Posts Tagged ‘Blake Griffin’

Blogtable: Clippers-Thunder lessons

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


BLOGTABLE: Sold on Heat? | Unrest in coaching ranks | Clippers-Thunder lessons



VIDEO: Clippers-Thunder Game 5 recap

> What have you learned so far from watching the Clippers and Thunder bang heads (and other body parts)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Frankly, I assumed that OKC was a more fully formed team and less dependent on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for so much of its scoring and mojo. It’s a little disappointing, frankly, to not see more reliable help, night in and night out, from the Thunder’s other guys. As for the Clippers, coach Doc Rivers seems to have a knack for this insta-contender stuff, after what he did with the Celtics in 2007-08. Also, I think Jamal Crawford will be able to step onto a court and drain 3-pointers 10 or 15 years from now.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNothing at all that I didn’t already know. They are both emotional, both flawed and can both be very painful and very fun to watch. All in the same game.

Kendrick Perkins, Blake Griffin (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Kendrick Perkins, Blake Griffin (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comI don’t think there’s been a “wild card” in terms of a player or a theme that’s jumped out in this series. Doc Rivers sort of a tore a page from the Memphis playbook in the fourth quarter of Game 4 by putting Chris Paul in sort of a Tony Allen role (and Paul’s even four inches shorter than Allen) on Kevin Durant and then using double-teams to confound the MVP. It helped L.A. rally from 16 down to win and tie the series instead of going down 3-1. Right now it’s the only reason the Clips are still alive.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I learned that Serge Ibaka has not come close to peaking. We sort of knew that already, the way his mid-range jumper has become so dependable and has turned into more of a two-way player than a lot of people would have imagined three years ago, but there is still room for growth. He has 3-point range and a work ethic that means he will put in the time to improve. The Thunder are OK with Ibaka shooting from there now. In time, they may encourage it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a confirmation of what we learned in last year’s Finals. A full season, 1,230 games total, can come down to just a few seconds. These are two teams with legit dreams of winning a championship. And one of them is going to lose this series because of one or two mistakes made at the end of Game 4 (if the Thunder lose) or Game 5 (if the Clips lose). It can’t be as painful as what the Spurs went through last June, but it will be close.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve learned that true vitriol for one’s opponent has been reborn in this league, courtesy of guys like Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. I don’t mind guys playing with that extra competitive edge that both sides have shown in this series. I think players on both sides have skirted the lne between being Bad Boys dirty and being extra physical, which is wholly appropriate in a playoff atmosphere, in my opinion. The physicality on both sides has been refreshing to watch in a league where guys from one team routinely extend a hand to help up a guy from the other team (a gesture that was forbidden during past eras in the league). The guys who can continue to produce through all of the trials and tribulations of a series like this are the ones who truly impress. I have a revised level of respect for both Griffin and Russell Westbrook, who remain in the crosshairs on a nightly basis based on how they perform.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Two things, both about the Thunder: 1. What a thin margin of error they live with. Considering they have the MVP and the uber-talented Russell Westbrook, it’s always surprising to see them struggle to score points. And even though they won 59 games this season, they have a short bench and have to get very good performances from all of their rotation players in order to have a chance to win against high-level teams. 2. How much I enjoy watching Steven Adams play. I’m sure I’d hate playing against him, as everyone seems to do, but he’s a classic agitator/instigator, of which there aren’t many left these days.

For CP3, critical errors worse than call

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Thunder shock the Clippers in Game 5

OKLAHOMA CITY — Game 5 will be remembered for the call, the officials’ curious explanation following the replay review and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers‘ scorching rant of the entire surreal sequence. It will all be replayed and dissected on a continuous loop.

For Chris Paul, the call that didn’t go the Clippers’ way with 11.3 seconds left to another unfathomable finish in this heart-stopping Western Conference semifinal series, isn’t what will eat at him for hours on end; isn’t what left him in a near-catatonic state in the postgame interview room.

Despite early foul trouble in a game in which the whistles blew early and often, Paul engineered a spectacular game for 47 minutes before he so unexpectedly came unglued in the final 49 seconds. Two turnovers, about what he’s averaged in each game in these playoffs, and inexplicably making contact with Russell Westbrook‘s shooting arm from behind the arc with 6.4 seconds left played a leading role in the Clippers’ collapse, a seven-point lead, and a series lead, dashed in 49.2 seconds.

Forty-nine seconds for a chance to close this out at home Thursday night. Forty-nine seconds for Paul, the nine-year pro and seven-time All-Star, to creep ever closer to his first conference final, and the first, too, for this long-beleaguered, but now proudly resilient franchise of which CP3 has willingly become the undeniable face.

“Toughest thing I’ve been through basketball-wise,” Paul said softly, his body slouched, motionless, his eyes unblinking. “Everything that happened during the end, a turnover with 17 seconds left, assuming that they would foul — dumbest play probably that I’ve ever made. And then hitting Russell’s hand and calling a foul on a 3. Just bad basketball.”


