1. 'Other' Kevin Deserves Credit For OKC's Start
LOS ANGELES -- In the past, back when he was a Sacramento King (or as we'll say one day, back when there were Sacramento Kings) Kevin Martin would look up at the scoreboard, see 11 points by his name after only seven minutes of playing time and figure he was on his way to a 40-point night.
It doesn't work that way anymore. This time 11 points in seven minutes turned into 13 points in 32 minutes. Martin isn't the first-option scorer on this Oklahoma City Thunder team. He's not even the first-option Kevin. That would be Mr. Durant, who had a game-high 32 points in the Thunder's 109-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night. And don't forget about Russell Westbrook, who had 26 points of his own.
"When your two big dogs come back in, you just go back to your third-man role," Martin said. "I accepted it. This is probably the happiest I've been in my career since my Sacramento days."
You'd have to rewind past Martin's 2½ seasons in Houston and go back to 2005-06, the second of Martin's 5½ seasons with the Kings, to find the last time Martin was on a team that made the playoffs. The Thunder are not only playoff-bound, they hold the pole position in the race for the No. 1 overall seed, with a record of 33-9. They're a game and a half ahead of the Clippers, whom Oklahoma City dropped to the third spot by handing them their 11th defeat. With victories in two of their three meetings this season, the Thunder clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker should they wind up with the same record.
This game was reflective of Martin's place on his new team: He isn't the reason why they're winning, but they wouldn't be in this place without him.
In the final 75 seconds of the first quarter, he fed Nick Collison for a jumper, then drained two 3-pointers of his own, accounting for the points that erased an eight-point Clippers lead. Another 3-pointer and a dunk early in the second quarter helped the Thunder go up by seven. A 15-point swing in less than 3½ minutes of game time -- with Martin right in the middle of it -- giving the Thunder the lead they didn't relinquish the rest of the night.
Martin was the principle piece Oklahoma City received from the Houston Rockets when an impasse in contract extension negotiations with James Harden led the Thunder to trade him. Many (including me) thought the Thunder would be wounded by the loss of the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year and a critical component of the team.
Instead they're a game ahead of last season's pace after 42 games. Martin can stake a claim in the best record in the league, if for no other reason than he didn't burst like a water balloon from the pressure of replacing the popular Harden.
"Man," Martin said, exhaling at the memory of his arrival in Oklahoma City. "People really don't understand that. Especially a trade like that. It's going to be under a microscope. Them getting to the [NBA] Finals, just having good team chemistry and coming in and knowing you've got to be a big part of what they do now.
"It's tough. But I think that's where my personality comes in. Just staying level, don't get too high, don't get too low, just be confident in what you did over the last eight years in the league. Coming in, trying to fit in and not mess up."
It was in that last line that Martin found the solution. The best part for him is that he did not have to be the answer, he just needed to avoid raising new questions. A mere approximation of the 20-point scorer he has been for most of his career would suffice. The Thunder have established the NBA's best winning culture north of San Antonio. All Martin had to do was "Not. Mess. Up."
"James [Harden] was a real key piece to our whole program," Durant said. "But we still came back. We still had Russell, myself, Serge [Ibaka]. Our chemistry is growing every single day. We added K-Mart. He's a veteran. He knows how to play the game. And he came in since Day 1 and sacrificed.
"He wanted to a part of this group. He sacrificed shots, minutes, just for the better of the team. When you have a guy that's willing to do that, it makes everything else smoother."
Martin's 15.0 points and 10.5 shots per game are the lowest since his second season in Sacramento.
"I'm here to do whatever they want me to do and try help them get back to the championship, and hopefully we can win it," he said.
He sounds sincere when he says it. He's certainly more accepting of his newfound role coming off the bench than Pau Gasol is with the Lakers. The good news for the Thunder is Martin has swallowed his pride, but he hasn't lost it. He seemed to take pleasure at beating the Clippers at their strength -- bench scoring -- during his run in the first half.
"They have a very deep bench," Martin said. "But we're just as confident as they are."
The Thunder starters were too much for a Clippers squad without the injured Chris Paul. The Clippers didn't get Paul at his best in an overtime loss in Oklahoma City during their first meeting of the season and they didn't get him at all Tuesday night. They're welcome to withhold judgment until he turns in a good game against the team that's most likely to be blocking their path to the NBA Finals.
