Steven Adams

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s first triple-double leads Thunder past Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 20 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 10 assists in his first triple-double, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 117-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.

Gilgeous-Alexander came in averaging 23.7 points in his previous 13 games but did much more than score in this one, also matching his career best in assists.

Danilo Gallinari scored 30 points for the Thunder, who have won 12 of their past 15 games and six of seven on the road. He was 11 for 12 from the free throw line.

Naz Reid scored 20 off the bench for Minnesota, which was still without Karl-Anthony Towns. Reid has scored in double figures in six of the last eight games. Robert Covington scored 18 points.

The Thunder held a 63-60 lead at halftime. They went on an 11-2 run early in the third quarter and then a 10-3 burst midway through the third to push their lead into double figures. Oklahoma City led by as many as 18.

Steven Adams had 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Thunder.

Chris Paul scored 20 points in fourth quarter, overtime, to lift Thunder to victory

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NEW YORK — Chris Paul scored 20 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 111-103 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.

The game was tied at 103 before Paul made consecutive jumpers and the Nets never scored again.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander closed out the scoring with four free throws, after making a jumper to open OT.

Gilgeous-Alexander added 22 points for the Thunder, who bounced back from a loss Monday in Philadelphia to win for the sixth time in seven games. Steven Adams had 10 points and 18 rebounds as Oklahoma City won without Danilo Gallinari, who rested a calf injury.

Taurean Prince scored 21 points and Caris LeVert had 20 in his second game back from right thumb surgery, but the Nets dropped their seventh straight. Spencer Dinwiddie had 14 points, but he struggled early and late in a 6 for 21 night.

The Nets had a seven-point lead with under 3 1/2 minutes left in regulation before Paul scored 10 points in a 12-5 surge that tied it at 101 on his jumper with 47 seconds left. He lost the ball on a drive with 11 seconds remaining to give the Nets a chance, but Dinwiddie missed a free throw after getting fouled before the inbound pass, then was off on a short jumper before the buzzer.

Prince made his first five shots, including four 3-pointers, but the Thunder got the better of it when the teams went to their benches and opened an eight-point lead in the second quarter before taking a 49-48 lead to the locker room.

Dinwiddie and LeVert then scored eight apiece in the third, carrying Brooklyn to a 77-74 lead going to the final period.

Joel Embiid suffers nasty ring finger dislocation; has it taped up, returns to game

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Joel Embiid is making the Philadelphia Flyers proud tonight — this is a hockey player move.

Embiid suffered a nasty dislocation of the ring finger on his left hand during the Sixers’ game against the Thunder Monday night. Below is the video, but if you are at all squeamish do not watch it. Seriously. We’re not kidding.

Embiid returned to the game in the first half.

Respect to Embiid for that.

Embiid started the game 3-of-8 shooting in a physical matchup with Steven Adams.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and the top 10 players of the 2010s

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In 2010 if you took a 28-foot three you were instantly benched and would be lucky to see the court again.

By 2019, that shot is encouraged.

With that change and many others, the popularity of the sport exploded.

That explosion was mostly about the star players — dominant teams led by recognizable faces playing on the league’s biggest stages every year. This is the deepest the league has been in elite talent in a long, long time.

Which makes compiling a list like this a challenge — outstanding players who had amazing decades are left off this list. The biggest among those is Damian Lillard, who had a monster decade — four All-NBA teams, four-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year — but also leaving out Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo (maybe player of the next decade), and others was hard.

Here is our list of the top 10 players of the 2010s:

10. Draymond Green

Everyone else on this list was a top 15 pick, a player scouts and GMs recognized coming in with potential. Draymond Green was a second-round pick, a player seen pre-draft as a “tweener” who would have trouble fitting his game into the NBA — it turned out his positional flexibility would help define a decade. His defensive versatility — the ability to switch onto all five positions on the court — was exactly what the Golden State Warriors needed. Also, Green’s emotional leadership glued together the Warriors’ championship defense, and with that their dynasty.

Green is a three-time NBA champion, Defensive Player of the Year, two-time All-NBA, three-time All-Star, and five-time All-Defensive team player this decade.

