four point play….
1. Every week, before sitting down to write, I do a last minute NBA news check to see if anything interesting has happened the night before.
The answer this week? Yep!
When I clicked over to League Pass, I saw a final score of 154-147 in favor of the San Antonio Spurs over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Excuse me, what?!
I closed my writing tab and watched the game.
In the Spurs’ double-overtime victory over the Thunder, Russell Westbrook scored 24 points, assisted 24 field goals, gobbled up 13 rebounds, had a couple of swipes, and still managed to let his questionable decision-making lose the game in the second overtime.
I love me some Russ. I really do. But, man, oh man. Russell Westbrook shoots a less than scorching 30% from deep for his career. This season he is shooting only 23%. Over his last five games, he is even worse connecting on only three of his 21 attempts.
Russell, why do you think a three pointer in a second overtime is a good shot for your team? Russell is a fantastic player, and one of the more interesting case studies in the NBA. We can examine his usage rate, his rampant rebound hunting, or his general chucking nature, but it can’t be denied that he is an incredibly impactful player. He just impacts both positively and negatively like few great players in history.
I like Russell Westbrook. I just like him 100 times more when he is smartly attacking the paint and not chucking up hope shots with the game on the line. To be fair there were many other occasions on which Westbrook past up three-point attempts in order to feed a teammate for a better shot. One such occasion comes to mind in the first overtime where Russell eschewed a left wing three in order to hit Ferguson for a right wing bomb. You don’t rack up 24 assists by only chucking.
Still, it is a shame that a dominating player with such control potential so frequently controls himself out of a winning play. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever that Russell Westbrook should be taking nearly five three pointers per game. Please Russ, use your powers for good.
2. On the other side of the game, San Antonio hit their first 14 three-point attempts of the game to break the previous record of 12 that was shockingly held by last year’s Thunder team.
Pop’s squad actually has the best three-point percentage in the entire NBA, but strangely takes the least threes of anybody. Amazingly, they take fewer threes then even our beloved three-phobic Cavaliers squad.
On the evening, a team that hit its first 14 threes only took 19 total threes. Mind you, this was a game that featured two overtimes. One would think that squad making 84.2% of its shots from deep would hoist a few more.
Of course the primary reason why the Spurs were not blindly tossing from distance was that LaMarcus Aldridge was a burning man caricature. He dropped a career high, 56 on a great defensive team.
Steven Adams, a premier defender in almost every way, could do absolutely nothing against LaMarcus Aldridge’s patented baseline fadeaway. LA is one of the few guys in the league strong enough to battle with the NBA’s strongest player. Somehow, Aldridge was still able to get to his spots.
When Jerami Grant was tasked with fighting off LA’s offensive mastery, Aldridge dropped his left shoulder into the lane, driving the talented, but slight Grant all the way beneath the basket for easy finishes. To three or not to three. One doesn’t need to take many shots from beyond the arc if a player is dominating the paint the way Aldridge dominated in this one.
3. It was an incredibly fun game overall, but particularly enjoyable to watch former Cleveland State Viking, Bryn Forbes contribute heavily. Unsurprisingly, the somewhat undersized Bryn Forbes and similarly built Derrick White have combined to give the Spurs heady play from young legs. That is an underrated aspect to the long-term success that the Spurs have enjoyed.
They frequently go with basketball skill-set over general measurables like wingspan. White is a bit undersized for the two guard at only 6’4″, but is skilled enough to play the point for long stretches in Popovich’s egalitarian system. Bryn Forbes is even smaller, but has good positional awareness defensively, and a green light from anywhere on the floor on the offensive end.
Both of those guys were dominant players throughout their long college journeys. They each started at smaller schools before transferring to major basketball programs. At each level, they displayed leadership, toughness, and a wide range of skills that made up for their physical limitations.
As the Spurs have rounded into form over the last 18 games going 14-4, and dominating both sides of the ball, it has largely been because of their young backcourt’s development.
4. Lest this becomes a Spurs love fest, I must mention how impressed I have been by the Thunders’ play this season. I have always been a fan of the Dennis Schröder basketball experience. He is simply impossible to stop from getting into the lane. A modern day Tony Parker in many ways.
Though, he also suffers from an inflated three-point ego, he doesn’t hoist with quite the same vigor as his teammate, Russ. As a lead guard off the bench or paired with Russell Westbrook in a two point guard look, Schröder has been a catalyst for the Thunder’s offense, even though his overall numbers are actually worse than they were during his time in Atlanta.
Equally, if not more important to any potential Thunder playoff success, is Jerami Grant’s all-around play. Grant has truly played positionless basketball this season. Grant has guarded across all five positions using his athleticism and length to create havoc on the weak-side, and sliding his feet on-ball with good hip position in one-on-one situations against smaller guards.
The question has always been whether Grant can shoot enough to keep him on the floor in big moments. So far this season, he has acquitted himself well from deep hitting on 35% of his attempts. In the playoffs, teams will likely ignore him as a shooter. If Grant can make them pay a couple times a game, he will be a major plus for OKC.
Against the Spurs, Terrance Ferguson connected on seven triples for Billy Donovan’s team. Ferguson is a relatively streaky shooter. Over the last 2 games he has gone 11 for 14. Clearly I don’t trust him to make that kind of percentage in the playoffs, but he is a career 35% shooter. If he were to get hot at the right time, and/or maintain a solid 35%, the Thunder could really challenge in the West. They would only really have to worry about Westbrook’s occasionally disastrous three-point decision-making.
So why have I written about a thousand words about the Thunder and Spurs? Let’s say that Larry Nance’s MCL strain has added injury to basketball insult. The most entertaining aspect of Cavaliers basketball this season has been watching Junior’s development as a play-making center. Alas, we must wait for two to three weeks before Larry gets back on to the floor. If we are lucky (or maybe if we are not), Kevin Love will be ready to go by that time.
The Denver Nuggets have used a relatively soft schedule over the last couple weeks to maintain their hold on the Western Conference’s one seed. With season victories over Golden State, Boston, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and San Antonio, the Nuggets have shown the ability to beat the best of the NBA.
Three cheers to Mike Malone for tweaking his defensive principles to allow Jokic a better chance for success. Mason Plumlee’s exquisite play has also brilliantly complimented Jokic’s. It is cool watching a team with two play-making seven-footers. Plumlee’s defensive talent and underrated play-making have been huge for the Nuggets. They wouldn’t touch a trade for Kevin Love anymore. Not with the way Plumlee (and Millsap when healthy) have been playing.
The Browns have decided to go with Freddie Kitchens for their new head coach. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kitchens were to end up being a very good head coach. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up being abjectly terrible. Who knows.
It was always going to be a rough situation for Gregg Williams. Like all Browns fans, I appreciate the effect that Gregg Williams had on the team over the last half of the season. Nevertheless, his defense rather under-performed considering the blue-chip talent that’s on the roster. Whoever the new defensive coordinator ends up being, that DC will have some great talent on that side of the ball with which to work.