Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> What have you learned so far from watching the Clippers and Thunder bang heads (and other body parts)?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Frankly, I assumed that OKC was a more fully formed team and less dependent on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for so much of its scoring and mojo. It’s a little disappointing, frankly, to not see more reliable help, night in and night out, from the Thunder’s other guys. As for the Clippers, coach Doc Rivers seems to have a knack for this insta-contender stuff, after what he did with the Celtics in 2007-08. Also, I think Jamal Crawford will be able to step onto a court and drain 3-pointers 10 or 15 years from now.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Nothing at all that I didn’t already know. They are both emotional, both flawed and can both be very painful and very fun to watch. All in the same game.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s been a “wild card” in terms of a player or a theme that’s jumped out in this series. Doc Rivers sort of a tore a page from the Memphis playbook in the fourth quarter of Game 4 by putting Chris Paul in sort of a Tony Allen role (and Paul’s even four inches shorter than Allen) on Kevin Durant and then using double-teams to confound the MVP. It helped L.A. rally from 16 down to win and tie the series instead of going down 3-1. Right now it’s the only reason the Clips are still alive.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I learned that Serge Ibaka has not come close to peaking. We sort of knew that already, the way his mid-range jumper has become so dependable and has turned into more of a two-way player than a lot of people would have imagined three years ago, but there is still room for growth. He has 3-point range and a work ethic that means he will put in the time to improve. The Thunder are OK with Ibaka shooting from there now. In time, they may encourage it.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a confirmation of what we learned in last year’s Finals. A full season, 1,230 games total, can come down to just a few seconds. These are two teams with legit dreams of winning a championship. And one of them is going to lose this series because of one or two mistakes made at the end of Game 4 (if the Thunder lose) or Game 5 (if the Clips lose). It can’t be as painful as what the Spurs went through last June, but it will be close.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve learned that true vitriol for one’s opponent has been reborn in this league, courtesy of guys like Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. I don’t mind guys playing with that extra competitive edge that both sides have shown in this series. I think players on both sides have skirted the lne between being Bad Boys dirty and being extra physical, which is wholly appropriate in a playoff atmosphere, in my opinion. The physicality on both sides has been refreshing to watch in a league where guys from one team routinely extend a hand to help up a guy from the other team (a gesture that was forbidden during past eras in the league). The guys who can continue to produce through all of the trials and tribulations of a series like this are the ones who truly impress. I have a revised level of respect for both Griffin and Russell Westbrook, who remain in the crosshairs on a nightly basis based on how they perform.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Two things, both about the Thunder: 1. What a thin margin of error they live with. Considering they have the MVP and the uber-talented Russell Westbrook, it’s always surprising to see them struggle to score points. And even though they won 59 games this season, they have a short bench and have to get very good performances from all of their rotation players in order to have a chance to win against high-level teams. 2. How much I enjoy watching Steven Adams play. I’m sure I’d hate playing against him, as everyone seems to do, but he’s a classic agitator/instigator, of which there aren’t many left these days.