NBA Playoffs begin Saturday on ESPN, 12:30 p.m. ET
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AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillLos Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant grimaces after being injured during the second half of the game Friday against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers won 118-116.
Perhaps the wear and tear of 17 NBA seasons is catching up with the 34-year-old Bryant, who has played 3,013 minutes this season. He's the first player age 34 or older to play 3,000-plus minutes in an NBA season since both Michael Jordan and Gary Payton did so in 2002-03.
Bryant's average of 38.6 minutes per game this season is only the eighth-highest of his career, but his minutes have escalated in April. He's averaging 45.2 minutes in six games this month; that's his most in any month of his career, minimum two games.
In his past seven games, Bryant has played 95 percent of the minutes, and he has played 47 minutes four times. Compare that to the first 71 games of the season, during which he never played 47 minutes and was on the court for only 80 percent of the possible minutes.
On top of his 17 NBA regular seasons, Bryant has played 8,638 minutes in 220 playoff games. Plus he played another 747 minutes in winning gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
The playoff and Olympic minutes add up to more than three seasons worth of time, which means he has played the equivalent of more than 20 NBA regular seasons.
If Bryant did tear his Achilles, he can look across sports to other 30-something stars who returned to action. Dan Marino ruptured his right Achilles in 1993 at age 32, then made the Pro Bowl in both 1994 and 1995.
David Beckham, then 34, tore his left Achilles in March 2010 with AC Milan, and while he missed the World Cup, he came back to win two MLS Cups with the Los Angeles Galaxy and now plays for French club Paris Saint-Germain.
On the other hand, as this Basketball Prospectus article from last year details, several NBA players, including 32-year-old Isiah Thomas, never played again in the NBA following an Achilles tear.
Whether or not this is the end of Bryant's career, he has made his case to be included among the greatest basketball players ever. Earlier this season, he passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth place on the NBA's career scoring list, and he's 675 points behind Jordan for third.
Kobe has won five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and two scoring titles. His 15 All-Star selections are tied for the second-most ever, and he has been named first-team All-NBA 10 times, one shy of Karl Malone's record of 11.
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKevin Durant led the Thunder's big second-half comeback to beat the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
Then Kevin Durant woke up… and Parker’s hot hand went ice cold.
Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half to oust the West’s top seed and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. It was San Antonio’s largest blown playoff halftime lead ever.
The Thunder become the first Western Conference champion outside of the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks since 1998. Coincidentally, Oklahoma City defeated all three during its current playoff run.
Durant, who played all 48 minutes, scored 20 points after halftime to key the Thunder’s huge comeback. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, and knocked down 12-of-15 free throws. Russell Westbrook played a solid supporting role with 25 points and eight boards.
Durant joins Xavier McDaniel and Gary Payton as the only members of the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.
While the Thunder’s 3-point shooting was a major spark – they knocked down 10-of-18 from beyond the arc – they balanced it by scoring efficiently inside. Oklahoma City was 15-of-25 from inside 5 feet in Game 6, including a blistering 10-of-14 from that distance in the second half.
The Spurs watched their season end on a season-high four-game skid after running off 20 straight wins. After a dominant first half in which they scored 63 points on 54.5 percent from the field, they hit more iron than net in the second half, converting just 32.5 percent of their field goals.
A key was the Thunder limiting the Spurs’ pick-and-roll offense, allowing 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting on such plays (3-of-10, 6 points in 2nd half). The Spurs scored over 20 points on pick-and-rolls just once (Game 5) in the last four games of the series after scoring 30 in each of the first two games.
No player exemplified that more than Parker. The point guard had a first half for the ages, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter and reaching halftime with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 10 assists. He became the first player since at least 1996 to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff half.
The Thunder become only the third team in NBA history to win four straight games in the conference finals after trailing 2-0 and now will wait to see if they will face the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. With home-court advantage in that series, Oklahoma City has a prime opportunity to win its first title since 1979.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images The Celtics and 76ers meet in a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston on Saturday night.
The Celtics own a 4-2 advantage in the previous six matchups, but the 76ers won the most recent game three decades ago in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.
