ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — One of the NBA’s pleasant surprises this season has been the Portland Trail Blazers. They’re off to a blazing 16-3 start, and last night’s win over the Thunder gave them the lead in the Western Conference. (We talked about the Blazers a good bit on this week’s Hangtime Podcast.)
Of course, leading in the Western Conference is quite a feat, considering that the West this season has been much more potent than the Eastern Conference, which (other than Indiana and Miami) has been a bit lackluster — the third place team in the conference in Washington, at 9-9).
The Blazers’ official Twitter account joked about the disparity between Conferences yesterday…
Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference? Asking for a friend.— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 04, 2013
The real irony here? If the Blazers were in the East with their current record, instead of leading the Conference they’d be in second place behind Indiana (a team they beat earlier this week).
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — At this point, the legend of Kevin Durant famously includes an underlying thread about his basic inability to not participate in sports, even when he has a day off. During the lockout he was constantly popping up at summer league tournaments, and just a few weeks ago he played in a flag football game in New York.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about this story from NewsOK.com. Last Thursday night, the Thunder hosted the Clippers and won 105-91, behind a big 28 point, 8 assist night from Durant. The morning after that game, NewsOK.com editor Matt Carney went to his local YMCA to get some shots up, and stumbled across Durant and some of his friends playing some casual pick-up ball. As Carney writes…
There Kevin Durant was, the morning after dropping 28 points in a late game against the Clippers, playing half-court ball with his buddies (each of them big enough to discomfort somebody sitting next to them on an airplane), talking noise and completely disregarding the “NO DUNKING ALLOWED” sign pasted to the window of the gym. The Y employee at the desk made me promise not to bother him, so I checked out a ball and headed to the other end of the court to practice corner threes and otherwise pretend like one of the two greatest basketball players on the planet wasn’t at the other end performing feats of scoring magic that I normally can’t afford to watch up close.
Spectators filed in. One woman tried to interrupt the game for an autograph and was promptly ushered out by a member of the Y staff. But by the end of it, there was just the four-on-four game at one end and me and another random guy at the other end, shooting.
Even if Durant wasn’t playing all-out, it’s a fun read, particularly as Carney starts secretly hoping he’ll get called into a game to play alongside or even, gulp, against Durant.
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Just the other day we checked in with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where during each home game a fan is taken from the crowd and given one chance to make a halfcourt shot worth $20,000. And while this is supposed to be a novelty, a celebration of futility, these fans in OKC somehow keep making halfcourt shots.
During last night’s game against the Clippers, a fan came from the stands and made a halfcourt shot. That’s the second time this week, and the fifth make in the last 22 attempts. And as it turns out, this fan almost missed his chance entirely: He and his wife were on the search for some hot dogs, but when one stand wasn’t quite ready, they went a different direction and he was selected by the Thunder to try the shot.
His reward for the make? Twenty thousand bucks, as well as a handshake from Jay-Z. Not a bad night at the game… -
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Many NBA teams include promotions at their home games where fans are invited out of the stands and onto the court to attempt a long shot for a nice prize. To be fair, to come out of the stands and attempt even a free throw without any warm-ups or practice shots is hard enough. Shooting a three-pointer or half-court shot? That’s nearly impossible.
Except, for whatever reason, in Oklahoma City. The thunder have a recurring promotion where a fan is plucked from the stands and given the chance to shoot a halfcourt shot for a $20,000 prize. And since last spring, as For The Win points out, four fans have hit halfcourt shots at games to take home the cash, which is rather incredible rate of success.
The fourth and most recent winner came last night, when another fan connected from half-court, this time swishing the jumper. -
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — And now the Horry Scale nominees will come fast and furious. After Jeff Green’s game winner just a few days ago, last night’s late TNT game gave us our second nominee of the season, on a last-second shot that didn’t exactly go as planned.
Before we get too far into this, we should stop and explain. What is the Horry Scale? For those who are new around these parts, the Horry Scale examines a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety Kings-Pistons game?) and celebration (is it over the top or too chill? Just the right panache or needs more sauce?). Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, the patron saint of last-second daggers.
With the rules in place, let’s check out last night’s game-winner from Golden State’s Andre Iguodala at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder. (By the way, we will not call him Iggy, because he hates the nickname Iggy.)
In terms of basketball fundamentals, Iguodala was able to take a relatively normal jumper — he was moving toward the baseline with the ball in his right (shooting) hand. But we should note here that the play we saw executed was not the play Mark Jackson drew up, according to Iguodala.
Dre said he was supposed to get the ball, fake a dribble handoff to Klay Thompson, who was inbounding, and then look for his shot. And when they lined up for the play, Kevin Durant was assigned to Iguodala. But the Thunder were switching on the play, and when Thabo Sefolosha switched onto Iguodala and basically overplayed as Iguodala cut toward Thompson, Iguodala make the executive decision to cut backdoor — “I took a page out of Kobe’s book,” said Iguodala — and he found room to receive the pass. If nothing else I just love this play as an example of how much happens in an NBA game that is unplanned — these guys are constantly making plays that are based on reads and reactions, and when multiple players are in sync on something like that, it can be a beautiful thing. Sefolosha defended the shot pretty well and recovered enough to get up in Iguodala’s release, but Dre put enough arc on the ball to not only clear the defender, but also take pretty much the entire clock before it splashed home.
