Breakfast Special: Saved the Best for Last

Image via Bob Evans Restaurants

OK, so maybe only one of the three winner-take all games for playoff position was an instant classic.

The Spurs seemed perfectly content to punt the Pelicans game so they could finish seventh and get a Stephen Curry-less Golden State team in the first round and the Portland/Utah winner in the second.

Meanwhile, in Rip City, Donovan Mitchell was so utterly putrid that I don’t care how many seasons Ben Simmons did or didn’t sit on the bench for, Mitchell fluffed his chance to make his Rookie of the Year case on national television.

But the Nuggets, man…talk about dying by the sword…

Denver Dies by the Sword

Will Barton has this thing where in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter of any given close game, he decides he’s Kobe Bryant.

Sometimes that means he puts the team on his shoulders and elevates them to greatness.

Other times, he goes full Josh Smith and shoots them out of the game.

But against Minnesota, we got something completely different; Barton stayed out of the way and let Jamal Murray shine.

Murray scored five of the eight points in a row that Denver used to tie the game (Nikola Jokic got the other three-pointer), Murray then hit a layup to tie it back up at 101…

…and Mike Malone forced the ball into Jokic for three failed possessions at the end of regulation. Miss, miss, turnover, and the Wolves took over in the five extra minutes to win 112-106 and send the Nuggets home for the spring.

Too bad, really. If Malone had just given the ball to Jamal Murray, we’d be having the “fire Tom Thibodeau and trade Andrew Wiggins” conversation. As it stands, we’ll just have to wait for the Rockets to sweep the Wolves before we talk like that.

Jimmy Butler led the way with 31 points, including the last two of regulation:

First time since Kevin Garnett was still on the team the first time. Holy balls, Minny, it’s been a long, long time.

Russell Westbrook, Stat Sheet Stuffer Supreme

Leave it to Russ to need 34 rebounds in his final two games to average a triple-double, grab 18 in the penultimate game, then just have his teammates move over like “boards are yours tonight, Russ.”

Three times, a player in NBA history since 1946 has averaged a triple-double.

Twice, in consecutive years over 70 years after the league was founded and 55 after Oscar Robertson did it the first time, that player was Russell Westbrook.

And yet he’s not even in the top 5 MVP conversation this year. Because when you elevate a G-League team to greatness and do something that hasn’t been done in decades while the guy the media loves shatters his own NBA record for turnovers, you get votes.

But when you have Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and improve your record by one game? That’s a Great Stats, Bad Team guy who’s just good enough for that “bad team” part to be “short of title contention” rather than in the lottery. That just makes him Chris Paul when he was on New Orleans.

Anyway, the Thunder beat the Grizzlies 137-123, Russ had six points, 20 rebounds, and 19 assists on 2-of-9 shooting, missing a triple-double while gunning to average a triple-double, and through some utterly bizarre mathematical alchemy, Oklahoma City ended up with the 4 seed in the West and will host Utah because of course they will.

Donovan Mitchell’s Disaster Movie Finish

6-of-23. 17 points. In a game his team lost by nine only because it was over after three quarters and there was no reason to risk the Blazers’ starters getting hurt.

Utah rolled over and died 102-93 against Portland and now must travel to Oklahoma City for a Game 1.

Portland, meanwhile, nearly choked away the three seed, but now they get the sixth-place Pelicans and get a chance to catch Steph with a lot of rust on him in Game 1 when it goes to Round 2—if the Spurs don’t pull the upset against Golden State first.

What strange times are these.

Damian Lillard, meanwhile, had 36 points on 13-of-25, clowning Mitchell big-time and making the rookie look like the human Rookie Mistake on the biggest stage of the regular season.

Utah as a team shot just 37.1 percent. It was one ugly, ugly game.

Highlights:

Lightning Round!

You get the feeling Milwaukee, the 7 seed, will remember this game if they knock off the depleted Celtics in Round 1 and get the Sixers, who just set the record for longest season-ending winning streak in NBA history, in Round 2?