Why Green over Lillard or Griffin, who put up bigger numbers and were the No. 1 option on a very good Portland/Los Angeles teams this decade? Because 10 years from now, as we enter 2030, if we look back at this decade, what are we going to remember? The championships, the five straight Finals appearances, the way the Warriors changed the game. Green was at the heart of that. Green’s contributions made the Warriors the Warriors, and that impacted the last decade more than just box score numbers.

9. Dwyane Wade

Miami put up two banners in the 2010s, and those don’t happen without Wade being both bold and savvy.

Bold because he recruited LeBron to South Beach, forming the “super team” that ushered in the era of player empowerment. By the end of the decade, the hype around NBA player movement was surpassing that of interest in the games themselves, and Wade was at the forefront of that movement.

Wade was savvy on the court because he was willing to do what he called “one of the hardest things I had to do in sports” and adjusted his game to become the No. 2 option on those Heat teams. He accepted the role of Robin to LeBron’s Batman. It worked. Wade got two more rings and averaged 22.2 points per game in those four years with LeBron, with a 57.5 true shooting percentage, going to the Finals every season.

Wade’s skills faded as the decade wore on, but he was still an 8-time All-Star the past decade. He was at the heart of a team that changed the game, he picked up rings (plural), and for that deserves to be on this list.

8. Anthony Davis

The youngest player on our list — he could be on this countdown for the next decade, too — Davis is a dominant two-way force, a guy who can block shots into the third row in defense and step out to the three-point line on offense. He’s as complete a player as the decade has seen.

Davis toiled in relative anonymity through nearly the entire decade in New Orleans, a franchise that (at least until recently) thought short-term and made moves accordingly. Davis never had the kind of roster around him needed to win (he only made the playoffs twice, in 2018 getting to the second round before running into the Warriors), but fans coaches recognized the talent and made him a six-time All-Star in the decade. In 2019 he was part of the ground-shifting months of player movement that changed the balance of the league, getting traded to the Lakers to team up with LeBron (how that ultimately plays out remains to be seen). Wherever he played, he earned his spot on this list.

7. Chris Paul

The best floor general of the decade — arguably the best game orchestrator in NBA history — and one of the highest IQ players the league has ever seen, Chris Paul spent the last decade carving up defenses like a surgeon.

CP3s teams win — he is second in win shares per 48 minutes during the decade. He started the decade getting the then New Orleans Hornets to the playoffs, but is mostly known for being the lob in the “Lob City” Clippers teams through the heart of the decade. Those teams were among the best in the league through the middle of the decade, but for a variety of reasons never lived up to expectations in the playoffs. We’ll see how the rest of his career plays out, but Paul could eventually go on top of the “greatest player never to win a title” lists.

Paul gets a mixed reaction from fans, some of whom can be frustrated by his flopping and complaining. All of that is a manifestation of his drive to win — CP3 is as intense a competitor as there is in the league. Because of that, and just his understanding of the game, the future Hall of Famer was arguably the best point guard of the decade and earned his spot on this list.

6. Russell Westbrook

Westbrook is an absolutely unstoppable freak athlete who just overwhelmed the NBA for much of the decade. He’s not the technical surgeon that CP3 is, nor is he the efficiency darling of the advanced stats crowd, but what Westbrook did was rack up numbers nobody thought we would ever see again — back-to-back seasons averaging a triple-double

Westbrook came into his own after Durant bolted OKC for the Bay Area. Westbrook re-signed in the small market of Oklahoma City then proceeded to dominate the ball and give the fans there a show like nobody had seen before — 147 triple-doubles during the decade.

What fans in OKC and everywhere appreciated is that nobody played harder than Westbrook — he went out every night not playing like a superstar but like a guy on a 10-day contract trying to keep his job. Westbrook only knew one speed and that was fifth gear, pedal-to-the-metal, all-out.

Westbrook won an MVP award on the first of those back-to-back triple-double seasons, racked up a couple of scoring titles (2015 and 2017) and gave us countless highlights during the decade. There’s not going to be another guard like him because there’s not going to be another athlete like him.

