NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Clash of styles for Warriors-Thunder — The most devastating small-ball lineup in basketball against the most dynamic, big-boy lineup in basketball. That’s the clash of styles that will be on display when the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder square off in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals tonight at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, TNT). There are stars all over the place on both sides (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the Thunder), and yet the style of play and the work of support players will likely be the determining factor in the series. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman has more:
NBA fans remember the Stephen Curry 37-foot rainbow that won it in overtime. Thunder fans remember the Kevin Durant desperation turnover and foul that sent it to that extra session. But five minutes before, the Warriors trailed by 11 points when Steve Kerr made his last substitution of regulation.
Klay Thompson entered, joining Curry, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. It’s a five-man group nicknamed the Death Lineup, a small-ball mix of versatile shooters, defenders and playmakers that demolished opponents this season. Including that February night in OKC.
They outscored the Thunder by 11 in the final 4:50 but also dictated the style of play. Coach Billy Donovan took Steven Adams out, played a group of wings and tried to match small with small. It didn’t work.
Three months later, the teams meet again, this time with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. The rosters remain the same, but the Thunder’s identity has morphed, creating a potentially intriguing contrast of styles should OKC stay big when the Warriors unleash their speed.
“Is that the word on the street?” Steven Adams said when told of OKC’s bruising reputation. “Yeah, I’ll take it then. That’s good. I’ll stick with that.”
In beating up the Spurs on the interior — often with a twin tower frontline of Adams and Enes Kanter — OKC embraced its size. The Thunder has maybe the world’s best possible small-ball power forward — Durant — but the rest of its roster doesn’t form around him in that way.
Donovan continues to laud his team’s versatility publicly, saying they can and likely will play varying styles. But the trade-off is simple — should Donovan go small, he’ll be dipping into his thin bag of wings at the expense of his loaded set of big men. More minutes for Kyle Singler, Randy Foye or Anthony Morrow means less for Kanter, Adams or Serge Ibaka.
“Second half of Game 6 against the Spurs, they went small,” Durant said. “I thought Coach made a great adjustment staying big and not panicking.”
The Warriors, of course, are a different beast, both lethal and experienced playing that way. Curry is the star. But Green is the key.
No. 2: Kyle Lowry’s star shines in Game 7 — Sure, it took a while for him to find it, but Kyle Lowry located his superstar groove when the Toronto Raptors needed it most. Lowry played the role of Game 7 hero to deliver the Raptors to their first Eastern Conference finals appearance with a monster effort Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. It was a performance that had t happen, if Lowry is indeed the star the Raptors believe him to be and the star capable of leading them against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star explains:
There will be a day, 15 years or so from now, when the citizens of Raptorland have occasion to look back on Kyle Lowry’s performance in Sunday’s glorious Game 7 at a confetti-strewn Air Canada Centre.
The details will have faded into the haze of boozy revelry and faulty memory. Lowry’s 35 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a 116-89 victory — nobody but the super obsessives will remember those particulars. But nobody in Raptorland will ever forget the overriding takeaway of a groundbreaking performance by the best player on Toronto’s best NBA team. On the occasion of the biggest game in franchise history, Lowry seized the only moment that truly mattered.
With Lowry finally operating at the peak of his capacity, and with wingman DeMar DeRozan chipping in 28 points on 29 shots, a team that had frustrated its fan base with its mercurial meanderings through a pair of maximum-length playoff series finally looked like the 56-win powerhouse that stormed to the fourth-best regular-season record in the NBA.
Finally, they looked like the favourites they were supposed to be instead of the underdogs they often appeared to be. Finally they punished Miami’s small lineup with relentless pick-and-roll action featuring Lowry and Biyombo, the latter of whose dynamic rolls to the rim were largely unstoppable in a 17-point, 16-rebound outburst.
Finally, for the first time, they were Eastern Conference finalists — not to mention basically a LeBron James injury away from being a serious contender to advance to the NBA Finals.
