Everything you need to know about the NBA Saturday Primetime games.
Defense Optional, Losing Guaranteed
Paolo Uggetti: The season’s first “Primetime Saturday” turned into a 48-minute showcase of just how bad the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense is. Spoiler alert: It’s bad; really, really bad. To wit: The 43 points the Thunder scored in the first quarter was the most they have scored in a quarter this season. The 76 points they scored in the first half was the most they’d scored in a half all season. The 114 they scored through three quarters was the most a LeBron-led team has ever allowed through three quarters. The final score was 148-124, tied for a franchise worst in points allowed by the Cavs.
This isn’t the Warriors’ offense, which is tops in the league in efficiency. OKC is only 12th in that stat. But on Saturday, the Thunder were getting everything they wanted, especially inside the paint—where they scored 66 points and out-rebounded the Cavs 52-28—even turning Russell Westbrook (20 assists!) into John Stockton.
How not to switch a screen, by Tristan Thompson & Dwyane Wade. pic.twitter.com/YQke3yC4Oq— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) January 20, 2018
For all the talk about how bad the Cavs are on defense with Kevin Love on the floor (the Cavs are six points per 100 possessions worse on defense when he plays than when he doesn’t), Love was sick this game and played only three minutes.
114 by OKC today is the most points a LeBron team has ever allowed through three quarters.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) January 20, 2018
It almost feels like the team is resigned to the fact this roster can’t compete on defense. With the trade deadline looming, this game left little doubt that the Cavs are going to make moves and switch things up.
The Thunder Have Enes Kanter on Retainer
Dance Like Everybody’s Watching
PG2 Turns Into PG3
Before Saturday’s game, Nike released the newest Paul George shoes, the PG2s. Through a collaboration with PlayStation, they have a front-facing logo that lights up. Really.
Wearing the shoes in Cleveland, George dropped a game-high 36 points on 19 shots in 32 minutes, including five 3s. It was one of his most efficient performances this season, and one of the most productive for the Thunder’s Big Three, who scored 88 points combined—a glimpse of what the Thunder’s skyscraper-high ceiling can be.
The Land Heads Back to South Beach
The Game That Made Us Need a Seven-Game Series
Haley O’Shaughnessey: Golden State and Houston could very well meet come May in the conference finals, but Saturday marked the last time the top two teams in the West will play during the regular season. The Rockets won, 116-108, thanks to their backcourt of fire and fury and beard, giving Houston the 2-1 edge this year against the Warriors.
Chris Paul had 33 points in 35 minutes, made six of his 11 3-point shots, racked up seven assists, snagged 11 rebounds, and ended with three steals. He was the Point God on a court with two point guards ranked higher than him. Does it ever hit you—like it has me, in all three Warriors-Rockets games this season—that Paul, James Harden, and Steph Curry are all on the court at one time? And then, when KD hits the impossible jumper that he always does, that, oh yeah, this is the West’s All-Star draft?
The Rockets ended the game winking to the rest of America, leaving behind a “Look at us, we told you we could hang” of a performance. Yes, at one point in the second quarter, the Warriors were down 17 points. But a win is never predictable over Curry, KD, and Draymond Green; being up six feels like you’re down four. Golden State was careless with the ball, even when the Warriors had the lead in the final clip. Curry (six), Green (five), and Durant (four) combined for as many turnovers as the entire Warriors squad averages per game, and Houston outworked them on the boards 46-33.
Even more remarkable was that neither Trevor Ariza nor Gerald Green played, as both served the second of their two-game suspension Saturday for storming the Clippers locker room. (Five days later, saying that still hasn’t gotten old.) Also, Eric Gordon had the coldest game of his entire season—the five-point fifth man (can you really call someone who averages 32.1 minutes per game a sixth man?) went 2-for-14 from the field and 0-for-9 from the 3-point line, both his worst performances all year.
When Did KD Get Into Dubstep?
A Defense of Instant Replay in One GIF
Chris Paul just gave the ref the fakest of laughs. pic.twitter.com/9gHgRibaev— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) January 21, 2018
Chris Paul flailing his arms at an official is as much his signature move as the yo-yo dribble fake. Still, the 2017-18 season has brought about an unmistakable divide between referees and players that goes beyond the league’s most feisty players. Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver is brainstorming resolutions.
Draymond Green—who, yes, is a recurring front-runner for Most Audacious Player—went so far as to say that the NBA should consider replacing all officials because of what he perceived as personal grudges. “Too much me against you,” Green said on January 7.
During Saturday’s Warriors-Rockets game, referee whisperer Steve Javie addressed the situation on the ESPN broadcast. (Javie was a league referee from 1986 to 2011 before ESPN hired him as a referee analyst upon his retirement. A “referee analyst” exists to explain and break down the nature of a call while the refs on the floor re-watch the play for four and a half minutes.)
“Refs react to how people treat them,” Javie said. “If they’re treated with respect on the floor, respect will be given. But unfortunately, what we’re seeing is a high level of disrespect, and, I think, unprofessionalism.”
Or maybe “too much me against you.” Thoughts, Klay?