Much like a pair of superheroes teaming up to wreak havoc on their foes, Russell Westbrook and Paul George proved unstoppable in the face of a seemingly insurmountable deficit Wednesday at Barclays Center.
Just how bleak was the Thunder’s situation against the Nets?
Down 23 midway through the third quarter and as many as 20 in the fourth, they were given less than a 1 percent chance of rallying for victory by ESPN’s Game Probability model.
But much like Brooklyn’s defense, those odds meant nothing to the Thunder — and more specifically, Westbrook and George.
Westbrook continued his march up the career triple-double chart, passing Jason Kidd for third with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 17 assists. It was triple-double No. 108 for Westbrook, marking only the 34th time in NBA history that a player has totaled at least 20, 15 and 15 in those categories.
George’s 47 points and 15 rebounds weren’t as rare, but might have been even more impressive. More than half his scoring output (25) came over the final 7:11, including the go-ahead 3-pointer — off a Westbrook assist, naturally — with 3.1 seconds left.
Per ESPN Stats, George had previously been 0-for-14 in his career on go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds. But having watched George torch his team throughout the fourth, Nets reserve Jared Dudley knew it was down before it left his hand.
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) December 6, 2018
Westbrook then essentially killed the Nets’ final possession with a deflection that left them just 0.1 second to attempt the last shot, completing a remarkable 114-112 triumph for the Thunder. It was a fitting piece of dirty work by Westbrook, who took only two shots while dishing out five assists in the fourth as he gave George plenty of space to sizzle.
Driven by their two superstars, the Thunder outscored the Nets 39-19 in the final period to register the largest comeback since the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2009. Of more immediate concern, it was also their 16th win in 19 outings following an 0-4 start.
“This was a special night,” said George, who missed his career scoring high by one point. “We came together when our backs were against the wall and we showed who we are.”
OKC’s dynamic duo highlighted a score of monster performances:
* LeBron James scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth, leading the Lakers past the Spurs 121-113.
* Stephen Curry lit up the Cavaliers for 42 points, including 25 in the first half.
* Jimmy Butler outscored Kawhi Leonard 38-36, but Leonard got the last laugh with a 113-102 victory.
* Bradley Beal picked up the slack for the absent John Well with 36 points and nine assists against the Hawks.
* Karl-Anthony Towns overpowered the Hornets for 35 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.
And that’s just scraping the surface. Check out NBA.com/stats for a complete rundown on Wednesday’s top performers.
Four straight Finals matchups etched the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry among the best in NBA history.
”It was historical,” said Curry, whose team claimed three of those four Finals battles, including the final two. ”I’ll definitely sit back on the couch in 10 or 12 years when it’s all over and think about what it was like to play (in Cleveland), and how high the stakes were every time we came into this building.”
But with LeBron James having departed for L.A. over the offseason, there were no stakes to speak of as the Warriors visited Quicken Loans Arena outside another date on the 82-game schedule.
And the defending champions played like it during the first half, trailing by six at the break despite Stephen Curry’s 25 points.
But as they’re wont to do, the Warriors awoke with devastating results. Curry added 17 more in the second, and Kevin Durant hit a flurry of 3s en route to 25 points for the game as the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 30 over the final 24 minutes.
Despite the impressive finish, the Warriors couldn’t help but look back at the way things were.
”It’s not a rivalry, it’s another game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said wistfully. ”Part of me is a little nostalgic for that.”
Plagued by injuries in recent years and jobless after being waived by the Knicks in October, former All-Star Joakim Noah wasn’t sure if he would ever play in the NBA again.
That moment finally came with the Grizzlies in their 96-86 win over the Clippers, more than 11 months after his most recent outing in January. Noah scored only four points in 13 minutes, a far cry from his peak. But at this point, after seeing his career flash before his eyes, he’s just glad to be back on the court in any capacity he can.
