Kelly Dwyer covers the NBA, alongside musical bits and comedy numbers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 

Behind the Boxscore: Utah looms, Game 4 previews, Keith Van Horn

GOOD MORNING, PEOPLE!Utah 113, Oklahoma City 96, Jazz lead 3-1

Nothing smarmy exists when we point toward the Thunder going down in the same way they rose up. Russell Westbrook can’t help but be himself, Carmelo Anthony loves the game and still works his ass off (even when he’s showing it), Paul George has never been more relateable.

Utah is using OKC’s pressure against itself in a trillion different ways, though, from the backscreens and attention to overplays to the whole part where they try to bait the Thunder into playing the sort of game we’ve seen in Salt Lake City for three decades now.

The Thunder gave in, but they didn’t give up. This was a desperate team that played the only way they knew — music to the Jazz’s ears.

Billy Donovan was set to go Lou Pinella just before the half, the referee crew was doing neither side any favors, the rest of his team reacted in ways that fans from other spots on the map (the places where Felton and Patterson and Brewer and PG and Melo once danced) were embarrassingly familiar with. They used to have to defend that.

Defend the Thunder, they are fighting with the tools they know.

Utah is a better basketball team and Oklahoma City itself can’t be blamed for all the bad habits they’ve acquired. OKC has also acquired enough talent, along with that baggage, to make a comeback in this series and make life hell for Houston in the next round.

The Thunder dive into wins, though, one person at a time. The Jazz just close their eyes and fall back into the arms of the guys that they know are back there.

Next game on Wednesday, 9:30 on NBA TV.

I briefly became upset at the network choice until I realized that the TNT game on WED will feature the league’s next MVP and a friend of Mark Wahlberg’s, a rash that luckily ended before I became the sort of guy that brays for exposure for the Utah freaking Jazz.

Houston 119, Minnesota 100, Rockets lead series 3-1

It’s not supposed to matter who is guarding James Harden and he made damn sure that was the case in Game 4, though it didn’t matter for a while — the MVP missed his first seven shots in the game before plopping three straight during his team’s small second quarter run. He’d finish with 36, all of this had to happen for Houston, they had to get back to the blindfold stuff.

Even before Harden started to hit, even before Houston’s world began to open up, the guard had already committed to the idea that the hands in front of him were not attached to any face he remembered. Wiggins on switch, Jimmy Butler again, Derrick Rose is back, whatever: Harden had to do this.

Championship first rounds are supposed to be brief, registering as a tick over novelty, pretenders are supposed to go away quickly and the Timberwolves are pretenders. The Timberwolves are proud and they work hard and they’ve given us a series, but the Rockets are on another level and it was good to see them act that way as Game 4 unfolded.

James Harden hadn’t rolled hard in eight days prior to Game 4, since dropping 44 in the Game 1 win a very long time ago. The scheduling is a different trip at this point in the year, but first round competition is supposed to outperformed, significantly. The Rockets had 50 points in this third quarter mainly by getting back to only seeing themselves on the court.

Great defenses would also have a tough time with this immediacy, and the Wolves finished fourth-to-last this year under coach Tom Thibodeau.

After the game Thibs’ buddy Steve Clifford was correct to call this presentation “indefensible,” at times, and he’s right. There just aren’t too many clubs that can handle the sort of team that can hit 26-footers (while another guy sprints free for layups on baseline) without blinking.

The worst for the Wolves is that they don’t have any warming options to consider. Jeff Teague missed six of seven shots and spends more energy reacting to Houston’s misses than he does his first postseason with a desperate franchise, Derrick Rose once again had to act as a scoring bulwark. Andrew Wiggins missed nine of 14 shots.

Andrew Wiggins is 23 years of age and this was his 341st NBA basketball game. At this point I don’t know if this is a preach for patience or an invitation to pull on the lips of a green bottle.

Next game on Wednesday, 9:30 on TNT

THIS DATE IN PLAYOFF HISTORY

(Notes off the top of my head. I’m not gonna watch this game again.)

Keith Van Horn was sick, he resembled something otherworldly.

At one point in overtime, after Chris Gatling had failed to score in the low post on Scottie Pippen, Nets guard Sam Cassell could be seen screaming “that’s a fucking small forward out there!” to his returning power forward as they ducked toward the bench.

For some reason, years ago, the Bulls chose to occupy that bench. They didn’t want to cross paths with the other team between halves anymore. They sit where Gatling sat.

That day I purchased a pair of AND1 shorts for a 3-on-3 tournament that was set for the next morning. Earlier that morning I visited the campus of Ball State, this was my senior year of high school and I was 17, expertly rolling a left-handed strike in my lone attempt at an on-site bowling alley. I am right-handed and I didn’t go to Ball State.

(I didn’t really “go to” the college I chose, much, either.)

Yes I had the SLAM copy but nobody was scared of the Nets in 1998. The shorts I bought to rebound in were black and red.

TUESDAY GAME FOURS

Milwaukee at Boston, series tied 2-2

That Nuggets/Timberwolves play-in game wasn’t enough for you? This series doesn’t count for shit and yet it’s been such a wonderful time — it’s OK if the bread is the best part of the sandwich. You pay to get that stuff delivered.

What we have here are two growing teams with evolving styles and designs that don’t extend beyond each evening. You saw Giannis’ immediate understanding, with the tacos.

Nobody on the Bucks has a clue what’s going on beyond the date they clean out 2017-18’s locker, the Celtics haven’t seen anything but the rim on the other side since October.

It’s just fine if the Celtics take forever to get going again, if Jaylen Brown has to shoot his way into accuracy, if confidence comes before consistency. These are young arms and sometimes they need to work through some early jams before they can start retiring side after side after

7:00 PM Eastern, NBA TV

Miami at Philadelphia, Sixers lead series 3-1

It’s not just the turnovers, those are going to happen for a while, the Sixers don’t have a Norm Nixon around to calm things down.

Philly has to hit. Brett Brown has more plays than the Almighty but Erik Spoelstra has read the Good Book from front to back, thrice. Philadelphia scorers have to get past the recognition that someone else is also occupying the same airspace before, say it with me, hitting.

Wayne Ellington doesn’t know if he’s going to hit, but you can be damn sure he’ll be there. Same as James Johnson, out there making Jerome Kersey proud.

Dwyane Wade still has the refs. Go out and get a second-round sorta win, Philadelphia.

8:00 PM Eastern, TNT

San Antonio at Golden State, Warriors lead series 3-1

The Warriors are tall and strong enough to handle looking ahead. Teams that routinely play triple-digit games in a season should be afforded the inevitable capability to consider two teams at once, while playing at night.

The Pelicans are in New Orleans, waiting, soon they’ll have to visit the court that will look so impenetrable on TV on Tuesday. Yellow with sickening fear at first glance, thick with gold once you zoom in.

This doesn’t mean Draymond Green going behind his back, it just means he’s going to take the lead from New Orleans’ lead.

Lotta good pointing in this game, and lots of passes that look like dares but aren’t.

10:30 Eastern, TNT

KEEP IT DARK

Mid-period Genesis is a lot of poor advice from angry men, it’s a good thing they wrote really great songs.

I hope you’re enjoying this mix as much as I am.

I used to assume it was on a Tuesday that someone signed off on all those Sports Illustrateds, we’d get ‘em by Thursday. Sometimes my dad would be waiting by the mailbox for us, checking the watch he only seemed to keep on for this event. Then I’d have to wait another hour while he read it.

We’re going to start breaking down teams tonight, kindly.

(More to come.)

Kelly Dwyer covers the NBA, alongside musical bits and comedy numbers.