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks after the Clippers’ Game 5 defeat

With 4:13 to go, the Clippers could feel the momentum surging in their favor. Jamal Crawford splashed a 3 and the lead they held practically throughout swelled to 101-88 as the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd groaned. League MVP Kevin Durant was having a miserable night, his worst postseason shooting performance of his career, 3-for-17, and he hadn’t even taken a shot in the fourth quarter.

Not until he popped a 3 with 3:23 to go: 101-93.

Paul would miss a couple of jumpers, and Crawford badly missed a 3. Reggie Jackson‘s layup made it 101-97 with 1:25 to go, but Paul calmly tip-toed into shooting position and drained a 17-footer with 68 seconds left: 104-97.

Durant hit another high-arching 3 with 43 seconds left to make it a four-point game. Crawford missed a scoop at the rim and Westbrook hustled the rebound out to Durant, who raced to the rim and scored with 17.8 seconds left: 104-102.

Still, the Clippers were in control, the shot clock turned off.

Then all hell broke loose.

Paul took the inbounds pass after the Durant bucket up the right sideline. Westbrook pressured him. Paul later said he expected Westbrook to foul him. Instead the Thunder point guard swiped the ball away with a quick jab and it bounced out to Jackson near midcourt. Jackson bolted into the lane, made contact with Matt Barnes and he and the ball went flying out of bounds under the basket. No foul was called. Referee Tony Brothers, positioned on the baseline, signaled Thunder ball.

As all close out-of-bounds plays do, this one went to video replay. Rivers, certain the call would be overturned, picked up his whiteboard to draw up a play. The refs watched the video screen, huddled, conferred and, finally, a verdict: Call stands, Thunder ball.

The Clippers went ballistic.

“I was shocked,” Paul said.

“It was our ball; everybody knows it was our ball,” Rivers, red-faced and hot during his postgame interview, said. “I think the bottom line is they thought it was a foul and they made up for it. In my opinion, let’s take replay away. Let’s take away the replay system because that’s our ball.”

It was the Thunder’s ball. Paul said Brothers told him the replay the referees observed showed it off the Clippers. Later in a statement issued by Brothers, the crew chief, he said the officials viewed two camera angles and neither was convincing enough to reverse the call in the Clippers’ favor: “From those two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it’s inconclusive, we have to go with the call that was on the floor.”

Said Rivers: “We made our own mistakes, we turned the ball over, we fouled the 3-point shot, we did a lot of stuff to lose the game ourselves. But at the end of the day we have a replay system that you’re supposed to look at, and I don’t want to hear that they didn’t have that replay. That’s a bunch of crap.”

The Thunder were awarded the ball under their basket. Westbrook dribbled out top, sized up Paul and launched himself vertically, releasing a 3-point shot for the lead. Paul appeared to knock Westbrook’s arm and the trajectory of his shot suggested the same. The whistle blew. Foul. Three free throws.

“I didn’t feel like I did [foul], but it doesn’t matter,” Paul said.

With 6.4 seconds showing on the clock, Westbrook, dynamite throughout the game with 38 points and six assists, and the only reason OKC had a chance at all, made all three free throws to put OKC ahead 105-104.

After a timeout to move the ball into the frontcourt, Barnes inbounded to Paul, guarded by Thabo Sefolosha. A screen set Paul free around the right side as he darted toward the lane with designs of feeding a rolling Blake Griffin. But the Thunder’s Jackson dropped off Crawford, got a hand close enough to the ball to avoid a foul while disrupting Paul’s dribble. Paul lost it in the lane and time expired.

Stunned and angry, the Clippers were beside themselves as the buzzer punctuated the finality of an incredible Game 5 that moved the Thunder win from a third West finals appearances in four seasons.

“We lost and it’s on me,” Paul said. “We had a chance to win and the last play, we didn’t get a shot off and that’s just dumb. I’m supposed to be the leader of the team.

“It’s just bad, real bad.”

Just as the Thunder believed they had Game 4 won before blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Clippers, who led 30-15 early, had this one stuffed in their back pocket. They were the better team for 47 minutes.

“They’re supposed to win that game,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “Up 13 with four minutes to go, they’re supposed to win that game.”

And that’s all Paul will think about as he searches for a way to pull himself from Tuesday night’s wreckage.

“I don’t know, you just do,” Paul said of forgetting Game 5. “It’s real bad. Get ready for Game 6.”

24-Second thoughts — May 13

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards stayed alive

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Quick Change is my favorite halftime act at NBA games.

Has been for years.

And they will be until something or someone comes along to dethrone them …

They are also our honorary moniker for tonight’s action, because things do indeed change quickly in the conference semifinals. Just ask Roy Hibbert.

Game 5s for both the Pacers and Wizards and later on the Thunder and Clippers will show us exactly how all four teams react to the quick change that has come in their respective series.

Things changed so quickly in both the last time we saw them all on the floor, with both the Clippers and Pacers rallying back from huge deficits to win Game 4s on Sunday.

This very easily could have a been a night for closeouts. The Pacers have that chance, up 3-1 and playing on their home floor. The Thunder, of course, are deadlocked at 2-2 after the Clippers’ miraculous Game 4 comeback.

