Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Celebrating the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki

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You may have been busy Tuesday night learning to juggle so you can prove to cops you’re not driving under the influence. If so and you missed what was going on around the NBA, we’ve got you covered. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.

1) The NBA celebrates the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki as he reaches the latest milestone in future Hall of Famers career.
He is the best shooting big man ever. He is the best European player in the NBA ever.

And now Dirk Nowitzki is only the sixth player in NBA history to score 30,000 points in the NBA, which he did with a shot over the Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr.

It was vintage Nowitzki: He got to his spot, studied his options, and hit a fade-away jumper with that high release that no defender has a chance against.

With that, the love for Nowitzki poured in from all over the league, here’s just a taste.

And the love even came in from outside the NBA.

I will say about Nowitzki what I said about Kobe in his final years: Savor him while you can. Enjoy the one-legged fadeaways. Watch him, because there will never be another quite like him, and we are fortunate to get to watch him play. (The same applies to LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and the other greats of the game today.)

2) Russell Westbrook put up a ridiculous, career-high 58 points and it’s still not enough, Thunder lose fourth straight. It feels like this game summed up the Russell Westbrook MVP debate: He was unquestionably phenomenal putting up 58 points on 39 shots, while also dishing out nine assists. He was attacking the rim (he got to the line 16 times) and was finding open teammates when the shots weren’t there. Victor Oladipo returned from missing time with back spasms and added 16 points, but this was almost always the Westbrook show. Maybe no other player in the league could have pulled off this battering ram performance.

But it wasn’t enough to get the win. That’s the heart of the argument against Westbrook: James Harden — and if you want, Kawhi Leonard — are lifting their teams to higher heights, they are doing more to make their teammates better. The Thunder are on pace to win 45 games right now, and Marc Cuban has made the argument that many in the media will when voting comes: If your team didn’t win 50 games, you didn’t do enough to win the award.

I don’t think that’s fair: The Thunder were +7 in the 36 minutes Westbrook was on the court in this game, but -12 in the 12 minutes he rested. Westbrook’s value, by any measure, cannot be questioned.

The loss was because Oklahoma City could not stop Portland, which had an offensive rating of 130.1 for the night (points scored per 100 possessions). Portland had depth, it’s bench led by Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard turned the game, both at the start of the second quarter and again late in the third. Of course, Damian Lillard (22 points) and C.J. McCollum (21) got theirs, but down the stretch Jusuf Nurkic had a couple big buckets on his way to finishing with 17. This was a quality win for Portland, which is now 1.5 games back of eight-seed Denver in the West. The Blazers need wins to catch the Nuggets.

The debate around Westbrook for MVP — if he can maintain his triple-double for the season pace — will be just a broader discussion of what happened in this game.

3) Ejections and a gorilla running out into play? Just another night in Phoenix.
Let the record reflect that the Washington Wizards beat the Phoenix Suns on the road 131-127, thanks to 29 points from Bojan Bogdanovic (who has been a fantastic pickup for Washington).

But that wasn’t close to the interesting parts of the game. First, there was the ejection of Jared Dudley of Phoenix and Brandon Jennings of the Wizards for their part in this altercation that started after a Jason Smith pick on Tyler Ulis.

Dudley was ejected for the bump on Smith. Jennings makes a gun gesture with his fingers at Dudley during the scrum afterward and that gets him tossed. Fines (and maybe a suspension) are coming for them.

But that wasn’t the strangest part of the game — that was when the gorilla came onto the court during play. He’s clearly going to retrieve something that came onto the court, but still.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.