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NBA ICYMI: Thunder’s Mile-High Comeback Falls Just Short As Russ Falls Asleep on D

Plus, Blake Griffin already has the keys to Motor City, the injury bug strikes the star-crossed Bucks, and everything else you need to know about Thursday’s action

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

All the need-to-know info from Thursday’s slate.


High Altitude and High Scoring

Paul George had a game-high 29 points, three Nuggets had 22-plus, Nikola Jokic (23 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) was a board away from a triple-double, and Denver put up 104 points total.

That was by the end of the third quarter.

The Thunder’s sound defense was already noticeably mourning Andre Roberson entering Thursday; against the Nuggets, it was trampled. (Luckily the two sides canceled each other out, as Denver opts out of defense altogether.)

OKC’s fourth-quarter offense—except for George, who was incredible all along—was such a contrast from the way they had played to that point that it felt copied and pasted from another game. After being down by as much as 20, the Thunder, first led by the second unit and then propelled by the starters, finally tied the game with 1.4 seconds left and a stepback 3 you have to watch in slow-motion to truly comprehend:

George lit up for 43 points, Russell Westbrook went from three made shots in three quarters to 10 points in the final clip alone and 21 total assists, and the Thunder nearly sent it to overtime.

But they didn’t, because of Jamal Murray’s showcase, Jokic, and, in the end, the marksmanship of Gary Harris/lack of concentration by Westbrook:

Murray finished with 33 points in 34 minutes, hosting both a national TV coming-out party and one at the perimeter, nailing five 3-pointers, and delivering highlight after highlight—some with George guarding him, a high compliment from Billy Donovan, and … well, one with Steven Adams.

Jokic had a triple-double in Russ’s honor: 29 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds, his third of the season. He also logged two blocks, though his postgame interview should count for another.

“I think Russell fell asleep,” he said regarding the last play. “That’s probably the best assist of my life.”

Russ wasn’t aggressive on the final play. It cost OKC the chance to complete the comeback, but he did D up afterward, for what it’s worth.

We’re Not in Lob City Anymore

The year 2018: Josh Smith and Blake Griffin are on the Pistons payroll.

Thursday was Griffin’s debut in Detroit, a 104-102 win against Memphis. It must have felt like home right away for the 28-year-old; Little Caesars Arena attracts just as few attendees as a typical Clippers game, and like in L.A., there’s a very large, very offensively limited man underneath the basket patiently waiting to be fed the ball.

Griffin scored the Pistons’ first points of the game and was handed much playmaking responsibility in a tight contest right away. With three minutes left and the game tied at 98, Stan Van Gundy yanked Andre Drummond, went small with Griffin against Marc Gasol—who, even before the better outside defender was switched onto him, struggled on Thursday, and shot 1-for-8 from 3 in the game—and tried all avenues to get Blake the ball.

Griffin finished with a game-high 24 points, and 10 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks.

We’re also in Game 2 of the Grizzlies sitting Tyreke Evans to keep him healthy and tradable—he did not travel with the team to Detroit.

Malcolm Brogdon Leaves Early

The reigning Rookie of the Year was helped off the Target Center court in the second quarter. After taking it to the basket on a fast break, he went down and mouthed that he “felt something pop.” Brogdon was diagnosed with a left quad tendon strain and did not return to the game.

The timing is especially cruel: Friday, Jabari Parker will make his return from ACL surgery. (As Danny Chau pointed out in Ringer Slack, there are perpetual sliding doors with the Bucks: Parker wrecked his ACL in the game that Khris Middleton made his return last season.)

What They Do Have Is a Very Particular Set of Skills

… skills acquired over a very long career. (Or, in the case of Mitchell, Murray, Markkanen, Embiid, and Porzingis, pretty short ones.)

Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Larry Nance Jr., and Dennis Smith Jr. will participate in the dunk contest—I must say, I take personal offense that Mitchell was left off. (It is consoling to know that he already had the dunk[s] of the year.)

Some bonus nuggets: This will be Gordon’s third time participating; Nance’s dad won the first dunk contest in 1984; if Oladipo wins, it would be the first time that a franchise would have two different players win in a row since Hawks Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb; and no Maverick has ever won the dunk contest.

Eric Gordon, Klay Thompson, Tobias Harris, Kyle Lowry, Wayne Ellington, Paul George, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal will participate in the 3-point contest. What, no Karl-Anthony Towns?

Manu on Ice

Height Is Just a Number

(That’s an 11-inch difference.)

Without Wall

The Wizards won their the third straight game since John Wall was re-sidelined and announced he would undergo knee surgery.

The first was easy pickings, against the Hawks. Next was against the Thunder, who were without Andre Roberson, on an off shooting night for Russell Westbrook. But the 122-119 win over the Raptors, who Beal called the best team in the East before the game, is a win worth looking into. Who can the Wizards be without Wall?

All starters and three bench players finished in double-digits to pull it off, led by Beal’s 27 points. (Beal also almost cost the Wiz the W, as he turned the ball over to Kyle Lowry with three seconds left then proceeded to foul him. Lowry made only one of his two free throws.)

The Wizards could easily continue their winning streak against the Magic, who they face Saturday.