Scores and Series Updates:
Oklahoma City 99 – Houston 105 (OKC +7.5)
Houston wins the series 4-1
Memphis 103 – San Antonio 116 (SA -11)
San Antonio leads 3-2… Game 6 @MEM… TNT 9:30 Thursday
Utah 96 – Los Angeles 92 (UTH +3.5)
Utah leads 3-2… Game 6 @UTH… ESPN 10:30 Friday
Three Big Takeaways:
1) NBA Beef is alive and well.
Call it what you want. Call it a rivalry. Call it animosity. Call it pettiness. Call it beef. Whatever works for you.
But if we’ve learned anything over the first week and a half of these playoffs it’s that 1) there is nooooo shortage of beef in the NBA right now, and 2) these guys are not afraid to air it out on the podium.
We’re not even through the first round yet and I can’t remember a better postseason for post-game podium moments. David Fizzdale’s legendary “take that for data” rant. Dame Lillard vs. The Warriors. Paul George vs. his own teammates. Avery Bradley revealing Rondo says the Celtics “gave up”. Paul Millsap vs. Markieff Morris. John Wall vs. Dennis Schroeder. Fred Hoiberg calling out Isaiah Thomas for carrying.
At the top of that list… one of the most fun and longest standing beefs in the NBA… Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley.
What’s that now? The NBA is too buddy-buddy? These guys are all friends from AAU? Guys don’t hate each other like in the nineties?
I’ve already talked at length about how stupid the “these guys are too buddy-buddy” argument is. If you think that off-court friendship somehow makes these guys less competitive, or that an increased familiarity with each others games from offseason training together is somehow bad for the sport, I don’t know what to tell you.
But for all the off court friendship we see in the league, there’s still a HELL of a lot of beef. And soon as the playoffs kick off, that animosity is on full display.
2) Houston laid the blueprint for Oklahoma City.
(I have some extended thoughts on the season of Russ later)
Russ was never going to win this series. I went into the playoffs thinking the rest of the OKC roster would step up like last year and that rebounding a defense would matter more. But after the first quarter of Game 1 you cold tell it just wasn’t happening. Houston was just a better team. Better, deeper, more well-rounded. And above all else, a team built around their star.
I don’t blame Sam Presti for not building the perfect roster around Russ after losing Durant. And I don’t blame Donovan for not figuring out the perfect way to maximize an ill-fitting roster around scorched-earth Russ. Sure, they probably should have gone after a shooter in February instead of another rebounder. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see Donovan and Russ entrust some other guys to run the offense during the season to build their confidence up come playoff time. But this season was about Russ doing Russ. I don’t think anyone could have harnessed that.
Now? Now there’s no excuses. Now Presti needs to go out and get shooters to spread the floor and another creator to help carry the load when Russ sits. Now Donovan needs to build an offense that best maximizes everyone’s talents, not just Russ, and convince Russ to buy in. Now Russ himself needs to learn to empower his guys over the course of the regular season, even at the expense of his own stats. They need to look at exactly what Morey, D’Antonio, and Harden did with Houston and follow that to a tee. Surround Russ with shooters, spread the floor around the Russ-Adams PNR, find someone who can create when Russ sits, trust the system, and trust the guys around you. The Russ one man show was awesome to watch. AWESOME. But it’s not going to translate to wins and sustained success. This year was fun, now go figure out how to win.
3) ISO JOE WILL NEVER DIE
I don’t know what the right word is here. It might be irony. It might be serendipity. It might be both. But watching Iso Joe Johnson, the only formerly great Eastern Conference player who used to give the Celtics buckets that Doc hasn’t signed past his prime, potentially end the Doc Rivers Clippers era is absolutely incredible.
Almost as incredible as the idea of Iso Joe Johnson taking over a playoff series in 2017 in itself. What the hell is going on here.
Also, Gordon Hayward is making the leap.
Stuff That Happened:
Steve Ballmer Dancing dot gif
Steve Ballmer yelling like a lunatic dot gif
Steve Ballmer Dead Inside Dot Gif
*trying to remember your kids names after a big bowl of chili*
Give me that Grandpa Juice. Need me some of that Grandpa Juice
I missed a majority of the Spurs-Grizz game live last night, but god damn have Kawhi and Conley been awesome this series. Two quietest dudes in the league putting up arguably the two loudest postseasons thus far. And yeah I hate myself as much as you hate me for how cheesy that sentence was, but it’s true. These two have made statements without saying a wo– I’m sorry I’m sorry.
They’ve both been fucking amazing, okay. Kawhi has been the best non-Lebron player this season and that’s continued this playoffs. And Mike Conley, for what feels like the twentieth straight season, continues to elevate his criminally underrated game to superstar levels when the stage is elevated.
I love Memphis. The Grit ‘n Grind Grizzlies will some day break up, but they’ll never die. They’ve been awesome this series. Conley, Gasol, Z-Bo — these guys are playing their hearts out. Fizzdale’s “TAKE THAT FOR DATA” will be remembered for a long time, as it should. But his adjustments to go back to Z-Bo and embrace the size lineups have kept them in a series with a better team.
But at the end of the day, the team with better shooting is going to win out. Fizzdale knows that. Literally everyone knows that. Everyone except Phil Jackson. And when you shoot like San Antonio did last night, you’re really hard to beat.
Rudy Gobert threw some really nice kick out passes last night. Maybe it’s just a product of not having the same explosiveness toward the basket after the injury. But he gave his guys some really good looks last night. Golden State’s defense is a whole different animal than LA’s, but if the Warriors start helping in on Gobert on rolls next round he could really open that offense up with the kick out passes.
Speaking of Gobert, it’s really fun to watch these two centers dunk the basketball into the hoop.
(also a sneaky little fake by CP3 to get Gobert there)
Big time Lou Will game last night. Houston will need at least one or two of those just to beat San Antonio. And probably three or four to have a chance against the Warriors.
Just… sure… whatever
Around The Association:
Dion Waiters wrote the best-titled article in journalistic history and I wrote about Dion and the question of irrational confidence in the NBA.
Shams reported last night that Rondo was gonna try and give it a go tonight with his still-fractured right thumb, which of course would be an absolute game changer in this series on both ends of the court. He’d progressed enough to take the cast off, but was still confined to a splint while shooting jumpers yesterday.
But as I’m writing this he just announced he’s out tonight. Nobody is shocked Rondo tried to play. He’s played on a torn ACL and with a dislocated elbow and generally seems to have level of tolerance for pain that makes you question just how human he really is. But at the end of the day you just can’t play basketball without a functioning dominant hand.
Pop left a $5000 tip for a waiter at his Memphis restaurant. Which I thought was a dope move because Memphis BBQ and such until I did a little journalistic research and found out it was a Wine Bar. $5000 tip = chill move. $5000 tip at a wine bar and not at a BBQ joint when you’re in Memphis, Tennessee = awful misallocation of funds. Have to question everything I thought I knew and love about Pop now.
Schedule for Tuesday, April 25th
Atlanta @ Washington (WAS -5.5)
Series tied 2-2… Game 5 Wednesday @WAS… TNT 6:00
Chicago @ Boston (BOS -7.5)
Series tied 2-2… Game 5 Wednesday @WAS… TNT 8:30