So while it’s win-or-go-home night in Indy for John Wall and his Wizards …

The Clippers and Thunder are guaranteed to go at it again, no matter what happens tonight.

Get your popcorn ready …

24 – Unbelievably sloppy start for the Pacers and especially the Wizards (seven turnovers in the first quarter), and yet they still lead after the first. It helps when your big man, Marcin Gortat, is working harder than anyone else on the floor during that span (11 points, six rebounds, one steal, one block and 12 hustle plays).

23 – Wait a minute, Luis Scola time! A 10-0 Indiana run gives the home team 27-25 lead …

22 – The Wizards are not playing like a team in the midst of their defining moment. So careless with the rock. Playing like it’s a preseason game …

21 – Hey, guess who’s on his way bizzzack to the bench (and more)?

#CantWait

20 – Wizards outworking the Pacers big time in the second quarter and pushed their lead to 10 (45-35). Hard to figure these Pacers out. No killer instinct on close-out night is a strange sign. Wizards fighting for their playoff lives, however, is what you love to see …

19 – Gortat and Co. destroying the Pacers on the glass!

18 – QUICK CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!

17 – BBQ Pierogi Alert … it’s a dumpling Shaq, not a sausage. Underdog, put that on a T-shirt!

16 – It’s a make or miss league and right now, John Wall is making ‘em. Seventeen and counting for the Wizards’ All-Star PG …

Meanwhile, the Pacers are doing it again …

Or better yet, Gortat is doing it to them …

15 – Freud couldn’t figure these Pacers out …

14 – Marcin The Machine!

13 – Welp!


VIDEO: Magic Johnson responds to Donald Sterling with Anderson Cooper

12 – Looks like the winner of the Early Game 4 Hangover Sweepstakes goes to …

11 – Stan Van Gundy coaching the Pistons makes plenty of sense. His front-office credentials, however …

10 – No hometown love for Blake Griffin, not five games into this series …

9 – Thunder rolling right now, with CP3 out of the mix with the two fouls …

8 – But BG stayed hot and J.J. Redick kept the Clippers in front at the half. Impressive stuff from the road warriors in this series once again …

7 – Amen!

6 – Officials in this night-cap are taking a bigger beating in the social media universe than even the Pacers …

5 – @JCrossover  is the master of the and-1

4 – KD needs to go ahead and join that kid’s framily, anything to escape this shooting nightmare tonight  …

3 – Oof!

2 – Huge box out and rebound of a BG miss on the second of two free throws leads to a CP3 dagger with 49.2 seconds left. Clippers hanging on to a 104-97 lead. Serge Ibaka failed to box Big Baby out properly. Crucial mistake in a game filled with them for the home team … if only KD and Russ weren’t there to rescue your bacon in the final minute. #giventhawaygame4takethawaygame5

1 – Good luck trying to make sense of this finish … CRAZY!


VIDEO: The wild Game 5 finish sees the Thunder serve up revenge for Game 4

24-Second thoughts — May 11

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The final frantic seconds of the Clippers’ epic Game 4 comeback win over the Thunder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Greatest playoff comeback ever?

Ah, we’ll argue about it later. (And for the record, there is a huge difference between the “biggest” and “greatest” anything, so keep that in mind. More on this later …)

Greatest comeback in the Los Angeles Clippers’ franchise history?

No diggity, no doubt!

Down 16 in the fourth quarter, the Clippers unleashed the Mother’s Day comeback of the century. After watching them take punch after punch from the Thunder with their season on the line I offered up a simple question via Twitter …

The rest, as they say in Hollywood, is history!

24 – Oh, Metta. You’re going to miss an epic finish fella!

And give them a few minutes, Sir!

23 – No way the Thunder let up. No way. Not when they were crushing the Clippers for so long …

22 – Darren Collison has officially morphed into #newschool Vinnie Johnson and taken over the game on possession after possession. Competitive fire is coming out of his ears as he stages a one-on-one game within the game with his former UCLA teammates Russell Westbrook

21 – Clips back in this for one reason and really one reason only, D-E-F-E-N-S-E-! Doc Rivers switches Chris Paul on the MVP Kevin Durant (with plenty of double-team help) and it actually works …

20 – I believe this about any team, in any sport, at any level …

19 – Now, about this comeback from 22 points down in the game. It was the Clippers’ fourth-largest comeback in the past five seasons, per Elias. So no, it wasn’t a franchise record. They came back from 27 down in the 2012 playoffs to beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 24 down that same postseason to defeat the San Antonio Spurs and from a 23-point hole in the 2011 playoffs to beat the Portland Trail Blazers.

18 – Fine choice of words Mr. Green!


VIDEO: Darren Collison can go ahead and say it, “Im’ the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”

17 – “Madness, I say. Madness!”

… Haha!

16 – Fitting image for an epic finish!

15 – Some folks, CJ Paul, had much better seats than others for the epic comeback …

14 – Doug Collins nailed the one issue that many of us have with the two-faced nature of the KD-Russ dynamic and how it impacts the Thunder, negatively, sometimes (and particularly at critical times) …

13 – Interesting, might be Steve Kerr to the Knicks after all …


VIDEO: CP3 and Lil’ Chris at the podium

12 – No pressure or anything Pacers and Wizards. No big deal. You’re just following one of the best games of the entire #NBAPlayOffs.

