Associated Press

Paul George, Russell Westbrook rally Thunder past Rockets, 117-112

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HOUSTON (AP) — Paul George scored 45 points, Russell Westbrook matched the NBA record with his ninth straight triple-double and the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a 26-point deficit to beat the Houston Rockets 117-112 on Saturday night.

Westbrook had 21 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds to match the record streak set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1968. Westbrook has 22 triple-doubles this season and 126 overall. He also had 10 turnovers and was 8 of 21 from the field.

James Harden led the Rockets with 42 points, reaching 30 points for the 29th straight game – two shy of Chamberlain for the second-longest streak in NBA history, but far behind Chamberlain’s record run of 65 games. Harden was 11 for 28 from the field, going 6 of 16 from 3-point range, and made 14 of 15 free throws.

The 26-point deficit was Oklahoma City’s largest of the season.

Westbrook gave the Thunder a one-point lead with a driving layup with 26.9 seconds remaining. On the following possession, Harden missed a 3-pointer, and George got the rebound and was fouled with 3.4 seconds left. He made both free throws put Oklahoma City up three. Houston turned it over on the following inbound play.

George made 12 of 22 shots, hit 6 of 14 3-pointers and made 15 of 18 free throws to finish four points shy of his career-high 49 points set in 2013 with Indiana.

The Thunder made seven of their first eight shots in the third quarter to quickly cut Houston’s lead in half. Oklahoma City outscored Houston 42-20 in the quarter to even the score at 90.

Houston had won seven of eight home games against Oklahoma City.

Dennis Schroder had 17 points off the bench for Oklahoma City.

Iman Shumpert, acquired by Houston from Sacramento ahead of the trade deadline, made a 3-pointer from the corner on his second shot attempt and finished with three points in 24 minutes.

 

Kemba Walker feels love from Charlotte fans, returns it All-Star Weekend

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry was only a few podiums away. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid were elsewhere on the court and could be seen in flashes on the big screen above. Some of the biggest stars in the basketball universe were floating around. Then the chant broke out from the stands.

KEM-BA WALK-ER. KEM-BA WALK-ER

In Charlotte, Kemba Walker is as beloved as any of them. Maybe more.

Walker raised his arm and acknowledged the chanting fans with a smile. The love is mutual.

While All-Star weekend in Charlotte has been a triumphant homecoming for Stephen Curry and a celebration of the Curry family — who Commissioner Adam Silver called the “first family of Charlotte” — there also is love for the slightly undersized point guard who was drafted by into Charlotte, adopted the town, and has become its biggest NBA star and ambassador.

“The fan support has been A1, which is how it is each and every day for me,” Walker said. “For the fans, I’m happy they have this opportunity, I’m happy we got this event here. I think we deserved it.”

Walker, a three-time All-Star, said he and the city have been taking in everything around All-Star weekend — the concerts, parties, pop-up stores and more — and savoring it. Walker competed in Saturday night’s Three-Point Contest (although it was not his best outing). He admitted to being tired because of the fast pace of everything in a city that usually moves a little bit slower, but that and a little more traffic were his only complaints. And minor ones at that.

“I’m just happy to be home, honestly,” Walker said. “Excited to welcome people into the city — I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback about the city. Like today, a lot of guys have been telling me it’s their first time in Charlotte, they didn’t know how cool it was, so I was really excited to hear that.”

Walker grew up in a very different world, the Bronx in New York. However, his story of not having a lot of money — spending his days after school at the Boys and Girls Club — and having to work hard has resonated with the city and its residents.

So has his loyalty. Walker has not tried to push his way out the door despite the franchise not putting players around him who can win consistently. (Walker is a free agent this summer and will have options, although the Hornets want to re-sign him and will break the bank to do so, and Walker has professed his love for the city and sounded like a guy who wants to re-sign.)

This season’s Charlotte team is a good example of what Walker faces. It feels like Walker against the world — the team is 6.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he sits, mostly because the offense falls apart. The team’s second best player is Jeremy Lamb. Or maybe Cody Zeller. Walker has pushed Charlotte to a 27-30 record this season, good enough for seventh in the East at the All-Star break, but just half a game ahead on nine-seed Miami and one up on surging Orlando. Charlotte also has the toughest remaining schedule in the East over its final 25 games, and fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 45 percent chance to make the playoffs.

