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What Exactly Did You Expect?

We examine the one (and only) meaningful play in last night’s Warriors-Clippers game, gawk at the wonders of Giannis, and endure the drudgery of a classic Hornets win

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Welcome to the NBA Shootaround, the Ringer staff’s weekly run through the league, told in riffs and GIFs.

Was Blake Griffin’s Putback Dunk Disrespectful?

Shea Serrano: We have a thing at The Ringer called the Disrespectful Dunk Index. It measures the disrespectfulness of any one dunk. There are six categories, each with a weighted score. Let’s apply it to the dunk Blake Griffin put on Draymond Green’s head during Wednesday’s 115–98 Warriors win over the Clippers.

Category 1 — How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? (Possible 20 points)

As far as Blake Griffin putback dunks go, this one is not especially spectacular. There are two main things that need to happen for a putback to end up being really cool. One, the player has to come running in from somewhere outside the paint, thus allowing him to generate enough momentum to vault himself high enough up a defender’s back so as to put his genitals somewhere above the halfway point of the defender’s spine. Two, the ball needs to carom far enough off the rim that the player dunking it can smash it home. Neither of those things happen here, so it gets a low score. 8/20.

(The all-time, no. 1 Blake Griffin putback dunk was when he dunked the Spanish accent off all of Pau Gasol’s words in 2012.)

Category 2 — What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? (Possible 20 points)

Blake isn’t much of a celebrator, sadly. He mashed it on Draymond, gave him the tiniest stare, then started down the court. There was no howl, no stare, no “Get the Fuck Out of My Face” face. Nothing. It looked like there was a brief moment during the timeout after the dunk in which he said something to Draymond, but it’s hard to say for certain. Another low score here. 3/20.

Category 3 — How hard did the defender try to stop it? (Possible 20 points)

Draymond is generally a good dunk defender because he is not above simply shoving people who try to dunk on him, which is how he avoided getting atomized by LeBron James at the end of Game 7 in the Finals last year. In this case, though, Draymond had no idea Blake was coming, as is the general nature of putback dunks. Again, a low score here, too. 3/20.

Category 4 — Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? (Possible 15 points)

Yesssssssssssssssss. The Warriors, 2015 NBA champions, are proper-good at swinging their [REDACTED] now, and especially so when they play the Clippers, who want so badly to not only beat the Warriors, but to be the Warriors. It’s a great current rivalry, inasmuch as it can be a rivalry when one team beats up on the other team again and again and again and again. But so yes, there is a backstory here. Draymond Green and Blake Griffin do not like each other, their teams don’t like each other, their cities don’t like each other. It’s great. Great score here. 13/15.

Category 5 — Did the dunk go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? (Possible 5 points)

It mostly swished through. Blake just mashed it across the front of the rim. 4/5.

Category 6 — How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? (Possible 20 points)

The crowd was loud, and the commentators were loud, and a few of the Clippers players on the bench stood up. BUT, it wasn’t a close game, so that zapped a bunch of the fun out of it. AND while one commentator was excited, the other (Mark Jackson) was trying to talk himself into thinking the game could get interesting. And, yeah, some of the Clippers players stood up following the dunk, but it was very much just a standing up thing; they didn’t explode up or jump up or anything fun. Moderate score here. 10/20.

The Griffin dunk on Draymond Green was 41 percent disrespectful.

Clippers Win!*

When the Garden Was Eaten

Jason Concepcion: Let’s start with the obvious. The Cavaliers are better than the Knicks. They’re the best team in the Eastern Conference and the sitting NBA champions. The Knicks, though improved, have a ceiling of first-round roadkill. In the first half of the Cavs’ 126–94 win on Wednesday, Cleveland put New York in a between-nine-and-17-point hole. Then the Cavs barreled out of halftime, bulldozed dirt over the grave, cleared the surrounding land, built a parking lot, and spent the rest of the game doing doughnuts.

So, yes, the Cavs are better than the Knicks. But, in the macro sense, they also present a referendum on the Knicks’ perpetual mediocrity. Cleveland has on its roster three former Knicks, all playing significant minutes: J.R. Smith (who didn’t play due to injury), Iman Shumpert (who missed a breakaway dunk, then pretended to be injured), and Channing Frye (currently shooting a league-best 48 percent from 3). As a Knicks fan, watching the Cavaliers turn the Knicks into a greasy stain on the carpet elicits one inescapable question: Why are these players crucial cogs for a title-winning team in one city but mediocre shit-heels in another?

