So, the Thunder big men, the Stache Brothers, are back at it.
And this time Andre Roberson joins the fun.
It’s only March, but I think we have the winner for “Best Headline of 2017” already: “Lawyer’s Pants Catch On Fire During Arson Trial.” Beyond that, here are the takeaways from a Thursday around the NBA.
1) Russell Westbrook‘s 31st triple-double ties Wilt Chamberlain, lifts Thunder past Spurs. Anytime you’re mentioned as doing something as well and as often as Wilt Chamberlain, you’re in impressive company. (And I know where your mind just went, but I’m going to be classier than that. Just this once.)
Russell Westbrook had been putting up big numbers lately, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops or wins and had dropped four in a row, all to teams under .500. Thursday night Billy Donovan finally decided to put Taj Gibson in the starting lineup (over rookie Domas Sabonis), and that helped. So did the fact Steven Adams had his best game in a while, getting touches early, going right at the Spurs’ Dewayne Dedmon, and being engaged on both ends. Victor Oladipo would score 20, and Enes Kanter added 14. More importantly, this was the best defensive game from the Thunder in a while. It all helped, but as always this is Westbrook’s team and for them to win he had to put up numbers — he tied Wilt for second most triple-doubles in a season with 31, putting up 23 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 13 assists.
For the Spurs, this may have been a little reminder that they want to actually chase the Warriors and the No. 1 seed in the West (they are two games back and the teams play head-to-head Saturday in San Antonio). Granted, Thursday was not the full Spurs experience — no Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker, plus Kawhi Leonard went to the locker room in the third quarter after a blow to the face and did not return — but the road for the No. 2 seed in the West is going to be much tougher than the top seed.
Think about it. Win the top seed and a team faces either Denver or Portland in the first round, two terrible defenses, then in the second round gets the beatable Clippers or Jazz. Come in second and the first round is either Westbrook and the Thunder or the very physical and talented Memphis Grizzlies, followed by James Harden and the Rockets in the second round. Yes, the Spurs would beat the Thunder and very possibly the Rockets in a seven-game series (although it would be interesting with Houston), but the road to the conference finals is exponentially harder for the two seed.
2) LeBron James got zero help Thursday night, and the Cavaliers have dropped three straight. The individual +/- stat for a game is rarely useful. There’s a lot of noise in that statistic, a lot of factors beyond how the player performed that make up that number.
However, every once in a while it tells the story. The Cavaliers were + 18 in the 39 minutes LeBron James played against the Pistons Thursday, they were -23 in the nine minutes he rested. This is a little trend.
J.R. Smith returned to the Cavaliers lineup, which will be a boost but on Thursday he was trying to shoot his way out of feeling rusty. Kyrie Irving had 27 points, Channing Frye 15 on seven shots, but the fact is the Cavs shot 26.7 points when LeBron sat. He’s not a Terminator, he’s a human and LeBron still needs rest, but when he played he did put up a triple-double of 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Credit Detroit for a good game and a big win. This was the best Reggie Jackson has looked maybe all season, scoring 21 and dishing out five assists, leading six Pistons players in double figures in scoring. Andre Drummond had 20 points and 16 boards. This looked like the Pistons team we expected this season, and the win moved them into the seven seed half-a-game ahead of the slumping Bulls and a full game up on the Heat and Bucks, who are knocking on the door. Detroit needs more games like this down the stretch to ensure a playoff visit.
3) Jusuf Nurkic has been a revelation in Portland, lifts Trail Blazers past Sixers. In Denver, Jusuf Nurkic was the odd man out — Nikola Jokic was the big man of the future (as he should be), Jokic and Nurkic couldn’t play well together, and that left Nurkic the odd man out. Denver wanted to get rid of Nurkic so badly they sent him and a valued 2017 first round pick to Portland (for Mason Plumlee and a second rounder).
Since his arrival in Portland, Nurkic has done things he didn’t show in Denver (or refused to do) and has been the big man has sparked a four-game winning streak (Nurkic said “I played minutes for first time in my life”). Thursday night he had 28 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists, six blocks, two steals and the game-sealing defensive play in overtime to help the Blazers beat the Sixers in overtime. Portland is now just half a game back of Nurkic’s former team in Denver for the eighth seed in the West.