For now, the Thunder are a worthy No. 1 in the West. The only question Martin wanted answered was how much the team's two stars had his back when he tangled with Matt Barnes late in the game. He wanted to watch the video to, in his words, "see how much we've grown together these past two months."
I think we already know the answer.
Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Durant. Durant has struggled against the Clippers in the past, and his two-point first quarter appeared to foreshadow another tough night. Nope. Durant caught fire from deep late, dropping a 32-7-7 night against pretty good defense.
Defining moment: One dagger often isn't good enough against the Clippers (ask Memphis), so Kevin Durant brought three. Durant's back-to-back 3-pointers and huge dunk locked up Lawler's Law and a huge road victory.
X factor: OKC's 3-point shooting. When Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha are knocking in shots from deep, just go home. OKC shot 15-for-27 from behind the arc, while no Chris Paul equaled no open 3-pointers (4-for-16) for the Clippers.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Ersan Ilyasova. The breakout player of 2011-12 turned very rich person turned disappointment -- has been on fire lately. Three nights after recording 27 points and 14 rebounds against Portland, the young Turk torched the Sixers for 27 points and a season-high 16 rebounds.
Defining moment: Mid-second quarter, Nick Young caught an innocuous-looking pass from Thad Young and barreled down the lane before going not so much over as through NBA block leader Larry Sanders with an authoritative one-handed finish. The Sixers' highlight reel for this season will be short, but that dunk will be on it.
That was why the Sixers lose: When the book gets written on Philadelphia's disappointing 2012-13 campaign, it'll be about the Bynum no-show, but also the decline of its defense. In the most recent case in point, on Tuesday, Philly -- third in the Association in defensive efficiency just a season ago -- let a mediocre Bucks attack shoot 52 percent and hang 110 on them.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kyrie Irving. The second-year guard was sensational on the offensive end, especially when it mattered most. Irving scored 15 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, helping to carry the Cavs to the come-from-behind victory. Perhaps more impressive than the scoring output was Irving's efficiency, as he hit 16 of his 24 shots and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
Defining moment: Paul Pierce. Boston's captain remains in a shooting slump, as he struggled mightily with his shot all night yet again. The veteran small forward missed 12 of his 15 shot attempts, while turning the ball over four times. He finished with just 12 points.
X factor: Boston's second-half offense. Despite facing one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, the Celtics failed to muster enough scoring in the second half to keep pace with Irving's scoring. The visitors shot just 26.2 percent from the field in the second half. That low mark, along with 10 turnovers after halftime, resulted in a mere 37 points, leading to Boston's fourth straight loss.
3. Tuesday's Best
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: The NBA's newest masked man netted 40 points -- one point shy of his career high -- in the Cavaliers' comeback win over the Celtics. Irving scored 15 points in the fourth quarter -- 11 in the final 2:33 -- to lift Cleveland to just their 11th win.
4. Tuesday's Worst
Glen Davis, Magic: Davis attempted 15 shots -- and missed 11 -- in the first half alone and was benched for most of the second half after picking up a technical foul. The Magic, losers of three straight, were dominated in the paint by the Pistons' trio of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Jason Maxiell.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"And then the fourth quarter, we didn't get much better offensively, and Kyrie Irving happened."
-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on the Cavs' comeback, led by 15 fourth-quarter points (40 total) from Irving.
8. What You Lookin' At?
9. Stat Check
Kyrie Irving scored 40 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 95-90 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. At the age of 20 years, 305 days old, Irving became the youngest player to ever score 40 points in a game against the Celtics. The previous youngest was former Cav LeBron James, who scored 43 points against Boston on Feb. 15, 2006 at 21 years, 47 days old.See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night
Defining moment: The Pistons outscored the Magic 28-14 in the third quarter to blow the game wide open and cruise to a double-digit victory. After a porous first half, Detroit's defense clamped down and Orlando was unable to recover.
MVP: Despite being on the wrong side of a blowout loss, J.J. Redick had an outstanding game (26 points on 9-for-10 shooting). He was judicious with his shot selection and it translated into an efficient outing.
LVP: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. With each missed shot, Glen Davis looked more and more like an insane player on offense. He shot 4-for-16 from the floor.