Philly beat the Bucks 130-95. It was 46-18 after the first quarter.

Dario Saric led the way with 24 points and a team-best +27 plus/minus, but it was Markelle Fultz who stole the show by becoming the youngest player (eat your heart out, Lonzo Ball, didn’t have that record for long, did you?) to get a triple-double in NBA history:

The Knicks beat the Cavs 110-98. It appeared Cleveland backed off the throttle as soon as they realized Philly wasn’t going to lose to the Bucks, as their starters (except for Cedi Osman) played just about 11 minutes each.

Of course, they didn’t pull LeBron James until he got to 10 points because heaven forbid he lose that 11-season double-digit points streak…

Luke Kornet (!) led all scorers with 23 for the Knicks.

New York fans…weren’t happy with the win:

Seriously. New York’s likely picking ninth. How do you screw that up?

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played 38 and 39 minutes, respectively. They scored a combined 47 points on 16-of-37 (43.2 percent) shooting.

The Raptors led by 11 with about 15 minutes to play in the game…and they lost in overtime to the Heat 116-109, losing their chance at the first 60-win season in team history.

Miami actually won the woeful Southeast Division with their 44-38 record. They face Philadelphia in the first round. Philadelphia finished third in the Atlantic Division…and the Eastern Conference, but they, Toronto, and Boston got to beat up on the Knicks and Nets all year (combined division record: 7-25, including 1-15 for Brooklyn.)

Wayne Ellington had 32 points on 8 three-pointers:

By the gods, Wizards, it’s one thing to tank to avoid Cleveland, but how on earth did you choke all the way down to eighth, limping into the playoffs by losing nine of the last 12, including a loss to freaking Orlando 101-92?

Have fun getting swept by the Raptors.

Here’s Aaron Gordon clowning your defense. Funny thing is, at least you made Magic fans angry when they couldn’t tank right.

Oh, we did mention the Pelicans beat the Spurs 122-98, right?

And San Antonio played nobody more than Dejounte Murray‘s 29 minutes and saw all 13 of their players play at least nine minutes?

The Spurs really wanted that date with the Warriors…

Detroit beat Chicago 119-87. We had so many dreams of this game mattering, Detroit…

Andre Drummond was a DNP-Rest, but his 16 rebounds per game are a post-2000 NBA high. There just aren’t enough available misses anymore with teams shooting the ball so well and playing at a measured pace. To get even 16 of them is practically Wilt-like.

The Lakers beat the Clippers 115-100, completing a crash so catastrophic for the Clips, it should seal the fate of Doc Rivers once and for all. Rivers’ accidental masterpiece in Boston in 2008 is a baffling jewel on a garbage coaching resume. In hindsight it’s almost a surprise that the Lakers didn’t win the title that year.

Andre Ingram came crashing back down to earth, scoring five points on 2-of-9 shooting in 35 minutes, but on the other hand he was a team-best plus-23 in terms of plus/minus. He deserves a proper “rookie year” with an NBA team in 2019.

Boston beat Brooklyn 110-97 behind 26 points and 14 rebounds (including a Steven Adams-like nine offensive boards) from Aron Baynes.

This game was played at such a breakneck pace that the Celtics shot 102 attempts (making 46) and hit an estimated 101.6 possessions on the night. They outrebounded the Nets 62-44.

Keep on keepin’ on with that “suck faster” ethos, Kenny Atkinson. It’s fun to watch you fail in entertaining fashion.

And finally, it was Sacramento Kings 96, DNP-Rest 83.

Do not confuse this for Houston Rockets basketball. Clint Capela, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon were all MIA on the court.

Willie Cauley-Stein led a Total Team Effort with 22 points:

That’s the last of the regular-season highlight shows, but the Breakfast Special goes seven days a week for the playoffs whenever there are games played. Stay tuned for that, and thanks for reading!