Kevin Durant & Thunder solve Rockets’ gameplan; Chandler Parsons comes up big in Rockets’ win

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Chandler Parsons stood on the court and said, “It’s unbelievable.”

Moments ago, Serge Ibaka laid on the same court court and covered his eyes with both hands before making his body limp as two of his teammates tried to pick him. A few feet away, Reggie Jackson, knocked to the ground, sat up and reached across his body to smack the floor softly. Derek Fisher crouched down and then landed flat on his stomach. Thabo Sefolosha threw up his arms. Kevin Durant licked his lips and stared straight ahead.

Certainly, those Thunder players also found it unbelievable.

But here is the most unbelievable part of the Rockets’ 105-103 Game 4 win over Oklahoma City tonight: Houston’s plan failed.

The Thunder made the first move with Russell Westbrook out, running all their offense through Durant in Game 3. He took 30 shots and scored 41 points.

The Rockets countered by double-, triple- and even quadruple-teaming Durant. Initially, they were successful. Durant forced opportunities, and Oklahoma City’s offense struggled as a result. But eventually Durant became more patient, and Thunder’s scoring took off.

The Rockets kept focusing on Durant, though, throwing a physical defense at him. Durant committed seven turnovers, including two two charges, but he also drew 13 fouls. That seemed to be just how Houston wanted it.

But the plan did not work. Yes, the Rockets held Durant to 16 shots, but he scored 38 points. Durant also had six assists, and his teammates made 9-of-17 3-pointers with him on the floor.

So how did the Rockets win?

It wasn’t because of James Harden, who had more turnovers (10) than field goals (4), rebounds (1) and assists (3) combined.

Again, how did the Rockets win?

Their complementary players – led by Parsons (27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) – were awesome.

Carlos Delinfo made 3-of-5 3-pointers and dunked on Durant. Omer Asik had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Francisco Garcia made 3-of-7, Patrick Beverly 2-of-4 and Aaron Brookes 1-of-1 from beyond the arc. Houston’s bench players had so much swagger tonight, they could send the excess to the early-season Clippers, who lacked confidence in comparison.

Parsons especially picked a heck of a time for the best game of his career. He scored inside (7-of-9 in the restricted area) and out (3-of-6 on 3-pointers), drove and spotted up, dished and boarded. He was just incredible.

But, despite all the focus on him, so was Durant.

Even Durant playing within himself still meant plenty of shots that wouldn’t be reasonable for other players.

Down seven points in the final two minutes, Durant pulled up for a 3-pointer. Thunder down four with 1:42 left.

On Oklahoma City’s next possession, Durant crossed over Parsons and Brooks on the perimeter, drove and dunked over Asik and Delfino. Thunder down two with 1:13 left.

But Durant stayed true to Oklahoma City’s adjusted gameplan. Even on the game’s final play, when he ran out of space, Durant passed to Reggie Jackson. Jackson drove to the rim and was probably fouled by Asik, but it wasn’t called, and Serge Ibaka’s putback just missed as the buzzer sounded.

Durant’s last five points were the only five scored by either team in the final two minutes. He wasn’t the hero tonight, but the stage is set for him to fill that role soon.

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.