It’s worth noting that just seconds before Iguodala’s shot, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook drained a long three-pointer on a broken play to give OKC the temporary 115-114 lead. And frankly, I was a bit surprised Iguodala’s shot was a game-winning shot, because when the ball was inbounded there were 2.3 seconds left. And in the NBA, 2.3 seconds can be an eternity — enough time to catch the ball and run a quick play, or make a few moves even. As the Warriors were inbounding the ball, TNT’s Reggie Miller noted, “A lot of time left for a dribble or two for the Warriors, to get this shot off.” Watching the replays, I’m still not convinced there shouldn’t have been a few tenths of a second added back on after this shot. That is barely any time, I know, but hey, Derek Fisher is on the Thunder, isn’t he?
Let me say this here: I am not perfect. In my breakdown of Jeff Green’s game-winner, I discounted my rating of the shot because I felt like it was such an early-season game that it wouldn’t really have ramifications down the line. And in the comments, you guys upbraided me for not accepting that for the Celtics, beating the defending champs at home was a big deal. Looking back, I probably should have given the Green play a 4. There, I said it. But we don’t choose these things, they choose us, and we just have to move on. So before I go and discount this shot for taking place so early in the season, let’s realize that beating Oklahoma City meant a lot to the Warriors, regardless of the point in the season.
Hitting a dagger at home means built-in celebratory upgrades, such as confetti and a raucous crowd. After the shot connected, Iguodala instinctively sprinted to halfcourt, and the Warriors bench rushed the floor. We also got a shot of a calm, grinning Jermaine O’Neal, surveying the action from the sideline like the old man who’d seen it all and felt proud for these kids. And you think the Warriors weren’t excited? Check out the celebration from owner Joe Lacob…
Fist pumps in a blazer, you guys.
As stated earlier, I caught flack for giving Jeff Green three Horrys, and I have publicly reconsidered my position on that one. For a while I wondered if my legacy here at All Ball would be as the Simon Cowell of the Horry Scale, the tough judge nobody could impress. But nobody likes a meanie, and it’s no fun to have a heart two sizes too small. So for this shot, for reasons outlined above that go above and beyond what was basically a fadeaway jumper, I’m going with four Horrys.
That’s my take. How many Horry’s would you give Andre Iguodala’s game winner?
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Over the last few years the NBA has taken more and more ownership of Christmas Day, scheduling games in what used to be a void of TV viewing. This year there will be five games on air back to back, and to make it even more of an event, the players participating will be rocking new uniforms — not only sleeved jerseys, but what the NBA and adidas are calling “big logo” jerseys. These feature team logos in reflective chrome as the focal point on the short-sleeve jerseys, paired with an ultra-lightweight short with chrome piping. The jerseys are available now online at the NBA Store.
To publicize the new looks, they’ve created a new ad, which you can watch above, featuring players involved in those games, including Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Steve Nash, James Harden and Stephen Curry. They have also dropped photos, which you can see in the gallery below. -
BONUS!Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Jingle Hoops commercial …
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — If you’ve been on the basketball court, you’ve been there: There’s a switch on defense, and you end up defending someone you probably shouldn’t be defending. In this case you have two options: 1) You back down and basically concede defeat, letting your guy score. 2) You buckle down and go all-in on defense, even with getting embarrassed as a likely result.
So it speaks well to Washington center Marcin Gortat‘s guts that he was willing to try and stick with Oklahoma City guard Thabo Sefolosha when the two ended up paired on the wing during their game on Sunday night. And to be fair, it looks like Gortat’s teammate Martell Webster trying to play help defense may have had a part in this, when his feet tangle with Gortat’s.
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook‘s injured knee not only kept him off the court the first few games of the season, it kept him from being a full participant in the NBA Style wars that have been ongoing for years now. Sure, he was able to participate in New York Fashion Week, but that’s nothing compared to what happens when NBA teams walk from their bus to their locker room and are caught on camera.
But now Westbrook is back and healthy, and not only is he throwing down coast-to-coast dunks, but a sure sign that he’s back is that he’s breaking out collarless zebra print zip-up jackets as part of his pregame wardrobe…
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Last season we found several members of the Oklahoma City Thunder trying to help move some cars in a hilarious ad that aired in and around the Oklahoma City area. Well it’s a new season, and the Thunder players are back with a new commercial. Different dealership, a few different players, but mostly the same guys and a similarly wacky concept.
As Kendrick Perkins asks, “Why do I always get these silly songs?” -
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — NBA players are just like anyone else, and end up celebrating Halloween by dressing up in wacky costumes. Here’s a sampling of images they’ve shared of them in costume via various social media thus far…
Serge Ibaka as Coming To America‘s Prince Akeem, and girlfriend Keri Hilson as Lisa McDowell…