Wednesday Bolts: 4.10.19
Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s comeback win over the Rockets: “For the first time all night on a James Harden free throw, during the unlucky attempt number 13 for the Houston Rockets guard, the ball caromed off the rim and out. It was just the window of luck that the Thunder needed. Russell Westbrook snagged the ball and started to race up court. With no timeouts and less than 10 seconds to go, the Thunder’s point guard had to improvise under duress. Trapped just before half-court, Westbrook dished to Steven Adams up ahead for a lightning quick give and go. As soon as the ball was back with Westbrook, it was back out of his hands and into the corner. That part of the play was what Billy Donovan had drawn up, and Paul George executed it to perfection. Rising up with a hand in his face, George buried a go-ahead three-pointer with 1.8 seconds to go for his fourth game-winning bucket of the season. “Everybody just tried to trap Russ in the back, get the ball out of his hands and he made a great play to get it to Steven and Steven gave it back,” said George, who finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals. “I knew if I got the ball, I had enough time and space to get a shot up.”
Jonathan Feigen (Houston Chronicle) with three takeaways from the Thunder’s victory: “Paul George did make the corner 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left that became the game-winner. James Harden missed a 3 off the dribble at the buzzer. Either goes differently and the Rockets finish the regular season with a win and head home as the No. 2 seed. Instead, the Rockets likely will drop to fourth. The Rockets, however, let the game slip away much earlier, when they had a 14-point lead and had eight consecutive empty possessions. They missed some open 3s in that stretch. That can happen. Eric Gordon, who has been sensational since the All-Star break — with the exception of the loss in Milwaukee when he played hurt, went scoreless and was desperately missed — made just 2 of 9 3-pointers, missing in that stretch. Danuel House Jr., who had made 46.7 percent of his 3s in his 14 games since returning from the G League, went 0 for 4 from deep. But the Rockets also bogged down in that stretch. They were not as aggressive, turning the ball over three times in that 15-0 OKC run when they were forced to try desperate, low-percentage passes. The last of the misses came when James Harden to launch a long, off-balance 3 to beat the shot clock.”
Brett Dawson (Athletic) on the Thunder’s final regular season test — tonight in Milwaukee: “On Wednesday, Oklahoma City will play the Bucks in Milwaukee. The league’s best team will be without MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he won’t be the only starter sitting as the Bucks rest up for a playoff push. It’s the sort of game that has proven a trap for the Thunder this season. Oklahoma City lost a home game to the Lakers during LeBron James’ injury absence in January. Last week, it dropped a home game to a Dallas team playing without Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.J. Barea. A win on Wednesday would lock the Thunder into the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. A loss, and OKC needs help to avoid the No. 8 and a date with Golden State, favorites to win a third straight NBA title.”
Potential playoff scenarios: Thunder/Blazers is looking increasingly likely in the first round.
ESPN with a brief explanation of how things could shake out: “The Oklahoma City Thunder will clinch the No. 6 seed with a win or a Spurs loss. The Thunder will drop to No. 7 with a loss combined with wins by the Spurs and Jazz. An OKC loss combined with wins by the Spurs and Clippers will drop the Thunder to No. 8.”
Berry Tramel (Oklahoman) on if the Thunder has finally broken its slump: “That resolve had been missing through most of March. But it was abundant Tuesday night, when Houston took a 15-point lead early in the third quarter and still led 99-85 early in the fourth period, when the Thunder went on a 15-0 run to take the lead. And the Thunder still trailed 108-104 with 22 seconds left in the game. But Russell Westbrook made a 3-pointer, Harden sank two foul shots, Westbrook took a free dunk and Harden made just one of two foul shots with 9.4 seconds left, setting up George’s game-winner. It was George’s fourth game-winner of the season, which began with PG sporting a reputation as not big in the clutch. “I’m going to take those shots every time I get ‘em,” George said. “That’s part of the game. The ball goes in, it goes out sometimes.” And the Thunder celebrated in kind. “PG hit a big shot,” said Jerami Grant. “I think it was caught up in the moment. We’ve been doing that when someone hits a big shot at the end of the game.”
Zach Lowe (ESPN) has Paul George third in his MVP voting, and third in Defensive Player of the Year: “Antetokounmpo and George carry their own versions of that kind of passive value. Teams might warp game plans to avoid attacking them. They lurk on the wing, discouraging productive passes and shutting off catch-and-go drives. But by virtue of sliding to power forward, Antetokounmpo spends more time than either Gobert or George guarding bottom-rung options. There are nights against Blake Griffin types when the lift is much heavier, and Antetokounmpo can of course switch onto the alpha wing scorers George envelops every game. Defending off-ball types also frees Antetokounmpo to rove, and he is lethal in that role. I had George ahead of Antetokounmpo until the past two-plus weeks. All three would be fine choices.”
With one game remaining: Tonight in Milwaukee — 7:00 PM CT on FSOK.
Around the League: Magic Johnson is out in Los Angeles…. Dirk Nowitzki dropped 30 points and announced his retirement…. D-Wade dropped 30 in his home finale in Miami…. Jamal Crawford exploded for 51 points last night…. Steph Curry tweaked his ankle in a meaningless game against the Pelicans…. Twitter reacts to the Magic Johnson news…. Honoring Dirk and D-Wade in style…. How good was Dirk at his peak?…. D-Wade’s sacrifice to make a super team succeed.