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It was raining threes again and Rockets blow past Spurs 125-104, even series 2-2

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Coach Mike D’Antoni’s formula for Houston to win in this series is pretty simple: The pace has to be up, the threes have to fall, and the role players — particularly off the bench — have to step up with big games.

Game 4 saw the Houston back to running and gunning. The Rockets hit 19 threes on 44.2 percent shooting from deep, ( well above the 30.8 percent they shot in Game 3). All those threes falling forced the Spurs to extend their defense, then the Rockets started putting the ball on the floor and blowing by them in what felt like a layup line at points.

And the Rockets got help for James Harden. Ryan Anderson had 13 points (up from 2 in the previous game), and the Houston bench had 50 points, well ahead of the 10 last game. Eric Gordon led the way with 22.

The result of all this was a 125-104 win for the Rockets at home, evening the series at 2-2 heading back to San Antonio for Game 5 Tuesday.

“Several guys stepped up tonight,” James Harden said after a 28 point, 12 assist night (eight of the 12 dimes were for threes). “Ryan, Lou, Eric, Trevor, Pat, and if we’re going to have a chance at this series they’re going to have to make plays, and they did tonight.”

The Rockets did all this without Nene, who suffered a groin injury two minutes in and could not play. His status for the rest of the series is up in the air.

Patrick Beverley was the inspiration for Houston, on the day he lost his grandfather he played fantastic ball, scored 10 points and that included hitting the first three of the night.

“As always, he’s probably the heart and soul, the guy, he’s just incredible,” D’Antoni said postgame.

“So much adversity through his life that he’s had to go through to get to this point,” Harden added. “He’s just a fighter.”

The real story of this game was pace — the Rockets were running again, and the Spurs again got sucked into playing fast for stretches. They also didn’t slow the Rockets transition game.

“For us, our Bible begins with transition defense, and if it’s not there we’re just not ready to go,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “If you’d seen the clips of our transition D you would have traded all the players and fired me at the end of the game. It was that bad. But they were that intense, they were that focused and professional, and we were not.”

One key to the pace this series has been rebounding. The Rockets had been killed on the offensive glass the last couple games and that slowed down their attack. The Spurs grabbed the offensive board on 32.8 percent of their missed shots in Game 3, but in Game 4 that fell to 24 percent, which allowed the Rockets to get out and run more.

With that pace and space, the shots fell — the Rockets even shot 62 percent on the shots contested by the Spurs (according to NBA.com). In addition to Harden’s 28 points and Gordon’s 22, Trevor Ariza had 16, and Lou Williams pitched in 13 off the bench.

Jonathon Simmons led the Spurs 1ith 17 points off the bench and he played well. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 32 points on 27 shots. They will need to play better at home if the Spurs are to take control of this series again.

More importantly, the Spurs will need to control the pace of Game 5 to get that crucial win.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safty

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.