No pressure …

11 – Don’t we have to be concerned about the big fella no matter what?

10 – Is anyone ready to forgive yet?

And a quick piece of wisdom from the Basketball Whisperer

9 – My main man #BigThirst Al Harrington with an appearance tonight for the Wizards. one of my favorite cats of all time. Good to see him out there …

… #MOTHER’SDAYSHOUTOUTS

8 – What he said …

7 – Wizards running circles around the Pacers at halftime and they’re the team with all the “old heads” … and that Wall fella!

6 – We’ve been burned once today with a hot start. It would be foolish to assume this one is over, but the Asch Man makes it hard to think this one is heading anywhere but over …

5 – Jeff Teague is not a man of many words. But the Hawks’ point guard is usually spot on with his observations …

More Sterling drama (sorry, but unfortunately it’s news) overshadowing the work of the Clippers on the floor. NBA response to Shelly Sterling‘s desire to retain her ownership stake of the Los Angeles Clippers:

In response to statements made by Shelly Sterling, wife of Donald Sterling, NBA spokesman Mike Bass stated:  
 
“Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well.  It doesn’t matter whether the owners are related as is the case here.  These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team.”

4 – Drew Gooden, Harrington and Andre Miller are ballin’ again … let that sink in for a second. They are the old man superhero brigade in D.C. It’s as crazy as it is entertaining watching the “Old” Wizards go to work …

Meanwhile, the Pacers come all the way back and tie the game up and then promptly get outscored 6-0 … and trail by six again 80-74 with 8:36 to play. #SMH #realpacerspleasestandup

https://twitter.com/JCameratoNBA/status/465672561884692481

3 – Win or lose, Wiz Bench and Paul George are exempt from the blame game tonight. Couldn’t have asked for from any of them …

2 – Dancin’ Roy Hibbert with a huge turnaround jumper for a 94-91 Pacers lead in the final 90 seconds. (Yeah, he traveled but it wasn’t called. What can you do?) If this holds, Hibbert will go from the scapegoat to hero in just days. Such is the roller coaster of life in the #NBAPlayoffs …

1 – Emotional crusher for the Wizards. Down 3-1 after losing the 19-point third quarter lead and dropping Game 4 to the Pacers with the late-game stumbles. Maybe they weren’t as ready for prime time as it seemed after Game 1?


VIDEO: Paul George was the man on the spot all night for the Pacers, who are suddenly in control again in this series

24-Second thoughts — May 9

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Conference semifinals kicked off with some hardware being handed out and much more

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Five straight nights of this and I’m not sure how anyone who has watched every second of these conference semifinal games is functioning normally.

My sleep schedule is shot and I blame all of these teams for my addiction.

Go ahead, you can blame them, too!

Let’s get it … Friday Night Lights!!!

If you knew three games into this Pacers-Wizards series these guys would be featured on the marquee …

we need to hit the store and play those Mega Millions and Power Ball numbers ASAP!

24 – Thank you Luke Russert!

Plus, where else can you can get Kristen Ledlow of NBA TV and Inside Stuff dunking with Marcin Gortat?

23 – A little point guard tale of the tape for tonight’s second game …

22 – Strange things going on at the Verizon Center and we don’t even have tip-off yet …

It’s not often I agree with a Michigan State Spartan, but Mateen Cleaves is spot on. You have to go with your real horses in the playoffs …

21 – Did the dog check with Kobe first?

20 – We’re going to take a moment to appreciate the contract year grind that is Trevor Ariza‘s performance early on in this game and throughout the playoffs. #going in #hemadeit …


VIDEO: Hey Trey Kerby, way to shave the beard for a good cause!

19 – I’m all for a good c-o-n-spiracy theory, but …

18 – The Pacers just don’t seem to have any consistency on the offensive end. They don’t have a point guard that can break down the defense and create for anyone else. And apparently, they don’t always know their plays anyway …

17 – Good call Smitty!

16 – Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to talk about “upside” when your team (whichever team you choose) is on the clock at the real Draft next month …

15 – It’s not a typo!

Did we mention how strange things have been all night in D.C.?

14 – It’s like someone unplugged the Wizards. They were playing lights out basketball basically every night out and then they fell flat …

13 – The blowout themes continue in the conference semifinals. Pacers take a 2-1 lead, outscoring the Wizards 51-30 after halftime. Wizards stink up their own building, finishing with a franchise low in points (the previous baseline was 75 points). They managed the fourth fewest points in the playoffs in the shot clock era, folks. How does this happen to a team that played as well as the Wizards have for so long?

12 – Bet these guys combine for more than 67 points by halftime, especially doing stuff like this …

11 — Caron Butler doesn’t deserve your hate, not in Los Angeles or anywhere else …

10 – Rihanna can show up whenever she wants, just as long as she shows up …

9 – Seriously, the Thunder and Clippers could play a best-of-27 and I wouldn’t get tired of watching it. I can’t think of two teams with better individual matchups that keep you on the edge of your seat. This series will more than make up for the relative snoozers going on elsewhere in the conference semifinals. Everybody’s watching  …

8 – Not sure where you come down on the CP3-KD spat from the second quarter. Looked like some choice words were used between great friends but fierce competitors. I like it, no, I love it. I don’t even mind the expletives (little heat-heat-of-the-battle language is harmless).

