Four games, four days, four MVP candidates, four title contenders: It’s the NBA’s version of March Madness, done up Texas style. The eyes of the basketball world will be on Houston and San Antonio, where a quartet of games could help determine one of the closest MVP races ever, as well as give us a glimpse at how the top championship contenders match up.
It all started Sunday, when Russell Westbrook padded his MVP résumé with another triple-double but saw his Oklahoma City Thunder fall to James Harden and the Houston Rockets. Monday night, 195 miles away, two of the past three Finals MVPs faced off, with Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs rolling to victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, who was forced to leave early with a neck injury. With two games in the books, it was time to turn our attention to the Golden State Warriors, who took care of business against the Rockets, and then did the same with an amazing comeback against the Spurs on Wednesday night, just hours after finding out Kevin Durant could return for the end of the regular season.
Relive all four games through the eyes of Tim MacMahon, who was on the scene for every second of action and even gave fans a glimpse of what a true Texas road trip looks like.
Wednesday, March 29 – Warriors at Spurs
AT&T Center (San Antonio)
The media won’t get a glimpse of Kevin Durant working out this evening. He got his work in early this afternoon at the AT&T Center.
Kevin Durant will get a pregame workout in after all. It’s a two-a-day for him as he ramps up for his return.
Kevin Durant, simulating coming off curls, mixes in a hard two-hand dunk with a bunch of pull-ups.
Kevin Durant, working on his off-the-dribble game, jumps off his left foot for another dunk.
A look at the brace Kevin Durant is wearing on his left knee:
Texas ex Kevin Durant still has some fans in the Lone Star State.
The throng of Warriors autograph seekers isn’t quite as deep in San Antonio as it was in Houston.
Man, we thought the Spurs dominated the Cavaliers? San Antonio 23, Warriors 3 seven minutes in. A statement week for the Spurs?
David West is welcomed back to San Antonio with a round of boos. Spurs fans apparently didn’t appreciate him choosing to go to Golden State after spending last season here.
David West on being booed in San Antonio: “Hey, this is the NBA, man.”
Golden State is not going down without a fight. The Warriors have sliced the lead to seven. The electricity in the crowd has turned into anger at refs.
The finale of the Texas 4-Step is by far the most competitive game. Spurs pounced on the Warriors, who bowed up and got back in the game after getting down by 22. Spurs 57, Warriors 54 at the half.
The Warriors’ dreadful start is a distant memory. Golden State 84, San Antonio 77 entering the fourth quarter. Steph Curry scored 13 of his 27 in the third. His long 3 at the buzzer had the crowd gasping, but it didn’t go down.
A 23-3 deficit on the second night of a road back-to-back against the team with the NBA’s second-best record didn’t faze the Warriors. Golden State’s 110-98 win is about as impressive as March victories get.
Steve Kerr on coming back from early 22-point deficit: “We felt confident. The NBA game is a long process, and you’ve got to stick with it. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of firepower.”
Draymond Green: Even down 22, “I never felt like they were dominating us.”
Draymond Green on message sent with comeback over Spurs: “Nothing, nothing. We just went up another game in the standings. That’s it.”
Steph Curry says the Warriors play a finesse style, but “I’d definitely call us a tough team that knows how to win.”
Tuesday, March 28 – Warriors at Rockets
Toyota Center (Houston)
As the doors open, a lot of fans wearing Warriors No. 30 jersey want to get a glimpse of Steph Curry’s warmup routine.
The Steph Curry warmup show begins.
Off night for Steph Curry? Only 5-of-10 from the midcourt logo.
He won’t threepeat as MVP, but Steph Curry still has the most intense fan following in the league.
Steph Curry’s warmup routine is such an event that even a Hall of Famer like Calvin Murphy makes a point to watch.
Kevin Durant is cutting hard, stopping quickly and elevating during his pregame workout.
Draymond Green on Kevin Durant: “I think he’s coming along amazing. I saw him working out earlier and I got excited.”
James Harden enters the Toyota Center spittin’ rap lyrics, as usual.
How do you know this is James Harden’s house? The DJ switches to Harden’s personal playlist as he starts his warmup routine. First song: “Good Drake” by 2 Chainz. One lyric from that song: “Oh you in a slump, I’m headed to Oakland like Kevin Durant”
If your team got eliminated in the first round last season, can you make fun of the Warriors’ Finals failure? Absolutely, according to Dora Rodriguez and her 14-year-old son Mason Garcia.
It’s ridiculous for the Rockets to be a legitimate contender and there be so many empty seats with the Warriors in town. Houston has a crowd problem.
Even with the inexplicable empty seats, the crowd is electric at the Toyota Center after the Rockets’ invigorating performance in the second quarter. Houston trails the Warriors, 60-52, but sliced the lead by more than half after the first quarter. Rockets fans were especially energized by James Harden attacking Steph Curry off the dribble, a flashy display of aggressive ballhandling that resulted in a pair of free throws.
Talk about inflated stats if you want, but James Harden putting up a triple-double midway through the third quarter is pretty impressive. Add another log to his fire of MVP candidacy.
No celebratory drum routine tonight, but the Red Rowdies’ spirit remains strong.
No DNP-rest planned for this Warriors trip to San Antonio. Steve Kerr: “Guys are good to go, the schedule has been fine and we’ll go in there and see what we can do.”
Draymond Green: “Just ice and treatment and I’ll be ready to go.”
Draymond Green says Oakland fans should boycott the Raiders for the next three years. “No way I would pay to attend a game.”
