It was one of the more amazing and surreal moments of the NBA season: In the final minutes of his 20-year NBA career Kobe Bryant transformed one more time into vintage Kobe, sparking a 14-0 run that led the Lakers to a 101-96 win against the Utah Jazz. Staples Center hadn’t been that electric since the 2010 NBA finals, it was unlike any regular season game I’ve ever been to.
Gordon Hayward admitted a lot of the Jazz were in shock.
The experience was unlike any game he had been a part of and he admitted as much on his personal blog.
And when the game started, the atmosphere was different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Everyone in the arena was excited whenever he touched the ball. And every time Kobe got it, they wanted him to shoot it, and they were booing us for even trying to defend him.
We were trying to win, and for a while there we were. But at the end of the game, in the closing minutes, everything that transpired kind of shocked us, to be honest. We were up double digits for most of the second half, and we led by 10 with about three minutes to go. So when Kobe started hitting shots and the game started to get close, a lot of us were in shock.
It was like being a part of a showcase, or being in a video game. There wasn’t really much normality about it. A guy scored 60 points and took 50 shots. There was something different as far as his aggressiveness. I think every time he touched it, you knew he was going to try to shoot it, or try to score, or try to get something going. He’s always an aggressive player, but that night, he was ultra-aggressive and tried to score on every single possession.
It wasn’t normal. It was amazing and now part of the Kobe legacy, but it wasn’t normal.
It’s also a story Gordon is going to tell his kids and grandkids. It was that kind of a night.
We’ve all known since roughly Christmas Stephen Curry was going to win the NBA’s MVP award. By the end, the only question was would it be unanimous. It was.
LeBron James was in the MVP conversation — as he should be every season — and came in third in the voting, but when asked about it he had no problem with Curry getting his back-t0-back awards. Via Joe Varden at the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“I think he definitely deserved it,” James said. “You look at Steph’s numbers, he averaged 30 (points per game, led the NBA), he led the league in steals (169), he was 90-50-40 (shooting percentages from the foul line, the field, and 3-point), and they (the Warriors) won 73 (games). So, I don’t, do you have any debate over that, really, when it comes to that award?”
No, there isn’t debate.
If you want to find one — as NBC Sports Radio’s Scott Seidenberg did with me in a discussion last night — it’s how you define the word “valuable.” Professional sports leagues love that vague term because it allows voters to go in a lot of directions and that means discussion and debate. LeBron agrees.
“I think sometimes the word ‘valuable’ or best player of the year, you can have different results,” he said. “When you talk about most ‘valuable’ then you can have a different conversation.”
If you define valuable as “this team would take the worst hit if they lost their star” then maybe LeBron ranks a little higher than Curry, although Curry did have a bigger +/- number this season. I would argue under that definition of valuable Chris Paul should win the award. It’s a tough call.
But even under that definition, Curry is a good choice. And this was his award going away this season.
Here we are again in this series.
Wednesday the NBA admitted that referees blew two calls in the final minute, both going against San Antonio, in what turned out to be a Game 5 Spurs loss that set Oklahoma City up to close out the series Thursday on its home court.
These calls were not the reason the Spurs lost and may not have changed the outcome, but they did rob the Spurs of opportunities. And while that does matter, this report also doesn’t make any difference. Nothing changes.
The most obvious no call came with 8.7 seconds remaining (watch it in the video above): The Thunder are up one and inbounding the ball with 9.3 seconds left, meaning if they couldn’t steal the inbounds pass the Spurs had to immediately foul. Dion Waiters made a clean inbounds pass to Russell Westbrook, who was trailed by Kawhi Leonard and the Spur immediately reached out, put his arms around Westbrook’s hips, and spun him. No foul was called, Westbrook drove and got an and-one foul on LaMarcus Aldridge at the rim (which with the free throw made it a four point Thunder lead, not three, and it was game over).
The NBA admits Leonard did foul Westbrook.