“Hopefully my teammates are getting some rest now, because when this weekend is over we need to make a strong, strong push,” Walker said of the team’s playoff drive. “We have a pretty tough schedule.”

But that’s for next week.

For the remainder of this weekend, Walker — and his mother — are around and just trying to soak it all in. He admitted it’s been surreal to be named an All-Star starter the season the game is in Charlotte, and he wants to make sure those fans who love him and chant his name get a show.

“I’m going to enjoy it, but I’m definitely going to go out there and compete and try to get a win,” Walker said. “Put on a show for the fans.”

Hamidou Diallo is Superman for a night, wins 2019 Slam Dunk Contest

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CHARLOTTE, N.C.— The Oklahoma City Thunder have more athletes on the wing than those couple of guys whose names you know playing in the All-Star Game on Sunday.

They have Hamidou Diallo, and he can climb the ladder with the best of them and knows how to throw it down.

Diallo had the best dunk of the night — a Superman-themed elbow dunk over Shaq — and is deservingly your 2019 All-Star Dunk Contest.

The problem with practicing a dunk over Shaq is the man himself is not around to practice with.

“It’s tough,” Diallo said. “My man Chuck (Millan) from Team Flight Brothers, we tried a bunch of things. We tried having people stand, putting basketballs on top of them, just to make sure I could clear the shot. So it was tough.”

Diallo edged out the Knicks’ Dennis Smith Jr. in the Finals. On his first Finals dunk, Smith tried to go with a between the legs 360 but missed twice. He changed it up for his third and final dunk attempt, a high bounce tomahawk, but he missed that one too. The judges generously gave him a 33, but he was destined to lose after that.

Smith still put on a show. On his second finals dunk, he brought out Stephen Curry and Dwyane Wade, taking the pass from Curry and leaping over Wade, and after a couple of misses he finally nailed it — for a full 50 from the judges (which the crowd in the arena didn’t agree with).

The contest itself was hit and miss (and for stretches much more miss), and the crowd in the arena did not seem into it, but there were highlights.

John Collins came out first and had one of the more underrated dunks of the night, slapping the backboard on one side then reverse dunking on the other. The judges gave him 8s across the board, which was low for a high degree of difficulty dunk.

On Collins’ second dunk he brought out a mini-replica of the Wright Brothers plane, went with some “first in flight” gear, and…he clipped the plane but made the dunk.

Diallo was next and pulled Russell Westbrook out of the crowd. Westbrook threw it off the side of the backboard and Diallo grabbed it and threw it down. His 48 (out of 50) had him in the lead after the first round.

In the second round, Diallo brought out Shaq for that dunk of the night. That got him into the Finals.

Smith Jr. was next and started with a high bounce catch and dunk but had to do it a couple times after he missed the first one. His second dunk was one of the best of the evening — he brought out J Cole (Sunday’s halftime performer), put on Cole’s high school jersey, then did not hold back.

Charlotte’s Miles Bridges had the hometown crowd behind him, but when he missed every dunk attempt in the first round his night was destined to be short. For his second attempt, he brought out Charlotte legend Muggsy Bogues, rocked the Larry Johnson jersey, then went off the side of the backboard with Kemba Walker for a perfect 50.

Hamidou Diallo elbow-dunks over Shaq (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Vince Carter‘s elbow dunk in the 2000 dunk contest is legendary.

Hamidou Diallo just one-upped it.

The Thunder forward put his entire forearm through the rim – while dunking over Shaquille O’Neal.

Compare that above video to Carter’s iconic dunk. Diallo’s path to the rim is far more impressive than Carter’s:

John Collins breaks airplane on Wright Brothers tribute dunk (video)

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CHARLOTTE – In North Carolina, where the Wright Brothers took flight, John Collins paid homage in the dunk contest. The Hawks big put on a cap, scarf and goggles befitting the Tuskegee Airmen and brought out a large model airplane to jump over.

Removing the goggles was disappointing enough. Then Collins broke the darn plane!

I love gimmick dunks, but you can’t break the prop.