The Extra Pass: Blake Griffin’s alternate reality; plus Wednesday’s recaps

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Tell me if this sounds at all familiar.

24 years old, about 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9. Roughly 250 pounds. Stronger and faster than just about everyone. Phenomenal basketball IQ. Highly skilled, but often criticized for what he can’t do instead of appreciated for what he does.

That’s Blake Griffin.

And at one point, that was LeBron James, too.

The parallels between Griffin and James have never been clearer than they were during the Miami Heat’s 116-112 victory over the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers.

Maybe we just had to see Griffin and James next to each other, sizing each other up, going at each other throughout multiple points in the game, trading dunks and jumpers and perfect cross-court skip passes.

Or perhaps it’s because Griffin, without Chris Paul or J.J. Redick, was playing the role of a one-man offensive wrecking crew; a role James occupied for many years during his time in Cleveland.

Then again, it could have been the raw numbers that triggered it. Griffin’s 43 point, 15 rebound and 6 assist line is the type that sends off alarms in your brain and makes you start the search for other players who are capable of doing such things. LeBron, surprisingly, has never quite done it, although he’s put up similar lines over the years.

All the similarities and comparisons beg the question: what would Griffin look like if he came up like LeBron did?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Of course, playing with the league’s best point guard in Chris Paul has placed Griffin in situations to succeed, but there’s also been some deference of responsibility as well. Late in games for the Clippers, it’s the CP3 show, with Griffin playing solely a supporting role. Over the course of his career, the fourth quarter has statistically always been Griffin’s least productive quarter. He doesn’t disappear entirely, but he fades into the background for sure.

That isn’t to say that Paul is stunting Griffin’s growth by stealing reps, but rather that he might have seriously altered his development in his formative basketball years. That’s perfectly normal. Players don’t become who they are regardless of their surroundings. It’s nature and nurture.

It’s interesting to think of James in that light as well. Although Ricky Davis wanted him to, James never played second fiddle to anyone in Cleveland. If that wasn’t the case, maybe LeBron ends up more like Magic than Michael if all the scoring responsibility isn’t placed on him from the very start. Maybe he’s something else entirely if he’s playing with an elite point guard like Paul.

That idea that players don’t adhere to straight line trajectories often seems lost on many. There are ups and downs, gains and losses. We assume we know what to expect, but new coaches, new players and new roles can change things drastically.

Paul’s injury has offered a small glimpse of what Griffin might have become without him, or maybe what he still could be if he assumes more offensive responsibility. The version of Griffin we eventually “know” will be the player he becomes next to Paul, but even if this last month has changed nothing in the grand scheme of things, to say it’s been a pleasant interruption in Griffin’s career would be understating things. Griffin should have a better grasp of what he alone is capable of now, and knowledge is power.

D.J. Foster 

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source:  Lakers 119, Cavaliers 108: The Lakers are a mess, but that’s solely due to the insane amount of injuries the team has had to endure this season. The Cavaliers are a whole other kind of mess — the kind that gets rolled by a team that finished the game with just four active players. L.A. scored 70 first half points and led by as many as 29 before it got a little bit closer late. Jordan Farmar finished with 21 points and eight assists, Steve Blake had a triple double line of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists, and rookie Ryan Kelly finished with a career-high 26 points. The shorthanded Lakers also set a franchise record for three-pointers made with 18. If Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert hadn’t already fired Mike Brown once a few years back, he might be strongly considering it after what was a particularly embarrassing loss. — Brett Pollakoff

Celtics 114, Sixers 108: These are two of the bottom-four teams in the league in terms of offensive efficiency, but you wouldn’t know it by how easily the scoring came in this one. Jeff Green led the way with 36 points for Boston, 17 of which came in the fourth quarter where the Sixers crept within four points but could get no closer. — BP

Magic 112, Pistons 98: Orlando led by as many as 20 points, but the teams played dead even in three of the game’s four periods. The Magic outscored their opponent by 14 in the second, though, thanks to 10 in the period from Victor Oladipo while the team shot 56.5 percent. Josh Smith led the way for the Pistons, and finished with 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. — BP

Spurs 125, Wizards 118 (2OT): Washington has been playing much better as of late, with wins over the Thunder and the Blazers in its last two outings. And they continued to battle in this one, even when the game seemed to be finished. There shouldn’t have been a need for a second overtime session, considering the Spurs led by four with eight seconds remaining in the first one, and held a two-point lead with possession of the ball and six seconds left. All Tim Duncan had to do was safely inbound the ball and the game would have likely been sealed at the free throw line. But a high errant pass enabled John Wall to get the improbable steal and score the layup at the other end to force five more minutes. San Antonio outscored Washington 10-3 to finish things off, but expended perhaps more energy than they should have to get this win — something that may be a problem in Brooklyn against the Nets the very next night. Tony Parker left this game with a back issue, and is not expected to be available on Thursday. — BP

Blazers 94, Knicks 90: Not a great game for the Blazers, especially during a 17-point fourth quarter that saw the Knicks crawl back into it and have a small chance late to steal it. LaMarcus Aldridge hit the dagger, but was just 5-of-17 shooting on the night. On the New York side, Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points but needed 28 shots to get there, and besides J.R. Smith’s 18 and a throwback performance from Amar’e Stoudemire, who finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go along with seven rebounds in under 22 minutes of action, there wasn’t a whole lot of production from anyone else. — BP