Easy!

1. Zeke 2. Stockton 3. CP3

7 -- It’s called living up to the hype! These teams are legit. Scary thing is one of them has to go home at the end of this series while the other one is not guaranteed anything but a chance to lock horns with another elite outfit #surviveandadvance #winorgohome #focusonthenow …

6 – This is an absolutely ridiculous showcase of some of the league’s elite superstars showing us what all the fuss is about. The MVP is operating with surgical precision and CP3 is matching him play for play and that Westbrook fella is no joke! It’s mesmerizing to watch …

5 – We’ve got a bleeder!

4 – It’s just a suggestion after all of the whistles being blown here …

3 – Precisely …

– MONSTER WORK FROM SERGE IBAKA AT CRUNCH TIME …

2 — Westbrook and Durant with back-to-back daggers!

1 – Home court snatched right back. #ThunderUp Big time effort from the Thunder to go into LA and come away with what has easily been the best game of the conference semifinal round. Clippers were 35-0 this season (regular and postseason) at home when ahead on the scoreboard heading into the fourth quarter. Caron Butler huge off the bench, the 3-pointers in the fourth were clutch!

Again, BIG TIME win for the Thunder, Ibaka, Westbrook and, of course, the “MVP” …


VIDEO: Durant and Westbrook are a two-man machine that no one can handle right now

Morning Shootaround — May 9



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kobe wants a say in hiring of next Lakers coach | Wizards’ Wall eager for Game 3, redemption | Thunder: Griffin up to old tricks | Nets’ Williams missing when team needs him most

No. 1: Kobe wants a say in hiring of Lakers’ next coach: After years of suggesting that he didn’t want anything to do with the work being done by ownership and the front office, it appears that Kobe Bryant has warmed up to the idea of having some input on such matters. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar wants a say in who the franchise pursues and hires to replace Mike D’Antoni, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. That’s an abrupt departure from his public stance for years:

Kobe Bryant, speaking publicly for the first time since Mike D’Antoni resigned from the Los Angeles Lakers, expressed apathy about the turn of events while saying he would, though, like to have an active role in choosing a new coach.

“Honestly I didn’t care,” Bryant said Thursday during a guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” when asked by Kimmel if he was “happy” that D’Antoni accepted a buyout of close to $2 million for next season rather than come back to coach the team.

“Mike was dealt a really bad hand in dealing with all the injuries that he had here,” Bryant said. “This is a tough place, man. If you’re not winning, you’re not going to survive, man.”

Bryant added that Magic Johnson‘s controversial tweet in which he celebrated D’Antoni’s departure reminded him of a scene out of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The first thing I thought of was seeing the Munchkins on the Yellow Brick Road dancing and singing, ‘The Wicked Witch is dead,’ ” Bryant said. “When he tweeted that, that song just came to mind.”

Bryant hopes the Lakers will sing a different tune than they have in the past when it comes to consulting him about hiring their next coach.

“On the last two they didn’t,” Bryant said, referring to Mike Brown and D’Antoni, who both failed to endure the length of the initial contracts they signed with the Lakers before parting ways. “On the third one, I’m hoping they do.”

Taking over for a legend like Phil Jackson is never easy, of course. Bryant said he still speaks to Jackson “often” and expects the 11-time championship winning coach to transfer those results to his front-office role with the New York Knicks.

“I think he’ll do fantastic,” Bryant said. “Especially the more people say that he won’t be successful.”

Bryant had similar faith in the Lakers’ brass, endorsing the efforts by Jackson’s fiancée and Lakers president, Jeanie Buss, as well as her brother and Lakers executive vice president of player personnel, Jim Buss, in steering the franchise in the right direction.

“Jimmy and Jeanie both, they’re just really determined and excited about the possibilities of next season and rebuilding this and building on their father’s legacy and everything that he’s accomplished,” Bryant said. “And they’re taking the challenge extremely, extremely seriously. They’re both on the same page and they want nothing but excellence here, so I have no doubt that we’ll make it happen.”

 

(more…)

OKC’s MVP rains, Westbrook rumbles

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant put on a show in Game 2

OKLAHOMA CITY – Ninety minutes before tipoff, a severe storm warning was issued. A minute or so before halftime, the lights at Chesapeake Energy Arena suddenly dimmed. Lightning, said the reports, struck a transformer.

Forget that. As the Los Angeles Clippers can attest, it was pure Thunder.

“They did exactly what Scotty Brooks said they were going to do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after being beaten 112-101, in Wednesday’s series-evening Game 2. “He said they were going to make us feel them, and I thought they did that.”

Chris Paul and company got a double-barrel dose of MVP Kevin Durant and his right-hand man, Russell Westbrook, a man who many still believe the Thunder would be better off without. Six years together and the notion will not be buried. Perhaps, but not likely, one of the most impressive one-two performances in playoff history will do it: In Game 2, Durant and Westbrook ended up one Durant assist shy from becoming the first tandem to record a triple-double in the same game.

