NBA Shootaround: Mr. ReliableLayne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Jason Concepcion: Much like the hulking tyrannosauruses of old, the collective gaze of sports discourse is drawn to movement. We crave new and exciting experiences to distract our walnut-size brains from our inexorable, tiny-arm-swinging march toward eventual extinction.
The utility of this, from an evolutionary standpoint, is obvious: How would we eat, how would our species prosper, if we ignored the dude in casual safari gear waving the blazing road flare?
The drawback, of course, is that we have a tendency to ignore the things that are right under our toothy, ravenous maws.
Take, for instance, Chris Paul, who is in the midst of yet another solidly brilliant season: averaging 18.3 points, a league-leading 10.1 assists, a bit under two steals, and a PER of 24.9. Paul’s career averages: 18.6 points, 9.9 assists, 2.4 steals, 25.5 PER. This is just what he does, just like the sun rises every morning. But we’re so used to the sun rising that we take for granted that it’s actually a roiling colossus of nuclear fire in outer space, without which all life on Earth would be impossible.
On Wednesday night, Paul thoroughly outplayed Russell Westbrook, the most exciting player in the league. Paul scored 33 points (his best point total against Westbrook) on 11-of-19 shooting, adding nine assists and two steals. Westbrook, who was averaging an absurd 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists in his last 10 games, and who had five triple-doubles in his previous six games, and who had spent the last 20 or so games exploding the eyeballs of all who gazed upon his brilliance, was held to a paltry (for him) 24 points on 5-of-14 shooting, to go along with nine rebounds, seven assists, and 10 turnovers.
Of course, Paul didn’t do it all by himself. The Clippers showed Westbrook at least two, and often three, bodies whenever he had the ball, walling off his runway to the rim. Paul, meanwhile, just masterfully and meticulously pulled every string. Still, Westbrook has shot just 40 percent in 21 career regular-season games against the boring, always just-this-good CP3.
The Clippers are the no. 1 offense in the league and have ably weathered the absence of Blake Griffin. We should probably talk about the emergence of DeAndre Jordan and the career-high 15 points and 18 rebounds per game he’s putting up in Griffin’s absence.
It’s more interesting than talking about CP3 just being excellent.
Real Housewives of Oklahoma City
I Actually Fell Asleep
Jason Gallagher: That’s my fourth-quarter recap of Thunder/Clips.
Apologies, NBA. When you force a father of a 13-month-old to watch DeAndre Jordan shoot free throws for roughly six and a half minutes, it’s only a matter of time before he passes out.
I realize that criticizing hack-a-whatever is one of the most tired things a fan can do, but basketball is supposed to be enjoyable. What I witnessed last night was not enjoyable. It was the opposite — like work. The coaching strategy isn’t to blame either. Everyone does it. Houston went Hack-a-Jordan for nearly an entire quarter a few weeks ago. We’ve seen Pop do it for more than that. That’s why I’m begging the league to make it stop. Please.
In the meantime, the NBA should be forced to play this intro video before Sunday’s nationally televised Clippers game.
Mitch McGary in The Gunman
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Dave Schilling: The most popular question posed about the Los Angeles Clippers is “Are they a title contender?” The most popular answer to that most popular question is simply “No.” Every game played against a top-flight opponent is a test. Critics dissect their wins so much that you forget they actually scored more points than their competition. Of course, that’s the job of a critic — to be critical until proven wrong decisively. Despite yesterday’s overwhelming final score, L.A.’s most glaring deficiency remains: Its bench stinks. It’s bad. It’s really, really bad.
Even with the recent addition of Nate Robinson, L.A.’s bench scored a grand total of 18 points out of the team’s 120 last night. I should also mention that Anthony Morrow (yes, Anthony Morrow) dropped 26 for OKC. Until the Clippers are healthy, they’re going to need superhuman performances from their starters to win games. Even when they’re at full strength, they’re going to have to run their best five players into the ground if they hope to escape the Western Conference.
But there is hope in the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of the NBA: Glen Mother-F’ing Davis. Last night, he looked something close to motivated. He was running (or a close facsimile of what could generally be considered something like running), scrapping down low, and basically being a bit of a pest. Our boy rattled the cages of the league’s hottest player. Davis and Matt Barnes combined to irritate Russell Westbrook enough that Westbrook threw his face guard down in disgust after being hacked twice on one drive.
The Clippers are less a basketball team than a surly older brother with a chip on his shoulder. Lob City is Andre from Empire — unstable, bitter, resentful, and just a tiny bit (or a lot, depending on the night) arrogant. Doc Rivers and CP3 have mastered the art of the temper tantrum. Someone has to reverse that attitude and gird this team for battle come playoff time. What the Clippers need is the kind of player the Thunder used to great effect until recently. They need a Kendrick Perkins — a guy to set picks, make the other team’s star player earn his baskets, and let an elbow loose when necessary. Every championship team needs an enforcer, and if they couldn’t get Perk, maybe Big Baby will suffice.
Mitch McGary in White Swan
Out of Nowhere
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Danny Chau: Of all NBA players who have logged at least 200 minutes this season, there is only one on pace to join the illustrious 50-40-90 club by the end of the season.
No, you don’t need time to guess. It’s not Steph Curry, and it’s not Kyle Korver. It’s Meyers Leonard. It’s Meyers fucking Leonard, the Drago-esque 7-foot-1 titan baby cursed (blessed?) with a disarming face that screams, “I have no idea how to play this game.” Titan baby has learned, and learned quickly.
