DAILY THUNDER: Brooks made what I’m sure was an extremely difficult decision to go with his bench the entire fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook — who was very good the first three quarters — didn’t play a second. It was Eric Maynor’s team to run. In fact, only one starter played the bulk of the fourth and it was Kevin Durant. (Thabo and Serge Ibaka played the closing minutes.) I’ve already heard people saying Westbrook was pouting, furious or a lot of other negative things about his “benching.” I’ve heard people speculating that Brooks wanted to teach him a lesson. But that’s not at all what this was about. This was about the five players on the floor and how well they were playing. This was about going with what was going to win you a game. Russell Westbrook isn’t stupid. The Thunder won the game and that’s what matters. He understands that. I’m sure he’s going to be a little upset. I’m sure he’s offended he didn’t come in. But the win is what matters and he gets that.
BALL DON’T LIE: In the fourth, OKC’s spacing was too good. In a back-and-forth game, it came down to being able to point to each of Dallas’ screwups. Tyson Chandler needlessly treating Nick Collison like he was Joel Anthony on offense. Jason Terry missing shots. Dirk’s one missed free throw, two missed jumpers (both on line), and the attempted jump hook off of a loose ball. Jason Kidd throwing it away. On defense, though? The Thunder ran perfectly off those few misses. James Harden (23 points, seven boards, four assists) made some brilliant shots. And in the end, there just weren’t enough possessions in the fourth, even as the team fed it to Dirk just about every time down court, to make up for those few wasted possessions earlier in the game for Dallas. And that’s what basketball often comes down to. It doesn’t end because one team has defeated another. It ends because the clock ran out.
MAVS MONEYBALL: The Mavericks have been winning their games in the fourth, and Dirk started this one off like that was his plan tonight. He hit a fadeaway and drove to the basket a few times after not having scored at all in the third quarter. Barea hit a couple of threes to keep it close, but Dallas could not find a way to deal with a surging James Harden and a supremely talented Kevin Durant. With three minutes to play, the Mavericks were down by 10. Dirk Nowitzki decided he would turn on the afterburners and do what he usually does- close the game. Unfortunately, his first missed free throw of the game came on a three-point foul by Nick Collison. That left the Mavericks down four with under a minute to play. The Thunder couldn’t create an offensive play and ran out of shot clock, but there just wasn’t enough time left for the Mavericks to come back.
ESPN DALLAS: Play of the game: Kevin Durant blew by Peja Stojakovic and soared over Brendan Haywood for the most spectacular dunk of this postseason. After leaving Stojakovic flat-footed at the top of the 3-point arc, Durant took off from well outside the restricted area and threw down a vicious tomahawk slam despite getting hammered by Haywood. The ball was well above the square on the backboard at the peak of Durant’s leap. Haywood hardly had time to get off the floor.
HEAT INDEX: Wade was everywhere. When the Heat loaded up in the lane on a Rose-Boozer pick-and-roll, forcing a reverse pass to Luol Deng in the left corner, there was Wade flying in to close out on the 3-point attempt. When Rose tried to go left off a high pick and got a step on Mike Bibby, there was Wade coming to the rescue, putting his body in front of a driving Rose at the foul line, forcing a kickout. And when the Heat trapped Rose on a high screen-and-roll with Joakim Noah, who was there to rotate promptly onto the 7-foot-1 Bulls center even though he was giving up eight inches? Dwyane Wade. And not once, but routinely.
BLOG-A-BULL: Rose’s point total in game one was in sync with his team in being buoyed by 3-point shots, and Wednesday night the 3-point line was another area the Bulls were awful. The Bulls were only 3-20 all game, and one of those makes was a half-court heave from Deng to end the first quarter (hey, if we take away such misses from Rose’s stats, then…). It was an underrated part of game one’s offensive rebounding dominance that it not only led to tip-ins, but also 3-pointers as regaining possession would have the Miami defense scrambling.
RIDICULOUS UPSIDE: ESPN’s Chad Ford is reporting that Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Tristan Thompson, Alec Burks and possibly Enes Kanter and Kawhi Leonard will skip the athletic portions of the Combine. Not exactly mind-blowing considering that’s become the norm at these things, but it’s unclear what exactly they’d be risking by going through simple drills they’ve been doing their entire basketball playing careers. The Detroit Pistons do have people already in Chicago, but head coach John Kuester isn’t one of them according to Detroit Free Press. Not sure how far to read into that, but it is interesting that some NBA coaches won’t be in attendance considering there will be a couple of full D-League coaching staffs in the crowd.
EYE ON BASKETBALL: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Atlanta Spirit ownership group are considering selling both the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashes and the Atlanta Hawks……………………………A key issue facing the franchise has been indiferent fan support. Despite playing in a major market and making the playoffs for the last four years, the Hawks have just the 22nd best home attendance in the NBA, averaging less than 16,000 fans per game in a stadium equipped to hold nearly 19,000.
THE BASKETBALL JONES: Great news, fashionistas? Or greatest news? Now you can finally get your hands on The Kevin Durant Backpack after nearly a month of excellent pre-sale marketing by the slender sartorialist. You can’t buy the kind of buzz that Durant has generated by wearing his knapsack during all those press conferences. This thing is so hot right now. No word yet on when the bag will be released, but you can bet that it’s debut will be met with long lines, overnight campouts and the kind of craziness usually reserved for the newest Apple products, which, incidentally, Durant often carries in his backpack. Price is also not yet known, though similar Nike models run anywhere from $60-90.