Kevin Durant opens game playing like MVP, Westbrook takes over from there, Thunder even series

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That is why you want Russell Westbrook on your team.

The “good Westbrook” and “bad Westbrook” are different sides of the same coin — he’s always aggressive, attacking, putting pressure on defense and when that works, when his shots is falling and the defense is scrambling, he can take a team down.

That’s sort of what happened Wednesday night.

Kevin Durant started out the game riding the high of winning the MVP award and put up 17 first quarter points, he finished with 32. The Clippers climbed back but it was Westbrook who led the charge for the Thunder — he finished with a triple double of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook led a more balanced attack (Thabo Sefalosha had 12 in the third quarter) as Oklahoma City pulled away in the second half, led by as many as 20 and went on to win 112-101.

OKC’s win evens the series at 1-1 heading back to Los Angeles for Game 3 Friday.

That was Westbrook’s third triple-double of the playoffs. When he plays like this he may pick up a technical (he did), he may play out of control for a stretch (he did), but the good of his pressure and attacks outweighs all of it.

The Thunder offense — with two of the top 10 scorers in the game — is going to get points every night. They did in Game 1. That’s not the issue. Where they got burned in Game 1 was on defense, with Chris Paul knocking down threes and getting into the lane.

In Game 2 the Thunder defended the paint much better, mostly by doing a better job containing the ball handler on the pick-and-roll — the Clippers had 29 shots in the paint and 54 outside it. Westbrook was aggressive on defense — he jumped the passing lane for a steal on the game’s first play — and he was relentlessly chasing Chris Paul over picks and getting help to shut off the easy baskets all game. With that pressure Chris Paul shot 6-of-13, Blake Griffin 5-of-13.

Meanwhile role players stepped up for the Warriors. Serge Ibaka had 14 points on 10 shots, Sefalosha had 14 on nine shots.

Part of it was just better spacing in the Thunder offense — they didn’t bring an extra defender to Westbrook, which let him read the floor better. When former teammate Darren Collison was on him, Westbrook backed him down and scored. When help came he found the open man, often for easy looks. Check out Westbrook’s shot chart on the night.

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Now it falls to Doc Rivers to make the adjustments in this series. He has the advantages of going home and having more depth than Scott Brooks to work with — Rivers has more options available. He can change and create more matchups that he likes.

But when they play like this, Durant and Westbrook trump all.

Report: Steve Clifford strongly urged Hornets to draft Donovan Mitchell over Malik Monk

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The Hornets have been taken through the ringer for rejecting a monster trade package from the Celtics, who wanted Justise Winslow, for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft. Instead, Charlotte kept the pick to take Frank Kaminsky.

Though they weren’t alone in erring by refusing to trade with Boston, the Hornets added another catastrophic missed opportunity to their ledger last year.

Charlotte picked Malik Monk No. 11 over rising star Donovan Mitchell (whom the Jazz selected No. 13) and apparently over protests of then-Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

The Lowe Post podcast:

Jonathan Givony:

Charlotte, I had them projected to take Donovan Mitchell, because I heard that Clifford was on the table in the war room saying, “We need to draft Donovan Mitchell.” And he was overruled on that, and they took Malik Monk instead. And it’s interesting how that played out in hindsight.

Zach Lowe:

Cliff was 100 percent trying to get them to take Donovan Mitchell.

I rated Monk ahead of Mitchell, but unlike me, the Hornets had an opportunity to work out the players. Mitchell performed so well in his Charlotte workout, he believed the Hornets would pick him. They have to own that mistake.

It’s unclear who overruled Clifford – then-general manager Rich Cho or owner Michael Jordan. But Clifford and Cho paid the price, both getting fired this year.

It’s easy to believe that, if Charlotte took Mitchell, both Clifford and Cho would still have their jobs there.

To be fair, it’s also easy to believe we’ll never hear about the draft calls Clifford would have gotten wrong.

Five undrafted players to keep your eye on

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At any given point, about 15 to 20 percent of the players in the NBA were not drafted. Some guys just fly under the radar, take longer to develop, and just mature later and find how they can fit into a team.

This year is no exception, some guys who didn’t get their name called are going to stick in the NBA.

Here are five guys to watch in Summer League and beyond:

• Malik Newman, 6’4” guard (Kansas). In a league where teams are always looking for scoring he is a player who can just get buckets — he’s got great range as a shooter and can slash to the rim as well. He’s not a true playmaking point guard and he’s undersized for the two in the NBA. That size issue leads to concerns on the defensive end. Still, seems worth a second round gamble.

Kenrich Williams, 6’7” power forward (TCU). The 2017 NIT MVP likes to play physically, and is solid at shooting, rebounding, and defending — he can do everything well but does not have one elite, standout skill. That limits his ceiling, but as a high IQ player he has the potential to develop into a solid role player. He will play in the NBA Summer League with Denver.

Rawle Alkins, 6’5” shooting guard (Arizona). Tough, high-motor player who defends well and has the potential to be a good scorer (he’s already a good finisher in transition and can knock down threes). He needs to develop his skills to go with his power and athleticism, he has to work on his passing, and he has to play in control and not turn the ball over. Good potential for a rotation wing player. The Toronto Raptors are giving him a shot at Summer League and maybe into training camp.

• Brandon McCoy, 6’11” center (UNLV). He was heavily recruited out of high school and he did average 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game for Las Vegas last season. He’s not a great shot blocker for his height, and there are concerns about his feel for the game, but he still produced last season. Usually big men with that kind of frame and potential at least get a look from NBA teams.

• Trevon Bluiett, 6’6″ guard (Xavier). The guy can shoot the rock, and that should get him more of a look than he did so far. He averaged 19.5 points per game and shot 41.7 percent from three last season. He’s a senior, there’s a question about his defense and who he guards at the next level. He’s not an elite athlete. But he can shoot and that should get him some attention.

• LiAngelo Ball. 6’5” guard (Vytautas Prienai-Birstonas in Lithuania). Just kidding. He’s not an NBA player, no teams thought so. The Lakers aren’t even going to bring him on their Summer League team (and not wanting to deal with LaVar is part of that).

Report: Danny Green opting in with Spurs for $10 million

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Danny Green loooves the Spurs.

He re-signed with San Antonio for a discount in 2015. Lately, he has been trying to defuse tension at every turn of the Kawhi Leonard saga.

That’s not working.

But Green can handle his own business with the Spurs.

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

League sources tell the Express-News Green will likely forgo free agency and exercise the final year of his contract with the Spurs

By exercising his player option, Green will earn $10 million next season. It was hard to see him leaving San Antonio regardless, but that’s probably more than he’d earn on the open market.

Green brings a lot of value as a 3-and-D shooting guard. But the league is stuffed with bad contracts against a barely rising salary cap, leaving little money for 2018 free agents.

At least Green already secured a healthy salary in a place he likes.

PBT Podcast: NBA Draft breakdown with winners, losers, sleepers

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The Phoenix Suns didn’t screw up the No. 1 pick landing DeAndre Ayton, but they also made an interesting — maybe safe — move getting Mikal Bridges in a trade to give them a promising young core.

The Atlanta Hawks got their man in Trae Young, but the Dallas Mavericks did better getting theirs in Luka Doncic with the trade between those two teams.

The Sacramento Kings got their man in Marvin Bagley. Michael Porter Jr. and Robert Williams fell down the draft.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all of it in this latest podcast: Who were the winners and losers, who were the sleepers, and what it means heading into free agency this summer.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.