of the ballgame. Draymond has been consistent. Obviously he has worked on his body a lot.

• This was first look at Otto Porter in person and despite a rough night the word that came to mind is smooth. He was patient, generally made good choices most of the time and had took quality shots — they just would not go in. He was 3-of-13 from the floor and missed some bunnies, although he had a pretty step back in the first quarter. Also there were turnovers and looking a little lost on a Wizards team that looked discombobulated (even by Summer League standards). But there is a lot to like and I can see him at the three with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the starting backcourt. Eventually.

• One of the players that looked the best today was Evan Fournier of Denver, showing why George Karl should have played him more earlier last year. His shot was falling, but more importantly his decision making and passing on the pick-and-roll was beautiful.

• Portland’s Victor Claver took a knee to his thigh, played only five minutes on Saturday and is questionable for Sunday.

• Jan Vesley looked solid for the Wizards — he was strong on a couple rebounds, showed a post move with a step back. He had a block at the rim that turned heads. Bottom line is he looked like a solid NBA center. Part of that is it is Summer League, but part of it is he can play better than he gets credit for.

• Former Laker Andrew Goudelock was playing for the Bulls and looked good — 9-of-15 shooting, 3-of-5 from three with 26 points and a couple assists. He showed good athleticism and a real range on his shot. Before Lakers fans get all “we should have kept him” remember his game is made for Summer League where guards can gun and defense is not expected.

• Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas looked like a man among boys against the Heat, who tend to go small even in the Summer League. Valanciunas has filled out his frame some and used that size to grab offensive boards, throw down dunks and generally own the paint. He dunked everything.

• Jae Crowder of Dallas just is a Summer League beast, he outworks everyone and has a soft touch around the rim.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.