Like the have not before these playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder asserted themselves in Game 5. They dominated the Memphis Grizzlies. Controlled the game from the middle of the second quarter on. Held Zach Randolph to 9 points. Thumped the tired Grizzlies good.
Was that a one game fluke, or have the Thunder arrived?
If Memphis wants to see a Game 7, two key things have to happen.
The first is Zach Randolph has to get going again. In Game 1 he was dominant, in Game 2 Serge Ibaka started taking away his space to operate when he caught the ball. Between Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at times, the Thunder have held Randolph to 32 percent shooting in the last four games.
The Grizzlies got 24 points out of Randolph and Marc Gasol last game. If they Grizzlies are going to get back in this series, they will need closer to double that, and they need it to come efficiently.
The other thing Memphis needs is a better game from Mike Conley. The point guard who has played so well through the playoffs is 6-for-28 shooting his last two games. He has to knock down shots and he has to get the ball to Randolph and Gasol in positions they can be effective.
The Grizzles have to go back to what got them here — great play inside and some good pressure defense to create some turnovers.
The Thunder? Just more of the same will be just fine. Their defense has been key the last few games and when their offense clicked, well, blowout. Russell Westbrook 25 minutes last game, Kevin Durant just 31, they are rested. They will come out and try to put this game away early.
Memphis has to play in the paint. They have to get Tony Allen disrupting Durant. They have to have their best game of the season.
If they do, Sunday could be very interesting.
Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s agent, Giorgos Panou, said the Knicks were the only team not to scout Antetokounmpo in Greece before the 2013 NBA draft.
Ian Begley of ESPN:
If the Knicks indeed scouted Antetokounmpo that thoroughly, it’s a shame they were smeared for not doing so.
Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo No. 13. New York had the No. 24 pick and kept it to draft Tim Hardaway Jr.
CHARLOTTE — Nobody comes to the Friday night Rising Stars Challenge — the All-Star weekend showcase of first- and second-year stars — for the defense. Which is good, because there isn’t any. Zero. Nada. Your Saturday blacktop pickup game at the local park has guys that care more about defense than you see in this game.
What the Rising Stars has are dunks. A lot of big dunks. And some threes. Then more dunks.
For example, the Hawks’ John Collins was showing off why he was in the dunk contest, complete with a pass off the backboard to himself.
As for the game itself, the USA won 161-144 over the World.
The Lakers Kyle Kuzma raced out to 23 first-half points and finished with 35 to earn MVP honors.
“Last year I didn’t really play that hard,” Kuzma said of his first time in this game. “This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning, and, two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”
Kuzma also broke out the windmill.
D’Aaron Fox said before the game he wanted to break the assist record for the Rising Stars, and while he fell short of that number he had 16 for the USA. Boston’s Jayson Tatum had 30 and Donovan Mitchell had 20 for the USA. Ben Simmons led the Word team of 28 points.
As for highlights, there were plenty.
Atlanta’s Trae Young hit six threes and had this dime.
He also had the play of the night, nutmegging Deandre Ayton.
Philly’s Ben Simmons had a couple of throwdowns.
The Timberwolves Josh Okogie had the putback of the night (teammate and All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns sat courtside wearing an Okogie jersey).
CHARLOTTE — The NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge — the Friday night showcase of first- and second-year players during All-Star Weekend — has less defense than your lunch run pickup game at the Y. Even less than the All-Star Game itself.
Which leads to some monster dunks.
Enter Atlanta’s second-year big man John Collins, playing for the USA (vs. The World), who went off the backboard to himself for the best throwdown of the game.
That wasn’t Collins’ only quality dunk in this game.
He looks ready for Saturday’s Dunk Contest.
On the same day the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps, the Nuggets extended the contract of president Tim Connelly, who went to Denver from New Orleans.
Nuggets President and Governor Josh Kroenke announced today that the Nuggets have extended the contracts of President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and General Manager Arturas Karnisovas as well and also provided multi-year extensions for the entire basketball operations staff.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
I don’t know whether Connelly used the threat of the Pelicans job as leverage. But he deserved this extension, anyway.
The Nuggets have only continued to rise since his previous extension three years ago.
Denver has yet to make the playoffs under Connelly, and he declared this season postseason or bust. Denver (39-18) is second in the Western Conference.
Connelly made a second-round pick so good in Nikola Jokic, it altered the course of the franchise. Connelly has done well to lock Jokic onto a five-year extension, surround him with young talent like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez and get them a good coach in Michael Malone.
If Denver weren’t stuck barely missing the playoffs in the loaded West the last couple years, we might have been singing Connelly’s praises sooner. But his success is undeniable. The Nuggets are in great shape now and in the future, and Connelly should see that through.