Kawhi gives the middle finger to Nuggets comeback; Lakers-Rockets tied entering pivotal game 3

Bucks on the brink of elimination, probably without Giannis, as are the defending champion Raptors

Basketball is a funny sport. After looking like the better team for 40 minutes, the Denver Nuggets got railroaded by a late Los Angeles Clippers flurry. Over the course of the final eight minutes or so, the Clippers outscored the Nuggets 23-10 - and sealed it with an epic middle finger block.

As a post player in real life, blocks are one of my favorite basketball events. Or really, anything tightly contested at the rim - I’m willing to cheer for massive dunks over people too. In this case though, Nuggets point guard, Jamal Murray soared up looking for a power dunk and there would be no massive dunk.

Kawhi Leonard challenged just right, absorbing the body contact, and then extending a freakishly long middle finger to send a literal and figurative message.

It was a pivotal moment in a series that has felt closer than I though it should be (but what do I know, right? Why isn’t Antony Randolph a perennial All Star?). As per The Athletic, the Clippers defense crushed Denver in the closing frame

Over that final eight-and-a-half-minute stretch, the Clippers held the Nuggets to 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 0-of-6 3-point shooting, and forced four turnovers.

It was exactly the sort of “flip the playoff switch” moment that is at the heart of the Clippers’ seeming nonchalance. Or was it?

Though they haven’t won anything meaningful yet, this is a team that appears to be headed for an epic intra-LA battle in the Conference Finals.

Assuming the Lakers can handle their business.

Can the Lakers handle their business?

The first game today (3:30pm on TNT) will feature ex-Warrior Andre Iguodala and the Miami Heat, hoping to seal the Milwaukee Bucks in an envelope and send them into a troubling offseason. No one saw this Heat team as a threat coming into the bubble, but they are looking as tough as anyone.

The late game (6pm on TNT) will be game three of the Lakers/Rockets series. I don’t remember the exact percentage, but I heard on the broadcast last night that the team winning game three goes on to win the entire series over 80% of the time. So this is a huge game.

So far, the asymmetric basketball we talked about in our preview has been just as intriguing as expected. After getting shocked and awed by the Rockets’ frenetic pace in game one, and most of game 2, the Lakers’ LeBron James willed his team to victory by becoming the aggressor.

After trading their only Center, Clint Capela, the Rockets have embraced small ball to a level that would make Don Nelson cry tears of Nellie Ball joy. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington and Eric Gordon appear to be emerging as the Rockets lineup of choice.

It’s a high risk, high (potential) reward roster that challenges their opponents to go small and match their scoring output.

Lakers coach, Frank Vogel has embraced the challenge, benching big man Dwight Howard (JaVale McGee is unhelpfully listed as “Questionable” after sustaining an ankle injury in the previous game) - counting on the tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to be up to the task of hanging on the perimeter defensively, and dominating the post on offense.

Houston has a Westbrook problem. As per 538, “he made 25.8 percent of his threes during the regular season but is down to 16.7 percent in five playoff games. After cutting threes out of his diet before the shutdown, Westbrook has already launched 12 in this series.”

The author goes on to point towards Westbrooks uncertain quad muscle injury, but for whatever reason Westbrook has found almost no success at the rim… or really anywhere.