On the night he was presented his MVP trophy in front a roaring crowd of 18,203, a group that included his mom and agent Jay-Z, Durant finished with a game-high 32 points on 10-for-22 shooting, a game-high 12 rebounds and nine assists.

Westbrook combined all of his mesmerizing athletic ability into a storm of hyper-activity, bouncing up for mid-range jumpers, diving on the floor, fearlessly leaping at the rim on drives and relentlessly lunging  for offensive rebounds. He closed out the night with a bit of a gift assist from the official scorekeeper, allowing for a third triple-double of the playoffs: 31 points on 13-for-22 shooting, 10 assists and 10 rebounds — six offensive. He had three steals, too.

Some 30 hours earlier, Durant had moved this entire city to tears with a heartfelt MVP speech. He tearfully singled out every one of his teammates, all of whom joined him on the stage, and purposefully saved praise for his point guard for last:

“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all,”  Durant told Westbrook. “Everybody loves you here. I love you.”

“I love him like a brother,” Westbrook said after the big win. “We’ve been together since I’ve been here. He’s taught me so much as a player and also things off the floor. I’m really grateful for what he said.”

The emotional, high-strung Westbrook will never be the more naturally affable Durant. But there’s a pretty strong record building that Durant might not have been holding up that MVP trophy Wednesday night without his complex yet uniquely talented sidekick. The two 25-year-olds, seeking a second trip to the NBA Finals in three years, keep tuning out the noise to make more of their own.

“We set the bar high for ourselves, we have a high standard we try to reach,” Durant said. “We both work extremely hard. One thing about Russ, he commands so much out of everybody and he brings the level of the team up, just his intensity, just his effort. It is fun to play with a guy like that who loves the game so much, who wants to win so much. It’s just a great chemistry we have and it’s growing every day.”

Paul’s uncanny patience, skill and a career night splashing 3s dominated Game 1. In Game 2, he got hit with early foul trouble, allowing Westbrook to take advantage of the smaller Darren Collison.

Even when Paul was on the floor, Westbrook’s relentlessness at both ends shaped the direction of the game. He took only four 3-point shots — made two — a clear sign that he wasn’t rushing shots early in the clock or pounding the rock and foregoing open teammates.

The Thunder’s ball movement was on point, with Westbrook sneaking passes into Serge Ibaka and setting up Kendrick Perkins (a rare explosion of eight points and nine rebounds) against the Clippers’ foul-maligned center, DeAndre Jordan. Westbrook penetrated and kicked to Thabo Sefolosha for open 3s. Sefolosha finally started to knock those down just as he picked up a lagging defensive effort early on, and was key to the Thunder’s 33-point third quarter, turning a five-point halftime advantage into a a commanding 94-77 lead.

When Westbrook gets his teammates involved, the pressure forced upon defenses can be overwhelming.  When he has the volume cranked and Durant has space to do his thing, it’s lights out more often than not.

Sometimes it’s hard to guess  if a 10-for-31 or a 10-for-16 Westbrook will show up. Those are his shooting numbers from his first two triple-doubles in these first nine playoff games. Wednesday was another efficient and lethal endeavor. It’s also well worth noting that he logged 41 minutes, his fourth 40-plus-minute game of the postseason, making everybody forget about a right knee that was operated on three times from last April through December.

“I know I’m going to get a competitive Russ, and that’s what I look for every game,” Brooks said. “He’s going to give you everything he has. He’s not going to make every shot, but he’s going to compete, and after the game you know that you’ve played against Russell. And I respect that.”


VIDEO: Westbrook’s triple-double in Game 2

Durant focuses on free-throw stroke

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: KD discusses Game 2, MVP speech

OKLAHOMA CITY – MVP Kevin Durant doesn’t have to worry about public speaking. He’s got that nailed.

Free throws, inexplicably, is another story.

“I don’t know, man,” Durant said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround as to what he attributes his postseason foul-shooting slide. “I’ve been working on it. I just got to get back to the basics, just focus on my feet and my follow-through and stay confident.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, awarded the league’s MVP trophy on Tuesday, went 5-for-8 from the line in Monday’s Game 1 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, not that improved free-throw shooting would have turned a game in which Chris Paul was scorching with a career-best eight 3-pointers. Game 2 is tonight (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Durant missed a game-tying free throw with 27 seconds left in the Game 5 loss in the Thunder’s first round series. He followed up in Game 6 with his best free-throw effort of the playoffs going 14-for-15. Since, he’s just 9-for-14 (64.3 percent), and he’s shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line in the playoffs. He’s missed 17 free throws in eight games.

“I can’t be shooting 75, 74 percent from the free-throw line in the playoffs,” Durant said. “I have to do better.”

Durant’s shooting percentages across the board have slid from his fantastic regular-season marks of 50.3 percent overall, 39.1 percent from beyond the arc and 87.3 percent from the free-throw line. He’s actually experienced slippage since the start of April, and Memphis’ saran-wrap defense in the opening round certainly played a role in the first two shooting categories taking a dip.

