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.
Danny Chau: Three hundred sixty seven days separate two of the greatest desperation plays I’ve ever seen in basketball. Almost exactly one year apart, in the same tiny corner of the hardwood floor, with a giant’s lunging, outstretched body obstructing nearly every window for a clean release, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry bent their bodies in half and let miracles 1 flow from their fingertips. Last season, Durant literally shot from the hip to help keep his Thunder alive in Game 2 against the Grizzlies in the first round. Last night, in a game that saw the Warriors trail by as much as 20, Curry’s game-tying 3 at the end of regulation might’ve one-upped it.
Don’t let Klay Thompson tell you otherwise.
With undeniable superstars like Curry and Durant, it can be hard to talk about potential in the traditional sense. These men are titans for the league and their respective teams; growth and development take a backseat to sustaining the level of excellence the world has grown accustomed to. With these superstars, the concept of potential shifts from macro to micro.
It manifests in these miracle shots, in which talent, hard work, fortune, timing, and focus intersect just so. These are the moments when their potential is realized in a way that couldn’t possibly be sustainable — and, frankly, isn’t meant to be sustained. It’s a well to be tapped only sparingly.
You’ll hear the noise. Curry’s shot never should have counted with Marreese Speights’s overlooked traveling violation. Sure. But this kind of potential is, in a way, intrinsically rule-breaking. To try to erase it is the real crime.
If You Tweeted That Steph’s 3 Shouldn’t Have Counted Because Marreese Speights Traveled, I Have a Vacation Destination Suggestion for You
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Chris Ryan: I guess Ryan Anderson picked the wrong night to turn into 2011 Dirk Nowitzki. After a season full of personal turmoil and injuries, and ice-cold shooting in the first two games of this series, Anderson came alive last night. He scored 26 points off 10-of-14 shooting, and probably made defensive player of the year voters who chose Kawhi Leonard over Draymond Green feel pretty good about their decisions.
The King and His Empire
Andrew Sharp: The Cavs have been the greatest soap opera in the NBA all season long. You know this. But here is what’s been unexpected: I’ve come to love every second of this show. The stupid hashtags, the Instagrams, the quotes … every character here is great and ridiculous in his own way.
Kyrie Irving hijacks possessions with some of the most reprehensible drunken-hero shit we’ve seen since 2006 Kobe, but his handle will hypnotize you while it happens, and he ends it with shots that are so mean you can’t even be mad. LeBron spent Game 3 alternating between pouting to refs and silencing the entire stadium, and that’s about how his season’s gone. Egregiously-long-term-signed and perpetually injured Anderson Varejao was on the bench in a camo jacket looking like he left the salon mid-perm. J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov have been cult heroes forever. Iman Shumpert is actually 6-foot-5, but at least 6-foot-8 with the hi-top fade.
And, of course, there’s Kevin Love. Chris Webber spent most of the past two Celtics-Cavs games rooting for Love to make it like a long-lost black sheep brother trying to make good. In Game 3, he did! Twenty-three points, 6-of-10 from 3. Not bad. It’s all part of the roller coaster.
They still play iso ball on offense for an alarming amount of time, especially in the fourth quarter. It’s a dicey strategy that could definitely break bad against the wrong team, but that’s OK. Don’t you get it? If you’re watching the Cavs for sanity, you’re missing the point.
The Mad King and His Empire
A Star Being Born
Robert Mays: There have been stretches of this season — hell, it happened in Game 2, as Jimmy Butler poured in 31 while Derrick Rose stumbled and the rest of the Bulls followed — when the Butler in the box score was even more impressive than the one on the floor. Last night wasn’t one of those nights. Butler finished 8-of-20, with a bunch of awful shots, many of which came as the shot clock ticked down. But Game 3 against the Bucks was a reminder that, as much as Butler’s offensive impact has grown, watching him cover ground on both ends of the floor is the purest way to appreciate him.
You realize it on plays like the one in the second quarter. As Giannis Antetokounmpo slid across the lane and floated up a shot, Butler got a fingertip on the ball. To do it, he was forced to extend so far that he tumbled to the floor. Maybe two seconds later, he was catching a Mike Dunleavy lob and flushing it home down the right side of the floor.
There was the play in the fourth, when Butler swatted a shot at the rim from O.J. Mayo and almost — close enough to make him grin — tossed it back in bounds behind his back.
Then there are plays like the one at the end of regulation, when Butler managed to force the ball out of Mayo’s hands and turn the Bucks’ last shot into a garbage fling from Khris Middleton; or the one from the opening of the second OT, when he picked Middleton at half court and flushed it home to hand the Bulls a lead they’d never relinquish.
When you’re in the building, even as he piles up all the minutes, the amount of places he manages to be — seemingly at once — never ceases to amaze. He challenges shots he shouldn’t be able to, gets his hands on passes that aren’t possible to reach, and generally plays like he’s lit on fire. This is the level Butler’s reached this year. Even when he doesn’t score like a star, he still is one.
Is It OK to Get Excited?
Sharp: Earlier this week, Brian Phillips imagined what this must be like for Derrick Rose, and after last night (34 points, eight assists), I need to talk about the other side of this experience.
Somewhere along the line, everyone became more guarded. I definitely have. Every time someone says, “Why isn’t it a bigger story that Derrick Rose looks great?” the answer is that too many people have lived through this before. The hope just sets us up for more setbacks. It’s exhausting. Even writing about it has gotten old. So yeah, it will take some time before we all collectively rejoice over the Rose clips that make it look like it’s 2010 again. It’s too early.
But you know what? Not everything has to be part of some broader “Can Derrick Rose ever be a superstar again?” debate. Let’s just skip all of that until next season. This is about these playoffs.
Bucks-Bulls has been ugly as hell for the most part, but last night was better. After the Bucks blew a big lead in the first half, Khris Middleton nearly carried Milwaukee back by himself, and it forced overtime. But the coolest part of the game was the coolest part of the series: Derrick Rose is doing this, and it makes the Bulls twice as dangerous. After a scary fall late in the game, he got back up to drive a stake through Milwaukee’s heart. He had seven points in the second OT, including a 3 to break things open for good. You didn’t need some grand redemption narrative to appreciate why it was awesome.
The Bulls are up 3-0 now, and between Jimmy Butler and Rose, they have knockout punches that weren’t there the past three years. Am I excited for Derrick Rose? Absolutely. But right now, I’m even more excited for Bulls-Cavs. That might be the most convincing progress yet.