Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Fan goes on court to confront Russell Westbrook

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Wild ending in Denver: Gary Harris drains game-winner, then fan confronts Westbrook. What we should be talking about is Denver getting its signature win of the season — they outplayed the Oklahoma City Thunder all night, including putting up 72 first-half points. Nikola Jokic had a triple-double with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 14 assists, making his case for a future All-Star game. Jamal Murray had 33 points and absolutely broke Steven Adams‘ ankles. Gary Harris had 25, but it was the final three — off a Jokic pass — as a buzzer-beating game winner that we should be highlighting. We should be debating if Jokic violated the rules by taking a step before throwing his inbound pass to Harris for that game winner (I would argue he didn’t, we’ll see what the last two-minute reports says).

We should, but it’s what happened after that — when a fan came on the court to taunt and confront Russell Westbrook as he tried to leave the court — that everyone will be talking about.

Credit to Westbrook for not losing his cool here. He pushed the fan back before the late-to-the-scene security arrived, but he could have done much more and chose not to.

The NBA should not punish Westbrook here, this should be a no-call. For obvious reasons the league does not want to see players shoving fans, but this isn’t some Malice in the Palace moment where a player went into the stands, this fool (too kind a word) came onto the court after an emotional game, blocked Westbrook’s path to the locker room and taunted him. Westbrook gets a free shove there, it showed some restraint not to haul off and deck the guy. The league’s discipline system has all the consistency of a roulette wheel at times, so who knows what flows out of Kiki Vandeweghe’s office. But Westbrook should get a pass for this one.

2) Blake Griffin makes his debut in Detroit, and Pistons get the win. For all the questions about whether Stan Van Gundy should have made the trade for Blake Griffin, and whether that was good for the franchise or a sign of desperation, one thing was never in doubt:

Blake Griffin is an outstanding basketball player.

He’s healthy and showed that Thursday night in his debut against Memphis: 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Detroit got a quality 104-102 win.

That’s a big win for the Pistons — they have won two in a row now after their eight-game losing streak. Detroit is one game back of Philly for the final playoff slot in the East (two games in the loss column) and has seven-of-eight at home coming up — this is when the team needs to make its push into the postseason. These are crucial games for the team, and the Pistons need more of this Griffin.

One other interesting note: Van Gundy played Griffin through crunch time as the center guarding Marc Gasol, while Andre Drummond sat on the bench. The move worked as Anthony Tolliver was on the court in his place and hit a key late three, a couple of clutch free throws, and dived on a loose ball on the floor — having Drummond on the bench for the end of this game may well have been the right choice to win this game. However, if this becomes a trend it’s going to be an issue with Drummond.

3) Malcolm Brogdon has to be helped off the court after potentially serious injury. Hey, basketball gods, would you please lighten up on the injuries? Things have gotten out of control the past couple of weeks.

The latest is reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who apparently suffered an injury to the same tendon that Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have been dealing with in San Antonio. And it’s not good.

Let’s hope it’s not that bad and he’s back on the court soon.

Also in that game, the Timberwolves looked good on their way to a 108-89 win.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.