The 76ers, as you are probably aware, own up to four first round draft picks in the 2015. Those picks originally belonged to the Thunder, Heat, and Lakers. As it so happens, all four teams were in action, across just two games, with the Lakers and Heat playing on national television at the same time Sixers-Thunder went live.
The Thunder need to have a better record than four other playoff teams and are right on the edge of having it. Also, they need to make the playoffs over New Orleans. Their winning helps us. The Sixers own Miami's top 10 protected pick, which needs to improve, and the Lakers' top 5 protected pick, which needs to get worse. A Sixers loss and Lakers win maximizes all the best outcomes in just two games. As such, I watched both games, and here's what happened (mostly just Russell Westbrook), as it happened.
Before Russell Westbrook captivated America with what ended as a 49 point, 16 rebound, and 10 assist performance, the Sixers really took it to Oklahoma City. Powering the effort, especially early, was somewhat maligned point guard Isaiah Canaan. Canaan went all BOMBS AWAY on the Thunder, as the team paid little attention to the little guy who could shoot. He started the game 5-5 from three, giving the Sixers a 15-point lead, 32-17, just over nine minutes into the quarter.
Meanwhile, in the Mi of Ami Ami, the Lakers ran out to an early lead behind the Kelly Clarkson lineup, which probably shouldn't be a thing. If Ryan Kelly's not big enough to be a stretch four, and he can't do much other than shoot, he probably shouldn't be an NBA player.
Jordan Clarkson isn't bad, though. The Lakers bought the pick before the pick traded for Pierre Jackson for a lot of money to get Clarkson, who's been starting for the team. He and Linsanity 2: Electric Boogaloo have made the Lakers more competitive recently.
Anyway the Lakers soon enough coughed up the lead through a sickly defense. Three bigs couldn't stop Hassan Whiteside, a theme around the NBA this season. The Sixers also dropped the ball on their lead, because Oklahoma City let Russell Westbrook be an unstoppable ball of energy. What does Russ even do when he's not playing? Does he put all his energy into fashion choices?
Actually that would explain a lot.
END OF Q1:
Thunder 37 - Sixers 34
Heat 28 - Lakers 25
I realized during the second quarter that I was rooting for Carlos Boozer.
Boozer was the center of many trade machine attempts to get the Sixers a$$et$ - once upon a time, a Boozer and Nikola Mirotic for cap space trade proposal was saved to many a fan's bookmarks. I secretly liked the assets but always dreaded that deal, because rooting for Boozer is so freaking hard. The guy doesn't play defense - yelling at teammates to cover your man is not defense, for the record - and isn't an efficient offensive player. I'm not sure why anyone would want him, and yet, he's perfect for this terrible Lakers team. It's like Luc Mbah a Moute without the defense and the personal relationship with Joel Embiid.
Speaking of Luc, good grief he took a lot of shots. Oklahoma City obviously played to force Luc to shoot as often as possible, especially once Canaan went off in the first quarter.The 1-4 pick-and-roll the Sixers often run turned into a trap on Canaan, forcing Luc to make plays with the ball. In prior NBA stops, LRMAM was more of a reluctant scorer. In Philadelphia, his usage is up to almost 19%, by far a career-high, and the results are predictably terrible. But his defense was sound, and with some help from an extended Russell Westbrook rest period, the Sixers held Oklahoma City to 19 second quarter points and led at halftime.
And for that matter, so did the Lakers. Their bench is clearly better than the starting five, which works to give them the lead against a patchwork Heat second unit. That team's had so much turnover you wonder who will play on a day-to-day basis. It's like the Sixers, but with trying to win.
END OF Q2:
Sixers 59 - Thunder 56
Lakers 51 - Heat 46
Hassan Whiteside is a monster. Who just airballed a free throw. Well, you can't win them all.
Even more than mid-season acquisition Goran Dragic, Whiteside is the player who changed Miami's fortunes this season. He's averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds in just 22 minutes per game. And all three of those numbers are trending upward. Whiteside finished last night's game with 18 and 25 (plus four blocks), an amazing statline for anyone, let alone a guy signed to a nonguaranteed deal through next season. The Heat must be kicking themselves over not getting him signed for longer. He dominated LA throughout the second half, and along with Dragic and Dwyane Wade propelled Miami to a lead at the end of three quarters.
Back at Sixers-Thunder, ISAIAH CANAAN! JASON RICHARDSON! WHAT IS GOING ON??? The Sixers were dominating Oklahoma City on the road, not caring about any draft pick implications a win in that specific game might have.
The Sixers lead by as many as 16 in the quarter, as the new backcourt reached new levels of shooting insanity. But Oklahoma City, behind some tough jumpers from Dion Waiters and nifty plays from D.J. Augustin closed the gap to six.
END OF Q3:
Sixers 90 - Thunder 84
Heat 76 - Lakers 73
You could imagine the feeling with about nine minutes left in the third quarter, with both games tied, and all the picks and their protections potentially up in the air. The tension and uncertainty of having no control over anything was palpable, similar to that felt during the draft lottery, but instead of people opening envelopes, there was a fantastic basketball happening. Also, the Lakers and Heat played too.
The Lakers and Sixers both began to fall apart down the stretch. LA relied too heavily on poor decision makers and bad defenders, ultimately coughing up any chance to win. The Sixers were also doomed to this fate, as Russell Westbrook again took control over everything, simultaneously everywhere on the court at once. Unlike the Lakers, the Sixers had a respectable last line of defense. As the Sixers' offense crumbled, per usual, Nerlens Noel singlehandedly defended the rim against anything and everything. Westbrook had no problem taking Jerami Grant or JaKarr Sampson one-on-one, but finishing over the Eraser seems near impossible at times.
Noel finished with five blocks, four steals, and about 100 bailouts of teammates on their defensive lapses. The Sixers kept it just close enough late when Noel and Jason Richardson forced a turnover, down three. With no point guard on the court for defensive purposes, J-Rich pulled up from nearly 30 feet at the top of the key off a screen, and drilled it, tying the game at 110. Richardson finished with 29 points, which in 2015 is more shocking than anything Russell Westbrook has ever done.
After another defensive stop, the Sixers had a chance to win, but a broken play resulting in a Noel runner missed the mark. Overtime in OKC.
The Lakers could not complete their comeback. That game did not end in the Sixers' favor.
END OF Q4:
Sixers 110 - Thunder 110
Heat 100 - Lakers 94
Overtime consisted of two things:
1. The Sixers struggling to score
2. The undentable Russell Westbrook.
Russ added to his game-high scoring, rebounding, and passing numbers, clinching the 10th assist on a dime to Augustin and adding 10 points for good measure. Jerami Grant didn't stand a chance, the poor guy, though it's a great learning experience for the rook.
But somehow, the Sixers didn't just curl up and die. Held scoreless for three minutes, back-to-back three point plays put the Sixers back within one. Russ soon finished them off, however, and the Sixers just struggled to create a good shot. Isaiah Canaan sprinted into a 30-footer. J-Rich and Hollis Thompson also missed threes. Westbrook hit enough free throws. The upset bit was over, with a 123-118 final score, and two positive outcomes in the draft watch.