Nurkic has averaged 16.5 pts, 9.6 rebs, and 4.5 assists per game since coming to Portland, giving the Blazers far more than Plumlee did — and more than they expected in the deal. Plus the Blazers got a first rounder out of this.
If Portland makes the playoffs, Nurkic will be a key reason.
I’m getting tired of writing this story.
Draymond Green — an excellent basketball player who has an unstoppable, basal need to kick everyone near him — has once again let his feet do the talking.
Let’s take a look at the tape to see what sort of hijinks ol’ Dray has got himself into this time.
The league has decided not to act with any strength on most of the incidents, the most recognizable of which came when Green hit LeBron James in the NBA Finals, causing him to miss Game 5. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any consequences for Green, which is the exact reason why we keep seeing him kick dudes.
It’s wack, I’m tired of seeing it, and you should be too. See you all here the next time Green kicks at somebody. I’m sure it won’t be before too long.
Back in 2014, the Bulls front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman traded two picks to the Denver Nuggets — picks that became Gary Harris and Josef Nurkic — to move up in the draft so they could pick Doug McDermott.
Thursday, the Bulls all but admitted that was a mistake.
This is a good trade for Oklahoma City, especially while Enis Kanter remains sidelined. Gibson, in particular, gives them a rock-solid power forward out of the old school. Gibson can score inside and help Steven Adams, he can crash the boards, and while he’s not what he once was on that end he’s a solid defender.
Gibson is also a free agent this summer, and the Bulls were not going to pay the market value. Oklahoma City may, but Gibson will have options.
McDermott can shoot the three, hitting 37.6 percent this season, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Maybe that’s all the Thunder need. McDermott doesn’t create his own shot and he’s a big defensive liability. Maybe he can spread the floor a little for the Thunder, hang out at the arc waiting for a Russell Westbrook drive and dish, but he’s not doing much else.
Chicago gets a player with a lot of potential in Cameron Payne, he could be the point guard of the future there next to Jimmy Butler. That’s the best player on their end in this deal. But Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow are nice players who don’t actually move the needle.
This trade by the Bulls echoes their moves over the summer bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — what exactly is the plan? Payne could be part of the future, but are the Bulls a team rebuilding around Butler? It remains difficult to see what the vision is in Chicago. Which has to frustrate Butler.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are not a bad team. Saturday night in prime time Russell Westbrook showed why he should be in the thick of the MVP race, scoring 47 points with 11 rebounds and eight assists.
But the Thunder’s offense and depth of talent are simply not good enough to compete with the Golden State Warriors. You know, the team Kevin Durant left the Thunder to play for.
Thunder fans got their cathartic chance to lustily boo Durant, and those same fans had moments to cheer, but a focused Warriors team was just far too much for the hometown heroes on the court and cruised to a 130-114 win.
As for all those boos, it didn’t bother Durant who had 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting, plus pulled down nine rebounds on the night.
“I actually thought it would be a little louder,” Durant said of the boos in a televised postgame interview. “It was fun, I was on the other side of it but to become one of these guys where they boo you is kind of fun. I got to embrace it, that’s all I can do, and keep playing my game, keep preparing the way I prepare, and enjoy every game.”
Emotions were high. Durant jawed with Westbrook at one point, and went face-to-face with Andre Roberson at another. Draymond Green had words with a fan behind the Thunder bench. But none of that mattered on the court.
What was clear from early on is that as great as Westbrook played, you could see why Durant left for a better team.
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry each had 26 points, and while the Thunder defense tried to focus on those three JaVale McGee cut to the rim and got 16 points. McGee got exposed on defense plenty in this game, but it was part of the theme where that didn’t matter because of how good he made their offense. As a team, the Warriors shot 52.9 percent for the game.
The big difference, the Warriors shot 41.9 percent from three and hit 13 from deep, the Thunder hit just six and shot 25 percent.
The Thunder scored 50 points on 53 first half possessions, but the Warriors already had 73 points. OKC could never begin to close that gap.
Westbrook had 47 and played smart, driving hard at the Warriors big men and then either drawing them into fouls or dishing to open men. It was a tour de force.
The Thunder fans made the arena feel like it was a playoff game. At least to start. But it just didn’t matter as the Warriors team as a whole embraced the challenge. And when the Warriors are shooting like that, is there any team that can beat them?