NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Welcome to the big show Brooklyn, your Nets aren’t dealing with the Raptors anymore: We tried to warn you not to count on that 4-0 regular season record against the Miami Heat. This is the playoffs. And whatever happened before now is history. It’s what you do now that counts. The time off didn’t bother the Heat. If anything, it only served to refocus their attention on that Nets team that had their number during the regular season. The victim of those eight days spent going over every detail wore black Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena. And as Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post points out, it’s a whole new world:
So this is what the varsity looks like: a little bit faster, a little bit quicker, a little bit smarter, a little bit savvier. And a whole lot better. Intellectually, you knew that.
Instinctively, the Nets knew that. But it’s still not the same as seeing it up close, in person, in living color.
“We have to put up more resistance,” Paul Pierce said.
“We have to elevate,” Shaun Livingston said, “because they’re going to force you to elevate, or else.”
“They’re the defending champions,” Jason Kidd said. “They’re going to be at a high level. You have to find a way to match it.”
None of this came as a surprise to the Nets, of course, certainly not to the grizzled and the graybeards among them who have been through this all before with the Heat. Still, it’s one thing to say things properly — We swept the season series and it means nothing! They’ve been off for a week but we don’t expect them to be rusty! — and quite something else to stand your ground in the face of a full frontal Heat attack.
And not wind up flatter than Kevin Bacon in “Animal House.”
“They’re the ones that kept attacking for 48 minutes,” Kidd said. “We didn’t.”
The Nets didn’t lose the series Tuesday night, and there’s little chance any of the key participants will be confused on the matter. The Nets came to these Eastern Conference semifinals in full grind mode anyway, snarling their way through the seven-game slog with Toronto, and the grinder’s mantra is this: Get a split. Game 1, Game 2, doesn’t matter, counts the same.
No. 2: Clippers keeping their eyes on the prize: Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is doing his best to keep his team locked in on the Oklahoma City Thunder and their Game 2 showdown tonight. But when your team has been caught in a daily swirl of controversy for two weeks, it’s not nearly as easy to do as it sounds. Now they have to deal with a newly minted MVP in Kevin Durant, not to mention the other daily distractions that come off the court — first Donald Sterling was removed as owner and now team president Andy Roeser is taking an indefinite leave of absence. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains how Doc and the Clippers are keeping their eyes on the much-bigger prize:
Rivers said he didn’t find out about Roeser’s departure until a team spokesman told him after they had finished practice Tuesday evening.
Rivers then told his players the news and offered advice. “I told the guys, ‘Just keep playing. We got it. We’ll handle everything,'” Rivers said.
And how did his players respond?
“Right now, they don’t respond anymore,” Rivers said. “I think they’ve heard so much stuff lately that they are just moving forward.”
The Clippers won Game 1 in the best-of-seven series on Monday night, 122-105. Game 2 is also at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but the Clippers say they are not content with just one victory over the Thunder.
“It’s still a lot of basketball to be played,” Chris Paul said. “I think with us, you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You’ve just got to keep coming out and playing. We may get those same shots tomorrow and they may not go in. But it may be somebody else who has to step up or defense has to win the game.”
No. 3: Pressure in Oakland shifts from Mark Jackson to Warriors’ ownership, front office:Without Mark Jackson to kick around anymore, the onus for what happens to the Golden State Warriors from this point on sits squarely on the shoulders of the men who facilitated his ouster. Owner Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers are the men whose responsibility it is to guide the Warriors to higher ground. They took a huge risk removing a winning coach, one who had the ear of his star player (Steph Curry) and the heart of his locker room (as our very own Scott Howard-Cooper detailed last night). Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News pulls the string even more:
There is no wiggle room for the Warriors now. There is no turning back or fallback excuse.
Now that Warriors management has moved on from Jackson’s vibrant three-season tenure, everything rides on the next decision, and particularly on co-owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers.
Either the Warriors hire a provably better coach, and they win at the highest level, or they will be league-wide embarrassments.
“We accomplished a lot in three years and we should be proud,” Jackson told this newspaper in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I wish them nothing but the best.
“But to me, now the pressure’s on for them to get a championship. It’s not the time for them to be patient any more. This is a championship-caliber team. We were in the playoffs without David (Lee) last year, and we were without (Andrew) Bogut this year.
“When this team is healthy, it is a legit contender. That’s something that we’re all looking at going forward.”
That’s putting it plainly and not incorrectly, at this incredibly perilous moment in Warriors history — after two trips to the playoffs, and now after firing Jackson.