But his slippage at the free throw line is more of a mystery. Typically it can signal tired legs or a lack of focus or concentration. Often those two things are interrelated. Durant logged more minutes than any player during the regular and he’s averaging a playoff-high 44.8 mpg. He logged 45, 49, 49 and 52 minutes against Memphis in Games 2 through 5, all four which went to overtime. It was the first time in NBA playoff history that a series had four consecutive OT games.

Yet, the 25-year-old Durant continues to insist that he is physically fine.

During the regular-season, Durant was far and away the league leader in free-throw attempts with 805, 9.9 free throw attempts per game. The Clippers’ Blake Griffin was next with 674 attempts. Durant made 703.

In the playoffs, Durant ranks second in free-throw attempts, averaging 8.5 a game — boosted by the 15 he took in Game 6 at Memphis — and third in made free throws. Teammate Russell Westbrook is second in makes although he ranks just fifth in attempts.

Durant has attempted double-figure free-throw attempts just twice in the playoffs, and six or fewer in half of them. Durant knows a big part of his game is getting to the line, that’s the first part. He also knows that when he gets there and misses, he can leave critical points on the floor.

“I’m always working on it,” Durant said. “And if I get there tonight, I’m confident I can knock them down.”

Blogtable: The best of Round 2

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


BLOGTABLE: Second-round squeakers | Indy: Reasons to believe | Is KD really OK?


Blake Griffin (left) and Serge Ibaka are trying to reach the conference finals (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Blake Griffin (left) and Serge Ibaka are trying to reach the conference finals (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

> After five Game 7s in the first round, what’s the one conference semifinal that you expect to be closest?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Clippers-Thunder. I think the talent level is close between the two teams (slight nod to OKC). And we’ve got big-time semi-intangibles in play – the emotional turmoil-turned-energy burst of the Donald Sterling controversy for the Clippers, the MVP specialness of Kevin Durant and the mission he and his teammates have undertaken because of it. As potent as Durant and Russell Westbrook are, I’m not sure the Thunder have enough other sources of offense, so I’m guessing Clippers in 7.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Thunder-Clippers has all the earmarks of a series that will go the distance. Rather than take them down, Donald Sterling affair seems to have brought he Clippers together with more of a purpose. The Thunder don’t seem to have a rhythm or flow to their offense, but with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s 1-on-1 skills quite often don’t need it.  They’ll go back and forth, winning on each other’s court, and OKC uses the advantage of Loud City to pull out another Game 7.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Oklahoma City and the Clippers, to me, are so evenly matched and have players on both sides — Chris Paul for L.A.; Kevin Durant for OKC — who are desperate to move on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Clippers-Thunder. I would have thought it would be evenly matched anyway, but seeing both pushed to the limit in the first round, and maybe even to the point of exhaustion, created another obstacle that should keep it close. It may not be a bad obstacle of sloppy play as much as making it hard to see either side winning more than two in a row. It sets up for a lot of back-and-forth. Oh, and Clippers in 7, which I said before L.A. won the opener.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Thunder-Clippers. These are two of the three teams that ranked in the top seven on both ends of the floor, and one of them won’t make it to the conference finals to (presumably) face the third (San Antonio). I like both team’s offense against the other’s D, and the team that wins will be the one that manages to get a few stops here and there. I originally picked OKC in 7 and I won’t change that now, but Chris Paul looked a lot healthier in Game 1 than I remember him looking in the first round.

LeBron James and the Heat face the Nets in an East semifinal matchup (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James and the Heat face the Nets in the East
(Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The first round spoiled us all. There’s no way that was going to be duplicated in the conference semifinal round. Just no way. The Clippers-Thunder series is the one semifinal that I think is going to be the closest, whether it goes six or seven. The Thunder will bounce back from that Game 1 blowout loss. Chris Paul caught them napping in Game 1 and did what you expect one of the game’s best to do in that situation. But the newly minted MVP (Kevin Durant) won’t go down without a furious fight. That said, I’m going with the Clippers in six.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Before last night, I would have said Miami/Brooklyn, because the Nets have history on their side — we know they can match up  against the Heat, we know they have players who can cause match-up problems for the Heat, and then there was that whole 0-4 regular-season record thing. But then last night, the Heat looked like they were running lay-up drills after traffic cones. I’ll still roll with the Nets, I guess, because a comeback now would mimic their regular season, when they struggled early and turned things around. And I still think they have the best chance of anyone in the East to beat the Heat.

Selcuk Aytekin, NBA Turkiye: I believe the Clippers-Thunder series will be very tight. With Durant now in possession of his first MVP, he will step up and play like it. On the other hand Chris Paul started the second round about as well as someone can. That scoring duel will be very interesting to watch, and we’ll see at least 6 games.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: I hope it will be the Heat-Nets-series. The West is so hard. Every team has to go over the limit to get in the next round. That takes a lot out of them. On the other side the Heat could rest for a long time after their sweep in Round 1. Brooklyn will challenge them more and that’s good for the Finals, so we won’t have a well-rested Heat team against a leached West team.

