The Bubble Domes continued at pace last night, and perhaps the story was OKC forcing a Game 7 against the Rockets in their first-round series. Or rather, the story within the story.
The Rockets and Thunder had gone back and forth all night, with each team taking a six-point lead in the fourth quarter before handing it back. The moments that Thunder fans will think of when the passion has gone out of their marriages but they need to fake it came with less than a minute left. With the game tied, Westbrook drove to the free-throw line and got an open look, only to see his jumper come apologetically short of the rim like a kid who’s home after curfew but sees his parents waiting in the living room. James Harden did Westbrook a favor by saving the ball from going out of bounds, but Harden missed his three-attempt on the ensuing possession. Chris Paul, the dude who was traded for Westbrook along with a sinful amount of first-round picks, drew a foul and buried both free throws at the other end to give the Thunder a lead they wouldn’t lose.
On the very next possession, as if Thunder fans could believe their eyes, Westbrook attempted to drive to the same spot but then dished a pass to…well, only someone he could see, as it was safely socially distanced from Harden and rolled harmlessly out of bounds. Danilo Gallinari would sink two more free throws to ice the game and set up a Game 7 on Wednesday. Some would call it the best playoff memory Westbrook has given Oklahoma City in his career, though that would be very much on the harsh side. Still, there’s a reason the Germans invented the word “schadenfreude.”
In the other action from Orlando, Jimmy Butler does that thing he does where he has a big playoff game early in the series, makes everyone talk about what a true leader he is, and uses that as a smokescreen for the rest of the series where he isn’t much more than fine and his team loses but he escapes blame for it. It’s truly a brilliant plan, and one you should remember next time he shows up at his team’s training facility at 3 a.m. to pose and gets every crotchety observer to wet their Depends over it.
Butler went for 40 in Game 1 against the Bucks, including a couple of huge buckets down the stretch to win the game. It kind of looked like the 30 and 11 rebounds he put up in Game 2 against the Raptors last year, and then didn’t eclipse that again (including a Game 5 effort where he was a -36 while on the floor in Game 5). Or the 36 he put up in Game 1 against Brooklyn last year before not breaking 20 again.
It’s not that Butler’s bad. He’s quite good. He’s even more quite good at always seemingly controlling the narrative around him. Maybe he can convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to have another woeful game from the line, where he went 4-12, continuing a recent trend for him. It’s unlikely Antetokounmpo will be held to under 20 points though, even if he is going cross-eyed at the line at the moment. Then we’ll see what Butler really is. Check back on this in four to five games. Happy to eat shit.
In the northern bubble, the Lightning put the Bruins to the sword and booked themselves a ticket to Edmonton for the conference finals (both conference finals will be held there). It took them two overtimes to manage it, until Victor Hedman found a way through Jaro Halak.
As happens every year, we’re left to wonder if this was Zdeno Chara’s last game. He’s been noncommittal, but then, he always is. It’s likely he’ll be back for one more go-around.
In the night’s other game, the Avalanche finally remembered they’re much faster and livelier than the Dallas Stars, as they fustigated them in the first period to the tune of outshooting them 24-3 and taking a 5-0 lead on Ben Bishop, who made his first start for Dallas in forever. It might be forever until he does again.
The US Open started without fans and mostly without line judges as well, as this is the first Grand Slam to introduce Live Hawkeye on all the courts except for the two show courts. Essentially that Hawkeye system you’re used to seeing on player challenges is now simply making the calls in real time, in yet another example of how automation is the true threat to and conqueror of the middle class.
The major result was last year’s fan-fave Coco Gauff losing her first-round match to Anastasija Sentastova. It was a real “I don’t want it, you take it” match, with neither able to hold a serve in the second and third sets, but Gauff was finally successful in surrendering it. She tossed in 13 double-faults and 43 unforced errors in a festival of waywardness.
Finally, here’s Nolan Arenado coming up with something that shouldn’t be possible.
Plays like this should result in all three outs of an inning being recorded at once. It’s the only way to attach the proper authority to something like this.