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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard eliminates Thunder

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard drops 50, game-winning three to eliminate Thunder. Paul George — the best perimeter defender in the NBA this past season, a guy who likely lands top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — was on him. Didn’t matter. On a night when Oklahoma City was playing with a sense of desperation because their playoff lives were on the line, a night when George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points on 51 shots, plus 20 rebounds and 17 assists, it didn’t matter.

Because Lillard. Words do not do him or the moment justice. Just watch the game winner, which got him to 50 points on the night.

Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder. That shot gave Portland the 4-1 series win.

It wasn’t one “bad” shot which did in the Thunder, it was OKC’s bad shooting.

The other hero of the night — and in this series — for Portland was big man Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder Tuesday to have 13 points and 13 rebounds. More impressively, he played solid defense for much of the series (even if OKC didn’t drag him into enough pick-and-rolls).

Portland advances to the second round, where they will likely face…

2) The Denver Nuggets look like a team that has figured out Spurs, playoffs, take command for 3-2 series lead. Denver has won the last two games against San Antonio by a combined 42 points, and that makes it sound closer than it has actually felt.

Denver is the more talented team on paper in this series, but the question was would their lack of experience allow them to show it against a franchise that considers deep playoff runs part of its birthright. It took a few games for the Nuggets to get the confidence they needed that they could win this series, but now that they have it — now that they have figured this series out — Denver has taken command.

Tuesday was a 109-90 rout of the Spurs that has the Nuggets up 3-2 in the series. San Antonio is going home to try to force a Game 7, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their level of play.

Two things have helped Denver separate from San Antonio.

One is Nikola Jokic, who is impacting every aspect of this game and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists as the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump,” Jamal Murray joked after the game.

The other difference was the coaching move of this series (maybe of the playoffs thus far): Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig into the starting lineup and moving Will Barton to the bench. It changed the Denver defense: Craig is doing a solid job on DeMar DeRozan, it shifted Gary Harris onto the young Derrick White and Craig has won that battle, while Murray can now hide on Bryn Forbes. Craig has not been a drag on the Denver offense as predicted, Barton was not happy about the move to the sixth man but has played well and handled it like a pro, and Denver has overwhelmed San Antonio for two straight games.

Gregg Popovich will have adjustments, but what he and the Spurs need more to force a Game 7 is a role player to break out and change the momentum of this series.

3) Toronto, Philadelphia both advance to face off next round after blowout Game 5 wins. The Eastern Conference playoffs were always really going to start in the second round, with a rock/paper/scissors battle of four teams — Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston — all of whom can make a claim they can come out of the conference.

Tuesday night Toronto and Philadelphia closed out their series with easy wins to set up a second-round showdown between the teams.

Toronto dropped Game 1 of this series then took command the rest of the way, winning 115-96 on Tuesday in a game that was never close.

Kawhi Leonard had 27 to lead the way.

Sixers fans enjoyed letting Jared Dudley have it.

Philly got up 21 in the first quarter and cruised to a 122-100 victory. The Sixers got pushed some by the Nets, which is a good thing because Toronto is going to push a lot harder.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.