There are several reasons, including New York’s years-deep institutional inertia, constant turnover of executive and coaching personnel, and long-running addiction to quick-fix schemes at the cost of flexibility and draft picks. But the single biggest reason: LeBron James is better than Carmelo Anthony. That much is obvious, too.

“A lot of people have left. Even on celebrity row,” said a plainly bored Mike Breen with 11 minutes to go in the fourth. “But Spike is still here.” Literally three seconds later, Spike rose from his seat, slipped on his orange-and-blue replica warm-up and made for the exit.

[8:00 left]

Breen: “Katie Holmes is still here. Bill O’Reilly looks ready to go.”

[3:28 left]

Breen: “I don’t know if Santa … OH! No, he’s just taking pictures.”

Jeff Van Gundy: “If Santa leaves, everyone has permission to leave.”

[2:30 left]

Santa leaves.

[Just over 40 seconds left]

Van Gundy: “LeBron is doing the water bottle challenge, where you toss the bottle and try to get it to land on its bottom.”

Le Freak C’est Greek

Micah Peters: Twenty-three games into the season, the Blazers are currently eighth in the West, which is by no means bad once you consider that the conference is essentially the Valley of the Giants. It’s easy to imagine they could be sitting even higher in the standings if not for their league-worst defense (109.9 points per 100 possessions) — a result of a lack of collective conviction, spatial awareness, or likely some combination of both.

Portland defenders had spent most of the season letting their assignments slide through their fingers, getting lost in the wilderness, and walking into trees. But in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against the Bucks, the Blazers defense approached acceptability. For a while, it looked like a defense that wouldn’t completely collapse. The Blazers had jumped out to a 58–51 lead by halftime; Dame hit a 3 from his perch to close out the second quarter, heading to the locker room with 22 points.

Lillard also got dunked on, but seriously, there isn’t a player in the league that Giannis “Reed ‘Mr. Fantastic’ Richards” Antetokounmpo couldn’t — no, wouldn’t — snowbird.

Can we just take a second to appreciate that Giannis is the same height as both DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, but does stuff neither of them could even dream of doing? I know everyone’s praised that already, but I haven’t personally, and who else (CURRENTLY PLAYING) can fold themselves into impossible shapes for leaning runners, shark up tens of yards of hardwood with a handful of steps, and grab rebounds over four — four! — other dudes?

I’ll wait.

Of course, the Blazers D did collapse in the second half, giving up 64 points in the final 24 minutes. Jabari Parker, who finished with 27 points, carried the Bucks offensively for most of the game, but it was Giannis — who turned 22 on Tuesday — who led Milwaukee down the stretch to its 115–107 victory. He finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists — his seventh triple-double, good for second most in franchise history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Antetokounmpo was working out with Kevin Garnett this week, by the way. And since most of his points come from the two feet around the rim, he might be headed to Germany this summer to train with Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting coach. I thought about Giannis doing all the stuff he does now. And then I thought about what that would look like once he had a reliable jumper. I recoiled in fear. Scary times.

Dances With Bowling Balls

The Houston Rockets: Not Just James Harden!

What’s the Opposite of Warriors-Clippers?

Danny Chau: Pistons-Hornets, a clash between two top-10 defenses, was perhaps a little too on the nose. Charlotte would best Detroit 87–77, largely off the strength of its fourth-quarter performance, with Kemba Walker and Marco Belinelli combining for 23 of the Hornets’ 26 points in the frame. The most the Pistons scored in any quarter was 24, in the opening 12 minutes; they wouldn’t reach 20 again all game. After the game, the Hornets would jump from 10th in defensive rating to fifth.

In short, this was a Hornets Classic: a putrid game that Charlotte wins because it just has more experience in games in which both teams seem to be operating at minimum capacity. Beyond a few instances of Kemba’s reclaimed UConn sorcery, and watching Andre Drummond’s emergent jump hook develop in real time, this game was reserved for only the most self-loathing of League Pass nihilists. The Hornets shot 26.5 percent in the first half; the halftime score was 39–38, only the fourth time all season that neither team scored at least 40 points in the first half of a game. The leaguewide field goal percentage is just a tick under 45 percent; neither Charlotte nor Detroit could even cross the NBA’s 40 percent Mendoza line.

