A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Blake Griffin
There are nights when he sulks, glares at the officials after every whistle, mopes past his coach (you'll see why in a second), and throws his hands in the air when he doesn't get the ball on an offensive possession. There are nights when you watch him and think, what are you? Are you a human highlight reel wrapped around an otherwise average power forward who is a below-average defender with limited shooting range? There are nights when you ask, why, in the name of all that is holy, if you can do what you can do in that video above, would you ever burn six seconds on the shot clock so that you can crossover dribble a couple of times and launch a midrange jumper? And then there are nights (days, in this case) when Blake Griffin is basically unguardable.
(All GIFs by @HeyBelinda)
Dwight Howard is about as interested in getting involved with that dunk as he is in listening to yet another Kobe soliloquy about the benefits of ice baths and oxygen tanks.
HOW ABOUT MACE? This comes courtesy of a reader named Jess, from Virginia. From what I can gather, this episode was filmed in late 2010. This seems much more chill than having to make sure Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson don't kill each another, but if you can do both you have a full life, right? Have to say, if I ever see Violet Palmer call a foul on Stephen Jackson again, I am just going to imagine her shouting "A STRIP CLUB."
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
When You Were Young
One of the narratives that's emerged in the Western Conference finals is that the Thunder are "growing up." Really, the question of the Thunder growing up — whether it's happening, when it will happen, what it might mean for Russell Westbrook's glasses — has been part of just about every conversation OKC has figured in since the Lakers series two years ago, maybe even before. And that's only natural; in a lot of ways, our modes of interpreting the NBA are still dominated by the '80s and early '90s, when, the story goes, the Pistons had to grow up to get past the Celtics and the Lakers and then the Bulls had to grow up to get past the Pistons. Watching young teams mature, toughen up, and dethrone the older teams that once kept them down is part of the expected order of the NBA. And the Thunder — a very young, very talented squad whose potential path to the Finals happens to run through the three franchises that won the West every year from 1999 to 2012 — are just the latest chapter in the story.
The only problem with this version of events? Through Game 5, it's not really happening. OKC has now beaten the Spurs three straight times, but the wins haven't fit the mold of NBA maturation — everyone knowing their roles, the superstars reliably taking over during important stretches, the team collectively showing mental toughness and taking care of all the little things. Instead, the Thunder have been winning in the most insane ways possible. They've totally changed identities, going from the team with the lowest assist total in the NBA to one that routinely dishes out 20-plus assists per game. (Westbrook had 12 on Monday night, despite playing the fourth quarter like he hadn't ever met Durant.) Apart from Durant's sublime fourth quarter in Game 4, the superstars have been erratic. Durant, Harden, and Westbrook were 18-for-42 in Game 3. Westbrook and Harden were 6-for-23 in Game 4. All three of them had ruthless-genius moments in Game 5 — the Westbrook Destroys the Universe dunk, the late Harden 3, Durant's little shiv of a got-his-own-rebound putback — but they also made inexplicable mistakes, missed big shots, turned over the ball, and passed to the wrong teammates. (Guys, meet Kevin. He's here to help!)
The Thunder have been winning these weird, frenetic games partly because they've been doing a few extremely big things right (the underrated "hit a dramatic 3 right when it seems like the Spurs are about to tie it" strategy), but also because they've been getting preposterously great contributions from unexpected sources — Kendick Perkins's offensive explosion in Game 4, Serge Ibaka's 11-for-11, Daequan Cook's eight points in four minutes Monday night. Instead of playing like a grown-up team, in other words, they're winning by harnessing some kind of childlike chaos. They're harrying the Spurs on defense and getting steals (fun!) instead of crashing the boards and getting rebounds (boring!). They're coming up huge in all the big moments their own maddening mistakes have created for them. They're doing what you're not supposed to be able to do in this league of playoff fouls, mental toughness, and murderous competitiveness. They're winning like kids.
— Brian Phillips
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The BYU Cougars staged a furious comeback — the largest in NCAA tournament history — to erase a 25-point deficit and beat the Iona Gaels 78-72. "What a great night for Mormons!" said head coach Dave Rose. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney stood alone in the glow of a TV screen at his campaign headquarters, sipping a V8 and just grinning the biggest, saddest grin you've ever seen.
For ... Knicks-Sixers!
In Philadelphia, you get your cheesesteaks wiz wit and you get your sports with hate. When you're not hating on Andy Reid, Juan Castillo, Raul Ibanez's peanut brittle frame, Brad Lidge's satanic soul patch, or the ghost of Donovan McNabb, you're hating on the New York Giants, the Atlanta Braves, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Mets. It's just how we get down.
As part of our coverage of the NBA lockout, Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams checked in with Brandan Wright, a forward from the University of North Carolina who split last season between the Golden State Warriors and New Jersey Nets, to see how he is spending his newfound free time. Wright discussed his offseason workout, playing under Don Nelson, and having teammates with famous significant others.
Grantland: How have you spent your time this offseason?
Wright: “Working out a lot. The place I work out at is called Art of Strength. It’s not a traditional weightlifting. It uses kettlebells and is aimed at preventing injuries. So it’s pretty much a full-body workout and uses every muscle in your body. I think it’s really good for athletes because it’s functional training, where you’re moving your whole body. You’re not just putting such-and-such weight on a bench press or throwing weight on your back for squats. It’s stuff you have to do on the court. Right now, I’m up to 227 pounds after ending the season at 210. But I’m a lot stronger and I basically don’t have any body fat on me.”