Monday, 22 Jul 2024

Starting 5, March 4: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Takes Over & a New West No. 1

Starting 5

Happy Monday to the Starting 5 fam. ☀️

Haven’t seen the Western Conference standings yet? They look a lot like that solid block of meetings on your calendar. We can help you untangle the standings. The meetings? We won’t tell if you put ’em off for a few to catch up on Sunday’s action-packed night of hoops.

THE LINEUP 🏀

  • ⛈️ Thunder rise to No. 1
  • 🍀 Roundup: Celtics’ 3rd biggest W ever
  • 📊 How deep does OKC go?
  • ⏪ Weekend rewind
  • 📸 Photos of the week

A 6-game Monday sees three of the West’s top four teams in action, with the Clippers taking on the surging Bucks (8 ET, NBA TV), OKC meeting up with the Lakers (10:30 ET, NBA TV), and the Wolves & Blazers squaring off (8 ET, NBA App).

1. THUNDER HOLD ON, RISE UP

For nearly a month, the Minnesota Timberwolves have held off everyone in the West to keep a lock on the top spot. But heading into the first full week of March, after two straight Minnesota losses and just 0.5 games separating the top three teams this late in the year for the second time ever, the Western Conference has a new No. 1 team: the Oklahoma City Thunder, after a 118-110 win over the Phoenix Suns.

  • The Hard Way: OKC was up by 24 in the third quarter, but watched the Suns chip away to take a six-point lead at the 8:40 mark of the fourth … only for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11) and Jalen Williams (6) to combine for 17 the rest of the way, as OKC outscored PHX 26-12
  • SGA: “Basketball is a game of runs, so it’s ups and downs, you just got to try to turn the tide and you only do that by taking possession by possession … I try to keep the same mentality no matter what’s going on.”
  • Star guards go off: SGA dropped 35 in the win, while Bradley Beal (31) led a Suns team that was without Devin Booker (ankle)
  • Nurkic vs. The Boards: Jusuf Nurkic pulled down 31 rebounds – more than 60% of the Suns’ total rebounds (50) – on the way to a franchise-record for boards

Standings

Clippers Grind Out Win vs. Wolves: In a game tied for the third-fewest combined points this NBA season, Kawhi Leonard scored 32 and the LA Clippers held the Minnesota Timberwolves to just 58 points in the final three quarters to win, 89-88.

  • Taste of their own medicine: Minny led 30-18 after one. LA rallied to win the second quarter 31-16, holding Minnesota – the league’s No. 1 defense – to just 35% shooting (23% from beyond the arc) from that point forward. Ant Edwards led the Wolves with 27
  • Shaking up streaks: The win snapped Minnesota’s four-game win streak over the Clippers (two already earlier this year), gave LA its first back-to-back wins since Feb. 5, and handed the Wolves back-to-back L’s for just the third time this year
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How close is this race? The league’s only seen a half-game differential between a conference’s top 3 teams after Mar. 4 one time before: two years ago, when Boston, Miami, Milwaukee, and Philly were separated by a half game on Mar. 28.

Going back to 1970-71, the first year of conferences, three teams have been within 1.5 games of first place on the morning of Mar. 4 just six times.

  • 1981-82, East: 1 game (BOS, MIL, PHI)
  • 1993-94, West: 1.5 games (SEA, HOU, SA)
  • 1998-99, East: 1 game (ORL, IND, MIA)
  • 2001-02, West: 1.5 games (SAC, LAL, DAL)
  • 2002-03, East: 1.5 games (IND, NJ, DET)
  • 2007-08, West: 1.5 games (SA, LAL, NO)

2. ROUNDUP: C’S NOTCH 3RD 50-POINT WIN, SIXERS BEAT MAVS

The Boston Celtics broke through a barrier on Friday night, becoming the first team with a win streak longer than nine games this year – after five teams ended at nine.

On Sunday, one of the most storied teams in NBA history nearly broke an all-time franchise record in a 140-88 win over the Warriors.

  • A new league record: Jaylen Brown’s 29 and Jayson Tatum’s 27 (on his 26th birthday) propelled the Celtics to their third-largest margin of victory in team history and an NBA-record third 50-point win this season. Tap for the best from the Jays
  • Unique streak: The Celtics (48-12) have a +243 differential during their 11-game run (!!), the largest over an 11-game win streak the league’s ever seen. The 1970-71 Bucks held the previous mark, at +236
  • 3rd best through 60: In Boston team history, only the 1964-65 and 1985-86 Celtics, at 49-11, had a better record through 60 games. Both ended up winning titles
  • Said Brown: “We didn’t come and mess around, and that’s just how we show our respect to the game; we handle business and take care of it. … It’s a lot of respect for the Golden State Warriors, but we feel like it’s our time now.”
  • Tatum before 26: JT finished sixth in total points (11,381) before turning 26, behind LeBron, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant – and 118 pts ahead of MJ

Back-to-back wins for 76ers: The Sixers needed a win to keep pace in the Eastern Conference traffic jam. Tobias Harris and Kelly Oubre Jr. answered, going for 28 and 21 points, respectively, to send Philly to a 120-116 win over Dallas and the Sixers’ second set of back-to-back W’s since Joel Embiid was injured in late January.

