Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Damian Lillard scores 17 in final 3:07 to beat OKC

Associated Press
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RIP David Bowie. There’s nothing else to say. Here’s what you need to know from a busy Sunday around the Association.

1) Damian Lillard goes off in fourth, Portland beats Oklahoma City. Damian Lillard had a good game up to that point, 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds, but the Thunder were up by eight and seemingly in control of the game. 

Then Lillard went off. He scored 17 points in the final 3:06, including five 3-pointers (all six of his shots were threes). Meanwhile, Kevin Durant didn’t get off a shot, and Russell Westbrook only had one (KD finished with 28 points, Westbrook 25). 

Portland went on a 20-7 run to end the game and got the win 115-110, snapping their three-game losing streak. Lillard finished with 31.

2) Nets owner can’t fire himself, so he fires coach Lionel Hollins and demotes GM Billy King. The Brooklyn Nets were a mess on Saturday and it was hard to think of ways to make it worse short-term. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov found one. He fired coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” GM Billy King (whose new duties involve helping find his replacement — if you didn’t trust him with the job, why trust him with helping to replace himself?). Assistant coach Tony Brown takes over as the interim head coach, the GM chair remains vacant (six weeks before the trade deadline). 

Yes, Hollins’ old-school ways were a poor fit for both the current roster and the rebuilding process ahead. And yes, the litany of bad decisions by Billy King mean he was deserving of being let go. But the real blame for the mess that are the Nets right now starts with owner Mikhail Prokhorov. He pushed King to assemble a contender on the fly (so they could open the Barclays Center and compete with the Knicks in the NYC market), but Brooklyn didn’t have a superstar so the plan was destined to fail. The result was lopsided trades for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, among other moves, that stripped the Nets of draft picks and young players. The Nets won one playoff series for all that trouble, are a moribund franchise, and the blame has to start with the owner who set and pushed for the ill-fated direction. The rebuild is going to have to be a slow process because of the lack of picks. I’m not sure John Calipari would want to step into this mess.

3) Kristaps Porzingis is throwing it down, the Knicks are entertaining and winning. The Knicks have become entertaining to watch, and they are racking up wins — two things that before the season we did not expect. Sunday was a perfect example, with Carmelo Anthony scoring 24 but also trusting teammates and dishing out eight assists (the trust of his teammates has grown over recent weeks). Porzingis had 15 points and the dunk of the game. Lance Thomas continued his surprise season with 13 off the bench. The Knicks are a fun team to watch — and their 19 wins this season are two more than they had all of last season. You can see a bright future in New York — and you can see a big time free agent looking at the foundation laid there and thinking “this is where I want to play.”

4) Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Clippers have won nine in a row. It wasn’t easy or pretty — it took overtime against a Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis — but the Los Angeles Clippers have won nine in a row. Seven of those with Blake Griffin sidelined. In those nine games, the Clipper offense is scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions, and they have a net rating of +13 per 100 (second best in that stretch to the Spurs). The Clippers have started to find their groove. Still, this team feels like the Cincinati Bengals to me — they can be as hot as they want in the regular season, it’s getting out of the second round of the playoffs that will be the way they are judged and remembered. But right now, they are as hot as any team in the NBA.

5) Emmanuel Mudiay returns, Nuggets get win. Denver coach Mike Malone didn’t exactly ease Mudiay back into the fold — he played 39 minutes after missing a month. The rookie was understandably rusty (11 points on 15 shots, six assists but four turnovers) but it worked as the Nuggets beat the slumping Hornets 95-92.

It’s good to see Mudiay back on the court because the Nuggets have so many interesting young pieces and we need to see how they all fit together.  Nikola Jokic started at the five for Denver and they ran the offense through him at the elbow (he has six first quarter assists), but behind him they have the young Jusuf Nurkic as well (he is just a physical beast). Both Jokic and Nurkic show promise but also seem rushed (as young players often do) and just need more seasoning. But those two with the growing Mudiay start to form an interesting foundation in Denver for the future.