Tuesday, March 28 – Road Trip
Driving from San Antonio to Houston
Halfway through the Texas 4-Step, headed from San Antonio back to Houston, so figured we might as well stop to check out the giant stag made of scrap metal in Converse, Texas. They call the big guy, who stand tall in a subdivision, “King of the Parc.”
If you’re on a Texas road trip, you’ve gotta make a pit stop at a Buc-ee’s, a big, ol’ gas station and much more.
Got some good grub at Mikeska’s BBQ in Columbus, Texas with some furry friends.
Monday, March 27 – Cavaliers at Spurs
AT&T Center (San Antonio)
Welcome to the AT&T Center, home of the Spurs and the occasional bat or snake.
LeBron James, sporting shades to perhaps protect his eyes from the Texas sun, arrives at the AT&T Center.
LeBron James provides his own soundtrack as he starts his warmup routine.
LeBron fans line the railings above the visitors’ tunnel as he warms up hoping to get a moment after he finishes.
There are also a lot of LeBron haters in the building.
The Baseline Bums have been tamed a bit since the Spurs’ ABA days. They used to sit above the visitors’ tunnel in old HemisFair Arena and once pelted then-Nuggets coach Larry Brown with avocados and guacamole on a 10-cent beer night soon after his declaration that guacamole was the only good thing in San Antonio. “Still rowdy, not as drunk,” one of the bums says.
Safe to assume Kawhi Leonard is done for the night with the Spurs nursing a 31-point lead with 10:32 to go. He got a standing ovation from much of the crowd when he checked out with 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Kid, maybe 9 or 10, shouts as LeBron James shoots free throws: “Your whole team stinks!” Accurate analysis of tonight’s Cavs performance.
LeBron James was down on the floor for more than a minute after a delayed reaction to a David Lee elbow in his upper back. He slowly walked to the Cleveland bench after finally getting up.
LeBron James says he will be ready to play in the Cavs’ next game after taking an elbow to the spine.
Ty Lue says it’s “crossed my mind” to sit Cavs Stars down the stretch to make sure they’re fresh for the playoffs. “I don’t know, I might get in trouble.”
All Ty Lue could do was laugh after that blowout loss.
Has it reached crisis mode for the Cavaliers? The defending champs will drop to 6-9 in March after the Spurs put the finishing touches on this dominant performance.
LeBron James: “Right now, we’re just not playing good basketball. We’ll figure it out. I’m still confident in the bunch.”
LeBron James on the Cavaliers slipping to second in the East behind the Celtics: “How much does it matter to me? It matters more that we’re playing better basketball than where we’re at, and if that results in us getting the number one seed, getting the number two seed, three or whatever the hell it is, I want us to be playing better basketball. That’s what it comes down to. I’m not worried about anything. I feel like when we’re playing Cavaliers basketball, when we’re playing the type of basketball that we know we’re capable of playing, when we’re at full strength, we can start off on the road. We’ve done it before.”
On the bright side for this LeBron fan, at least his lady is happy.
The Baseline Bums go home in a good mood.
Sunday, March 26 – Thunder at Rockets
Toyota Center (Houston)
Russell Westbrook struts into the Toyota Center sporting a bucket hat, shirt with “FEAR OF GOD” on the back and some Thunder-blue highwaters.
James Harden as he walks in the Toyota Center: “I’m gonna tell ’em how it is.”
Wyatt Anderson, 6, dad Chris and uncle Justin Glover drove down from Oklahoma City last night. The plan is to bring Wyatt to every NBA arena by the time he’s 21. They bought tickets to this game before the season.
The MVP candidates looked the part during a spectacularly entertaining first quarter. James Harden’s nine points and two assists helped the Rockets take a 37-31 lead. Russell Westbrook (nine points, two rebounds, six assists) is keeping the Thunder in the game. Trevor Ariza, of all people, has a game-high 11 points.
Chopped brisket nachos at the Toyota Center. Poached egg, ghost pepper salsa, hold the sour cream. Need a fork for these nachos. Worth the $13.
James Harden tore the roof off the Toyota Center by drilling a deeeeeep pull-up 3 at the buzzer to end the third quarter. The crowd went crazy as Harden popped his jersey in celebration. Down 25, the Thunder are on the wrong end of yet another nationally televised blowout, a disturbing trend for OKC with the playoffs around the corner.
You can always count on a couple of extracurricular moments between Pat Beverley and Russell Westbrook. In this case, it was initiated by Westbrook, whose knocked Beverley to the floor while committing a frustrating foul and pretended Beverley didn’t exist as the feisty Rockets guard expressed his displeasure
Ho-hum, Russell Westbrook has another 30-point triple-double. A more relevant stat this afternoon: The Rockets have four 20-plus-point scorers.
The fans who aren’t fleeing for the exits held their breath as James Harden stayed down on the floor for several seconds after his dagger drive. “MVP! MVP!” the fans chanted as Harden finally got on his feet.
James Harden is all smiles despite the black tape on his sore left wrist as he socializes on his way out of the Toyota Center.
Rockets G Pat Beverley on the DNP-Rest trend: “I think that’s bulls—. I think that’s a disgrace to this league. I think that fans deserve better. I could care less about coaches ask players to rest or not. It’s up to you to play or not, and if you don’t you’re disrespecting the game. And I don’t believe in disrespecting the game, because there was a time where I wasn’t playing in the NBA and I was trying to get here. So me resting I feel like is disrespecting me, disrespecting the name on the front of the jersey and disrespecting the name on the back of the jersey.”
The Rockets’ Red Rowdies are rocking after Houston rolled over the Thunder.