Blogtable: Smartest coaching move of the offseason so far?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> What has been the smartest coaching move (so far) this offseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Orlando hiring Frank Vogel to replace Scott Skiles. Bringing Skiles in always seemed odd, and his decision to walk had the optics of disaster for the Magic’s highest-ups, who pushed for his return. Fortunately, Vogel became available, and he’ll be a much better fit for the team’s young core. Whatever you think of Elfrid Payton, the Magic’s basketball people think a lot of him and want him to succeed, so he should have a coach who believes in him and can get the most out of him. Vogel should be able to do that, as well as find ways to maximize the Magic’s youth and length to raise its defensive profile.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comEach of the interviewees and candidates who turned down the Sacramento job? The hierarchy there, both formal and unofficial, should trouble any solid basketball professional, in my view. But let’s not dwell on the negative. I’ll go with Tom Thibodeau’s hiring in Minnesota. He was the best available candidate landing in the best situation as far as talent base and a willingness to (finally) make significant changes. He has the authority in his dual role to make the necessary changes and he’s already made a few in the front office. The Timberwolves are on their way up and Thibs will end up doing Flip Saunders‘ legacy proud.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere’s a lot to like. Luke Walton has the smarts, the championship experience as player and coach as well as the Laker bloodlines to make his hiring the right move. Frank Vogel should be the guy who finally gets the Magic shifted out of neutral. But I’m going with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota as exactly the right prescription to get the young talent of the Timberwolves howling on defense and taking the first steps to become a long-time force in the Western Conference.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz and Quin Snyder doing an extension. I don’t think many others will make the same choice, and there are other good moves to pick, but Snyder-Utah is such a good fit. His background of working with veterans and developing prospects has already come through, and I sure would have liked the Jazz’s chances to be in the playoffs if they were anywhere close to healthy. This is a team obviously heading in a good direction. Snyder is one of the reasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Tom Thibodeau took a year off after getting booted from the Chicago Bulls, rather than jump at the first offer. In hindsight, this was the best offseason move. He waited for the best opening this season, and now gets the luxury of coaching a young and intriguing Timberwolves team that’s on the way up and also serving as GM. On paper anyway, it appears to be a solid match, especially if Thibodeau learned from the mistakes he made in Chicago.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere were also big upgrades in New York and L.A., but it’s hard not to like the addition of Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota the most. The Wolves have a group of young talented players that’s ready to take the next step and can play great defense with the right direction. The offense will come, but if Thibodeau can take them from the bottom five to above average in defensive efficiency, they can be a playoff team next year.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The smartest coaching move, by far, is the Los Angeles Lakers adding Brian Shaw to the staff to assist Luke Walton. No one knows the importance of a top flight assistant head coach like Walton does, having served in that role for reigning NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr this season. Shaw would have been a fine coaching candidate himself, but lands in the perfect spot with a franchise he knows inside and out after years of experiences in The Finals as both an ex-Lakers player and assistant coach (under Phil Jackson). For an organization that hasn’t earned praise for much recently, this is one of the better moves they’ve made.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMany of them — Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota, Scott Brooks to Washington, Frank Vogel to Orlando and Nate McMillan’s elevation with Indiana — make a lot of sense. One that was not so obvious was the contract extension for third-year coach Quin Snyder, which speaks to Utah’s investment in the longterm. The Jazz, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, appreciate the direction of their steadily-improving young team and with Snyder they’re looking to build a program that can last.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The move that keeps coming to mind for me is the Magic grabbing Frank Vogel. They really lucked into him, in a lot of ways, with Scott Skiles surprising everyone by stepping down, and Larry Bird removing Vogel in Indy despite what seemed like Bird not really wanting to part ways. Vogel took a young Pacers team a few years ago and made them a legitimate challenger to the Heat’s Big Three, and came up with a defensive scheme that made Roy Hibbert an All-Star. In many ways, it’s thanks to Vogel that we still talk about “verticality.” Now Vogel has a roster he can shape and mold to play any style he wants.