“I’m really happy,” an emotional Noah said. “I don’t expect anything anymore. I’ve been in this league for a while now. Sometimes you take it for granted because there are so many games. Then you (can’t play), it just feels good to be here in a locker room after a win, and feel that energy.”
Joakim Noah, searching for the right words in the locker room after playing his first NBA game since Jan. 23.
I asked him if he expected to play 13 minutes tonight. “I don’t expect anything anymore. I don’t expect anything.” pic.twitter.com/VcPmOfUVXB
— Omari Sankofa II (@omarisankofa) December 6, 2018
Quote of the Night
“Have you watched LeBron play before?” — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, asked what makes James so difficult to guard.
Living it up
No one can accuse Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry of not enjoying his job.
Raptors keeping it light before tonight’s big game. 😂😂😂
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) December 6, 2018
About Last Night: Game-winners and angry words
They’re not conference rivals, but the Thunder and Sixers don’t share a passive relationship.
That’s especially true of Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook, who collided with more than words during Saturday’s 117-115 Thunder victory. The Sixers center sent Westbrook to the floor in transition, and the Thunder star immediately took exception to what he felt was extra contact at the end of the play.
After the game, Westbrook doubled down on his point of view.
“I don’t think he just landed on me,” Westbrook said. “He had a little extra to it. But it’s OK.”
When asked if he and Embiid were “cool” now that the play and game were over, Westbrook quickly answered, “[Expletive] no!”
For his part, Embiid denied any malicious intent but did not resist observing that Westbrook is “always in his feelings.”
This is not the first time the former Kia MVP and Rookie of the Year have clashed. The pair shared not-so-pleasantries after last year’s triple-overtime game between the two teams. First Embiid waved a fouled-out Steven Adams off the court:
Then Westbrook returned the favor after Oklahoma City ultimately edged the Sixers 119-117.
As for Saturday’s on-court result, Paul George turned up big yet again for OKC with the game-winning 3-pointer 5.1 seconds remaining. The five-time All-Star is averaging career-highs in points (26.7), rebounds (8.0), steals (2.3) and made 3s (3.4) per game.
The Thunder and Sixers meet again on Feb. 28, and yes, the game will be nationally televised.
Horry Scale: Hield’s one-handed heave
A reminder on The Horry Scale: It breaks down a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety night in January?) and celebration. Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, named for the patron saint of last-second answered prayers.
* * *
Buddy Hield was hot, cold and then hot again for the Kings, who remain well within the Western Conference playoff race thanks to his game-winning 3-pointer at Detroit. The play capped off a night in which Hield scored 20 in the first half, went scoreless through for the first 20-plus minutes in the second half, and finally poured in 15 points in the game’s final 3:26.
DIFFICULTY: Technically, Hield was triple-teamed on the game’s final play. Yet somehow all three defenders lost him as he stopped through for a leaning, one-handed push shot as time expired. The move and form aren’t ideal, but the shot itself wasn’t nearly as contested as it should have been. That being said, you try and make duplicate that in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
GAME SITUATION: With 3.4 seconds remaining on the inbounds play, the Kings had plenty of time for a solid play and a few dribbles to boot. Unfortunately Hield lost his dribble on the pass and was immediately swarmed behind the 3-point arc. With his team down one and time running out, Hield made the most savvy and aware play he could under the circumstances.
CELEBRATION: Hield channeled his inner soccer player and sprinted a lap around the court even as his teammates tried to chase him down, which they ultimately did in the locker room. The sequence highlighted the collective youth and renewed energy within the team, which has seen them off to their best start since 2004-05.
GRADE: Sacramento needs every win it can get to stay afloat in the competitive West. Hield has been one of the biggest reasons behind the word “win” being used in Sacramento again. Slap this moment in the Kings’ feel-good scrapbook of 2018-19. Three and a half Horrys.
