The waiting game has paid off for OKC

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Many, many moons ago, Oklahoma City stole away a basketball team. But a couple of moons before that, they borrowed one for awhile. The New Orleans Hornets, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, needed a temporary home and a temporary fan base. So they went local, traveled to the nearby (relatively) OKC, and set up shop.

No one would have blamed the citizens of Oklahoma for showing lukewarm support for a team just looking to crash for the night. There was never an illusion of anything permanent, and OKC had every reason to enjoy the NBA distraction while it lasted, but without making much of a clamor. But not only did Oklahomans show up in droves, but they were loud. They were an absolutely tremendous fan base, so much so that they couldn’t be pegged as a rental based on the energy in the arena and the decibel level emanating outward.

That city and that market wanted and needed an NBA team. At first they wanted the Hornets, the only NBA franchise Oklahoma has ever known, to use OKC as a permanent home. But it wasn’t meant to be, and the city that had just lost everything to a hurricane wasn’t about to lose a primary source of escapism and hope as well.

When the Hornets returned to New Orleans, it wasn’t necessarily a bright day for the NBA fans in Oklahoma City. They lost their team, even if it was only lended to them temporarily. It didn’t mean that the support was anything less than authentic, or that the bond between the city and the Hornets was anything less than genuine. OKC had the taste for professional basketball, and so Clay Bennett, team owner and businessman, did for Oklahoma what any person would do for a city that had their team “stolen” away.

He “stole” another team for them.

And that stolen team, the then-Sonics, now-Thunder, is that much better. It’s that much more fitting for the city and that much more promising for the future. From Mike Baldwin of the Oklahoman:

Two years ago, the Hornets’ first season removed from the Ford Center, they won 56 games, earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and weren’t eliminated until Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Sonics finished a franchise-worst 20-62 in what proved to be a lame duck year in Seattle before moving that summer to Oklahoma City.

Two years later, the Thunder is viewed as the NBA’s on-the-rise team, a lock to make the playoffs and on pace to win 50 games. In contrast, the Hornets are one game below .500 with almost no chance of making the playoffs, their future in question because owner George Shinn continues to slash payroll.

The people of Oklahoma may have begged for the Hornets to stay, but it’s indisputable that they’ve found themslves a better deal and a better fit in the Thunder. Chris Paul is Chris Paul (and I suppose he always will be), but the Hornets have gone into a tailspin. Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton have renewed their hope, but what looked like a team on the cusp of contending then looks like little more than a fringe playoff contender now.

The Thunder are different. They’re better. They’re shooting up the Western Conference standings at an absurdly early juncture, when common sense says that such a young team should endure a slower and steadier progression. The Thunder’s rise has been anything but slow and steady, and their meteoric ascent has helped to wipe the memory, however fond, of the Hornets from OKC’s basketball consciousness.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.