Morning shootaround — May 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green on 3-1 series hole: ‘It’s stunning’ | Roberson comes through in Game 4 | Will Raptors be able to keep Biyombo? | Lue expects bigger role for Frye in Game 5

No. 1: Green: ‘This is not where we expected to be’ For all the wins the Golden State Warriors amassed in the regular season — 73 of them to be exact — what they wouldn’t give to have a win or two more this morning. After suffering another drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors are down 3-1 after last night’s 118-94 loss in Game 4. After the game, many of the Warriors were in many ways in a state of disbelief that their dream season is just one loss away from being over. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the scene in Golden State’s locker room and how this series has affected the team’s emotional center, forward Draymond Green:

These Golden State Warriors are a rollicking, rolling party bus, the loudest and surest sounds forever coming out this corner of the dressing room. For now, Draymond Green gathered himself in the stillness of the air, uncomfortable with the morose mood surrounding him. He sifted through text messages on his phone and confessed the truth over a sudden and spectacular failure in these Western Conference finals.

“It’s stunning,” Green told The Vertical. “This is not where we expected to be.”

Alone in the corner of the locker room – only the sound of showers in the distance – Green considered the circumstances of the Oklahoma City Thunder train running through these wobbly Warriors. The Warriors are down 3-1, the greatest regular season in NBA history slipping away on a lost trip to America’s dust bowl.

“Yeah, it’s pretty stunning,” Green said.

Green should’ve had Chesapeake Energy Arena livid that the NBA passed on suspending him, livid that he fed upon all the anger and channeled it into the destruction of the Thunder. All his life, Green found a way to validate his villainous basketball self, and he failed on Tuesday night.

“It’s who I am,” Green told The Vertical. “It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I’ve thrived off. It’s frustrating, because I know that’s who I always am.

“And right now, I’m not myself. I’m thinking too much, and that’s leading to all the things that I’m not supposed to be doing.

“I just … I just have to be me.”

Stephen Curry has been a shell of himself – missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble, and completely unable to prove that there’s Curry-esque agility in that knee. “He’s playing at 70 percent, at best,” a source close to Curry told The Vertical. Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something – no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Twenty points on 19 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.

For months, the Warriors were playing for history. Seventy-three victories, the best team ever and out of nowhere, Golden State is suddenly playing for its survival.

“Right there, that’s what it is,” Green told The Vertical. “We’re the leaders of this team, and we’ve got to be better. Last year, when we were down 2-1 (to Memphis), we talked and we said, ‘Hey, you and me have got to be better.’ And right now, we both have got to be better.”

Better won’t be good enough against this Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook monolith. Better will get them run out of Oracle in Game 5, run out of the season. The Thunder have been hungrier, sharper and constructed to force the Warriors to adapt to them. The Warriors have to be historic again, have to be one of the great teams in history to fight themselves out of this trouble, out of a 3-1 hole.

Money Green nodded late Monday night in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena, and agreed with it all. In the quiet of the losing locker room, in a private moment in the deep corner, he believed this too: “If anyone can do this,” Draymond Green of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors told The Vertical, “we can.”

***

 

Green: ‘I’m never going to be careful’

OKLAHOMA CITY — Since Draymond Green is now within a single flagrant foul point of being suspended for one game in the playoffs, there is no more margin for error.

But while Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his emotional forward will have to rein himself in, Green vowed not to change at the Tuesday shootaround prior to Game 4 (9 p.m. ET, TNT).

“I’m never going to be careful,” Green said. “I’ll just be me. I play hard.”

His coach was a bit more circumspect.

“Draymond’s just got to understand the circumstances, which he does and I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Kerr said.

With the NBA having upgraded his Flagrant Foul 1 to a Flagrant Foul 2 and fining him $25,000 for Sunday’s Game 3 incident in which he kicked Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in the groin, Green was obviously tired of having spent 1 1/2 days as the center of attention. He would not directly answer questions on the league’s ruling. But, he also did not go full Marshawn Lynch, but smiled and deflected:

Question: How do you feel about the league’s decision?

Green: “That is a great question.”

Q: Were you surprised that the foul wasn’t rescinded but you weren’t suspended?

Green: “That is a great question as well.”

Q: Are you relieved at all?

Green: “That is a great statement.”

Q: Did you present your case to the NBA office?

Green:Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are two amazing players that we got to stop tonight. Dion Waiters really got it going in this series, so we’ll be keying on him too.

Green did say he is looking forward to Game 4.

“I am. Exciting game. Down 2-1,” he said. “We’ve been here before. We know what it takes to win a game of this magnitude on the road. Obviously a completely different team. A team that’s playing well. But that doesn’t change what we do. We have to come out and focus on us and when we focus on us as opposed to what anybody else got going on, that’s when we’re at our best. So tonight it’s about us.”

Durant not surprised by ruling on Green

OKLAHOMA CITY — Well, OK, then.

Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant looked at all of the microphones and reporters surrounding him Tuesday morning, hours before Game 5 of Thunder-Golden State Warriors (9 p.m. ET, TNT), and wondered what the fuss was all about. Actually, he knew the questions that were coming, but didn’t understand it.

“They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green,” Durant said. “He’s one of the premier players in the league, on arguably one of the best teams in the history of the game. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even think it’s something we should even be talking about.”

The NBA indeed refused to suspend Green for kicking Steven Adams in the groin — for the second time in as many games — and instead on Monday upgraded his transgression to a Flagrant 2 and fined him $25,000. Two nights ago, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said Green should be suspended, and of course the Warriors disagreed.

The end result is this: a dramatic series will continue without being impacted by a league decision. Green will be good to go, and if he keeps his nose clean, will remain that way for as long as the Warriors play.

Had Green been suspended for Game 4, that could’ve changed everything about a series that the Thunder lead 2-1. The Warriors have faced similar deficits twice before since last season, and responded strongly each time, although admittedly neither of those opponents (the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals and the Cleveland Cavaliers in The Finals) were as healthy or strong as OKC is today.

Durant refused to beat about the bush regarding his feelings about Green and the league. He all but said politics, if not economics, came into play.

“I knew the league was going to let him play or fine him or upgrade to a Flagrant 2,” he said. “We all knew that this was going to happen. The league is all business, man. I get it.”

Clearly, Durant and the Thunder believe Green’s actions have been excessive, if not intentional. And Durant hinted that the league and TV partners favor the glamorous Warriors over the Thunder. Of course, that’s just his opinion. But it will be the fuel the Thunder and their fans use tonight.

 

Morning shootaround — May 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors gear up for crucial Game 4 | Beal expects max deal this summer | Love (foot) should be OK for Game 5 | Valanciunas ready to help out in series

No. 1: Green drama least of Warriors’ concerns as Game 4 nears  The Golden State Warriors dodged a major bullet yesterday when they found out that All-Star forward Draymond Green would not be suspended for the kick he delivered to the groin of Oklahoma City Thunder Steven Adams in Game 3. All that remains now is simple — avoid their first two-game losing streak in 95 games (playoffs and regular season) in Game 4 tonight (9 ET, TNT). The San Jose Mercury News‘ Tim Kawakami has more on the vast challenge staring the Warriors in their collective faces:

Draymond Green will play Tuesday, get booed with an enthusiasm previously unknown to mankind, and somewhere in there the Warriors will try to save their season, too.

That is just about as much noise, emotion and drama as any two teams could bear, and it’s all packed into Game 4 at Chesapeake Arena.

Will somebody break under this titanic pressure? Can the Warriors use all this nervous energy to spin this series around?

Will Stephen Curry rise above everything and pluck the Warriors from danger precisely when it is most necessary?

How are they going to deal with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and an Oklahoma City group that keeps playing better and better?

“They’re a real good team,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said Monday of the Thunder.

“I think we’re facing a different animal as far as KD and Westbrook.”

What can the Warriors do? Well, in the Cleveland series, Kerr put super-sub Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for center Andrew Bogut in Game 4 and the small-ball Warriors proceeded to run the Cavaliers off the court the next three games.

I would expect that Iguodala, at the very least, will play a larger and larger role (and Harrison Barnes possibly a smaller one) as the series moves along, and Kerr wouldn’t comment when I asked if he might start Iguodala again.

But the Warriors’ “Death Lineup” was demolished by various Thunder units in Game 3, so it will take more than just a lineup switch for the Warriors.

It will take Green bouncing back from his horrible Game 3; if anybody can absorb the rage of 18,000 fans and use it as fuel, it’s Green, but this is now at an emotional apex.

It will take Klay Thompson and Livingston feeling steadier with the ball and calmer on defense.

It will take Kerr and his staff coming up with a few tweaks that help the Warriors find their offensive rhythm and make it tougher on Durant and Westbrook — without anything backfiring on the Warriors.

But mostly, I think it will take Curry, the league’s first unanimous MVP, to play like he deserved every one of those votes and more.

On Monday, a day after looking particularly off-rhythm shooting in Game 3, Curry had that serene look I’ve seen a few times before, usually right before something large is about to happen.

Curry doesn’t want to try to do too much, which was part of the problem Sunday; but he also realizes that the entire team looks to him in the toughest moments.

“Somebody’s just got to take control of the situation,” Curry said of the Game 3 unraveling. “I think individually we’re so competitive in that moment that we wanted to do something about it, we didn’t allow ourselves to work together.

