NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Thunder continue to show postseason composure — Game 2 of the Western Conference finals is tonight (9 ET, TNT) and the Oklahoma City Thunder look to close the evening with a 2-0 series edge on the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder snagged Game 1 despite falling into a 14-point hole after halftime thanks to a comeback marked by a self-control and smart play in the second half. That aplomb has marked Oklahoma City’s playoff run to date, writes Eric Horne of The Oklahoman:
Yes, composure. The Thunder’s weakness has largely been erased in the NBA Playoffs. There have been slips, but in Game 1 against Golden State, a team OKC collapsed against in every regular-season meeting, the Thunder was more composed than the defending NBA Champions.
“It was huge,” Kevin Durant said of the Thunder’s play in the fourth quarter. “We know coming in here we just wanted to stay together through it all, and I think our guys did a great job mentally of just sticking with it.
“We’ve just had our ups and downs throughout the season, but we just stayed with it.”
“Early in the season when we had a lead into the fourth quarter, we let a lot of games slip away,” said Thunder guard Dion Waiters, who had one of the Thunder’s few uncomposed fourth-quarter moments of the postseason with his inbound elbow in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio.
“I think in the postseason we’ve just been finding ways just to finish it out.”
The Warriors led 46-38 in the second when a Steven Adams dunk was blocked by Draymond Green, setting Golden State off quickly on the fast break. Klay Thompson had a free path to the rim, but as he went up to dunk, Serge Ibaka rushed back on defense and pinned his attempt on the glass.
The Thunder suddenly had a 4-on-3 break. Westbrook passed on an open 3. So did Durant. So did Waiters, who finally drove baseline and passed to Adams for a layup and the foul. It only cut the Warriors’ lead to 46-40, but it was a telling possession.
Waiters said the temptation to match the Warriors shot-for-shot is nonexistent.
“No, we want to get into our offense. That’s what they do,” Waiters said of the Warriors’ rapid-fire offense. “We know they’re going to make shots. Our job is to try to make it as tough as possible and contest. And we live with the results after that.”
No. 2: Lowry wasn’t trying to diss LeBron with postgame comments — The Cleveland Cavaliers rampaged past the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, winning by 31 points. But before last night, the Raptors had to top the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a game in which Kyle Lowry was the star for Toronto. Afterward, Lowry’s comments about facing the Cavs and their star, LeBron James, caused some to think he was taking a shot at James. As ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo points out, Lowry says nothing could be further from the truth:
Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said Tuesday he wasn’t trying to “throw any shade” on Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during his postgame interview with ESPN following a Game 7 victory over the Miami Heat.
“LeBron is probably one of the best players in the league besides Stephen (Curry),” Lowry told ESPN’s Doris Burke when asked about the Eastern Conference finals.
The comment led some to believe that he was slighting James.
“I would never throw (any) shade on one of the greatest players in history of basketball,” Lowry said prior to Game 1 at Quicken Loans Arena. “I would never do that. Some people will take it for too much. LeBron is LeBron James. He’ll probably be (one of the) top three players of all time when he retires.”
James, who made no secret of his desire to face his old team, the Heat, said he did not take offense to Lowry’s comment.
“None taken,” James responded when asked about it.
No. 3: Bulls’ Butler reflects on lessons learned in 2015-16 — At last night’s NBA Draft Lottery, All-Star guard Jimmy Butler was one of the two appointed representatives for the Chicago Bulls. It’s hardly where Butler and Co. expected to be come mid-May after a run to the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals in which they gave the would-be Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers a more than solid series. Butler talked with ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell before the Lottery and opened up a bit on his up and down season and more:
Friedell: Do you think to them it’s a good-faith thing toward you — “We want you here. We want to build around you?”
Butler: Some people may look at it as that. I can’t say that I do or that I don’t. I feel like there’s another question that you’re wanting to ask me within that question, so I figure I’ll answer that whenever you ask it because I know that it’s coming.
Friedell: What question? You want to be in Chicago. You told me last monththat you wanted to be in Chicago for the future?
Butler: Of course. I love the city of Chicago. I’ve played here my entire career. Let’s not get that misunderstood. I love the guys that we have on the roster. We continue to bring in high-character guys. I’m learning with [Fred] Hoiberg. I’m not perfect, I’ll tell you that. But I’m ready. I think I have to be able to help this team win games, though, that’s for sure.
Friedell: Now I know what you thought I was going to say before. So I’ll just ask and you can answer however you want. Do you think when training camp starts this fall that you’re still going to be on the Bulls?
