Associated Press

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook on doorstep of history

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We know you were busy Sunday, doing things like making your ham and cheese sandwich look like Vin Diesel, so you may have missed out on the day’s NBA action. We’ve got your back, here are the big takeaways from Sunday around the league.

1) Russell Westbrook steps to the doorstep of history with 40th triple-double of the season, but Thunder fall to Hornets. When Russell Westbrook racks up a triple-double, the Thunder usually win: They are 31-9 when he gets one, 12-24 when he falls short.

He got another one on Sunday — his sixth straight — scoring 40 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. That’s 40 triple-doubles this season for Westbrook, just one shy of Oscar Robertson’s NBA record with six games left. It was another impressive night, and now Westbrook is just 11 rebounds and 29 assists short of clinching a triple-double season average.

All that wasn’t enough to get the win Sunday against Charlotte, the first time in nine years the Hornets beat the Thunder in OKC. Kemba Walker led the way with 29 points. The Hornets are now just one game back of Miami for the final playoff slot in the East, this is a team that has played much better than its record this year (they have the point differential of a 41-36 team) and sneaking into the postseason would be a little bit of justice.

This loss, plus the Clippers win streak, means sixth-seed Oklahoma City is not going to catch Los Angeles for the five seed. OKC needs some more wins to stay ahead of Memphis in the seven seed, just a game-and-a-half back of the Thunder.

Westbrook’s triple-double wasn’t the only one Sunday — Golden State left it’s starters in late in a win over the Wizards and ran plays for Draymond Green to get him the triple-double. The Wizards’ complained, but to them I’d say “if you don’t like it, stop them.” However, Nate Duncan made a great point talking to Warriors fans.


2) LeBron James and Paul George put on a show in double-overtime Cavaliers win.
The Cavaliers had been coasting lately, playing uninspired games because it didn’t look or feel like the playoffs yet. Paul George made sure it did on Sunday, dropping 43, and LeBron James woke up and responded with 41 of his own (to go with 16 rebounds and 11 assists).

The result was a double-overtime thriller that the Cavaliers eventually won 135-130. In the long grind of the NBA season, this was one of the most entertaining games we’ve seen.

With the win Cleveland remains just half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East, and the teams are tied in the loss column. With the loss, the Pacers are now tied with the Heat for the final playoff slot in the East, Indiana is in real danger of missing out on the postseason altogether. Which is not going to make George happy (and that has implications heading into the summer).

3) Derrick Rose is done for the season, but the real question is what happens to free agent Rose this summer? Derrick Rose had missed a couple of games with what the Knicks had termed a “sore knee,” but after getting an MRI they found a torn meniscus that will require surgery. Obviously, that end’s Rose’s season, he’s going to need 6-8 weeks to recover.

What does another knee surgery mean for Rose as he heads into free agency this summer? Since his MVP season, Rose has never played in more than 66 games in a season (64 this season), and yes that’s going to color teams’ thinking. I would be shocked if any team offered Rose more than two guaranteed years. I doubt a good team would offer him more than $12 million a year (and that may be the top end).

In our PBT Podcast a few weeks back, Derrick Rose’s agent B.J. Armstrong echoed his player and said what mattered most to Rose was winning. Everyone says that, of course, but when the time comes they want money and a significant role on a team. If Rose really cared about winning more than anything else, I could see him taking a two-year deal with a contender to come off the bench and lead a second unit (like Rajon Rondo has done since the All-Star break in Chicago). Rose is still a solid NBA point guard, but if he wants to be a starter and have the ball in his hands, he’s not heading to a team that’s a real playoff threat — the teams that can offer him that chance are not in a good spot.

The knee injury will certainly impact Rose’s summer options, but what matters most is what kind of team Rose really wants to be on, what kind of role he’s willing to play, and how much money he’s willing to sacrifice to win.

Gregg Popovich: “Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now”

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The Spurs are on to the second round of the playoffs, and the reason is Kawhi Leonard. Through six games he averaged 31.2 points per game on 54.8 percent shooting overall and 48.3 percent from three. Plus he was taking on Mike Conley — the toughest Grizzly to defend — for stretches of the game. Leonard has a PER of 36.4 through the first round of the playoffs, which is flat-out ridiculous.

That comes on the heels of a season where Leonard was a legitimate MVP candidate who will draw a lot of votes.

“We have a knack for hanging in ’cause things happen, and obviously Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in his postgame press conference. “He’s the best two-way player, and does it all with such class, it’s impressive.”

“His conditioning is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale added about Leonard. “I mean, the guy, he just keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming and he finds a way to make a play, a winning play, whether it’s a steal, a block, a rebound, a drive, pass. He made plays tonight off the dribble.”

If Leonard isn’t the best player in the game — LeBron James can stake a claim, among others — he’s damn close. He’s a Swiss Army knife who can do whatever a team needs to win — get buckets driving the lane, hit threes, grab a board, or lock down an opponent on a key play. That kind of versatility is rare.

It just feels like an MVP trophy and some more rings are in Leonard’s future, although probably not this season. On either count.

Spurs advance: San Antonio beats Grizzlies 103-96 in Game 6

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs wanted no part of playing a seventh game against the Grizzlies, not with the Houston Rockets looming in the next round.

Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, and the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference semifinals by beating Memphis 103-96 on Thursday night to take the series 4-2.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich congratulated Memphis on a great year, especially rookie coach David Fizdale.

“I’m seriously thrilled that we were able to get through that first round,” Popovich said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that now we have to go play Houston.”

The Spurs now have beaten Memphis four of the five playoff series between these teams, and this was San Antonio’s second straight win over the Grizzlies in the first round. But this was the first time all season that the visiting team won.

“It’s huge for us,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “Memphis, you have to give them a lot of credit. They played unbelievable. They’re a great team, and they made it hard on us and so we didn’t want to come back for Game 7. We treated this game as if it was Game 7. We wanted those days off before playing Houston because it’s going to be a fast-paced game against them.”

Parker added 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, while LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 12 rebounds. San Antonio outrebounded Memphis 46-28, with 16 of those offensive boards. That led to 17 second-chance points.

Fizdale said rebounds, points in the paint and who pressured the best impacted each game in the series.

“I kept stressing that to our guys,” Fizdale said. “To their credit, (the Spurs) won it more games than we did. But it definitely wasn’t from a lack of competition on our part. I can sleep at night knowing my guys battled and competed their tails off.”

The Spurs’ semifinal with Houston will start Monday night in San Antonio.

Mike Conley scored 26 points, leading the five Memphis starters in double digits. Marc Gasol added 18.

The Grizzlies fell to 3-10 in elimination games, losing six straight.

This was a taut game with 16 ties and nine lead changes, especially with four ties in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs took control after the Grizzlies went up 88-81 on three free throws from Conley with 6:29 left. Then Leonard scored eight straight for San Antonio, starting a 22-8 run to finish the game.

“The guys were amazing in the fourth quarter,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Huge plays. Great defense too. So, happy to go back home with a win and win the series.”

Even with Conley and Gasol a combined 2 of 10 in the first quarter, the Grizzlies trailed only 24-22 after Conley knocked down a 3 at the end of the quarter for his first bucket of the game. Conley hit another 3 for the final shot in the second quarter, putting Memphis up 50-45. The team that led at halftime won each of the first five games.

Parker hit his first six shots before finally missing his seventh with 29 seconds left in the first half.

The Grizzlies took their biggest lead at 57-47 on a 3-pointer by James Ennis III. That gave Memphis as many made 3s (9 of 17) as the Spurs had attempted (3 of 9) at that point. Randolph’s layup with 7:19 left matched that 10-point lead at 63-53.

Then the Spurs went on a 13-3 run over a 4-minute span to erase that lead on Aldridge’s three-point play at 67-66. Aldridge finished with nine points in helping the Spurs lead 75-74 at the end of the quarter.

TIP-INS

Spurs: They improved to 36-15 with a chance to clinch a series under Popovich, who took over in the 1996-97 season. … Ginobili converted a four-point play with 1:31 left in the third, putting the Spurs up 73-69. … The Spurs wound up tying the Grizzlies’ reserves with 16 points thanks to Mills.

Grizzlies: The Grizzlies set a franchise record hitting eight 3-pointers in the first half, topping the previous mark of seven in the second half May 1, 2005, against Phoenix. … Conley has 20 or more points in five straight playoff games, the longest such streak in franchise history.

HE SAID IT

Popovich: “I’m thrilled we were able to win because if we played 10 times, we each would probably win five.”

FREE THROW WATCH

Fizdale earned a $30,000 fine from the NBA for his “Take that for data” rant about the free throw discrepancy in Game 2. Well, Leonard was 9 of 10 at the free throw line through three quarters compared to the Grizzlies’ 7 of 8. The Spurs were 18 of 20 through three quarters. The Spurs finished 22 of 25 compared to 20 of 24 for Memphis.

 

Cavaliers celebrate Raptors win over Bucks because they don’t have to practice (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors closed out the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night in Game 6, 92-89. Toronto’s social media team even tried trolling the Bucks about it.

In any case, the Raptors now move on to the second round, despite their best efforts, to face the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have been waiting for an opponent after sweeping the Indiana Pacers.

Cavaliers wingman Richard Jefferson — a Snapchat legend, it should be mentioned — took to the social media platform to celebrate playing the Raptors.

Er, or maybe just the fact that the team didn’t have to practice Friday.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland’s biggest test before the Finals might just be the Raptors, and we will get to see them head-to-head in the second round.

Raptors troll Bucks after closing in Game 6 with RapsIn6.com website (VIDEO)

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Despite a disastrous fourth quarter performance, the Toronto Raptors closed the series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. The Raptors came away from Game 6 with a 92-89 victory and a chance to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between the Raptors and the Bucks appears to be alive and well, as the Raptors pushed a video on social media after the game ended that was pointed toward the Bucks.

In it, the Raptors mascot registers a domain name for the team at RapsIn6.com, then proceeds to sip tea in the style of the famous Kermit meme.

In case you are out of the loop, this is a reference to Brandon Jennings saying Milwaukee would beat the Miami Heat in six games back in 2013.

Meanwhile, game ops at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee played the theme song from the children’s TV show “Barney” during Raptors player introductions.

Nothing really happens if you go to RapsIn6.com. There’s nothing on the website save for the video the Raptors posted to social media, which you can watch above.

Toronto has their core together and presumably will for a little while. The Bucks are a growing young team. I’m cool with them duking it out in the postseason for years to come.