Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while mocking the new look Ronald McDonald….
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. Nobody could slow Stephen Curry on Sunday… well, Joey Crawford did for a possession. But nobody on the Clippers. At the start of the game a distracted Clippers team gave Curry more space than he has seen this postseason, and he knew what to do with it — Curry started 5-of-5 from three. Once he gets going like that it’s over. And it was pretty early for the Clippers. When this Curry shows up the Warriors can beat anybody, the question is will he be there for a now crucial Game 5 Tuesday?
Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards. The Washington Wizards wanted to make the playoffs and made some moves in recent years that were not about building for the long-term but winning more now. Like trading for veteran Trevor Ariza — he earned a ring with the Lakers in 2009 and had some big postseason games back then. None, however, bigger than Sunday — Ariza dropped 30, shooting 6-of-10 from three, leading the Wizards, who went up 3-1 on the Bulls Sunday. To be fair it wasn’t all Ariza, both John Wall and Bradley Beal had “watch us mature before your eyes” games playing well at both ends. But Ariza was knocking down shots and making plays at both ends. He was huge and the Wizard got a win without Nene.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors. He didn’t put up the most gaudy numbers on the Raptors (that would be DeMar DeRozan, but he struggled in the second half when the Nets trapped him) but Kyle Lowry did it all. He had 22 points, including six in a row in a key stretch late in the third. He has looked good at the point, he has adjusted to playing the two next to Greivis Vasquez. He even helped defend on Joe Johnson on a key possession late. Whatever has been asked of him this series he’s done it and done it well.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. After struggling in Game 3 he was back and again was destroying the Rockets from the midrange — 6-of-11 from there on his way to 29 points. He did a lot of his damage in the third quarter (13 points) when he sparked the start of the Blazers comeback, which eventually became an overtime win. He continues to be impressive at both ends of the floor. The minus is for those missed free throws late that gave the Rockets hope they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”
Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.
Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.
How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?
It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.
Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?
Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.
But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.
James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.
Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.
The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:
Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.
The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.
It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.
The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:
Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.
However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.
He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.
“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.
“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”
Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.
Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.
Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.
In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.
That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”
Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).
For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.
“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”
Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.
“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.