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Thunder defense shuts down Spurs one more time, Oklahoma City wins to advance


There is a moment in nearly every NBA playoff series when a coach knows he’s in real trouble and starts throwing crazy lineups at the board trying to find anything that works.

That was Gregg Popovich by the end of the first quarter Thursday night. After the Spurs team got off to an early lead — and Tim Duncan was 3-of-3 from the floor — Popovich went to his bench and the wheels came off. To put it kindly. This was more like a 14-car pileup. Desperately searching for anything that worked, Popovich played a lineup that hadn’t seen a minute all season: Kevin Martin, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, David West, and LaMarcus Aldridge.

It didn’t work. The Thunder went on a 42-12 run across the quarters, and that was the ballgame.

After a season where pundits — myself included — said OKC was a step behind the Spurs and Warriors, the Thunder passed the test against San Antonio, beating the Spurs 113-99 Thursday to win the series 4-2.

The Thunder will travel to the Bay Area to take on the Warriors starting Monday night.

The fourth quarter of the game felt nostalgic for fans because this may have been Tim Duncan’s final NBA game. While he’s made no announcement (and he may well not even know what he wants to do yet), there was a sense around the league that he could, and Manu Ginobili would, walk away after this season. Whenever he does retire, Duncan will go down as the greatest power forward ever to play the game — a five-time NBA champion with unquestioned Hall of Fame credentials. We just got done celebrating Kobe Bryant‘s amazing career, but Tim Duncan’s resume can stand next to Kobe’s with pride (Duncan was far more consistent).

“Timmy, he was playing really well so we played him as much as we could because he earned the minutes,” Gregg Popovich said postgame.

But Duncan and the Spurs exited this season on a rough note.

The kind of game and series win that might have Kevin Durant thinking “there’s no place like my current home.”

After a blowout loss in Game 1, the Thunder defense tightened up each game, cutting off passing angles and using their length and athleticism to challenge seemingly everything. The Spurs could not get comfortable, the Thunder defense got smarter and more aggressive each game, and that reached new heights in the first half of Game 6. Look at the Spurs shot chart from the first 24 minutes.


The Thunder, meanwhile, were getting the buckets they wanted against the less-athletic Spurs. Kevin Durant had 37 points on 24 shots, Westbrook 28 points, and once again the role players chipped in led by Andre Roberson with 14 points including hitting 3-of-5 from three (that’s a season’s worth of threes for him).

The Thunder led by 28 at one point and 26 early in the fourth, but the Spurs would not die. They went on a 20-6 run and got the lead down to 11 at one point, forcing Billy Donovan to put Westbrook and Durant back in to make sure this game didn’t get away from them.

The Thunder earned this series — they played their best, smartest defense of the season against the Spurs. They will need all of that and more against the Warriors.

That’s for Friday and the weekend. Thursday is for celebrating an impressive and important win for the franchise.

Watch James Harden score 55, including 10 threes, to beat Cleveland

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CLEVELAND (AP) — James Harden scored 55 points – 20 in the fourth quarter – and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavaliers, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden matched Kyrie Irving‘s arena record for points in a game, and his fourth with 50 or more this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

Cleveland was still up 108-107 when Harden, who came in leading the NBA in scoring at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.‘s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run – all without Love, who was on the bench with a head laceration – over a 4:43 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.


Grizzlies’ Ja Morant absolutely destroyed Aron Baynes with dunk (VIDEO)

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We may have a new Dunk of the Year.

Memphis rookie Ja Morant is an athletic freak, one confident enough in his skills to go right at a big switched onto him. Say Phoenix’s Aron Baynes. On a critical fourth-quarter possession.

RIP Aron Baynes.

Memphis won the game 115-108.

Victor Oladipo not near return to Pacers rotation

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“But he’s still a ways away.”

Those are not the words Pacers fans want to hear about Victor Oladipo. Their team is playing well — 15-9 with a top-10 defense — but they are not a real postseason threat without their best player, who is recovering from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Before the season, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said he was “hopeful” Oladipo would be back in December or January.

It looks like it’s going to be the back end of that timeline. At best. From J. Michael of the Indy Star, speaking to coach Nate McMillan.

Oladipo will have to be eased back in when he does return, he’s not going too hit the ground running at 40 minutes a night.

The Pacers look like a lock playoff team in the East even without Oladipo, they can afford to bring him along slowly. The hope would be to have the All-Star up to speed and integrated into the offense when the playoffs do start. If that happens, the Pacers become that team that the elite squads want to avoid early.

Lakers outscore Magic 26-9 in the first quarter. It got uglier after that.

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As has gotten a lot of publicity this season, the Lakers have one of the best defenses in the NBA, sixth in the league in defensive rating coming into Wednesday night. Their combination of length and activity has thrown teams off their games.

Less well publicized, the Orlando Magic have been bad on offense this season, fifth-worst in the NBA.

What happens when the immovable object met a very soft force on Wednesday night, well…

Orlando shot 4-of-21 in the first quarter, missing all six of their threes, plus turned the ball over four times just to make things a little worse. It’s not that the Lakers were exactly tearing it up, as a team they shot just 35.7 percent in the first quarter (Orlando is a good defensive squad), but Anthony Davis saved their bacon with seven points plus three assists (all for threes, so 16 points generated by him in the first).

The Lakers stretched that out to a 24-point lead in the second quarter before a combination of Orlando stepping up their play and the Lakers taking their foot off the gas a little led to an 18-3 Orlando run that cut the lead to 13 at the half. LeBron James had 16 points to lead the Lakers.

By the middle of the third, Orlando had made a game of it.