Thunder make spectacular plays, Grizzlies execute game plan better and take Game 2 on road

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Oklahoma City is simply more entertaining, more aesthetically pleasing to watch than Memphis. Thunder players can do the spectacular.

Like Kevin Durant hitting a ridiculous clutch four-point play late in regulation.

There were huge dunks by Russell Westbrook, high-flying blocks by Serge Ibaka and even a putback by Kendrick Perkins to send the game to overtime.

Through it all Memphis kept grinding. And executing — all night long Memphis was making the extra pass to the man left open on the weakside, all night long they got good looks because of it.

The offensive execution, the controlling of the tempo and strong defense earned Memphis a dramatic 111-105 road win in Game 2 of their playoff series.

This series is tied 1-1 and headed back to Memphis.

Mike Conley has been a favorite of the hard core basketball set for a couple years now and showed why on a national stage Monday — he controlled the tempo which limited the Thunder’s fast break attempts, he got in the lane and broke down the Thunder defense, and when needed he hit buckets. Conley finished with 19 points and 12 assists, plus did a good job defending Russell Westbrook.

Zach Randolph added 25 points, a number of those key buckets late when his man went to help on Conley or another Griz player in the lane. Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol each had 16. Beno Udrih came in to spell Conley and was brilliant on his way to 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

OKC lacked that kind of balance. Durant had 36, Westbrook 29 and Ibaka 15 (Ibaka had the best overall game of any OKC player), and that’s it for Thunder players in double figures. As a team OKC shot 39.8 percent on the night and was 9-of-30 from three.

Memphis shot 49.4 percent and had an offensive rating of 117 on the night because of how they moved the ball. They were methodical, looking for the extra pass and the open look — much of the night the Thunder tried to overload the pick-and-roll to frustrate Conley but Memphis moved the ball to the weak side quickly and made OKC pay the price.

That’s what won the game. That’s not what anybody will talk about, rather they will discuss the wild ending.

There were moments late in regulation where Memphis tried to isolate Randolph on Perkins, and it worked once when Perkins got trapped under basket but made pass out to Gasol for bucket. However on the next one Perkins got a block that became a Westbrook steal then a Durant dunk that put the Thunder up one. If felt like they would run away with it.

But the Grizzlies kept grinding. Soon after Mike Miller hit a three off a kick out on an offensive rebound and with that the Grizzlies were up 95-93. Soon after Tony Allen was hustling over the top of a pick to block a Kevin Durant three, the Grizzlies, and after a couple Conley free throws it was a five point Grizzlies lead. They were in control.

Then Kevin Durant and his four-point play happened.

It was still a one point Memphis lead but when Conley missed a free throw it opened the door for OKC to tie or win at the end of regulation. Kendrick Perkins was put in and we all shook our heads — why sub in a guy that the Grizzlies don’t have to guard? And when Westbrook missed a three, it was Perkins under the basket with the outback to send the game to OT.

A lot of teams would have folded after giving it up late like that. Not Memphis, it just grinds on. The Grizzlies scored the first six points of overtime.

There was plenty more drama to come — Durant got away with a charge, Gasol got away with a kicked ball, and then Gasol fouled out on a ticky-tack call for that late in the game (Durant was off balance and fell).

But then Memphis just kept grinding like they did all night — Conley drove and drew the defense, Tony Allen made a brilliant cut and as he went up to shoot the help came after him, he dumped to the weak side to Randolph and it was a layup.

Ibaka traveled on the next Thunder possession and that was all she wrote.

This series was never going to be easy for OKC, and don’t be surprised if there is a Game 7 down the line. Memphis can grind like this every time out.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!