“We make tough shots all the time; we might be talking about this had a couple of them gone in.”

***

 

Green gets fine and foul upgraded, but no suspension for Game 4

VIDEO: Draymond Green gets flagrant foul for kick

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green’s flagrant foul on Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams has been upgraded to a Flagrant Foul 2, and Green has been fined $25,000, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred with 5:57 remaining in the second quarter of the Thunder’s 133-105 win over the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals on May 22 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“After a thorough investigation that included review of all available video angles and interviews with the players involved and the officials working the game, we have determined that Green’s foul was unnecessary and excessive and warranted the upgrade and fine,” said VanDeWeghe.

“During a game, players – at times – flail their legs in an attempt to draw a foul,” VanDeWeghe continued, “but Green’s actions in this case warranted an additional penalty.”

The decision came at the end of a long day of waiting and back and forth by both the Warriors and Thunder following the second quarter incident in Game 3 on Sunday when Green drove to the basket, was fouled by the Thunder’s Steven Adams and the play ended with a kick to the groin.

After a video review by the game officials, Green was originally given a Flagrant 1 foul.

Monday’s decision means he has three flagrant-foul points in the playoffs and reaching four brings an automatic one-game suspension.

Green insisted that Sunday’s act was an accidental blow. But OKC’s Russell Westbrook said after the 133-105 Thunder rout that he believed it was intentional.

“Russell said I did it intentionally, but he’s part of the superstar group that started all this acting in the NBA,” Green said on Monday. “Russell Westbrook kicked me at the end of the half. He just didn’t happen to catch me where I caught Steven Adams.”

Green insisted that he was just flailing with his arms and legs trying to sell a foul call against Adams.

Westbrook wasn’t buying it.

“He’s trying to take the heat of himself,” Westbrook said.

Valanciunas to return in Game 4

TORONTO — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is on the active list and will make his return from an ankle injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday. He will come off the bench for the Raptors, who are looking to tie the series at two games apiece.

Valanciunas originally injured his ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 of the conference semifinals. He has missed the last seven games, with Toronto using Bismack Biyombo in the starting lineup and different combinations on the frontline behind him.

Biyombo has been a bit of a revelation and was a huge factor in the Raptors’ Game 3 victory on Saturday, grabbing 26 rebounds, blocking four shots, and helping limit the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 20 points in the paint.

Valanciunas has averaged 15.0 points (on 55 percent shooting) and 12.1 rebounds in 10 playoff games. He gives Toronto a low-post presence through which to run its offense, but it’s unclear how mobile he’ll be or if he’ll be able to match up with Cleveland’s five-out second unit when Tristan Thompson goes to the bench.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that Valanciunas’ role would be limited.

“He brings a post presence, gives them a chance to slow the game down,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “With his presence, it gives a different dynamic to their team outside of just a jump-shooting team and two guards attacking. So it’s a different look for us, but we’ll be ready for it.”

Cavs, Raptors will ‘dance’ again in Game 4

TORONTO — The home team has won all six games played between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors this season. If the Raptors can keep that trend going in Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Eastern Conference finals will suddenly get very interesting.

Here are things to watch on either end of the floor as the Raptors try to even the series and the Cavs try to get within one win of their second straight trip to The Finals.

Toronto on offense – The value of a good screen

Bismack Biyombo was the big story in Game 3, grabbing 26 rebounds, blocking four shots, and helping limit the Cavs to just 20 points in the paint. He also scored six straight points to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

But Biyombo’s biggest offensive contribution on Saturday were his seven screen assists, five more than any other player recorded. The Raptors struggled offensively through the first two rounds and shot 41 percent in the first two games against the Cavs, who are the worst defensive team they’ve faced in the playoffs.

Toronto broke out offensively in Game 3, scoring 60 points on just 43 possessions in the first half and finishing with 99 on 85. SportVU data tells us that the Raptors set fewer ball screens in Game 3 (68) than they did in Games 1 or 2 (91, 85). But Biyombo’s screens were particularly effective.

According to SportVU, the Raptors scored 36 points (1.29 per possession) on possessions in which Biyombo set a ball screen. That’s more than they scored off Biyombo screens in Games 1 and 2 combined (33, 0.75 per possession).

Here are a couple of screens from Biyombo that allowed DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph attack Tristan Thompson off the dribble…

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Good screening allows the offense to pick which defender they want to go at. The Raptors have three ball-handlers — DeRozan, Joseph and Kyle Lowry — who can take advantage of non-rim-protectors off the dribble and the Cavs have three non-rim-protectors — Thompson, Kevin Love and Channing Frye — on their frontline.

