Morning Shootaround — May 23


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder rush started with a kick | LeBron vows to protect himself | Green’s kick will get more scrutiny | Waiters at center of OKC’s passing fancy

No. 1: Thunder rush started with a kick The blitz started after Draymond Green delivered a kick to the nether regions on Steven Adams and by the time it was over, the Oklahoma City Thunder had blown the Golden State Warriors off the court in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Whatever notion there was that the reigning champion Warriors were head and shoulders better than a team they beat all three times during the regular season seems to have vanished. But as our very own Shaun Powell explains, the Thunder rush in Game 3 started with a kick:

This might be the first documented case where somebody kicked someone else in the manhood, and the kicker collapsed harder than the victim.

This isn’t meant to make light of Draymond Green‘s curious foot placement on the body of Steven Adams, but an attempt to explain what happened next, how Green and the Warriors wound up wearing the ice bag and wincing. Through three games of the Western Conference finals, they’re down 2-1 to the Thunder, and fresh off a Game 3 beatdown, and facing their most serious challenge since becoming a superteam a little more than a year ago.

There’s certainly no reason for them to panic, or to overstate a 28-point loss. It is, however, time for them and everyone to concede the obvious, that this Oklahoma City team and this series is unlike anything the Warriors have seen before.

The record will show the Warriors trailed 2-1 twice in the playoffs since last season, to the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. Each time the Warriors responded emphatically, and both on the road. They won by 17 in Memphis and 21 in Cleveland and once order was swiftly restored, the Warriors went about the business of being champions.

But these aren’t the scoring-challenged Grizzlies or the injury-ravaged Cavs. These are the Thunder, healthy and loaded, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked in. Finally, the Warriors are being confronted by a threat without asterisks, an opponent on their level or close enough.

And what do we make of the Warriors at this point? Well, it’ll be up to the NBA police to determine if Green’s kick was malicious enough to warrant a one-game suspension. After having the ball stripped from him during a jump shot against Adams, Green’s right foot caught Adams flush during the follow through. That will be tricky for the league; how can you know for sure about intent? Without that, it would be a reach if the NBA punishes Green and therefore affects a playoff series, even though Cleveland’s Dahntay Jones was just hit with a suspension for a similar crime, and even if this was the second time in as many games where Green connected with Adams’ groin.

No surprise, there was dueling stances on the subject.

Adams: “It’s happened before. He’s pretty accurate.”

Westbrook: “I don’t think you can keep kicking somebody in their private areas. It looks intentional to me.”

Green: “I was following through with my shot and my leg went up. I don’t see how anyone can say I did that on purpose. I didn’t even know it happened.”

Green did plead guilty of delivering a dud of a performance, and for that, he kicked himself.

“Awful,” he said.

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No. 2: LeBron James vows to protect himself As the physicality continues to rise in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James has made a vow to protect himself. What, exactly, he’s protecting himself from remains the question, especially since he’s initiated as much contact as he’s received from the Toronto Raptors. But after things got a little testy for both sides in Game 3, LeBron has made a vow to protect himself tonight in Game 4 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

This is not the first time LeBron James vowed to protect himself.

After Cleveland’s 99-84 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern finals Saturday night – the Cavs’ first loss of the postseason – James was asked about his ability to shake off hard fouls without retaliation.

There were a couple against him in Game 3 – including one by his own teammate – and James got a little testy as the contact continued but ultimately dusted himself off and went to the foul line.

One play in particular, a hard foul committed by one of the Raptors’ stars of the night, Bismack Biyombo, in which he wrapped James around the neck and popped him in the jaw to try to stop a layup with 3:21 to go, was on James’ brain.

Biyombo was assessed a flagrant foul. But in the immediate aftermath of the play, James first jumped toward Biyombo before peeling away to cool off. He made both free throws to cut the Cavs’ deficit to 12.

“At the end of the day, I’m important to this team,” James said. “I can’t afford to react in any kind of way that will get me thrown out of a game, but I will protect myself, I will protect myself.”

And then James quoted his friend and rapper Jay Z, using the following reference to illustrate his place as one of the NBA’s brightest stars, and the target on his back that exists because of it.

Quoting Jay Z’s “The Streets is Watching,” James said “If I shoot you, then I’m brainless; if you shoot me, you’re famous.”

The Cavaliers essentially shrugged off the loss. They tipped their caps to the Raptors, and said there was little they needed to change after the 15-point defeat. Just play a little better.

Asked if losing for the first time in the playoffs constituted “adversity,” James said “why not?” Commenting on the collectively poor outings from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who shot a combined 4-of-28, James quipped “I think it’s good for them.”

There was virtually no sense coming from the Cavs that this series had changed yet, that the upper hand so firmly in Cleveland’s grasp had slipped. But James and the Cavs are definitely going to have to protect themselves.