KD delivers MVP speech for the ages

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s complete Kia MVP acceptance speech

OKLAHOMA CITY – This was no standard-issue award news conference held in a sterile gathering space inside the receiving player’s home arena in front of media, family and friends.

This was a music-blaring, carnival-like civic celebration attended by the city’s mayor and the state’s governor; a crowning of sorts in which a thousand or so members of this close-knit community felt compelled to watch the indoor proceeding outside on video screens in the parking lot of the team’s original training facility during the middle of an unusually warm Tuesday afternoon. A giant banner draped the side of the building with a photo of Durant surrounded by children and big, bold letters that read: “OKC’s MVP”.

They arrived in droves because around here, Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 Kia Most Valuable Player, is one of their own.

Best of all, Durant considers himself one of them. He delivered an impassioned acceptance speech for the ages: thoughtful, sincere, genuine. Without the use of note cards, he spoke from the heart through a mixture of smiles, sniffles and tears.

“I don’t know why I’m crying so much,” Durant said midway through his 30-minute speech.

Wearing a blue suit and black shoes with white soles and his now-trademark glasses, Durant, 25, passionately expressed why he thrusts himself into the Oklahoma City community, professed his love and appreciation for his mother and addressed each of his teammates, all of whom were seated to his left on the large stage, with detailed anecdotes of appreciation.

After he was introduced as the MVP, a video was shown on the movie screen behind the stage. It showed police officers and teachers and children and arena workers praising Durant’s decency, and even at times his basketball prowess. It showed Durant active in the community, most prominently his grief-stricken walk through the devastation left behind by last spring’s tornadoes that leveled the nearby town of Moore. Durant donated $1 million to the relief fund and made himself a genuine fixture of the relief effort.

But why?

“Well, like they said in the video, there’s so many things trying to bring us down here in Oklahoma, from natural disasters to the Oklahoma City bombing,” Durant said. “There’s just so many things trying to bring us down, and I feel as though us being here as the Thunder, we just try to shine a bright light, bring life to people. And having something like this represents what we’re about. We fall down, we fall down, we get up. We fall down, we get up. We may finish second, but we keep fighting until we finish first.

“That says a lot about this city: Perfect place for me. And I enjoy…”

He had to stop right there. Applause overtook the cavernous room that used to serve as the team’s practice gym when it arrived from Seattle in 2008. He continued.

“I enjoy being a part of something like this, knowing that when we come into the arena, they’re going to love you no matter what — Losing by 25 in the playoffs …”

Laughter erupted at Durant’s reference to Monday’s lopsided home loss to the Clippers in Game 1 of their second-round series.

“… Or winning a Game 7 on the home floor — they’re going to always feel the same way about us. You don’t want to take that for granted, because the grass is not always greener on the other side and you need to learn to appreciate these wonderful people here.”

Those comments, of course, will be clipped-and-saved for two summers from now when Durant’s contract is up and he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. The MVP award is sweet, but it can also be cruel. Durant and the Thunder barely escaped a burly first-round series with the Grizzlies.

If they don’t get by the Clippers, a 57-win team built on All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and an excellent cast around them, Durant’s season will be considered a bust. He will be criticized for failing to lead the team back to the Finals. He and co-star Russell Westbrook‘s relationship will again be micro-analyzed and coach Scott Brooks will be fired multiple times by the media.

But in this very moment, all we can do is judge Durant by his actions and his words, which only the most cynical can argue are not authentic or sincere.

“One of the things that I’m proud of in regards of the players, coaches and the staff that I’m fortunate enough to work with is that we mean what we say,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “These guys really do care about each other, there’s an authenticity to it. I think it’s a sign of tremendous strength and leadership on the part of Kevin to be able to share his emotions in today’s society where sometimes that is not looked at with the strength that it should be. But it doesn’t surprise me because he’s an authentic person and when you go through the ups and downs that we have as an organization, everybody wears the same scars, and I think it brings people closer together.”

By name, Durant singled out his teammates, looked at them and thanked each one for something different they do that he said makes him better. He started with the veterans, then thanked the young guys. Only one player remained.

“I know you guys think I forgot Russ,” Durant said, drawing more laughs from the crowd. “But I can speak all night about Russell. An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me, and I don’t take it for granted those days where I just want to tackle you, and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. But I know there’s days you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man, I love you.

“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and I’m the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here, I love you.”

He looked back at his entire team: “I know we have a bigger goal in my mind, we have a tough game tomorrow, but this means the world to me that you guys are here celebrating with me.”

Also there to celebrate was Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, who was seated in front. Durant delivered the most emotional moment of his speech, one that carries so much weight as to why Durant is the humble superstar he is, why he immerses himself in the Oklahoma City community and seems to be one of the few athletes committed to staying where he is.

“And last my mom,” Durant said as he sniffled and his voice cracked. “I don’t think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later I came out. The odds were stacked against us, single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment, no bed, no furniture and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other because we thought we made it.

“When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here,” Durant continued, speaking directly to his mom. “And you wake me up in the middle night in the summer time, making me run up the hill, making me do push-ups, screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at 8 or 9 years old. We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe, you kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”