Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while being mesmerized by head-banging Taylor Swift…
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. At this point, I’m beginning to question if Durant is human. Maybe a Terminator sent back from the future to take over the NBA? Maybe an X-Men style mutant? Whatever he is, I really enjoy watching him play basketball. He dropped 41 on the Hawks — and that includes the game winner. It was a tie game with 22.5 seconds left, OKC was going to go for the final shot and everyone in the building — heck everyone not in the building, too — knew the ball would end up in Durant’s hands. When it did the Hawks sent an immediate double team, Durant drove right to find a little space and a third defender showed up. None of it matters. Durant drilled the game winner. Seriously, I’m beginning to question if he’s human.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota has crawled up to .500 once again, and they did it with 31 points from Kevin Love, who was efficient with just 17 shots. He got some of those points late when Chicago had pulled within five — he made 31 on 17 shots from the field, and making some big plays including a strong move underneath and later knocking down a couple free throws. Another game like this from Love on Wednesday against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves could finally break .500.
Brooklyn Nets in the final seconds. This is a punch to the gut the Nets need to absorb and move past. Brooklyn was up one with :12 seconds left in the game and had the ball — all they have to do is inbound the ball, hit their free throws then defend the arc and this win is theirs. Instead they end up turning the ball over on an ill-advised inbound pass by Deron Williams into the backcourt, which set up a Patrick Patterson game winner (as Williams bought a little fake and slid right past him). The Raptors closed this game out on an 8-3 run — Brooklyn blew it. They would have been half a game behind Toronto for the Atlantic Division lead, now they are 2.5 back and have a lot more ground to make up.
Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns. The Suns picked up another win on the road out East and Green was a main reason, scoring 30 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He had a dozen points in the first quarter when the Suns pulled away, then he had 11 in the fourth quarter holding off some Sixers runs. He’s always been athletic but he is showing a more rounded game this season in the Valley of the Sun.
The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.
So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:
The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.
The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.
For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.
But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.
Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.
The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.
Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.
It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.
Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.
Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:
“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:
“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?
“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”
On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.