It felt like a Throwback Thursday around the NBA — LeBron having to do all the scoring, Durant and Westbrook against the world for the Thunder, Kobe Bryant dunking, Linsanity in Charlotte. Only three games on the docket, but the NBA put on quite a show — unless you are Jason Day’s wife. Here’s what you need to know from around the NBA Friday.
1) In a matchup of stars, LeBron James outduels Kevin Durant, Thunder. Kyrie Irving isn’t back yet, Iman Shumpert was out again, so the Cleveland Cavaliers went with the system that got them to the NBA Finals last season — give the ball to LeBron and let him carry the load. It worked again. LeBron had 33 points (12-of-27 shooting), 11 assists, and nine rebounds on the night. (He wanted the triple-double late and told teammates not to go for a rebound on a late free throw so he could get the board, but Kevin Love grabbed it anyway.) It looked like the Finals Cavs from last season — LeBron scores/creates, Tristan Thompson crashes the boards hard, they slow the game down and defend, and that’s enough many nights. This is not how the Cavs will win a title, but for a Thursday night against the Thunder that formula still works.
Oklahoma City had won six in a row coming in, but this loss highlights the problem they will face deep in the playoffs — Russell Westbrook had 27, Durant 25, Serge Ibaka 23, and then it dropped off the map to single digits. The predicted creative new offense of Billy Donovan has not materialized — it’s a lot of Durant/Westbrook isolation or pick-and-roll, and the best teams can defend that. The Thunder big men don’t pass well, so even their shots have to come from those two. Here was Donovan’s other big mistake: it was a close game entering the fourth (OKC up three) when he rested Durant and Westbrook at the same time — Cleveland went on a 9-0 run. He brought Westbrook then soon after Durant back, but that run grew to 17-2 and a double-digit Cavs lead before the bleeding stopped. Ballgame. The Thunder could not dig out of that hole. The Thunder have so much talent but still feel like a clear third best team in the West, and they have work to do if they are going to threaten the Spurs or Warriors in a seven-game series.
2) LeBron James runs over Jason Day’s wife, sending her to the hospital. Ellie Day and her husband — world second-ranked golfer Jason Day — live in Columbus and had a nice date night going without the kids: Courtside seats to see the Cavaliers and Thunder. But in the fourth quarter the 6’8″, 250-pound LeBron James chased a loose ball into the front row and just ran over Ellie. She had to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher. Fortunately, early reports are that she is doing well with no serious injuries.
3) Kobe Bryant was vintage self, but Rockets still get a comfortable win. If you’re paying to see the Lakers at Staples, do you want to see the team win? If you’re a Laker fan, don’t you want to see the team increase the odds of holding on to their pick this June (it is only top three protected). Still, you want a show. You want to see some turn-back-the-clock Kobe. Well, Lakers fans got that Thursday at Staples, Kobe had 22 points, hit some tough jumpers, and even had his first dunk of the season. But James Harden and the Rockets got the win handily, 107-87.
4) Jeremy Lin goes off for 35 and Hornets beat Raptors in overtime. This game was an example of why you need League Pass — you missed a fun one if you weren’t watching. The Hornets led by double-digits much of the game, but Kyle Lowry sparked a 15-3 run that made it close and then DeMar DeRozan (31 points on the night) hit a jumper with 13 seconds left that sent the game to overtime. The Hornets relied on Lin and Kemba Walker — the pair had 24 of the Hornets’ 33 points in the fourth quarter and OT — and that was enough. Walker had nine in the OT, but the big numbers went to the guy with the spiky hair.
5) The Thunder’s Steven Adams dunked on LeBron. You don’t see this every day. (LeBron will take the win and live with it.)