Harden’s help steps up
We’re at the point that James Harden putting up 40-plus is more of a thing than an event. The reigning Kia MVP added a 48-point night to his historic run in Houston’s dramatic 138-134 overtime win over the Lakers.
Yet it was the other Rockets who made some of the game’s most pivotal plays. PJ Tucker added to his fan favorite status with the kind of hustle and offensive rebounds that kept both fans and teammates engaged. Gerald Green scored eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. Eric Gordon poured in 10 points in the five-minute overtime.
The Rockets are in full all-hands-on-deck mode without the services of Clint Capela and Chris Paul. In a key Western Conference matchup, Houston saw that call answered.
For much of Saturday’s game at Atlanta, it looked like Kyrie Irving would continue to be displeased with the course his team has taken. Boston trailed nearly all of the first three quarters despite 23 first-half points from Irving, who last week called out his younger teammates’ ability to win.
A Celtics lineup of Jayson Tatum (20), Jaylen Brown (22), Semi Ojeleye (24), Terry Rozier (24) and Aron Baynes (32) ripped off a 14-4 run to start the fourth quarter, forcing coach Brad Stevens to actually pull Irving back from checking in earlier than he did.
The Celtics ultimately pulled away for the 113-105 win. As for Irving, he’s averaging 32.3 points, 11.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3.
Miami’s living legend continued his swan song season where his life started, putting up 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in his final game at Chicago.
The Bulls paid homage to their native son with a look back at this brief time on the team and within the community:
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 20, 2019
Wade in turn honored his hometown team by swapping jerseys not with a player, but with the team’s iconic mascot, Benny the Bull.
“Benny’s a legend.” _ Mr. Wade. pic.twitter.com/PO3MkIaNA7
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) January 20, 2019
Rough night for rookies
Niether Luka Doncic nor Deandre Ayton had memorable nights. The Mavs’ lead playmaker was tossed in the third quarter after earning a second technical foul, winding up with eight points on 3-for-14 shooting in Dallas’ 111-99 loss to Indiana.
Ayton, meanwhile grabbed just two rebounds in 22 minutes before leaving Phoenix’s 135-115 loss to Charlotte with a sprained ankle.
Harden’s 30-point streak trails only Chamberlain among NBA greats
The streak. Keeps. Going.
Rockets guard James Harden erupted for 48 points against the Lakers on Saturday, giving him 19 straight games with at least 30 as the Rockets survived in overtime for a 138-134 victory.
Harden’s run of 30-point performances now trails only NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, who posted runs of 20, 25, 31 and 65 games at various points from 1960-62.
The reigning Kia MVP is averaging 42.5 points and 8.9 assists over those 19 games.
READ MORE about Harden’s streak at NBA.com/Stats.
Ball exits after injuring left ankle vs. Rockets
The hits keep coming for the Los Angeles Lakers, who not only lost on Saturday after leading throughout regulation of a 138-134 loss to the Rockets in Houston, but also had to watch point guard Lonzo Ball exit in the third with a left ankle injury.
Lonzo Ball had to be carried off the court to the locker room by two teammates after appearing to hurt his left leg. Will update as information becomes available.
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 20, 2019
During a Lakers possession with nine minutes remaining in the quarter, Ball took a pass at the top of the key and drove hard toward the basket, passing off to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as James Ennis III closed hard. Ball’s left foot rolled as it came down to the ground, and Ball immediately rolled over before being carried off the court.
The Lakers updated media that Ball had been taken to an area hospital for X-rays due to an issue with the machine at the arena. The team later confirmed the results were negative.
X-Rays were negative on Lonzo Ball’s ankle.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 20, 2019
Primary playmaker LeBron James has missed 13 games with a left groin strain originally suffered on Christmas Day, and Rajon Rondo — who had already missed 17 games due to right hand surgery — has been out since December 27 after spraining his right ring finger, which subsequently needed surgery. Rondo was recently cleared for a full return to practice and could step in if Ball is to miss any additional time.
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