Even Lacob and Myers basically acknowledged the gamble themselves on Tuesday, before Jackson’s comments.
The Warriors brass is wagering that it was a bigger part of the franchise turnaround than Jackson was.
Nobody can be sure of this, but Jackson’s rift with management forced a decision: Accept him with all his edges or move on and find somebody better.
They moved on, which changes the focus from Jackson’s foibles to their own, if things unravel in the coming years.
Lacob and Myers aren’t naive here — they’re not denying the stakes. They just believe that the time had come to get past all of Jackson’s personality quirks plus some of his coaching limitations.
Now they have to find the right guy for the next stage — whether that’s Steve Kerr, Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie, Stan Van Gundy or whoever else.
Lacob and Myers said the process hasn’t yet officially begun, but they know what they want: Somebody who gets along with his bosses and his associates and somebody who runs an offense better than Mark Jackson.
That’s the next step, or perhaps the great fall.
“From a personal standpoint,” Lacob said in a 30-minute session with three reporters, “having been in the venture capital industry for 30 years and 70 start-ups, 70 companies that have built and grown, it is very rare to see a CEO be the CEO from the start-up all the way to the equivalent of winning a championship …
“And one could say that … maybe Mark was the perfect coach at the time three years ago …
“You have to understand that going forward there may be a different task or a different goal than there was in the last three years.”
No. 4: Spurs going against their own history: This is an out-of-character experience for the San Antonio Spurs. For a franchise that prides itself on a certain methodology, a clear-cut and defined way of doing things (the “Spurs way” if you will), this current roll they are on qualifies as unconventional. No one knows that better than Buck Harvey of the Express-News, who explains exactly what the Spurs are trying to do in bucking (sorry) their own history:
What they are doing now, then, with a Game 1 against the Blazers that looked a lot like Game 7 against the Mavericks, goes against history.
Can the Spurs be this different and win a title?
The Spurs won Tuesday as they did Sunday. Afterward, Gregg Popovich tried to explain a game that was never a game, and his cliché fit.
“Just one of those nights,” he said, and it was. Damian Lillard won’t likely end with twice as many turnovers as assists again in this series.
Toward the end of the third quarter, the crowd was looking for something else to yell about, and they settled on a familiar chant when Tony Parker went to the free-throw line. “MVP, MVP.”
MVP of the Spurs, maybe. But MVP of the league? The voting released Tuesday revealed the lowest finish for a Spur in this era.
Duncan and Parker were in a tie for 12th.
“I can’t wait to tell them,” Popovich sarcastically said. “I’ve got some great news for you guys.”
There was a time when an MVP trophy was great news in San Antonio, just as it was in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. David Robinson’s was more than an award; it was a breakthrough franchise moment.
It came with the backlash that Durant potentially faces now. Robinson was awarded his trophy in front of Hakeem Olajuwon; Olajuwon all but hit him in the head with it in the conference finals that season.
Years later, Robinson admitted he put the trophy in a closet; it represented less joy than it did pain. Durant, if he loses his series to the Clippers, will feel something similar.
But that’s the way it is for most contenders. They are led by a star, maybe two, and the Spurs lost in the Finals last June to that traditional formula.
While LeBron James won the MVP last season, Parker and Duncan weren’t far back, at sixth and seventh in voting, respectively.
Now their standing further widens the Popovich concept. Just as the Spurs became the first in league history to have no player average at least 30 minutes a game, their best also spread their influence evenly.
Tuesday showed it in another form. While Duncan played only 24 minutes, and Manu Ginobili didn’t score a basket, previously invisible players rose.
Back to the one-of-those-games concept: What’s the chance in the Game 2 that Aron Baynes and Marco Belinelli combine to shoot 12 of 16 while Nicolas Batum and Mo Williams combine to shoot 6 of 23?
But that’s these Spurs. There’s seemingly always a combination. And while it was brilliant enough to lead the league in the regular season with 62 wins, it goes against history for this to be enough in the playoffs.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers are in an all too-familiar position on the morning of Game 2 of their series against the Washington Wizards … The awards season comes at a strange time, for once, in Oklahoma City … Paul George address the haters via Twitter … Dwight Howard was apparently not enough for Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, who says the franchise is looking to make another free agent splash this summer … Jazz going unconventional in their search for a new leader
ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Kevin Durant’s moving acceptance speech during the MVP ceremony resonated beyond the basketball world. Check out his chat with The Inside crew …