All the need-to-know info from Tuesday’s slate.
The Takeaway: OK-C, This Is Why You Make Your Free Throws (I’m Sorry)
The Thunder had their full squad, had won six in a row, were playing the Celtics—who have been more of a hospital than a basketball team as of late—and held a six-point lead with 24 seconds left. Jayson Tatum then made a two-point shot (he finished with a team-high 23 and 11), Terry Rozier made a 3, and Marcus Morris made another 3 with 1.8 seconds left.
None of those points would have mattered had the Thunder made their free throws. In the final 24 seconds, Russell Westbrook missed one of two and Carmelo Anthony missed both of his. The Celtics’ comeback took only as long as a shot clock’s length; they won, 100-99. For OKC, the loss is bad in theory—the Thunder continue to play down to their opponents. But on paper, it’s not entirely catastrophic. They remain the 4-seed, though they are now just one game above the Spurs and Pelicans.
The Late-Night Takeaway: Get on the Rockets’ Level
The Blazers seemed to have a simple strategy on Tuesday night in Portland: Let James Harden cook and temper everyone else around him. For three quarters, it nearly worked. Harden had 35 points, sure, but the Blazers had held every other Rocket to a minimal impact. At the end of three, Portland led by one despite both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum not making a single 3 and combining for only 19 points.
But in the fourth, the heavyweight, playoff-atmosphere bout in Rip City turned like the tide against the home team. With Harden on the bench, Chris Paul had a quick burst of six points, and Eric Gordon added five points of his own. By the time Harden returned with just over six minutes left, Houston held a six-point lead. The MVP just needed to shut the door.
Harden, who finished with 42, drained two ridiculous, in-your-face, no-space, absurd, stepback 3s that tumbled right in. The Blazers made a push to recoup their lead, but it was too late. Houston was just a hair too good and won, 115-111. I’d like to order seven games of that in the playoffs, please and thank you.
The Cheat Sheet
- The Wolves shoot themselves into the 7-seed. The identity of this Minnesota team without Jimmy Butler is amorphous. A win could take the form of a monster night from Karl-Anthony Towns as much as it can materialize in an aggressive, but efficient performance from Andrew Wiggins. Tuesday, in a must-win game against the Clippers, the Wolves got both—plus a perfect complementary performance from Jeff Teague, too.
Jeff Teague is rolling in the 2nd half, no look dime to Taj Gibson in the lane pic.twitter.com/EqH2rTB2Wj— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 21, 2018
Teague struggled in the first half, scoring a paltry three points, but the second half was a different story; he paced the Wolves to the tune of six assists while adding 17 points. Wiggins (27 points) was a hound on defense, an emblem of the team’s entire effort-filled performance on that end. Towns added a game-high 30 points, including three 3s. The Wolves shot 52.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3 in a win that avoided a three-game losing streak. For the Clippers, the 123-109 loss puts them back in the 10-seed.
- The Raptors put together an 18-point turnaround in a pseudo exhibition game. Toronto made its way down south to Orlando on Tuesday to face a scrappy Magic team that played to its limit. Meanwhile, the Raptors used the game as bench practice, and it still was enough to win their 19th in their past 21 and clinch home-court advantage in the first round. With DeMar DeRozan sitting out, all seven bench players played double-digit minutes. Unsurprisingly, they were a combined plus-49, while Kyle Lowry led the scoring with 25 points of his own. Toronto’s five-game advantage in the standings over the 2-seed in the East means they have the top spot all but locked up. It’s cruise-control season now.
- Rajon Rondo nearly triple-doubles, helps the Pelicans avoid disaster. When they want to, the Dallas Mavericks can hang with most teams in the league despite their 22-49 record. In New Orleans on Tuesday, they stuck to the inconsistent Pelicans like overdone cookies to a pan. The two teams battled into the fourth quarter, where despite Anthony Davis’s 37 points, the Mavs were threatening to hand NOLA a bad loss. In the end, Rajon Rondo’s flashback performance—he finished with 19 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds, and a dagger 3 with less than a minute left—helped the Pels stay ahead of the bottom of the Western playoff picture with the 115-105 win.
- Utah and Atlanta do their best March Madness impression. As I write this, I pray that you did not find yourself on a Tuesday night during the first day of spring with your eyes anywhere close to this basketball game. The Jazz and Hawks got entangled in a rock fight that would have made Tony Bennett proud as both teams shot close to 40 percent from the field and less than 28 percent from 3. By halftime, each had barely managed 40 points. The second half was slightly more palatable; Dennis Schröder finished with a career-high 41 points against one of the best defenses in the league and the Hawks upset the Jazz 99-94 to upset their lottery odds and get in the way of Utah’s playoff push. The Jazz fell back to eighth with the untimely loss.
Play of the Night
Aron Baynes gives zero s about potentially getting dunked on pic.twitter.com/LiVrDOMveV— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) March 21, 2018
This is just another confirmation of my long-held belief that nothing will make a grown man seem like a kid again more than having to crouch, bend down, or sit to tie his shoes.
Quote of the Night
Marcus Morris on if he had any hesitation before taking winning 3: “Hesitation? I don’t even know how to spell that s***.”— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) March 21, 2018