Last night's final minute of game regulations epitomized to me what makes the NBA great. With a minute to go and the Thunder down five, any of us who have been watching the league for any of length of time know the equation. With a 24 second shot clock, there are a minimum of three possessions that can take place, and that means a 3-pointer, a stop, and another regular shot tie the game. The formula is easy, but the application is so hard. This is, of course, why Kevin Durant is so special. He made the math work, and the 76ers were left wondering what happened.
For the naysayers and sports writers who think the NBA lacks the excitement of the past, I don't know what to tell you...you just aren't paying attention. Look across last night's box scores - eight out of the 11 games were decided by seven points or less. Just a great time to enjoy the game.
Once again the team had a slow start defensively, and once again nobody seemed to know why. I think that Coach Scott Brooks has become a bit resigned to the reality of his young team:
I'm not happy with that (slow starts defensively), but I love the fact that as the game goes on, the competitive spirit rises with this group. That's been our season all along, but we need to get better starts defensively.
Young gives his game ball to Nick Collison. Collison played much better last night than Serge Ibaka in terms of getting key rebounds and setting high screens for the shooters. I think Collison's day to day professionalism will eventually rub off on Ibaka, who often times has sensational games get off-set by games where he disappears.
Rohde talks a little shop in today's post-game aftermath. Last night the Thunder went extremely small, essentially playing four guards along with Nick Collison. I wonder how much of this is an exercise for the coaching staff to see what they really have, rather than an attempt to exploit a match-up. The thing about tinkering with line-ups this way is that it is designed to catch the other team in mis-matches. But if it isn't timed correctly, the line-up can bury the team quickly because of the mis-match on the other end of the court.
The SB Nation blog on the other side of last night's game offers its thoughts on how things went bad. There is a lot to like about how the 76ers are playing this year, but when the crunch time came, it became apparent that the Thunder simply had talent in places where Philly did not. Even so, whoever draws them in the first round of the playoffs is going to have a fight on its hands.
This story is really about Derrick Rose, but it is important to note that Russell Westbrook plays a supporting role in Rose's ascent. I'd like to think that one of the reasons why Rose has begun to tap on the stratosphere is because over the summer he was being challenged daily by Westbrook. I've always thought that possibly the best thing that ever happened to both Chris Paul and Deron Williams was for Williams to get drafted ahead of Paul. It made both of them salty enough to work hard to outdo each other to prove people wrong. I would love it if the same thing happened with Rose and Westbrook.
More links after the jump.
Durant's 3-pointer to tie up the game was super sweet, and last night Carmelo Anthony challenged KD for the shot of the night with his game winner. As Kelly Dwyer states, this is the reason why teams chase a player like 'Melo - it is his ability to get points when the game is on the line.
Here is an impassioned look at the pain of a fan who must deal with an NBA owner who has scorned his fan base. Exhibit 1A is of course Clay Bennett, who moved/stole the Thunder franchise from Seattle. For better or worse I don't share the writer's emotion, but his point is quite valid - Seattle will not get another team unless it takes it from another city. This is kind of like having your gal leave you for another, but then your next relationship comes when you steal your girl from your friend. In the end, everybody kind of loses.
Here is another thoughtful piece on the pace at which the NBA and we as fans are gaining additional knowledge about what we see, and how we are forced to learn about what it is and then use it effectively. I think that the NBA more than any other sport walks the line between what you see and what you think you see, and even after the fact we're not sure which one was correct.
Nice catch by Devine. It looks like Russ and Mike Conley are playing some kiddy game.
One small item from last night was that it was a small home coming for Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, who made his playing bones while in Philly. Just like the rest of his career, Cheeks' understated approach is a salve for much of what makes the NBA ego too viscous:
"I am having a great time right now. If [getting a chance as a head coach again] happens, it happens. I am with an up-and-coming organization...To be with some of the players I am around on a daily basis, I am in a good place right now."
Count me one of the many surprised by the 76ers' play this year. When the Thunder played them earlier this year, they looked young and raw, and I doubted that Doug Collins could make them into a seasoned unit. I had witnessed the Collins fiasco when he became Michael Jordan's hand-picked lapdog of a coach in Washington, and I saw how Collins left that situation completely emasculated. Sometimes coaches just need the right kind of situation to thrive, I think. Guys like Scott Skiles, Larry Brown, and now Collins have had success in specific situations, and when the situation changes, it's time for them to go.