On Sunday, Raptors coach Dwane Casey stressed the importance of both a good screen and the ball-handler’s timing and ability to create space as the screen is being set.

“It’s really important,” Casey said. “I think especially when it’s a physical-type game where the opposing team is into the guard or into the pin-down of the guy receiving the screen. I think it’s really important, the timing, where you don’t set illegal screens or the defense doesn’t hurry you up, and it gives [the screener] an opportunity to get his body on the defender.

“It’s a dance. You’ve got to have a dance partner, is what I call it. The guy that’s receiving the screen has got to be able to dance with the guy guarding him. They’re doing a lot of top-blocking, so you’ve still got to be able to dance with him to take him to the screen and/or create the separation, one of the two. If you’re a point guard and you’re trying to come off on the pick-and-roll, your ability to get separation from the defender is just as important as that screen. So now with the defense heightened and them understanding exactly what you’re doing, it’s even more important.”

Cleveland is not a great defensive team if you pick the right spots to attack and execute with effective screens. Toronto will look to do that again in Game 4.

Cleveland on offense – LeBron with the ball

Of course, the Cavs usually don’t have to be a great defensive team, because their offense is so potent. But that offense took a step backward on Saturday, scoring just 84 points on 84 possessions (37 on 41 in the second half).

Kyrie Irving (3-for-19) and Kevin Love (1-for-9) combined to shoot 4-for-28 in Game 3 after shooting 58 percent combined in their two home games. Regression to the mean was certainly in play, but the Toronto defense deserves some credit for defending better than they did in Games 1 and 2.

Casey spoke about the pick-and-roll “dance” on the Raptors’ end of the floor, but there’s also been an interesting dance going on when LeBron James has had the ball in this series.

Early in Game 1, James posted up DeMarre Carroll on the right side of the floor…

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Biyombo was stationed on the opposite side of the lane, sticking with Thompson so that the weak-side defenders didn’t have to help off the Cavs’ shooters. And of course, James spun baseline, where there was no help, scoring two of the Cavs’ 50 points in the restricted area in Game 1.

Early in Game 2, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor…

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This time, Biyombo slid over to the strong side, to help at the rim…

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… and both DeRozan and Luis Scola sank down to put a body on Thompson. So James just zipped a pass to Love for an open three, with DeRozan a half second too late on his close-out.

In the second quarter of Game 3, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor…

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Biyombo was dancing back and forth, but in the paint and ready to help, with Patrick Patterson putting a body on Thompson. There’s might have been a passing lane there, but it wasn’t as wide as it was in Game 2, and the Raptors were more organized on the weak side, where both guys weren’t helping and DeRozan was in position to recover to J.R. Smith.

The result of the play? James spun baseline, Biyombo stopped him there, and he passed to Love, who forced an ugly, leaning, step-in jumper after Patterson closed out in time.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said with his other two stars struggling, the coach should have leaned more on his best player.

“I should have put the ball in LeBron’s hands a little bit more,” Lue said Sunday, “to let him create and let him draw double teams.”

While the Raptors handled that play in Game 3 better than they did in Cleveland, they didn’t see it as often. In fact, Love posted up more than James did on Saturday, when James more often had the ball on the perimeter.

The Raptors didn’t defend James the same way every time. Sometimes, Carroll was in his shirt…

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… but mostly, he wasn’t.

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And he went under screens, giving James space to shoot or act “like a quarterback” as Carroll says.

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The Raptors would obviously love to make James a jump-shooter. This year, he shot just 34.3 percent from outside the paint, his worst mark since his rookie year. And he’s 4-for-16 from outside the restricted area in this series.

James is less likely to take the bait than he has been in previous years. In these playoffs, 53 percent of his shots have come in the restricted area, up from 36 percent in playoffs past. But he will be happy to use that space to see the floor and find his teammates for open shots.

The key is the other Raptors’ ability to stay at home on the Cavs’ shooters and fight through pin-down screens being set for Smith and Irving. They did a better job of that in Game 3 and will have to continue to be sharp defensively in Game 4.

“If you back off of him, he’s going to make a good decision,” Casey said. “So we have to mix up how we want to play him, whether it’s up on him or back or sending help or not sending help. There’s not one way you can play a great player like he is.”

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.

***

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.

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

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 …

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

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No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

***

No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

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No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …