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Westbrook has 51-point triple double, Harden has help so Rockets win Game 2

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Wednesday night’s game summed up the Thunder this season. And it summed up why Oklahoma City is outclassed in this series by Houston — Russell Westbrook had the first 50-point triple-double in playoff history. However, he was tired and inefficient late, and his 14 missed shots in the fourth quarter was also an NBA record. Meanwhile, the Rockets played team ball down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Rockets played team ball down the stretch — their star James Harden had 35, but in the fourth quarter he got plenty of help.

That’s why Houston is up 2-0 in this series after a 115-111 victory at home, as the series heads back to Oklahoma City for Game 3.

Wednesday’s loss feels like a punch to the gut of the Thunder because they got a big Westbrook night, they had 14 point lead in the second half, and it wasn’t enough.

The first half saw the Westbrook that the Thunder wanted and the Westbrook the rest of the NBA feared — Westbrook had 22 points and 10 assists in the first 24 minutes. More importantly, he opened things up and got his teammates going — Oklahoma City had 10 more points in the paint than Houston, it had 12 second chance points, and it had seven blocked shots. OKC owned the paint. That successful team play started because Westbrook was doing stuff like this on both ends.

The fourth quarter was the flip-side of that coin.

A tired Westbrook just kept jacking up shots, many of them bad ones, and he shot 4-of-18 for the quarter, including 1-of-7 from three. After the Thunder had taken the lead back at 100-99 with 4:14 remaining, Westbrook missed his next seven shots. While that happened, the Rockets went on a run that sealed the game. Check out Westbrook’s fourth-quarter shot chart.

Why didn’t coach Billy Donovan rest Westbrook in the fourth? Because when he sat Westbrook for 2:21 at the end of the third the Rockets outscored the Thunder by nine and changed the complexion of the game.

More important than the poor shooting, and unlike the first half, Westbrook was not getting his teammates involved, so they started standing around and watching the show, which was a stark contrast to the Rockets who played with a team energy. How much of the OKC offensive stagnation is on Westbrook and how much of that falls on his teammates depends on which side of the chicken-egg debate you stand on, but the Westbrook one-man show did work well for them in a lot of close games this season. Wednesday night, in the glare of the postseason spotlight, it did not.

What is undebatable is the Rockets started their crucial 10-0 early fourth-quarter run with Harden sitting on the bench. Harden was rested at the end, Westbrook was tired and pulling up for shots (so the Rockets switched the longer Trevor Ariza on him to contest looks). The Rockets also got better defense in the fourth, particularly in the paint from Clint Capella, who had multiple stops when it mattered.

Harden certainly had a good night, scoring 35 points and getting to the line at will. But he went just 2-of-4 from the floor in the fourth while Eric Gordon was 4-of-7 for 11 points and Patrick Beverley was 3-of-3 for eight in the quarter. Houston had balance, they had a team effort on both ends.

And with that, those Rockets have a 2-0 series lead.

Cavaliers, Warriors sweeps mean time to rest, get mental breather

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant can take some pressure off that tender left calf. LeBron James has extra time to recoup after barely leaving the floor in the first round.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr scheduled some medical appointments as he deals with debilitating symptoms still affecting him nearly two years after complications from a pair of back surgeries.

The two star-studded teams expected by many to face off once more in the NBA Finals each swept through their respective first-round playoff series in four games, leaving ample time for the Cavaliers and Warriors to rest up, heal up and prepare for the next opponent.

“It gives me a mental break. As far as physically, I am who I am,” James said. “I’ve played so many games over the years, the best break for me is probably when I’m done.”

Of course guys like James and Draymond Green are already eager to get back on the court.

Cleveland now knows its next opponent is Toronto, while the Warriors were still waiting out the Clippers-Jazz series.

“Definitely have gotten antsy to play,” Green said Friday. “But you see that break and you’re excited about it, just to get that time to rest and get everybody back as close to 100 (percent) as possible for the next round. At the same time you do get antsy to get back on the floor and back in the rhythm of things. I think it’s been a good week for us to sweep and get this time off.”

Durant, still receiving treatment on his left leg and knee, spent Thursday at a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue threw a huge watch party Thursday night so players and members of the organization could see the Raptors close out the Bucks in six games.

Golden State scrimmaged Friday to stay sharp, while Cleveland players have competed in such ways as racing on cardiovascular machines in the weight room to stay fresh and motivated.

James led the league in minutes during the regular season then played nearly 44 per game in the first-round sweep of Indiana – familiar territory after the Cavs also swept Detroit in the first round last season, then followed by eliminating Atlanta in the minimum four games.

“I’m ready to get this thing going, but obviously I’m not going to rush the process,” James said. “… But, yeah, I don’t like the way I feel when we’re not playing.”

In 2015, when the Warriors captured their first championship in 40 years, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving suffered a freak Game 1 injury when he fractured his left kneecap, and Kevin Love was already lost to a dislocated left shoulder.

Last June, Stephen Curry had returned from a knee injury but never fully got healthy and the thought was the Warriors wore down after chasing and breaking the Chicago Bulls’ regular-season wins record with 73 victories.

“If you could sweep every series that would be perfect,” Durant said, “because you just want to play well and then you’ll worry about the rest afterward. That’s the situation we’re in. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, so it’s good to have a few days to get your bodies right and your mind right and just get back to the drawing board in terms of individual work, team work.”

In the Warriors’ case, it also has meant more time working with Mike Brown as acting head coach while Kerr is away. The reigning NBA Coach of the Year missed Games 3 and 4 at Portland because he was in such discomfort, having dealt with headaches, neck pain and nausea that recently became worse.

While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is most known for sitting several star players at once without regard to anything but his team’s best interest, others have caught on and replicated the strategy of spelling players in order to pace for the long haul.

In March 2015, the Warriors lost at Denver with Curry watching – along with Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut – in the first game of a back-to-back. Oh, did Kerr take heat for it, even personally answering a few emails. And the Warriors reached out to other upset fans and sent along care packages.

“As a coach your responsibility is to keep your players healthy and there are times when guys need a night off,” Kerr said.

In December, Cleveland caused an uproar by resting James, Love and Irving in a loss at Memphis. Lue then sat several starters for the final game of the regular season against Toronto, and the teams will meet again in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Monday.

Now, the Cleveland coach insists, James can handle the heavy minutes when it matters most.

“His body can take it,” Lue said, “so I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

 

Chris Paul told Paul Pierce: “You’re not ending your career in Utah”

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When the Clippers lose their final game this season — maybe Sunday, maybe not for weeks — the Hall of Fame career of Paul Pierce will come to an end.

It’s not why Doc Rivers was leaning so heavily on Pierce Friday night, that’s more desperation on a shorthanded (and not that deep to start with) lineup. The Clippers got away with 20+ minutes of Pierce on Friday and still got the win.

He even served as an inspiration for Chris Paul, as CP3 said in his postgame press conference.

The best part of that video? DeAndre Jordan‘s reaction.

You can be sure Utah Jazz fans will take this comment as a slight and let CP3 hear about it next season. As for the Jazz players, they are heading into Game 7, how much more motivation do they need.

John Wall’s chasedown block of Dennis Schroder, layup saved game for Wizards (VIDEO)

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Washington had been up 22 points in the third quarter and seemed to be cruising to a win in Atlanta, and with it a trip to the second round… but it would not be that easy. The Hawks made their push back, knocking down threes and chipping away at the Wizards lead until it was all the way down to 93-90, a one possession game.

Then John Wall took over.

It started with the big play you see above — a chasedown block on Dennis Schroder, which turned into a Wall layup on the other end.

That play changed the momentum. Washington closed the game on a 22-9 run where Wall scored the final 13 points on his way to 42 for the night on just 25 shots. The end result was a 115-99 Wizards win to close the Hawks out 4-2.

Steve Ballmer loses control after Austin Rivers three, creates another meme

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Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer has been a meme machine this series. First, there was the sad face after the Clippers Game 5 loss at home.

Then Friday, there was his reaction to an Austin Rivers three.

Ballmer’s reactions may be the best part of the Game 7 between these teams Sunday.