And none of it happens if Lowry doesn’t shake off a personal crisis of confidence that has plagued him for most of a couple of months and arrive at Sunday’s game wearing the face of an all-star to be feared instead of an also-ran fearful of failure.
“He has a killer instinct, Kyle. Sometimes he just gets in that zone — you can see it in his face. He’s not going to miss. And he was in that zone today,” said Cory Joseph, Toronto’s backup point guard. “He’s been doing it throughout the season. But in particular today, you could see it in his face. He was taking us to the promised land today, he and (DeRozan).”
The promised land, in this case, is Cleveland, where the Eastern final begins Tuesday night. Raptor fans of a certain age have been waiting an awfully long time to get there. It was 15 years ago this week that an all-star named Vince Carter, fresh off spending the morning at his college graduation, had held a berth to the NBA’s final four in his hands and clanked a shot from the corner as time expired.
Sunday’s deliverance didn’t come down to one shot. It didn’t come down to a make-or-miss moment. But it did revert to an NBA truism: The best player on the floor won the game for his team. With Miami’s future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade, appearing out of gas at age 34, Lowry was by far the alpha male of the proceedings. Wade conjured just 16 points on an oddly passive 13 field-goal attempts.
And what of the reviews of Lowry’s performance?
“Oh my goodness,” said Wayne Embry, the 79-year-old Raptors senior executive, who, as an NBA champion and a Hall of Famer, has seen his share of elite basketball.
Said Miami point guard Goran Dragic: “Tonight, he was awesome.”
No. 3: Nothing but difficult choices ahead for Heat — Pat Riley has proved to be a master of the offseason throughout his tenure running the Miami Heat. He’ll have to be this summer, what with all of the difficult decisions looming for the franchise. Chris Bosh‘s future remains a mystery. Free agents abound, from veterans Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson to young big man Hassan Whiteside. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com makes painstakingly clear, the Heat have a lot of work to do in the weeks and months ahead, first and foremost being what to do about Bosh:
It was in Toronto during a frigid All-Star Weekend where Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat first learned he had a medical issue that would end up sidelining him for the rest of the season. And it was in Toronto on Sunday where their season ended, bringing the pending outcome of an unfortunate situation to the organization’s forefront.
Between now and this fall, Bosh and the Heat are going to have to reach a decision about what to do about his future. And there may end up being a complex and gut-wrenching disconnect between heart and mind.
There is a fear within the Heat organization that Bosh’s condition will prevent him from ever being cleared to play by team doctors, several sources said. It’s a result of exhaustive consultations with specialists. Something this big and delicate, the sides have gone deep attempting to understand all the options.
It’s forced everyone to confront the possibility of Bosh ultimately being forced into a medical retirement.
“I feel very badly for CB because I know how much this game means to him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday after his team’s Game 7 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “I think everybody knows how much CB means to me.”
Spoelstra was not speaking directly about Bosh’s future. But his sentiments expressed the gravity of the situation that ha’s hung over the Heat like a dark cloud since winter.
This is an unpleasant reality the sides have wrestled with for months while trying to focus on the team. But league rules and the Heat’s situation may end up causing it to come to a head as the Heat enter the summer needing to make roster plans.
Such as, do the Heat need to spend some of their $40 million in cap space on signing a center to be their starter in place of Bosh long term. A player like now-free agent Hassan Whiteside, for example.
Neither the Heat nor Bosh have announced the nature of his medical condition.
Two weeks ago, after months of silence, they released a joint statement that read: “The Heat, Chris, the doctors and medical team have been working together throughout this process and will continue to do so to return Chris to playing basketball as soon as possible.”
Hopeful, but purposefully vague and without promise.
Bosh wants to return to play, this is clear. The Heat would love to have Bosh back, this is clear. Miami’s position has been one of protecting Bosh, both medically and with the public as their silence has been at Bosh’s direction.
But there’s also this reality: The Heat have had two seasons derailed because of Bosh’s medical issues. If their doctors don’t think he can be cleared to play, the team has to protect itself from having the turn of events affect not only Bosh’s personal health but also the health of the team.
