NBA Shootaround: Very EmergencyJim Rogash/Getty Images
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here 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.
Arm and Hammer
Jason Concepcion: Shout to Kelly Olynyk, who has become the latest overzealous scrub to alter the landscape of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Not that he did it on purpose. Not exactly.
With 5:22 remaining in the first quarter of Cleveland’s sweep of the never-say-die Celtics, Kevin Love became entangled with the pale, wavy-tressed Canadian personage of known non-thug Kelly Olynyk as the pair chased a rebound. Olynyk, out of position, attempted to execute the de rigueur big-man position jostle/dirt move wherein a player traps an opponent’s arm by pinning it between the arm and body. It was the kind of shady boxout jujitsu that’s deployed on the regular by practically every big guy in the NBA who’s any good. Names like Bogut, Z-Bo, and Griffin come to mind.
The difference being when those dudes trap a guy’s arm, it’s under relatively static circumstances — standing under the hoop, for example — and it lasts only a second. Love was running toward the ball, and after locking down on his arm, Olynyk held on and twisted in the opposite direction. Love’s shoulder popped out of its socket like the wing of a game fowl at dinnertime. Brian Windhorst reports the Cavs expect him to miss “a minimum of two weeks.”
Clearly, Olynyk meant to lock up Love’s arm, and certainly the move was of the dirty variety. Whether he actually meant Love any harm is a matter for telepaths. But Olynyk is just not that coordinated a player, nor a seasoned a grime-dealer as the aforementioned low-post wrasslers.
“Literally, if you ask anyone in our locker room, Kelly can’t box out to save his life,” said Evan Turner after the game. “No joke. He boxes out teammates like that all the time in practice.”
Which is all well and good, unless it’s your dude running to the locker room with his arm and your title hopes hanging on by a thread. For anyone decrying the watered-down animus of the modern NBA, the rest of the game was a taste of the anti-basketball of the ’80s and ’90s: Kendrick Perkins setting a moving screen to Jae Crowder’s neck. J.R. Smith back-fisting Crowder so hard that the dude fell and twisted his knee. (The league hadn’t ruled on a possible suspension for Smith as of Monday morning, but one seems likely.)
And just like that, a moment of recklessness, and possibly the response to it, changes the postseason.
Take Your Kid to Work Day
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Danny Chau: Austin Rivers missed his first field goal attempt of the game. It came with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. He received the ball with 13 seconds left on the shot clock from Glen Davis, who gave him the ball as a last resort, because every other perimeter option was well covered. From there, Rivers did what he always does. He took a spastic dribble going right and eluded his defender with a pump fake, only to immediately reverse any positive progress he’d made with his trickery by taking an off-balance midrange jumper without anyone within 3.5 feet of him.
Rivers did not miss again the entire afternoon; for all we know, he may never miss again, ever.
Rivers scored 16 points in 17 minutes last night on 7-for-8 shooting. He had the ball in his hands only 21 times all game, which accounts for only 5 percent of the Clippers’ touches. That’s efficiency in a hyperspecific role. While Rivers was on the floor last night, more than one out of every four possessions ended up as an Austin Rivers shot. And for the first time, in a game that actually had legitimate consequences, that was a very, very good thing.
I don’t think this performance has the kind of career-altering gravity that Goran Dragic’s 23-point fourth-quarter explosion against the Spurs in 2010 had, and even if the Clippers do go on to win the series, I’m not sure if this performance will leave the kind of mental scars that Dragon left in his wake. Whereas Dragic pulled out the entire repertoire of moves on the unsuspecting Spurs five years ago, Rivers was largely doing what he’s always done — except this time, the shots went in. That’s not meant as a backhanded compliment: Seeing Austin Rivers–type shots go in against one of the best teams in the league in a must-win game on the road has to be encouraging as hell for Clippers fans.
There might be hope yet for Rivers as a spark plug — a player you let loose to unwind his nervous coil of energy for a few minutes at a time while you cross your fingers and border on asphyxiation. He’s still the annoying kid at the park who is too impressed with his own ballhandling skills and shouts “KOBE!” on every shot attempt, but isn’t it kind of awesome that there might actually be a place for a guy like that in the NBA?
Take a Shot for Me
Welcome to the Revolution
Andrew Sharp: Let’s talk about The Truth. What he did to Toronto was surgery. Game after game, clutch 3 after clutch 3. Each night the incisions got a little deeper, and by Sunday he was removing the Raptors’ heart. Somebody needs to drive down to the Lincoln Memorial, get rid of Abe, and put Paul Pierce in that chair.
Let’s talk about Otto. He finally got the chance to play, and he’s opening up a whole new world. It changes everything. There’s space for John Wall and Bradley Beal now, the team can defend guys on the perimeter, the fast break is actually fast for the first time in two years. This season was always going to hinge on whether Porter could turn the corner, and it happened at the perfect time, and now the entire stadium is chanting his name.
