While you were watching Peyton Manning and Cam Newton set up a generational showdown, the NBA kept on playing with four games. If you chose not to watch, we understand, so here is what you need to know from a Sunday around the Association.
1) Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook combine for 59, not enough to keep Thunder win streak going. Coming in having won seven straight, the Thunder just didn’t seem to have their heart in this one. Blame the snowstorm that battered the East Coast and delayed the start time of this game four hours if you want. Blame the fact Steven Adams sprained his elbow and missed this game (and will miss the next couple) which meant more Nick Collison and Enes Kanter. Blame the fact Andre Roberson had to leave the game after banging knees with Russell Westbrook. Blame Donald Trump. Whatever the reason, the Thunder defense was disinterested and the Nets took advantage scoring a season-high 116. Brook Lopez scored 31, grabbed 10 boards, and led a Nets team that dominated the paint in winning 116-106.
OKC relied offensively on its usual heavy dose of isolation plays, but the shots were not falling (Durant was 2-of-10 from three and missed some clean looks). Durant still put up 32, and Westbrook added 27, but they were not their usual, efficient selves. Combine that with a Thunder defense late on rotations and slow on closeouts, and you get a comfortable Brooklyn win.
I don’t imagine we’ll see that version of the Thunder team again for a while.
2) James Harden drops triple-double, but it’s Josh Smith that sparks Rockets win. Josh Smith had no steady place in Doc Rivers’ rotation in Los Angeles. He was sitting, and Cole Aldrich was getting more and more run. But back in Houston, a couple of games and Smith feels like a new man.
Dallas was up by 11 and in control when Smith entered in the third quarter, he brought energy and defense, and quickly the Rockets went on a 15-4 run to make it a ballgame. It was the role players that won the game in the fourth quarter — Smith had 8 of his 16 in the quarter, Trevor Ariza had 8 in the final frame and 29 on the night (on 15 shots), and Ty Lawson had 7. James Harden had a triple-double on the night but didn’t score in the fourth. Houston got the 115-104 win and continue to show flashes of better play, the trick now is sustaining that level for an extended period.
3) Brett Brown is a frustrated man in Philly. For all the losing in Philly this season — from the rough start to the season through the improved-but-not-good play of late under Ish Smith — one thing has remained true: Philadelphia played hard for coach Brett Brown. They lost games because they were not talented enough, but the effort was there. Not Saturday against Boston. The Sixers were flat; the Celtics are a quality team, and the result was a 20-point win for Boston that could have been much more.
After the game, Brett Brown had little to say and was biting his tongue, trying not to completely rip his team to the media.