  • Luka’s historic third straight: The NBA’s leading scorer put up 38 pts, 11 reb, and 10 ast, joining Oscar Robertson (4x), Russell Westbrook (2x), and Michael Jordan as the only players with 3 straight 30+ point triple-doubles
  • Why this win mattered: Just 2.5 games separate the fourth (New York) and eighth (Indiana) seeds in the East. The win kept Philly (35-25) a half game behind the Knicks (36-25) for the fifth spot in the conference … with very little breathing room
  • The race is on: The Magic, who sit 0.5 games behind Philly at 35-26, have won 8 of 10. The Heat – 0.5 games behind Orlando – have too
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Depleted Knicks beat Cavs: After Jalen Brunson (knee) was injured on the first possession, Josh Hart dropped a triple-double, and Donte DiVincenzo added 28 to beat the Cavs, 107-98, and keep the Knicks in sole possession of fourth place in the East.

  • With the loss, the Cavs (39-21) fell to third in the East, half a game back of the 40-21 Bucks – the first time they’ve been below second since Feb. 4

Orlando wins again: The Magic got 29 points on 63% shooting from Paolo Banchero to win 113-91 and complete the season sweep of the Pistons. Up next for the Magic this week? A three-game road trip going through Charlotte Tuesday, DC Wednesday, and New York on Friday.

Wemby dominates vs. Pacers: The Spurs picked up their second straight win thanks to 31 pts, 12 reb, 6 blk, 6 ast (and a 3-for-4 mark from downtown) from Victor Wembanyama, with the NBA’s block leader swatting 5+ shots in five of his last six games. T.J. McConnell led the way for Indiana, which took its third loss in its last four games with the 117-105 loss.

Down Barnes, Toronto hangs on: Playing without Scottie Barnes (finger), RJ Barrett (23 pts), Immanuel Quickley (22 pts, 11 ast), and Toronto led by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter, then held off a furious Charlotte rally to win 111-106. A Davis Bertans 3 with 1:06 left briefly put Charlotte on top, but six late IQ free throws and a Gary Trent steal sealed the W.

PLAYING ROLES 🤝 ON A ROLL

Thunder

On a team led by a 25-year-old point guard who’s rocketed into the MVP conversation and a 21-year-old center having one of the greatest rookie seasons ever, one thing about this Thunder squad can get lost: just how deep they go.

The Thunder is second in the league in FG%, first in 3PT%, and first in FT%, with seven players getting at least 18 minutes a night while shooting 43% or better from the field.

Ahead of OKC’s showdown with the Lakers tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV) – a team with one of the best defensive bench units in the league – how big of an impact have the Thunder’s role players made?

  • Twenty-two-year-old Jalen Williams (19.3 pts, 4.1 reb, 4.6 ast) has improved his scoring every single month this year, at 15.5 ppg in Oct, 17.9 in Nov, 18.8 in Dec, 19.9 in Jan, and 22.3 in Feb
  • Williams ranks as the only player in the league with a minimum of 54/44/80 splits and tops in the league on jump shot FG%, at 48.9% (min. 200 attempts)
  • Lu Dort’s NetRtg of 8.0 puts him tenth in the league among players with at least 28 mpg and 57 games played
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The Thunder bench ranks second in the league in NetRtg, behind only the Celtics.

  • The bench unit also has the best 3P% in the NBA, at 39.5, and sits third in EFG% (57.6)
  • Isaiah Joe leads the way, firing at 42.4% on 4.6 treys a game

WEEKEND IN REVIEW

The all-time leading scorer in league history added a new, never-before-seen milestone. The Bucks stayed hot. And the standings got even tighter.

Friday:

  • Bucks win fifth straight: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 46-16 night gave him his fifth game of 45+ this year, as Milwaukee stayed hot out of the All-Star break with a 113-97 win over Chicago. Giannis also tied Oscar Robertson & Bob Pettit for the fourth-most games (9) with 40+ pts, 15+ reb & 5+ ast
  • Warriors win, Wolves fall: Before falling on Sunday, Golden State’s 120-105 win – on the strength of a vintage third quarter – gave the Warriors their 13th W in 16 games. Meanwhile, the Kings’ 124-120 win over the Wolves (thanks to 39 from Malik Monk) gave Minnesota its first of back-to-back losses this weekend
  • Shorthanded Cavs roll again: With Donovan Mitchell & Caris LeVert out, Darius Garland (29 pts, season-high 8 3s) and Evan Mobley (22 pts, 17 reb, 7 ast) kept Cleveland ahead of Milwaukee in the East … for a night

Saturday:

  • LeBron becomes 1st to 40,000: At the 10:39 mark of the second quarter with the crowd on its feet, LeBron James spun around Michael Porter Jr., drove the lane, and finished a lefty layup to become the first NBA player ever to score 40,000 points
  • The Nuggets beat the Lakers, 124-114, behind a 35-10-7 night from Nikola Jokic to win their sixth straight and stay within a game of the top of the West

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK

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FAQs

Q: Who is the new No. 1 team in the Western Conference?
A: The Oklahoma City Thunder.

Q: How did the Thunder secure the top spot?
A: They won a crucial game against the Phoenix Suns.

Q: Which player had a standout performance for the Thunder?
A: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points and played a key role in securing the victory.

Q: How close is the race in the Western Conference standings?
A: The top three teams are separated by just 0.5 games.

Q: Which team did the LA Clippers defeat in a low-scoring game?
A: The Minnesota Timberwolves.

Summary

In this article, we highlight the recent developments in the NBA, specifically focusing on the Western Conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder has claimed the top spot after a win over the Phoenix Suns. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played a crucial role in securing the victory with his impressive performance. The race in the Western Conference standings is extremely close, with only 0.5 games separating the top three teams. Additionally, we provide a roundup of other notable games and milestones from the weekend. The article concludes with a series of captivating photos capturing the action on the court. To stay updated with the latest NBA news and results, visit Osceolagarage.com.