5. Kawhi Leonard

An NBA Finals MVP with two different teams in the same decade is a rare feat, one that requires a special combination of play on both ends of the court — Leonard at his peak is as good a two-way player as the decade saw.

We tend to think back to the 2014 Spurs and picture the last title of the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili era, or to view that team as playing the most beautiful, elevated team basketball the league has ever seen (that’s how I remember them). However, Leonard was the reason Gregg Popovich has a fifth ring. Leonard averaged 23.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game while shooting 68 percent in the final three games of the series, all while frustrating LeBron at the other end with his defense. Leonard did that at the age of 22, before he even made an All-Star team.

In 2018-19, Leonard brought the word “load management” into the NBA lexicon and showed why it mattered — he rested his quadricep tendon and opposing knee for 22 games during the regular season. Then in the playoffs he dominated — 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds with a 61.9 true shooting percentage, he hit one of the defining shots of the decade and played spectacular defense — leading Toronto to the franchise’s first title.

When healthy, Leonard is as good as anyone in the game, a two-time NBA Champion, a two-time Defensive player of the year, and a three-time All-Star. He helped define the player movement of 2019 and his impact will carry over to the next decade on a few levels.

4. James Harden

At the start of the decade, Harden was the sixth man on a team everyone thought would dominate the decade. By the end of it, he was an unstoppable scoring machine that generated a combination of admiration and frustration across the league. And throughout it all, his beard was spectacular.

James Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year, playing a critical role on a Thunder team that reached the Finals in 2012, with Westbrook and Durant as the stars. By the start of the next season, Harden was traded to Houston because of a ginormous tax bill coming to small market OKC. The Thunder got back Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and a 2013 first-round pick that became Steven Adams; but by 2016 Harden’s Rockets were knocking the Thunder out of the playoffs.

In Houston, Harden developed into the arguably the best scorer the game has ever seen — the perfect analytics player for a modern era, taking and hitting efficient shots. His ability to hit a step-back three, or drive the lane and draw a foul, put defenders in an almost impossible position as Harden racked up a couple of scoring titles (and is on his way to a third). He also won an MVP and has been a perennial candidate for the award in the second half of the decade.

Not all fans love his style of play, but he’s unquestionably become one of the game’s greats, an offensive machine for which there is no good answer. He will be one of the players that defined the decade.

3. Kevin Durant

We tend to forget sometimes that Durant is as good a scorer as the game has seen, with his 7-foot frame, high release and accuracy well beyond the three-point line, he’s nearly impossible to defend. Starting with the 2010 season, Durant won four scoring titles in five seasons while playing in Oklahoma City, and picked up an MVP trophy along the way.

However, he wasn’t winning and he wasn’t happy, which led to one of the big franchise-changing moments of the decade — Durant bolting OKC for Golden State, forming a “super team” as good as any the game had seen. Durant became a villain in the eyes of some for doing what those same people always say they want players to do — prioritize winning over personal glory — and it ate at him a little, but he kept winning.

On the court, Durant became the guy the Warriors needed in the final couple rounds of the playoffs. That’s when defenses could shut down favorite plays and force teams away from their preferred options, but the Warriors got the ball to Durant and he took over. Durant picked up two titles and two Finals MVP, rounding out his resume.

Durant left the West Coast for Brooklyn at the end of the decade but has yet to set foot on the court for the Nets because of a torn Achilles. How he recovers from that will help define the start of the next decade.

But he was a force in this one.

2. Stephen Curry

Curry unquestionably has an eye-popping resume during this decade — three NBA titles, two MVP awards, a scoring title, and being a six-time All-Star.

None of that is what lands Curry this high on our best of the decade list — he’s here because he changed how the game is played.

His shooting range, his handles, his gravity to pull defenders to him spaced out the floor and defenses in a way nobody had ever seen before. Curry changed the geometry of the NBA and spawned imitators everywhere from the point guard in Atlanta to playgrounds and driveways of New York. And San Diego. And everywhere in between. Curry changed the idea of what was a good shot in the NBA, and with that changed the game.

