NBA on Sling: Shorthanded Celtics Battle the Cavs, and the OKC-Golden State Grudge Match You've Been Dying For
Boston Celtics (3-1) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (4-0)
8pm ET Thursday on TNT
The Celtics went into last night’s game without Al Horford, lost to the league’s concussion protocol, and then lost Jae Crowder in the first half to an ankle sprain. Fortunately, Amir Johnson picked up the slack to score a game-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting, adding 6 boards, 3 dimes, 3 steals and a pair of blocks, to lead Boston to a 107-100 victory over the Bulls. The Celtics led by as many as 14 in the in the 1st quarter, then allowed the Bulls to fight back to within 53-52 shortly before the half, before clamping down and rebuilding their lead in the 3rd quarter on Johnson’s hot hand. The C’s cause was also helped significantly by an ice cold night from Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, who combined to hit on just 13 of 34 (38.2%).
The Cleveland Cavaliers' title defense marches on unscathed, their most recent victory coming at the expense of the Houston Rockets, 128-120. James Harden led all scorers with 41 points, and he also dished a game-high 15 assists, but it wasn’t enough on a night when seemingly the entire Cavs rotation couldn’t miss, as the team shot 52% from the floor, 50% from downtown and 84% from the line. Stir in a 46-32 rebounding advantage and you’re gonna win a few ballgames. Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 32 points, LeBron kicked in 19-13-8, and Kevin Love scored an unassuming 24 points. Newcomer free agent Mike Dunleavy has been scolded for not shooting enough, but swears he knows his role, telling ESPN, “That’s what we’re here for, to knock down the open 3’s when guys sink in on (LeBron James), Kyrie (Irving), Kevin (Love) guys like that. Yeah, I’m fully aware of what I’m supposed to do.“ LeBron is just .5 rebounds and .5 assists short of a triple-double for the year.
Oklahoma City Thunder (4-0) vs Golden State Warriors (3-1)
10:30pm ET Thursday on TNT
In a seesaw battle with 20 lead changes, the Oklahoma City Thunder passed their first big test of the season, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 85-83 behind a 35-point night from Russell Westbrook. LA led by 2 with 5:48 to play, but hit just 2 of 6 down the stretch as Westbrook scored 6 in the final 2:15, finally putting the game out of reach with a mid-range jumper with 18 seconds on the clock. Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double on the year with 38-11-10.
And now we have one of the most anticipated matchups of the season, as the undefeated Oklahoma City Thunder roll into Golden State for a visit with their old friend Kevin Durant and the second-place Warriors. If you’ve only just arrived on Earth, you may not know that Durant and the Thunder fell to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals after having led the series 3 games to 1, only to have Durant then turn around and sign with the Warriors. Is OKC’s Russell Westbrook itching for this one? Nah.
"I play every game like it’s my last,” Westbrook told the press after the Thunder-Clippers game. “I play every game the same, always. Like I’ve been saying for years. And regardless of who we play, I’m going to play the same way.”
Since taking a dirt nap in the season opener against the Spurs, the Warriors have pulled it together to win 3 straight. On Tuesday they gave Portland a 127-104 spanking, hitting on 63% of their shots from inside the arc – that is bananas. Steph Curry led the Warriors with 28 points – exploding for 23 in the 3rd quarter alone, and Kevin Durant scored 20 on 9-of-15 shooting, but it was Ian Clark who stole the show with a career-high 22 points on 8-of-8 shooting in just 25 minutes. Despite Tuesday’s box score, KD leads the Warriors with 28.5 points per game, thanks to a ridiculous field goal shooting percentage of 57.4.