Butler: Yeah, I think so. I definitely do. I do think that with the year that we did have last season — it’s unacceptable. So you have to then, truth be told, you got to look at everything. I didn’t do my job, so truth be told, can I help this team win? That’s the question that’s brought up. And I can’t be mad at that. You can use whatever excuse you want to use, but we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s all anybody sees and that’s rightfully so. So do I think I’m going to be here? Yeah, I think so. But that’s just me thinking.
Friedell: What makes you so confident that you can be both the star of the team and the leader heading into next year?
Butler: I’m just going to do what I’ve done my entire life and that’s continue to work. Everything else will fall into place. Just got to continue to be who I am and play basketball the right way. When I don’t worry about anything, I don’t overthink this, we’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. Hopefully, that means that my team will be fine as well.
Friedell: What did you learn most from last year that you’ll take into this year. Specifically, in regard to the leadership part of it?
Butler: I think what I learned as a whole is that talk is cheap and learn to keep your mouth closed. I think that’s a lesson I’ve had to apply in life the hard way at times. Just because maybe I do talk too much. That’s on the basketball aspect of it, the leadership aspect of it, all aspects of it. Just be quiet, just do what you’re supposed to do.
Friedell: If I’ve heard one criticism in the past year and a half or so it’s that people say that you’ve changed. What do you say to the people who say that you’re different now than you were when you came into the league?
Butler: There’s a couple things I could say. If you’re not changing, you’re not keeping up with the times, to tell you the truth. I don’t think anybody ever stays the same. I’m not the same person I was — I mean, I’m not the same person I was now than I was September 14th of 1989 when I was [born]. So obviously people change. I’m not the same player that I was when I was a rookie. Whenever I was a rookie nobody cared if Jimmy Butler scored a point or not. Now if I don’t score a point, then what? Everybody’s all [like], “He’s not worth this. He’s not this good of a player. Yada, Yada, Yada.” Yeah, you got to change the way that you look at things.
As a person, I don’t think that I’ve changed. I still have the same people around me every single day that are here with me now in New York. I don’t change. People may think that but I don’t care because I don’t listen to what people say about me too much. I don’t read the media — I probably won’t read this, that you’re doing right now, truth be told. I just stay in my lane and continually work and be who I am.
No. 4: Lakers relieved to land No. 2 pick — Heading into last night’s NBA Draft Lottery, there was a slight chance the Los Angeles Lakers — who finished with the second-worst record in 2015-16 — could end up with no lottery pick to show for their abysmal season. But thankfully for Lakers fans, the Draft Lottery played out exactly as the numbers predicted, netting L.A. another young piece around which to rebuild its team. GM Mitch Kupchak was one of the team’s two Lottery representatives and was decidedly thrilled things worked out how they did. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News has more:
The poker face stayed the same as Mitch Kupchak weathered his seemingly endless anxieties.
The Lakers’ general manager looked that way as he sat on the dais at the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday, mindful the team could have lost a coveted draft pick. Kupchak looked that way once it became official the Lakers landed the No. 2 pick and avoided sending it to Philadelphia for the second consecutive year. And Kupchak looked that way afterward with reporters, speaking with the same stoic tone as he did when the Lakers finished the 2015-16 season with a 21-61 record.
“Don’t I look excited? It’s nerve wracking,” said Kupchak as he barely provided a smile. “That adds to the drama that, at this stage in my life, is unnecessary.”
After all, Kupchak credited the “lucky gods” after sitting on the dais wearing three lucky charms. One of them included Kupchak wearing a Lakers lapel pin his 20-year-old son Maxwell found earlier this week. As Kupchak shared, “Whenever it called for us to win a game or something that was meaningful, I’d pull out the pin.”
The Lakers then accomplished something statistically far more improbable than securing a playoff victory that preceded one of their 16 NBA championships.
The Lakers may have fielded a 55.82 percent chance of landing a top-three pick after ending last season with the second-worst NBA record and their worst in franchise history. Yet, the Lakers only had a 12.6 percent of staying at No. 2.
According to USC math professor Ken Alexander, there marked only a 1.9 percent chance the top three picks would fall to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers and the Boston Celtics in that order. But it happened.
“We’re in a much better situation than we were a year ago,” Kupchak said. “To have the season like we had and not have something to show for it is not the way we wanted it to go.”
Nonetheless, Kupchak conceded the Lakers’ rebuilding process will “go a little quicker” with an additional draft selection.
“We don’t think we can continue to lose at this pace,” Kupchak said. “At some point, we have to make a dramatic jump or at least show dramatic improvement.”
Whether that happens could depend on who the Lakers draft with their No. 2 pick.
Yet, the Lakers insisted their choice will not just fall under Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram.
“I would’ve been very happy getting a top-three pick,” Kupchak said. “There’s a lot of talk about how there might be separation at some point. But I’ve always felt if you have a top-three pick, that’s a heck of an asset. No matter what, you’ll get a heck of a player.”