Kevin Durant opens game playing like MVP, Westbrook takes over from there, Thunder even series

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That is why you want Russell Westbrook on your team.

The “good Westbrook” and “bad Westbrook” are different sides of the same coin — he’s always aggressive, attacking, putting pressure on defense and when that works, when his shots is falling and the defense is scrambling, he can take a team down.

That’s sort of what happened Wednesday night.

Kevin Durant started out the game riding the high of winning the MVP award and put up 17 first quarter points, he finished with 32. The Clippers climbed back but it was Westbrook who led the charge for the Thunder — he finished with a triple double of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook led a more balanced attack (Thabo Sefalosha had 12 in the third quarter) as Oklahoma City pulled away in the second half, led by as many as 20 and went on to win 112-101.

OKC’s win evens the series at 1-1 heading back to Los Angeles for Game 3 Friday.

That was Westbrook’s third triple-double of the playoffs. When he plays like this he may pick up a technical (he did), he may play out of control for a stretch (he did), but the good of his pressure and attacks outweighs all of it.

The Thunder offense — with two of the top 10 scorers in the game — is going to get points every night. They did in Game 1. That’s not the issue. Where they got burned in Game 1 was on defense, with Chris Paul knocking down threes and getting into the lane.

In Game 2 the Thunder defended the paint much better, mostly by doing a better job containing the ball handler on the pick-and-roll — the Clippers had 29 shots in the paint and 54 outside it. Westbrook was aggressive on defense — he jumped the passing lane for a steal on the game’s first play — and he was relentlessly chasing Chris Paul over picks and getting help to shut off the easy baskets all game. With that pressure Chris Paul shot 6-of-13, Blake Griffin 5-of-13.

Meanwhile role players stepped up for the Warriors. Serge Ibaka had 14 points on 10 shots, Sefalosha had 14 on nine shots.

Part of it was just better spacing in the Thunder offense — they didn’t bring an extra defender to Westbrook, which let him read the floor better. When former teammate Darren Collison was on him, Westbrook backed him down and scored. When help came he found the open man, often for easy looks. Check out Westbrook’s shot chart on the night.

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Now it falls to Doc Rivers to make the adjustments in this series. He has the advantages of going home and having more depth than Scott Brooks to work with — Rivers has more options available. He can change and create more matchups that he likes.

But when they play like this, Durant and Westbrook trump all.

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic to play, start vs. Golden State in Game 3

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In 20 games after the Trail Blazers traded for him, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6, a surge that helped get them into the playoffs. Then a leg fracture had him sidelined for the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Until Saturday.

He will play limited minutes, but the Blazers will take it.

Portland is down 0-2 to the Warriors but are coming home to take on a Golden State team that will be without Kevin Durant again (strained calf) and coach Steve Kerr (illness).

Nurkic gives Portland some hope, he certainly helps their defense. We’ll see if that’s enough.