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No. 3: Green’s kick will get more scrutiny Draymond Green insists his kick that landed below the waist line of Steven Adams was not intentional. Whether or not that explanation satisfies the league’s disciplinary office remains to be seen. One way or another, word will come down before Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup (9 p.m. ET, TNT). Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group takes a deeper dive into the play that changed the game and perhaps the series:

Draymond Green insisted his kick in the area of the family jewels of Steven Adams was unintentional as he flailed on the follow-through to draw a foul.

While Adams crouched in agony as Green pleaded his case, it all went the Oklahoma City Thunder’s way after that.

The Warriors were blasted by the Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, losing 133-105 on Sunday and now trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Afterward, Green had to answer for the low blow.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I hit him,” Green said of Adams. “I walked to the 3-point line, clapped everybody’s hand. I turned around, he’s on the floor. I’m going like, ‘What happened?’ ”

After Green was whistled for a flagrant foul and hit two free throws on the shooting foul, the Thunder responded with a 24-5 run to close out the first half with a 72-47 lead.

“This is the Western Conference finals,” Warriors center Festus Ezeli said coach Steve Kerr told the team.

“It was just like a stern, ‘We know we’re better than that.’ “

The 72 points were the most allowed by the Warriors in any half this season, as they lost their poise in the heat of a frenetic playoff game on the road.

Fans chanted “kick him out” at the officials as they reviewed video of Green’s kick to Adams., but a Flagrant Foul 1 was assessed that he didn’t think he deserved.

“If I was throwing a shot, I’m not trying to kick somebody in the midsection,” Green said. “I’m sure he’d want to have kids one day. I’m not trying to end that on the basketball court. That don’t make sense.

“I know my core’s not strong enough to stop my leg halfway from wherever it was going.”

Asked if he felt the kick was intentional or not, Adams said, “I have no idea, mate. That’s for other people to make the judgment.”

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No. 4: Dion Waiters at the center of Thunder ball movement party He wouldn’t be the first person you’d look for when the topic of ball movement comes up regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder. But there he was in Game 3 Sunday, Dion Waiters in the middle of the ball movement mix for a Thunder team that dismantled the Golden State Warriors by sharing the wealth beyond just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Erik Horne of the The Oklahoman explains:

With the Thunder leading by three points in the first quarter, Billy Donovan made his first substitution at 7:19, bringing in Dion Waiters.

Less than two minutes later, Waiters picked up the ball on the break and saw 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli in front of him. The Thunder guard hesitated a beat to get Ezeli thinking he was going to pull up for a jumper. Wrong.

Waiters blew by Ezeli … but looked stuffed at the rim before uncoiling a wraparound pass to Serge Ibaka for an easy dunk.

Jokes have been made about “Waiters Island,” a place where ball movement stops and jumpers go up. But Waiters’ infectious passing spread throughout the Thunder in its 133-105 blowout of the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

By the end of the first quarter, the Thunder had nine assists on 13 made baskets. If Russell Westbrook captained the assist effort with five in the first, Waiters was his running mate, providing arguably the top two helpers of the night.

“We had several different ballhandlers in there that could help contribute and make plays alongside of Russell and Kevin,” Donovan said. “I thought our ball movement was very good. We got everybody involved. It was good to see that.”

Two possessions after Ibaka’s dunk, Waiters saw an opening on the fast break, but it closed quickly. He drove into a mass of bodies in the lane, yet managed to twist his arms around for a highlight assist, releasing the ball softly into the path of Kevin Durant for a layup and the 25-13 lead.

Waiters said even with his view partially obstructed, he saw the double team coming and knew Durant was running to the rim.

“I knew two was gonna collapse,” Waiters said. “(He’s) 6-11. All you have to do is give him the ball, he’s gonna finish.”

Waiters finished with 13 points, three assists and one turnover. When he entered at 8:41 in the third, he tiptoed the baseline and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer, then hit a rainbow jump shot of his own at 3:40 put the Thunder ahead 33.

By then, the Showtime passing had reached rare levels even for the Thunder. Westbrook finished with a team-best 12 assists, but his one that wasn’t could have been the most impressive. Westbrook jumped out on a two-on-one break and threw a through-the-legs pass to Randy Foye who was fouled at 3:35. The lead was 34.

Even in a runaway, the Thunder was still passing it around with gusto. It finished with 21 assists, 19 coming in the first three quarters in which OKC put the game out of hand.

In Sunday’s victory, the so-called island was inhabited by all the Thunder, with Waiters handing out the early invites.

“They’re gonna make you pass the ball, the way they’re playing us,” Waiters said. “They’re loading up on guys and they’re almost begging you to pass.

“Your job is to be as aggressive as possible with the ball so you can make the right play … and the smart play at the same time.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The big man who saved the Eastern Conference finals from a sweep: Bismack Biyombo … Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is eager to get to work under Frank Vogel … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is set to interview Stephen Silas for the vacant position on his coaching staff … Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue admits he should have gone to LeBron James more in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Raptors … Toronto native Cory Joseph is fired up and believes the Raptors can hang with the Cavaliers …

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