The other call came with 54.7 seconds to go, when the Spurs Danny Green was whistled for a shooting foul on Kevin Durant. The report says that was an incorrect call because of Steven Adams, here is the comment:
Adams (OKC) extends his leg into Green’s (SAS) path, causing him to trip and fall into Durant (OKC)
All this is just salt in the Spurs wounds. It changes nothing. San Antonio now has to win a Game 6 on the road to get to a Game 7 at home, and more than the officials the Spurs need to figure out the improved Thunder defense, and how to deal with the Adams/Enes Kanter front line.
1) Will the sun set on Portland in the West Wednesday? Draymond Green is right, the Trail Blazers are done. Sorry Blazers fans. You have a fun, scrappy, underappreciated team that had an incredible season, one they can build on going forward. But this one is done. The only question is can they stay alive for one more game. Probably not. Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors offense just went from good to “holy heart failure Batman” levels. Also, the Warriors will defend better at home, while the Blazers role players have struggled more away from the Moda Center. Closeout games are hard, Damian Lillard has been fantastic (if not always efficient), but the Warriors have been closing out teams for a couple of seasons now and they will do it again tonight.
2) Is Bismack Biyombo the answer to the Heat’s small ball lineup? Miami found a small ball lineup that works for them, the lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Justice Winslow, and Luol Deng — that lineup was +14, shot better than 50 percent, and was out there for the entire successful overtime for the Heat in Game 4. The Raptors will see a lot of it in Game 5, how do they counter it?
A lot of Biyombo. The Raptors three best lineups last game all had the big center at the heart of it, protecting the rim and slowing down the penetration of Dragic, Wade and the rest of the Heat. The Raptors can afford to play him against the Heat’s preferred small ball lineup because they can put Biyombo on Winslow, which allows Biyombo to stay near the basket (the Raptors will let the rookie shoot open jumpers all night long). This is still a series of lineup experimentation since both big men are out, but the Raptors need to find a successful experiment tonight.
3) Kyle Lowry must show up again with another big game. After a 33 point Game 3 effort which gave Raptors fans hope, the All-Star point guard was 2-of-11 shooting overall and 0-of-6 from three in Game 4. The Raptors need production from the guard spots. I’ve pretty much given up on DeMar DeRozan turning it around and having a good playoff game, but Lowry has shown he has these kinds of games in him still. With the Raptors season now in the balance, they need the All-Star, confident Lowry from the first half of the regular season, the one who could knock down threes and fearlessly drove the lane. The guy who racked up points and assists. This is something we’ve said from the series preview and heading into Game 5 it remains at the heart of this series — Toronto needs Lowry to be the best player on the court to win. Can he find that groove again?
This one play is not why the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 5 on their home court. They lost because they gave up a 13-3 run to end the game. They lost because Oklahoma City is playing much better defense this series than expected and the Spurs offense isn’t handling it well. They lost because they did not solve the Steven Adams/Enes Kanter frontcourt lineup. And the list goes on from there.
Kawhi Leonard clearly fouled Russell Westbrook after the inbounds pass with 9.3 seconds to go, and not getting that call took away the Spurs chance to tie the game in the final seconds. It robbed them of an opportunity. That’s not to say they would have converted on that chance, but they never got it fairly.
The referees had to know the Spurs were looking to foul, and Leonard wrapped his arms around Westbrook’s waist and spun him. Westbrook is so strong he played right through that, then got to the rim for the and-1 foul on LaMarcus Aldridge, but Westbrook was fouled long before the shot. (Westbrook got lucky there, he should have dribbled out, taken more time off the clock and forced a foul, not tried to score — the Thunder needed to kill time. If he doesn’t get the and-1 call there he just would have given the Spurs more time and been down three.)
The usually reserved, not-wanting-another-fine Popovich said postgame it was clearly a foul, as did all the Spurs players asked. Because it was.
That’s the second time this series the referees have swallowed their whistles late in games missing blatant fouls. The two-minute report will reflect that, but what the report says is moot because it doesn’t change anything. I get that officials want the players to decide the game, but when there is an obvious foul in the final seconds — and this was an obvious foul — it has to be called.