Rockets 122, Suns 108: Phoenix had trouble from an energy standpoint against the Bulls on Tuesday, and suffered a similar fate against a much better offensive team the very next night. Houston led by as many as 12 in the first quarter, and by the time the fourth came around, the Suns were out of gas. They had no answer for Dwight Howard all night long, who dominated inside with 34 points and 14 rebounds. And the fatigue showed on the defensive end, where the Rockets were allowed to shoot close to 55 percent from the field on the night, and knock down an obscene 68.8 percent of their attempts from three-point distance. — BP

Mavericks 110, Grizzlies 96: Memphis is the team most likely to threaten to take away the Mavericks’ playoff spot in the standings, so this was an important win for Dallas even with so much of the season still left. Samuel Dalembert and Brandan Wright essentially canceled out Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol from a numbers standpoint, and with Mike Conley sidelined due to injury (and of course, 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from Dirk Nowitzki) that was plenty. — BP

Pelicans 105, Hawks 100: Anthony Davis isn’t an All-Star yet, but has a shot to be named to the squad as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant. He went up against one in Paul Millsap, and outplayed him in helping his team to victory. Millsap finished with 26 points on 20 shots to go along with 10 rebounds, while Davis finished with 27 and 10, on a more efficient 9-of-14 shooting. Davis also anchors the defense in ways others can’t, and scored 10 of his points in the final period to lead his team to a nice come-from-behind victory. — BP

Thunder 106, Timberwolves 97: No Kevin Love for Minnesota, he was out with a stiff neck. Also out were starters Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer. Considering all that Minnesota played a scrappy game just go hang around in this one for three quarters, but a 13-4 OKC run to open the fourth put the game in a place Minnesota could not recover from. Kevin Durant “only” had 26 for the Thunder (plus 9 rebounds and 7 assists), Reggie Jackson pitched in 20. Ricky Rubio stepped up his scoring with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting. –Kurt Helin

Nuggets 110, Bucks 100: This wasn’t a terribly well played game, but in the end the Nuggets backcourt of Ty Lawson (18 points, 13 assists) and Randy Foye (20 points) proved to be too much for the Bucks. Denver was up 18 early in the fourth quarter but Milwaukee made a couple runs as Brandon Knight played well, it took a couple of Wilson Chandler threes late to seal the victory. –KH

Kings 109, Raptors 101: Sacramento took control of this game early as their big front line overwhelmed Toronto — Marcus Thornton had 12 first half points, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and by the third quarter this looked like a rout. But thanks to Steve Novak knocking down threes (he had 11 points in the fourth quarter) Toronto went on a 19-2 run and make a game of it. There was some terrible officiating at the end — Kyle Lowry got robbed of a four-point play and his reaction got him tossed — but the Raptors lost because they were don 22 at one point, not the officials. Cousins finished with 25 points and 10 boards, Rudy Gay chipped in 24-10.

Heat 116, Clippers 112: One of the more entertaining games of the season, especially if you like dunks. Miami raced out to a comfortable early lead but Los Angeles answered with their own run to make it interesting late. We broke this game down in more detail here. –KH

Bill Russell to Shaq, Kareem during awards show: “I would kick your ass”

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Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players to have ever lived. His dominance for the Boston Celtics is unquestioned.

And, he apparently knows it.

Russell received a lifetime achievement award on Monday night during the 2017 NBA Awards. Joined on stage by NBA big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, Russell opened his acceptance speech of the award with a little joke.

Via Twitter:

Tell ’em, Bill

Russell Westbrook has to choke back tears during emotional MVP acceptance speech

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Russell Westbrook was a tornado on the court this past season, tearing fearlessly through the NBA, leading the Thunder to the playoffs, and eventually himself to winning the MVP Award on Monday night.

It was a different side of Westbrook we saw when he accepted the award, barely able to hold back the tears in thanking his parents, teammates, and everyone who helped him get to that point.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Westbrook had 68 first-place votes, runner-up James Harden had 22, however, Harden had so many second place votes that this was the closest race in a decade (although it wasn’t that close). Kawhi Leonard finished third, LeBron James fourth, and Isaiah Thomas fifth.

The MVP debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.

Draymond Green wins 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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There were a lot of incredible candidates for the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, but make no bones about it: Golden state Warriors forward Draymond Green was the most deserving.

Monday night Green was announced as the Defensive Player of the Year during the NBA’s Awards Ceremony.

In a year in which the Warriors were coming off a 73-9 season, and after an offseason where they added Kevin Durant, Green’s importance to the team was never overstated. His tenacity on defense and switchability allowed the Warriors to continue to be one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Golden State finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, and part of that was due to Green acting as they lynchpin.

A unique defensive player, Green was able to take some of the pressure off of Durant as well as boost his impact on defense. A player who at times had to guard all five positions, Green led his team in defensive win shares.

To take home his DPOY award, Green got 73 out of a possible 100 first place votes (from select media members), comfortably beating out Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, who was second, and San Antonio Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who was third. Robert Covington of the Philadelphia 76ers was fourth, followed by LeBron James fifth.

Much like the MVP award this season, a real argument could be made for either Leonard or Gobert’s candidacy for DPOY. However, With yet another 60+ when season under his belt, it made sense that Green was seen as the key by voters for the Golden State defensive attack.

Green finished with 73 first place votes, while Gobert trailed with 16 and Leonard with 11. Green finished with 434 total points. Gobert was second with 169.

Durant was the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, and voting for DOPY closed before the playoffs began. But if anyone watched the great playoff run by the Warriors — one where they only lost one game — Green’s importance is easily understood.