Curry also was the driving force behind the culture in Golden State that led to the most dominant team of the decade — three titles and five straight Finals appearances. Curry practiced and played a selfless attitude that inspired teammates to do the same, willingly giving up good looks for great. The joy the Warriors played with sprang from the fountain of love for the game Curry embodied. The Warriors were fun to watch because Curry was fun to watch.

Injuries and roster changes had the Warriors ending the decade on a down note, but nobody sane is counting Curry out in the future. He had defied expectations from Davidson until now, and that’s one thing he will not change.

1. LeBron James

This decade was the peak of a Mount Rushmore NBA player — the man went to eight straight NBA Finals, at times carrying teams that otherwise had no business on that stage to those lofty heights. He also scored more points in the decade than any other player, had brilliant assists, and made timely defensive plays. LeBron can do anything on a basketball court.

LeBron defined the game off-the-court as well. His “Decision” to join Miami sparked the player empowerment era that nearly a decade later led to the NBA’s wildest offseason ever in 2019 (including Anthony Davis coming to join him). LeBron picked up two rings and two Finals MVPs in Miami, but he also came of age there in terms of learning what it takes to win, not just from himself but an organization.

LeBron then sealed his legacy by returning to Cleveland and leading it to a franchise-defining —and region defining — NBA title.

LeBron is finishing out the decade (and likely his career) trying to add to his legacy by adding to the storied Lakers history, but he also is there to grow his brand — something other players look up to LeBron for. He’s the greatest player of a generation — three MVPs in this decade, too — but he has parlayed that into a business empire that reaches well off the court and sports and into the world of entertainment (that includes Space Jam 2, coming soon to a theater near you). LeBron used some of that money to open a school to help the underserved in his hometown of Akron. LeBron became more than just a player, he did it on his own terms with his own people, and other players want to emulate that as much as his on-court exploits.

LeBron was the best player of the decade. No doubt. He’s one of the greatest ever to play the game, and we need to savor watching him play and look back in amazement at what he did this decade. Because there will not ever be another one.

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ dependance on LeBron exposed by red-hot Denver

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ dependance on LeBron exposed by red-hot Denver. Taking sweeping lessons from one NBA regular-season game is a Trumpian-level overreach, but one game can highlight trends.

We saw that with both the Lakers and Nuggets Sunday night at Staples Center, where the Denver Nuggets won their sixth game in a row, cruising past the host Lakers 128-104.

For the Lakers the trend — and the lesson from it — was clear: They need to find LeBron James some playmaking help.

LeBron is the Lakers’ fulcrum, without him the offense simply does not space and move the same way — they had a season-low 18 assists. Saying the Lakers are better with their MVP-candidate, the man who is arguably the best player walking the face of the earth (even as he turns 35 next week), is not exactly a hot take. LeBron missed his first game of the season Sunday night with a thoracic muscle strain (and he is day-to-day heading towards the Christmas Day showdown with the Clippers).

The lesson from Sunday is the Lakers need another playmaker for their eventual playoff run.

When LeBron sits this season, the Lakers offensive rating falls off 10.7 points to 102.2 — a number that would be dead-last in the league right now, worse than the mainly G-League team the Warriors are rolling out nightly. With LeBron and his league-leading 10.6 assists a game (not to mention 25.8 points), Anthony Davis gets the rock in places he can do damage, players in the weakside corner are just one bullet pass away from being a threat, and the Lakers are dangerous in transition. With LeBron, the Lakers are a top-five offense in the league.

Without him, with everything flowing through Anthony Davis (32 points, 11 rebounds), the Lakers looked a little too much like the Pelicans of recent years. The team Davis forced a trade to get away from. As good as he is, Davis alone cannot run the show.

The best teams, championship teams, have a second shot creator who can keep the offense flowing when playoff defenses scheme to load up on the primary ball handler and take away his favorite plays. In the postseason, things will get harder for LeBron, and that’s when the Lakers can turn to… Rajon Rondo? Kyle Kuzma? Are those guys the Lakers can trust?