Game 7 Stats To Know
History appears to be on the Celtics’ side as they are 17-4 all-time at home in Game 7s. They did lose their last such game in 2009 against the Orlando Magic, but they have never lost consecutive Game 7s at home. The Celtics are also 20-7 overall in Game 7s, the most such wins and second-best record in NBA history (min. five games).
The 76ers, on the other hand, are just 1-7 all-time on the road in Game 7s and haven’t played one since 1986. The franchise is 6-8 overall in Game 7s; the eight losses are tied for the most in NBA history.
Celtics Keys to the Game
The Celtics have yet to lose back-to-back games this postseason, having won all four contests following a loss. However, the Celts have not fared well trying to close out a series since the "Big 3" was formed entering the 2007-08 season. They are 10-13 in potential series clinchers (1-2 this postseason).
Kevin Garnett’s jump-shooting has kept the Celtics in this series. Garnett has made 26-of-55 (47 percent) jump shots from 15 feet and beyond. The rest of the Celtics have combined to shoot 30 percent from that distance this series.
The absence of Avery Bradley, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Friday, is significant for the Celtics, as it takes away their best five-man lineup this postseason.
When Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Garnett have been on the court together, the Celtics have outscored opponents by 53 points. Their next-best lineup has outscored opponents by only 18 points.
76ers Keys to the Game
Philadelphia is looking to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 and is trying to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the conference finals since the Knicks in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
However, they will need to overcome history in order to make it to the next round.
The 76ers have lost each of the last 13 best-of-seven series in which they have trailed 3-2. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest such streak in NBA history.
One of the deciding factors in this series has been the 76ers' ability to establish the pick and roll. In their three wins, they’re averaging 11 points running the pick and roll. In their three losses, they’re averaging eight points on 29 percent shooting.
Offense has been an issue in the playoffs for the 76ers, who are scoring 86.6 points per game, the fewest among remaining teams. The 76ers haven’t scored more than 92 points in their last 10 games, the longest single postseason streak of its kind since the Pistons in 2006 (11 games).
With the Clippers winning at home in double overtime a day after the Los Angeles Lakers won at the Staples Center in triple overtime, the Elias Sports Bureau reports that the last time there were back-to-back multi-overtime games in the same arena was March 1984, at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks in two overtimes on March 13 and then beat the Hawks in three overtimes seven days later.
Overshadowed in defeat, John Wall set a career high with 32 points, topping his previous best of 29, against the Philadelphia 76ers in November.
In other triple-double news, Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry are evoking memories of Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but Hayes' triple-double on Wednesday (13 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) makes him the second Rocket with a triple-double in as many games, joining Lowry, who did it Sunday against Utah. The last time Houston had multiple players with a triple-double in the same season was 1996-97, by Drexler (2), Barkley and Olajuwon.
Perhaps more impressively, Elias says that the last team to have triple-doubles from different players in consecutive games was the New Jersey Nets in March 1996, by the vastly dissimilar Shawn Bradley and Chris Childs.
Speaking of New Jersey, Kris Humphries had 18 points and 23 rebounds in the Nets overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The last Nets player with at least 23 rebounds was Michigan State alum Jamie Feick, who had 25 boards on Jan. 20, 2000 vs Detroit.
Although the Boston Celtics lost to the Memphis Grizzlies at home, Kevin Garnett made a bit of history. With his 10 points, Garnett passed Adrian Dantley for 20th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Next on the list is former Celtic great Robert Parish. At his current pace of 15.0 points per game this season, and assuming he plays every game, Garnett would pass Parish in the season's penultimate game, against Washington on April 11.
The Lakers last won a game of at least three overtimes on December 8, 1961, when they defeated the Philadelphia Warriors 151-147 in triple overtime. Tuesday marked the first time that Los Angeles ever won a triple-overtime game at home. The only time that the Lakers had even played such a home game was a 122-117 loss to the San Francisco Warriors in 1969.
The Suns have lost four straight triple-overtime games since 1997, and all four games have been on the road.
Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 42 points and finished an assist shy of a triple-double. He has 107 career 40-point games, more than twice as many as the next active player, Shaquille O'Neal with 49.
Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom all topped the 20-point plateau against Phoenix. Since Gasol joined the team in 2008, Los Angeles is now 10-1 when all three score 20 points.
With a 13-1 record, the Lakers remain the only team in the league with a single loss since the All-Star Break.
The Chicago Bulls have the NBA's second-best record since the All-Star Break, improving to 13-3 in that timespan by trouncing the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Chicago led by 47 points en route to a 114-81 victory.
Derrick Rose made a career-high six three-pointers and led Chicago with 30 points and 10 assists, his fourth 30-10 game of the season. The only player with more such games this season is Russell Westbrook, with six.
The Bulls snapped a six-game losing streak in Atlanta, and Rose won there for the first time in five career games. The only current arenas in which Rose has not won are Denver's Pepsi Center and Portland's Rose Garden (0-3 at each).
James had nine of Miami's 17 assists, and the Heat improved to 16-4 this season when James has at least nine dimes. Miami wins two-thirds of its games when James has five to eight assists and is only 6-4 when James has four assists or fewer.
James and Miami were at their best when Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were on the bench. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only permutation of the James-Bosh-Wade trio that had a positive plus-minus was when James played, and the other two were on the bench. In those four minutes and 40 seconds, the Heat outscored the Lakers by eight points.
That's not to say that Bosh or Wade were useless. With 24 points, Bosh led Miami in scoring for the fifth time this season. With Kobe Bryant defending him in the final five minutes, Wade hit three of four shots, after making only two of ten attempts against Bryant in the game's first 43 minutes.
A number of streaks ended on Thursday. Miami snapped its season-long five-game losing streak and its four-game home losing streak. Most noteworthy, Miami ended a five-game slide against teams above .500. Miami is now 2-0 versus the Lakers this season and 0-7 against the other four teams with a win percentage over .650.
On the other side, the Lakers eight-game win streak and five-game road win streak are over, as Los Angeles allowed more than 90 points for the first time in six games.
More troublesome for the Heat is the fact that they are a measly 1-6 against teams that are currently above .500. Miami is scoring more than 12 fewer points per game and shooting over 8 percent less this season against teams that now have winning records. Miami's only win against such a team was last month at home against Orlando.
LeBron James led the Heat with 25 points for his 11th straight 20-point game. He also played at least 40 minutes for the seventh time this season, which is a bad omen for Miami, which is 0-7 in those games.
Dwyane Wade needs to find his shooting touch. He was just 6-of-21 from the field in this game, including 1-of-4 on 3s. Wade is 7-of-34 (20.6 percent) from the field in his past two games and an atrocious 1-of-19 (5.3 percent) on 3s in his past six contests.
Orlando won this game by finishing well in the first and fourth quarters. The Magic ended the opening quarter on a 12-2 tear to take an eight-point lead after 12 minutes. Orlando also finished the game on a 17-7 run, turning a one-point deficit into a relatively comfortable nine-point win.
Part of the reason for the Magic's late push was that Orlando held Miami without a single offensive rebound in the fourth quarter. The Heat entered the game last in the NBA in offensive rebounding at 21.9 percent but grabbed an impressive 38.2 percent of the available offensive boards in the first three quarters.
Elsewhere in the NBA...
• With a 99-95 win in Charlotte, the New York Knicks have now won five straight for the first time since a six-game win streak in January 2006. New York has also won four straight road games, its longest road win streak since a five-game run during the 2000-01 season.
• Shaquille O'Neal had 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Boston Celtics to an 89-83 win over the New Jersey Nets. O'Neal sets a season high for points and ties his season high for rebounds. At age 38, he is the oldest Celtic to have a 25-10 game since 40-year-old Robert Parish in 1994.
• Dirk Nowitzki scored 34 points to lead the Dallas Mavericks over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he is now averaging 33.8 PPG against the Thunder since their relocation. LeBron James (31.5) is the only other player averaging more than 30 points per game since then versus Oklahoma City.
• Although the Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the San Antonio Spurs in overtime, Kevin Love had 32 points and 22 rebounds, just five games after posting the NBA's first 30-30 game since 1982. Love is the third player in the past 25 seasons with multiple 30-point, 20-rebound games in his team's first 16 contests, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.