Let’s talk about Wall. Five years in, the Wizards’ best offensive play is still having John Wall go 150 mph down the court and either score, get fouled, or throw it to a wide-open shooter. This used to be a knock on the Wizards offense, but the further along we get, I’m pretty sure that might be anyone’s best play.
Let’s talk about Randy Wittman. Take away teams resting their stars and the Wizards have beat two teams above .500 since January 15. They are 28-47 against winning teams in the past two years. They had a miserable fourth-quarter point differential this year (-140), averaged a league-worst 20 points in that same frame, and in clutch situations — close games, in the final five minutes — they had a minus-11.9 net rating. If the fourth quarter is when coaching matters most, and the Wizards were getting destroyed all year, and they weren’t beating good teams, well … draw your own conclusions.
BUT. HE. JUST. KEEPS. WINNING. PLAYOFF. GAMES.
There is a chance that Wittman is the Tim Tebow of basketball coaches, and in Ted Leonsis, he has his very own Skip Bayless. But you know what? Whatever it is that’s happening in D.C. is beyond logic. Wittman did a great job killing off a dying Raptors team. Hopefully it continues and this becomes the funniest thing I’ve ever written. Either way, this team just discovered the future. It’s Wall and Beal running free with space, and Porter orbiting them, and Marcin Gortat and Nene rotating down low, and (for now) one of two lovable uncles rocking out at the stretch 4.
You don’t have to love the Wizards, but at least enjoy how stupid this is. I was at Verizon Center last night, and it was a party from the first quarter on. There were U-S-A chants and Drew Gooden 3s and then Wale with a championship belt. It ended with the entire stadium getting a free chicken sandwich at the buzzer before chanting Porter’s name in the streets.
Less than two weeks ago, the Wizards publicly declared they wanted to end the Pacers’ season, came out clanking everything on national TV, and couldn’t break 100 points in a double-overtime loss. Halfway through the overtimes, if you’d offered fans hemlock for the rest of the season, there might have even been a few takers.
Now here we are.
Live Like You Were Dying
Jason Gallagher: I don’t listen to country music often, but every once in a while, when the weather’s just right, I’ll throw on some honky-tonk for the ride home. And it’s only fitting that one of the three songs that came on my country radio yesterday was Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.”
It’s fitting, because that track could be the Mavs’ new theme song. It’s fitting because Dallas has very little to lose at this point. AND IT’S FITTING BECAUSE THE MAVS PLAY ONLY TWO GUYS UNDER 30, SO THERE’S A GOOD CHANCE MOST OF THAT ROSTER IS ACTUALLY DYING.
On Sunday, Dirk was diving for boards, Devin Harris tackled Dwight Howard, Charlie Villanueva made it rain, Amar’e went Hakeem, and Monta Ellis tried out this thing called “defense.” It was refreshing. The Mavs, even at the median age of 75, looked as free as they have all postseason.
If this was Dallas’s last stand in front of its fans, it was poetic. The Mavs took American Airlines Center back to a simpler time, when a historic offense once inhabited the court and defense was as rare as a white tiger. This place … this magical place … was called the 2014 half of the 2014-15 season. That team wasn’t winning a trophy either, but it sure was fun.
They went back to that place this weekend, scoring 128 in Game 3 and 121 in Game 4. It kind of makes you think what could’ve been with Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, and Jameer Nelson in the lineup.
But that’s certainly not the way to live like you were dying.
Chris Ryan: Over the last couple of seasons, we have witnessed a shrinking of the NBA’s middle class. Who is the middle-class basketball player? Well, he’s not a young pup full of promise, and he’s not a one-skill specialist you can station in the corner to knock down 3s; he’s not a lockdown defender, and he isn’t particularly adept at getting his own shot. He’s pretty good. He scores eight to 10 points a game — not that you’d ever notice. These are the guys who hoover up cap room and stand in the way of young players’ development. These are the players who make sure your team wins about 40 games, and they’re probably the reason your team won’t win many more than that.
When we see Tank Division teams — like Milwaukee was supposed to be this season — sign guys like this, we roll our eyes. And we probably should. Smart GMs are right to ask, What can you really win with Jerryd Bayless? Big picture? Nothing much. Just Game 4 of a first-round playoff series, I guess.
The Bucks are not going to win this series, but it was pretty fun watching Giannis watch Bayless, Jared Dudley, and O.J. Mayo close out Game 4. You might look at Jason Kidd’s choice to play that trio over Giannis and think he was taking away valuable postseason crunch-time experience from a young player and handing it to a bunch of vets who don’t need it. There’s something to that. But there’s also something to Giannis and Milwaukee having a moment like the one you see above. Maybe it means he gets a taste of what a playoff win feels like, even as a spectator, and he wants it that much more. And maybe he sees Dudley and Bayless execute that play and learns a little something about what it takes to get that feeling again.
Ryan: It says a lot about how I feel about Dwight Howard that I am having a very hard time believing this isn’t some kind of stunt to promote his new backpack line or something equally idiotic. I suppose if you can do this at night …
… you can spend your day doing whatever you want.
This article has been updated to reflect that the Milwaukee Bucks won Game 4 of their first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, not Game 3.