Our grades for what happened around the NBA Sunday, or what you missed while watching Jean-Claude Van Damme do the splits between two moving trucks…
Brooklyn Nets first quarter offense. With all that talent on the roster we expected some big nights from Brooklyn and it looked like we would finally get one (even if they didn’t have Deron Williams or Brook Lopez, both out injured). There was ball movement, player movement and screens. Kevin Garnett jumped in the hot tub time machine and played like his Minnesota days, just scoring from all over the court on LaMarcus Aldridge — KG had 12 of the first 14 Brooklyn points on 6-of-6 shooting. Shaun Livingston used his height advantage to score 10 over Damian Lillard (and drive past him once for an impressive dunk). Brooklyn attacked and got to the line 11 times. The Nets put up 40 points and shot 73.7 percent in the quarter. They looked like a force of nature.
Brooklyn Nets second half offense. And this is why they are now 3-7 — the Nets devolved quickly into what has made their offense so easy to defend of late. Brooklyn went into isolation basketball that was stagnant — nobody would set screens, nobody moved off the ball, it was just iso basketball. You can defend that, and the Trail Blazers did. The Nets scored 35 points (less than the first quarter) on 22 percent shooting. Paul Pierce was 1-of-7, Garnett 1-of-8, Joe Johnson 1-of-6, Jason terry 0-of-4. The Nets are 3-7 and have some real issues to work out.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. He mostly gets this grade for that shimmy-shake dance he did after a key three in the final two minutes — I love the emotion from Durant. He had missed three from three leading up to that, shots that could have been like daggers, so when he finally got one to go he had to dance. Durant had 38 points on 11-of-27 shooting, plus he had 13 in the fourth quarter when they needed it most. He helped key the OKC comeback and win. But mostly it was about the dance.
Mark Gasol and Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis has gone 4-0 on their road trip, beating the Clippers on Monday night, and the reason is these two are executing at a high level again. Randolph had 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Gasol pushed a triple-double with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. More than just the numbers they are hustling on the boards, Gasol is being a defensive anchor, and Randolph is just taking rebounds away from people. These two simply out executed the Clippers front line of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan down the stretch and Memphis pulled away for the win.
Last summer Kevin Durant tweeted and deleted that the Thunder’s surrounding cast around him and Russell Westbrook was lacking when he played for Oklahoma City. Those tweets – another criticized Thunder coach Billy Donovan – appeared to be intended to come from a burner account, but Durant said he actually meant to send them from his own account.
Now, he apparently liked an Instagram comment with the opposite message about Westbrook. (I say apparently, because I can’t verify the authenticity of these screenshots, but they at least pass the initial smell test.)
“Like” is Instagram’s word. Maybe Durant uses the function for a different purpose – to note a comment, rather than endorse it.
Perhaps, Durant misread the conversation. The comment he liked rejected the notion that the Thunder were “subpar,” but it criticized Westbrook for them not living up to their ability. Perhaps, Durant focused on the comment sticking up for Oklahoma City overall and missed the part about Westbrook being the shortcoming. Skimming that conversation, it’s a plausible mistake.
Maybe Durant just actually hit the like button. It’s easy enough to do.
Or maybe Durant and Westbrook haven’t really gotten less hostile toward each other. Maybe Durant meant to like this from a burner account.
Those nefarious possibilities are the scintillating ones.
After getting crushed for those tweets last summer and repeatedly downplaying his feud with Westbrook, the Warriors star clearly wanted to move on from these storylines. But all those questions have suddenly reemerged. Perhaps for legitimate reasons, perhaps for benign ones. But we won’t know more about Durant’s intent until he answers to this.
Amir Johnson is a savvy veteran on the young 76ers.
On the 2006 Pistons, he was a scarcely used rookie straight out of high school.
But he was learning lessons he’d apply to his current role.
Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:
Philadelphia heeded Johnson’s advice. The 76ers won Games 3 and 4 in Miami to take a 3-1 series lead.
The Pistons went 0-3 in Miami during the six-game 2006 Eastern Conference finals. There was little shame in losing to those Heat. They pushed Detroit to seven games in the 2005 conference finals and were – with Dwyane Wade transcendent while Shaquille O’Neal remained in his prime – even better the following year.
But too much partying is a major charge and a somewhat surprising one. The Pistons were led by the same veteran core – Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace – that made the previous two NBA Finals and won the 2004 title. They’d been around long enough to know better.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has missed Games 3 and 4 of his team’s first-round series against the Warriors following the death of his wife, Erin.
Unsurprisingly, he won’t coach the Spurs as they leave San Antonio for Game 5 tomorrow at Golden State.
David Aldridge of NBA.com:
Popovich should take all the time he needs. Ettore Messina is capable as acting coach, and Popovich being with his family now is more important anyway.
This will probably be the final game of the series. Up 3-1, the Warriors are the better team and at home.
LeBron James and Lance Stephenson have met in 23 playoff games.
Stephenson has tried to agitate LeBron throughout all of them.
From the choke sign back when Stephenson was still a benchwarmer to the infamous ear blow to the tapping of LeBron’s face the next game, Stephenson has been relentless. And LeBron has mostly kept his cool.
But not last night.
Midway through the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ Game 4 win over the Pacers, Stephenson stuck close to LeBron as LeBron went to the Cleveland bench. LeBron pushed Stephenson away and received a technical foul.
I mean, I should never have gotten a tech in the first place. There’s a timeout called, and this guy’s following me to my bench. I gave him a little nudge, and he falls to half court. Come on. But I should know better. I should know better. I’ve been dealing with this since elementary. It’s like I tell you a joke – I tell you a joke and then you laugh, and you get caught. That’s what happened. Lance told me a joke. I laughed. Teacher caught me. Now, I’ve got to go see the principal. That’s what happened.
Stephenson earned that technical foul. He did just enough to bait LeBron, but too much where Stephenson would get a tech. Then, Stephenson exaggerated the contract.
LeBron got got, and he knows it.
He’s also probably savvy enough to remain on greater alert to Stephenson’s antics the rest of the series and avoid responding again.