Before Corey Brewer turned the world upside down by single-handedly carrying the Rockets with his drunk hero ball in the fourth quarter, Leonard was the game’s capricious flavor of the minute. In the span of just more than three minutes late in the third quarter, Leonard scored eight points on back-to-back 3s and a runner from seven feet. If you don’t know what a Meyers Leonard 3 looks like, this is what it looks like:
He is shooting 46.1 percent from 3 on about two attempts per game. Leonard wasn’t always like this. In fact, I recall a time not long ago when I’d rather stab myself in the foot than watch him shoot. The experiment began two summers ago during summer league in Las Vegas. Watching him take 3s during warm-ups, I muttered, “What the hell is this guy doing?” He wasn’t good at it, and whatever work he put into the shot didn’t show up last season. He attempted six 3s and missed all of them. Then 2015 happened. Who the hell knew the Blazers were suddenly incubating a white Serge Ibaka?
With Wesley Matthews out of commission, every contribution from the supporting cast matters. Leonard’s eight points jump-started a run that culminated in a lead heading into the fourth quarter that was never relinquished. The Grizzlies are in something of a slump, and Mike Conley twisted his right ankle last night, an injury that had been giving him problems since last season. The Blazers are third out West. They have an Eastern road trip coming up against struggling teams. There isn’t a better time for the Blazers to chip away at the standings. Leonard probably won’t be the difference-maker in a playoff game, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. With a nonexistent margin for error out West, that chance alone is huge.
Look Who It Is!
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Andrew Sharp: Thibs has a type.
About 5-foot-10. Skinny but athletic. Bouncy. Lots of energy. Adorable.
We’re talking about backup point guards, obviously. There is no way Tom Thibodeau has even thought about dating since September. But every year he finds himself a new backup point guard to fall in love with. They are always small — no, petite — and they are always great. It began with John Lucas III, and then came Nate Robinson. It continued with D.J. Augustin last year. Now it’s happening all over again with Aaron Brooks. Of all the miracles Thibs performs in Chicago every year, this one is definitely my favorite.
The Bulls had lost three straight coming into last night’s Sixers game. And granted, it was the Sixers, so it’s not like a win counts for all that much. But a loss would have.
That’s when Brooks took center stage. He had 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and while the rest of the Bulls offense was dying, he kept them on life support just long enough to survive. Crisis averted. No four-game losing streak, no rock-bottom loss in Philly.
Brooks has been great off the bench all year, but with Derrick Rose out indefinitely, it’s his time to shine. I’m not ready to give up on what’s happening in Chicago. Nikola Mirotic is too awesome, Pau Gasol isn’t going anywhere, and if Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah can get healthy by April, the Bulls will be a problem for whomever they play. Brooks will be part of the problem, too.
He can knock down jumpers, he can pass, and when the other team’s worn down, there’s nobody better equipped to make them twice as tired. He’s so quick that you get tired just watching him. There may be reasons his career as a starter never took off, but give him an offense that needs semi-regular injections of life and he’ll wreak havoc.
Consider yourselves warned. The Bulls aren’t going away, and Brooks will have at least two or three ridiculous moments in the playoffs. He’s not perfect for everyone, but he’s perfect for Thibs. That’s all that ever matters.
Play of the Year (of the Week)
Amos Barshad: I’ve watched this 100 times, and I still can’t quite figure out what happens right as Steph makes the turn to his lovely pied-à-terre (known to the rest of us as the space behind the 3-point line). For a split second, there’s a hesitation: Is he deciding which hand to dribble with next? Which member of the Clippers organization — up to and including ad sales, community liaisons, and press room interns — to J this on? Or is he just wondering if now’s the time to debut that no-hands levitation/mind-control dribble he’s been working on? Ah, guess it’ll have to wait till the playoffs.
When I Paint My Masterpiece
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Brett Koremenos: The Boston Celtics are a game and a half back from the no. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Even given the pitiful state of the East, that’s a sentence I certainly didn’t expect to be writing in mid-March. On Wednesday, the Celtics beat the mighty Grizzlies thanks to a series of big plays from a rotating crunch-time quintet featuring dudes like Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller, and Evan Turner. It was Boston’s fourth win in five games. And the main reason for the Celtics’ late-season surge is their coach, Brad Stevens.
Just take a look at his crafty sideline out-of-bounds play that helped put Boston ahead for good last night.
Stevens has been using clever tactics like that all year. His savvy schemes were already on display before the season. But after the tank-tastic Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo trades and the season-ending loss of promising young big man Jared Sullinger to a foot injury, Boston’s roster has been always outnumbered and always outgunned.
Yet through it all, Stevens has never flinched. He’s organized a competent defense — Boston is tied for 15th with the Clippers in defensive efficiency — despite a front line anchored by less-than-fearsome rim protectors like Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, and Brandon Bass. Stevens has also embraced his army of misfit toys, unleashing Crowder while taking two salary-cap throw-ins who barely got off the Pistons bench — Jonas Jerebko (53.8 percent from 3 on 26 attempts as a Celtic) and Gigi Datome (13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in a win over the Heat on Monday) — and plugging them into his rotation. With all of these wild lines and shapes coming together, Stevens is painting a coaching masterpiece that would make Rick Carlisle proud.
Filed Under: NBA, NBA Shootaround, Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Meyers Leonard, Houston Rockets, Glen Davis, Aaron Brooks, Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau, DeAndre Jordan, Mitch McGary, Danny Chau, Andrew Sharp, Jason Concepcion, Jason Gallagher, Brett Koremenos, Amos Barshad, Dave Schilling