The Hornets essentially baited the Pistons into this situation. The Pistons attempted eight free throws on the night, which, shockingly, isn’t their worst (six attempts) or second-worst outing (seven) at the line this season. Detroit has the league’s worst free throw attempt rate, and when you play Charlotte, you’re hardly ever getting to the line. When neither team can get into the flow of their offense, scoring through other means becomes essential. Unfortunately, the Pistons generated only five points from the line, and only two points off of turnovers (of which the Hornets committed only six). It’s slugfests like these that test a team’s identity; in games in which error is as abundant as oxygen, the Hornets double down on what they’ve been: a team that might not have the outright talent to blow you out night in and night out, but can withstand the damage of its own limitations long enough for the other team to eat itself alive.

Air…Canada?

Last night, the Brooklyn Nets narrowly defeated the Denver Nuggets, 116–111, which is actually pretty embarrassing, because they held a 29-point lead at one point and never trailed in the game. In what the Nets had assumed was garbage time, we were gifted this little ditty from Anthony Bennett. Can a dunk be awarded style points if all the style comes after the ball goes through the net?

The Hawks’ White Elephant

Haley O’Shaughnessy: Vegas gave the Hawks a seemingly generous eight-point spread at home against the Heat, and were it not the gift-giving, money-spending season, I’d be all over those odds. Sure, Miami was on the second night of a back-to-back and traveling with a nine-man roster — no Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, or Josh Richardson — but man, Atlanta’s been in a Dwight Howard–sized slump.

The Hawks’ Monday-night loss to OKC pushed their losing streak to seven games — with 10 L’s in their past 11 matchups entering Wednesday — and Kent Bazemore sitting out against the Heat because of a knee issue added, well, injury to insult. Atlanta needed a breakout game from Dwight, but matching up against current defensive bad boy Hassan Whiteside was a reminder that a big man’s place at the top rarely lasts as long as it should. But try telling that to Howard. By the half, the Hawks had 30 points in the paint to the Heat’s 10, with 12 coming from Howard. Dwight finished with a team-high 23 points and 17 rebounds to go with a personal season high of four assists. Whiteside was held to eight points — four in each half.

Still, an exhausted, injured, possibly tanking Miami team brought the game to within three points during the fourth quarter, which raises the question: Is Atlanta on its way out of a funk, or in the beginning of its season-long purgatory? The game, with a final score of 103–95, ended up being decided by eight points after all. Holiday shopping, for once, saved me money.

The College Experience

Kevin O’Connor: After Terry Rozier scored a career-high 16 points in the Celtics’ 117–87 blowout win over the Magic, Boston’s second-year point guard said: “It was like I was in college again.” And just like when he was Louisville’s leading scorer, Rozier’s burst, athleticism, and pesky defense were all apparent as soon as he stepped onto the floor.

But there’s one big difference now compared with Rozier’s college years. Driving into the paint at Louisville was like riding your bike straight into a wall. Rozier’s teammates were the opposite of floor spacers; the wings got no respect from the defense and the bigs clogged the lane like a toilet. It might have felt familiar to Rozier because he was getting buckets, but the game itself couldn’t be more different because of the NBA’s floor spacing, defensive three-second violations, perimeter-oriented bigs, and deeper 3-point line.

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown said after a summer league game in July that “there was so much space on the floor, I didn’t know what to do.” Considering his night, Rozier likely felt that same kind of freedom. With all that extra room, Rozier put on his best Dwyane Wade impression from midrange:

Even when the Celtics had average spacing, he got to the rim at will without needing a screen:

Rozier didn’t have a lights-out performance; his 16 points came on 6-of-13 shooting from the floor, but he tacked on five rebounds and two assists, and was productive defensively. Best of all, he did it when the Celtics needed him most; Isaiah Thomas was sidelined with a groin injury. The Celtics will have another X-factor off their bench if Rozier keeps reviving his glory years at Louisville.