They may have to be because there is no good path to adding a quality player in Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Their older players on one-year contracts will not return much in a move (Danny Green would, but the Lakers aren’t trading him). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s name comes up (paired with Kuzma?), but he has the right to veto any trade and likely would.

It’s the one concern with the playoff Lakers. We’ll see a good test of how they would fare on Christmas against the Clippers (LeBron is expected to be healthy and good to go then).

On the other side of the court, the lesson is Denver’s offense is back — they are having fun again on that end — and with that, they must be counted as one of the top teams in the West.

As of Monday morning, the Nuggets are 20-8 on the season, have won six in a row, and are officially the two seed, just ahead of the Rockets and Clippers (and three games back of the top-seed Lakers, who built a cushion for their current three-game losing streak). Denver may have stumbled out of the gate this season with questions about Nikola Jokic’s conditioning swirling, but the Nuggets have shed the “bust” label, found their footing and look like a threat again.

During Denver’s six-game streak, they have an offensive rating of 119.3, best in the NBA.

Watch them play against the Lakers and it was obvious they were having fun again — Malik Beasley putting his fingers to his lips to quiet the Laker crowd, while Paul Millsap was flexing. Denver has had a surprisingly good defense all season; now that their offense is clicking again the Nuggets need to be mentioned as one of the top threats in the West. Maybe on the second tier (behind the two Los Angeles teams), but a threat like the Rockets and others.

Denver’s season ultimately will be judged on games in May, not ones against a shorthanded Lakers team in December. The Nuggets were bounced in the second round by Portland last season, and to move forward from that spot will be more difficult this season. But that is the ultimate measuring stick.

For now, however, Denver is having fun again. And that’s a good start — and makes them one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch.

2) Jayson Tatum scores a career-high 39 points in Celtics win against Hornets. For the past few weeks, it felt like Jaylen Brown may be the young Celtic player breaking out this season, he had played well on both ends of the floor and fueled wins.

Sunday, Jayson Tatum reminded everyone what he could do, dropping 39 points (on 15-of-29 shooting) against Charlotte, including taking over late with 22 in the fourth.

Tatum did his damage when he drove to the rim (5-of-6 shooting) and from three (4-of-9). What he also brings Boston is good, switchable, perimeter defense — that’s the end of the floor that has coach Brad Stevens praising Tatum, via NBC Sports Boston.

“I can’t believe it’s not talked about more, how good he is defensively,” said Stevens. “I think, for whatever reason, that gets lost in the shuffle. How much effort he’s been playing with all year has been like — he’s really become a great defender. His length. He chases balls, he challenges shots. He gets his hands on balls or keeps them in their mind that he’s behind them with that length. And then he’s a great rebounder from the wing.

“So he’s a really good defender. He’s a big reason why our defense is where it is as a team and we need him to keep continuing to be at that level.”

Boston has the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA this season (they are not missing steps without Al Horford in the paint), and if the Celtics are going to be the second-best team in the East and a threat to the Bucks, that’s the end where it has to start. Tatum has become key to that.

3) Paul George is welcomed back to OKC with cheers and open arms. Then beaten. If the fans in Oklahoma City had decided to boo Paul George after he forced his way out of town last summer and into a trade to Los Angeles, it would have been understandable. Fans are loyal to their town and team, and they want the same from the players. George re-signed in OKC, then a year later wanted out.

However, he was welcomed with open arms and cheers in his return on Sunday.

Classy.

Oklahoma City is a better team than many fans realize and moved above .500 Sunday with a 118-112 win over George’s Clippers. That was fueled by 32 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the player the Clippers didn’t want to give up but had to in the George trade. The Clippers knew he would be good, and SGA got his revenge game.

How big a postseason threat the Thunder are — and they look like a playoff team in a West where nobody has run away with the last couple of seeds — will depend on what the roster looks like after the trade deadline. Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and others could be on the move.

With Chris Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander running the show (and some interesting three-guard lineups with Dennis Schroder) Oklahoma City is going to be a tough playoff out.