NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher — It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:
The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.
And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.
In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.
Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.
Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.
Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.
The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.
No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.
Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.
Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.
It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.
Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.
But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.
No. 2: Carroll confident he’ll play in Game 6; Deng likely to suit up as well — DeMarre Carroll suffered a left wrist injury in the third quarter of Game 5 of the Toronto Raptors’ semifinal series with the Miami Heat while going in for a fastbreak layup. Earlier in the same game, Heat forward Luol Deng also suffered an injury to his left wrist while bracing himself during a fall. Both players are officially questionable for Game 6 tonight (8 ET, ESPN), but expect them to do everything possible to suit up.
Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star is up first with his report on Carroll and his chances of playing tonight:
There was no concern in the voice of the Toronto Raptors’ forward and no uncertainty from him about his status for Friday’s Game 6 against the Miami Heat.
There were questions looming over Carroll about the extent of his wrist injury and how it would impact his status in this series. Slightly beyond that, where Raptors fans may not want to venture yet, lies the possibility of this team playing into late May and concerns about what Carroll’s impact could be.
For his part, Carroll wasn’t in that mindset at all.
“My wrist is great,” he said, over-enthusiastically, then held his grin for a moment.
“It’s all right. It’s one of those things. I got positive feedback from the MRI, from the X-ray. If it ain’t broke, with me, I’m ready to play.”
“My whole wrist went numb (and I thought), ‘Here we go again,’ ” he said.
“I got to the back, stayed positive and eventually after a couple minutes, the numbness in my wrist just kind of went away. It was sore. Once I got the MRI I actually looked at my phone and we were only up by one and that really made me mad. But at the end of the day . . . it’s not broke, like I said, and hopefully I can play (Friday).”
In his wave of calm, Carroll made light of the situation. He called Raptors director of sport science Alex McKechnie his “so-called dad” and said that he asked for the same treatment that McKechnie gave DeMar DeRozan and his injured thumb in Game 5.
“I told him, ‘Let’s wrap a shoelace around my wrist and see what happens,’ ” Carroll said, adding he’d have a lot of say in determining his status for this important game.
“He said let’s take it day by day. Me being who I am, I’m pretty sure I’m going to fight him to play.”
A right-handed shooter, Carroll may be able to improvise a little more with the injury affecting his off-hand.
“That’s what DeMar told me. He said, ‘Man, you barely use it. You only use it when you dribble,’ ” Carroll said. “It makes it a little uncomfortable but at the same time, man, once I’m on the court, if it’s not broke — and I understand it’s not broke — I can go out there and play like I want to play.”
Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more on Deng’s status and news that center Hassan Whiteside will definitely not play tonight:
An encouraging MRI means Luol Deng is likely to play Friday against the Toronto Raptorsin Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but center Hassan Whiteside will miss his third straight game of the series due to a sprained right knee.
“I texted with him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “All that he’s doing right now is therapy and rest. I anticipate that will be the same [Friday].”
With Whiteside out, the Heat are fortunate to have Deng listed as questionable. The MRI determined he sustained a bruised left wrist, and not a fracture. It’s a good bet Deng will be on the court for the Heat, who trail the best-of-seven series 3-2 and are facing elimination.
Deng’s injury on Wednesday occurred as he fell following a layup attempt. He used his wrist to brace the fall.
“It’s just the swelling got worse,” said Deng, who scored four points in 24 minutes. “It happened in the first half. The swelling got worse. It was just painful in the second half.”
After being the most consistent player in the first-round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Deng has struggled versus the Raptors. He is averaging just 7.8 points on 35 percent shooting. Still, the Heat will miss his presence if he is unable to play.
The Heat would likely to turn to Gerald Green or rookie Justise Winslow as his replacement in the starting lineup.
“It was very unfortunate,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “But it’s an important part of our team, just like Carroll is an important part of their team. Obviously we’ve lost two big guys in the series so far. Like I said before, that’s the worst part of the game, is injuries. It changes so much of the outlook of your team.”
No. 3: Green says ankle improving — The Golden State Warriors know who they’ll be facing in the Western Conference finals — the Oklahoma City Thunder. The teams won’t start their series until Monday night (9 ET, TNT), which gives both squads a chance to rest up and nurse any injuries that may have cropped up in the postseason thus far. Golden State is keeping a watchful eye on All-Star forward Draymond Green, who suffered a minor ankle injury in the Warriors’ Game 5 clincher against the Portland Trail Blazers, writes Diamond Leung of the Contra Costa Times:
Warriors forward Draymond Green said Thursday the left ankle he tweaked in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals was improving.
“It feels a lot better, a lot better than it did last night,” Green told KNBR. “Just really been icing, getting a massage, and you’re really just normal things that it takes to get it back healthy and get ready to go for Monday.”
Green was hobbled after a drive to the basket in the third quarter of the Warrors’ 125-121 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, going back to the locker room to get the ankle re-taped. He returned to the game in the fourth.
No. 4: Name coach hardly what Magic need — Orlando Magic coach Scott Skiles stunned both his team and the NBA world at large by suddenly resigning from his post yesterday. In one season on the job, Skiles went 35-47 and seemed to have the Magic on an upward trend. But in his statement released by the team, Skiles essentially said he was the wrong man for the job. Whom the Magic hire as their next coach may not matter as much as whether or not they can get a star player in the fold, writes Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:
The Magic can now hire Frank Vogel, Kevin McHale or John Calipari. They can steal away Doc Rivers or Phil Jackson or bring back the ghost of Red Auerbach to replace Skiles. And it won’t matter one bit if this roster stays the way it is.
Look, Skiles squeezed 10 more wins out of the Magic in his only season — and they still needed 10 more to make the East playoffs.
“I didn’t get the sense that he didn’t believe in the players,” GM Rob Hennigan said.
Of course, Hennigan acquired all the players in the Dwight rebuild. Skiles’ mere handling of the backcourt — subbing wayward shooting point guard Elfrid Payton late in games and temporarily demoting Victor Oladipo to sixth man — were clues whether Skiles believed in them. GMs are sometimes like the weatherman who doesn’t look out the window to see if it’s raining.
Nothing will change unless the Magic discover or deal for a top-shelf player or two.
The Magic probably wouldn’t have been scrambling for a new bench boss if GM Rob Hennigan had been able to sign Paul Millsap as a free agent last summer. Millsap could have started the change. There would be genuine hope.
There’s no way the club would have gone 16-34 after a 19-13 start and gave away games if the Atlanta Hawks veteran All-Star was on the court and in the locker room.
Issues between Skiles and the front office could have still arisen. Winning, though — or an authentic push toward winning — irons out a lot of problems.
Skiles left perhaps $8 million to $10 million on the table to rush for an exit. They have lost a star (Dwight Howard) and two quality coaches (Stan Van Gundy and Skiles) in the past four years. Along with the losing, there’s no clear path to the postseason, if you want more political jargon. The danger is they become the Sacramento Kings South.
Hennigan’s head is on the chopping block next. He still believes Orlando can make a great sales pitch to free agents at time when every team has money and players want to join winners. There’s a fine line between recruiting and begging now.
Please, is there a star out there looking to become a hero and save a franchise? There’s an opening here.
And for this job, coaches need not apply.