Thursday night was the night things seemed to return to their expected order in the NBA, with the best asserting themselves in each conference and the Knicks owner arguing with fans. Here are the big takeaways from Thursday around the Association.
1) LeBron James decides to take over, Cavaliers rise up with him, remind Boston and everyone who is the power in the East. The Cavaliers didn’t look vulnerable Wednesday. And Boston looked like a team one player away from elite.
The showdown for the top seed in the East was close for a quarter, then to start the second it looked like LeBron James said “enough of this s—” and he took over the game for a stretch. Looking every bit the best player on the planet, LeBron scored a dozen points and dished out a couple assists during a 22-4 Cleveland run where the team just owned the court (the LeBron plus the bench unit has been strong for Cleveland all season). That lifted up the entire Cavaliers team — without Tristan Thompson for the first time in about five years, and on the second night of a back-to-back — and they played like the best team in the East. Cleveland cruised from there to a 114-91 win, their fourth win in a row, and the Cavs looked sharp on both ends of the court. They looked like a team that has flipped the switch for the playoffs.
The result, the Warriors are up 4.5 games with four to play on the Spurs, the Warriors win the West. Golden State also became the first team in NBA history to win 65 games or more in three consecutive seasons.
Now, look for both of these teams to rest some players down the stretch. The Warriors will start trying to integrate Kevin Durant back into the lineup this weekend so Kerr will want him out there with Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green for some stretches, but those guys will see a minutes drop if not a complete night off or two down the stretch. If I need to tell you Gregg Popovich is going to rest guys before the playoffs, well, welcome newbie to following the NBA.
3) Russell Westbrook did not get a triple-double. What he did do was take over in the fourth and get the Thunder a win. Coming into Wednesday night, Oklahoma City was 12-24 on the season when Russell Westbrook did not get a triple-double — he’s not just chasing stats, his team needs those stats. In a key game for Western Conference seeding Wednesday night in Memphis, Westbrook did not get a triple-double.
What he did instead was score 14 of his 45 in the fourth quarter, spark a late run and get the Thunder a win that all but ensures they will finish sixth in the West, and the Grizzlies seventh. Westbrook had eight threes on the night, including the dagger.
That looks a lot like what an MVP does. But in the name of the dead fairness doctrine, James Harden had 31 points and 10 assists helping his team beat Denver, and he was impressive as well.