One game separates five teams in the West. Just when we thought we might get separation, everyone who needed to win won.
The NBA Playoffs don’t officially begin for a week, but we got quite the sneak preview on Saturday night. The Pelicans, Thunder, and Spurs began the night tied for fifth place. They all tipped off within half an hour of each other against the top three seeds in the conference.
When the dust settled, every team that badly needed to win got the job done. The Pelicans beat the Warriors in Oakland. The Thunder beat the Rockets in Houston. The Spurs rallied to beat Portland at home. We’re back to where we started the night.
And it was beautiful to watch.
The Pelicans stole one in Golden State
This is Nikola Mirotic. If you can’t recognize him, you’re not alone. The guy shaved his trademark beard earlier this week, just for kicks and giggles.
Whatever the reason, it’s working. Mirotic dropped 31 and 16 in a Friday win over the Suns, then rained threes on the Warriors all Saturday night. He scored 28, Anthony Davis got his usual 34 and 12, and Jrue Holiday scored 25 while defending Kevin Durant all night.
The Warriors never went away, because they are the Warriors. They even had a chance to tie the game in the final minute after a late New Orleans dry spell. They had Durant isolated on Rajon Rondo, just the matchup they wanted. Except...
One more win in their final two games (at Clippers, vs. Spurs), and the Pelicans are in the playoffs. Who would’ve thought once DeMarcus Cousins went down?
Oklahoma City doesn’t need to panic
The Thunder have spent all season reassuring us that everything would be fine:
Paul George in mid-November: “We understand what we have talentwise. That’s the obvious. But we’re patient. We’re going to get it right. It’s too early.”
Carmelo Anthony after a November loss to the Magic dropped OKC to four games under .500: “It’s early. It’s still early. No time for anybody to panic or start making calls. We’ll figure it out. Trust me, we’ll figure it out.”
Russell Westbrook after a four-game losing streak in early February: “It’s fun, man. Adversity is great. Me personally, I love adversity.”
Westbrook after the Thunder barely scraped by lowly Dallas: “What’s our record against the best teams in the league? “It’s like 7-2 or 7-1 or something like that. We’re not worried, I’m not worried.”
Yet there they were, in a position where they needed to beat the high-powered Rockets to (nearly) assure their playoff place. In typical OKC fashion, it wasn’t pretty. Westbrook and George combined to shoot 16-45 from the field, and Anthony cooled off considerably after a hot start. But OKC did enough to muck up the game defensively, swiping the ball 11 times and holding the Rockets to 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Defense on Display tonight.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 8, 2018
11 steals 5 blocks pic.twitter.com/puW10yS66O
One win over either Miami on the road or Memphis at home, and OKC is in. Then we’ll really see if the Thunder are fine.
The Spurs did their thing
Like you doubted the Spurs. The Blazers took an eight-point lead into halftime, but San Antonio clawed back in the third quarter and fed Manu Ginobili a drink from the fountain of youth to put the Blazers away.
After all that, it’s still a mess
Here are the West standings from 3-9 after those three games and Denver’s win over the Clippers earlier in the day.
This isn’t getting resolved anytime soon. By the way, here’s the schedule on the final night of the season:
Nuggets at Timberwolves
Spurs at Pelicans
Grizzlies at Thunder
Jazz at Blazers