No. 4: King opens up about failures in Brooklyn — The reviews of Billy King‘s performance as general manager in Brooklyn would make most folks cringe. One failure after another led to his ouster in January. But in his first public comments since then, Kings insists that he would have turned things around if allowed to finish the job. He also admits to being eager for his next opportunity, with a chance to get things right the next time around, and has some pointed criticism of the Nets in how they handled the process of replacing him. NetsDaily.com has more:
King also seems to side with those who criticized the Nets for not interviewing any candidates of color for his old job, noting that the trend now is to hire executives from the “Spurs tree,” an apparent reference to the Nets decision to hire Sean Marks and Trajan Langdon.
Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News and Vincent Goodwill of the Comcast Sports Net in Chicago devoted most of the interview, conducted last week, to a discussion of how to increase African-Americans in NBA front offices, but at the end of the 40-minute discussion asked King about his departure from the Nets, billed at the time as a “reassignment.”
Asked how he’s spending his time, King talked about how he’s looking forward to his next job.
“I looked back at things that we done. You know you write up a plan,” said the 50-year-old King. “After I get back, here’s how I want to set up my staff and here’s how I want to do things differently. and you just network and stay in the mix.”
King then reflected on his job with the Nets. “I know some of the mistakes that were made here and I i thought I could have turned it around but ownership … that’s their prerogative, [but] you still spent time trying to figure out what’s next.”
He was asked if he thought it was “unfair” that he did what ownership wanted but was still let go, King paused for a few seconds before answering, then spoke at length, in part discussing his relationship with ownership, in part defending his record.
“I think as I said when I interviewed for the job, ‘we’re going to make decisions together, we’re in this together’ and I felt we did that. and i thought we didn’t have picks, but I thought we could go after free agents and we signed Thaddeus [Young] and Brook [Lopez] to deals,
“But I don’t begrudge ownership. It’s their team and they invest a lot of money. It’s their prerogative. it’s like when you’re GM and you make a decision to fire a coach. That’s a decision you’ve got to make.
“So like I said from the beginning, every franchise is led by ownership. and there have been some that have been very, very successful and some that haven’t but they all learn and grow. All these guys are super people because they’ve made a lot of money. — all of them, all 30 owners in this league, in all pro sports, they made a lot of money in another area to be able to invest it in this. And they take a lot of heat. As much as we do, they take a lot of heat. because in the end, they have final say.
“So I look at it like it’s an opportunity they gave me. and I thank them for it and I’m friends with them and is there bitter feelings?. yeah, but you know when you’re hired, you’re most likely going to get fired. ”
At the end of the day, he said it’s about the need for a “different voice.”
On the subject of African-Americans in NBA front offices, King echoed criticism of the Nets leveled by a number of writers and others — including Goodwill — that none of the eight finalists for King’s job were African American. (Seven were white, one Hispanic.)
“Some of the younger assistant GMs don’t get the interviews,” King argued. “that’s what is more troubling, not the fact that they didn’t get hired but some of the guys like Scott Perry (Vice President/Assistant General Manager.of the Magic) have not got the interview and to me that’s whats more troubling.”
King said part of the issue is a trend … that the Nets followed in hiring Sean Marks.
“I think the trend that’s been going is to hire from San Antonio, guys from the San Antonio tree,” he said, later adding, “It’s not about hiring someone because they’re black or they’re white. You try to hire the best people and I think sometimes people come from a certain organization and they keep getting jobs because they must know something that we don’t know.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant has trademarked his self-titled mantra, the Black Mamba … The Golden State Warriors do have one glaring injury issue heading into Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, with Andrew Bogut‘s status still listed as “questionable” … Today is the anniversary of one of the greatest performances in NBA and sports history — Magic Johnson‘s monster Game 6 performance in the 1980 Finals, when he filled in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center as the Lakers wrapped up the NBA title … Allan Houston offered up some heroics of his own on this day when he hit the shot that shocked the No. 1 seed Heat in 1999 … The Indiana Pacers have settled in his replacement while Frank Vogel‘s name has come up in the coaching search in New York …