Posts Tagged ‘Blazers’

Aldridge move just another master class by ever-evolving Spurs

VIDEO: David Aldridge on why LaMarcus Aldridge picked Spurs

This was hardly a roman candle that came out of nowhere on the Fourth of July.  It was a carefully managed, brilliantly-executed plan.

Think of all the things the Spurs have been able to accomplish over the past two decades:

— 18 straight trips to the playoffs.

— 16 consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins.

— 5 NBA championships.

Now this might be the slickest trick of them all.

LaMarcus Aldridge jumps from the Trail Blazers to the Spurs.

While so-called glamour franchises in New York and Los Angeles  keep floundering in their bids to reclaim relevance, little ol’ San Antonio finds a way to keep barreling down the tracks like a locomotive toward championship No. 6.  And maybe 7 and 8.

Just more than 12 months after their last celebratory river parade with an aging roster, the Spurs have made the transition to the next stage of the franchise with a move that was both brash and bold, but also a long time coming.

For even as general manager R.C. Buford and his staff kept juggling a roster built around the aging core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to annually compete for championships, they were always looking ahead to this day when the future merged with the present.

“My complete faith and trust in R.C. is never going to change, because of the track record he has,” head coach Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “He’s always thinking not just for the next year and the next two years, but the next three years, the next seven years, that type of thing.”

By making all of the necessary moves — trading Tiago Splitter to Atlanta for a handful of beans, letting Aron Baynes go to Detroit, Marco Belinelli to Sacramento — Buford has set up the Spurs not only for next season but perhaps the next decade.

For so many years, the Spurs and their fans have proudly worn the label of a franchise that builds championships rather than buys them.  They were the ones that defiantly took down — and ultimately broke up — the Monied Mercenary Miami Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But the game of pro basketball is a business and the business is about making the most proficient, often the shrewdest, moves to stay on top of the competition.

Of course, the Spurs will be right back among the teams at the head of the Western Conference class in 2015-16 with a front line of Duncan, Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.  With this nifty Texas two-step, the Spurs, who lost in the first round of this year’s playoffs, are suddenly 2-1 oddsmakers favorites to win the West, ahead of champion Golden State and Oklahoma City, and 4-1 to win it all, behind only LeBron and Cleveland.

Let’s not forget that with literally billions of dollars being thrown around in the free agent market in less than a week, Buford locked up Aldridge for four years (player option after third) at $80 million.  It’s a number that will look positively pedestrian net summer when the salaries shoot through the clouds with the influx of new TV money.  It almost looks that way now when you consider that Orlando will pay Tobias Harris $64 million over the same time frame.  Go ahead, compare Aldridge and Harris.

But just as important, with Aldridge at 29 and Duncan at 39, the Spurs will be in the thick of the contending pack for the foreseeable future.  That had to be the decision-making difference for Aldridge after he heard pitches from Portland, L.A. Phoenix, Houston and Miami.  Whenever the ageless Duncan finally decides to hang up his spurs, Aldridge has a 24-year-old running mate in Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, to keep churning ahead with perennial chances to add to the banner collection.

Don’t think that’s a tough trick to pull off without hitting bottom and suffering the bruises and indignity of suddenly finding out how life feels in the draft lottery?  Just ask the Lakers and Knicks.

As carefully and strategically as Popovich has managed the minutes of his veterans over the years to keep them fresh, Buford maneuvered and managed the salary cap with the flexibility of tiny gymnast to make this day possible.  It was never just a year-to-year reach for one more playoff run, but a decade-long plan to transition to the future.  All the while the Spurs were stacking up Larry O’Brien Trophys, they were keeping an eye on this critical summer when 10 contracts were timed to come off the books at the same time.

“We put the team together with that in mind,” Popovich said.

Sometimes the best-laid plans work out perfectly.

Reaction: Aldridge moves to Spurs

NBA.com Staff Reports

The Spurs celebrated Independence Day by landing the biggest free agent firework of the bundle. Here’s a timeline of how it went down…

A contented LaMarcus Aldridge followed that soon after with his own announcement.

More from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who broke the news…

And it looks like what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich let on at lunch may have clinched it…

Blazers won’t pick up Robinson option

Looks like the Trail Blazers are taking care of loose ends and clearing out all space for next summer when it will be time to sign All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to that max contract extension.

Portland has declined to pick up the fourth-year option, $4.6 million, on Thomas Robinson‘s contract, which will put him on the free agent market next summer, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft averaged 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds last season for the Blazers.

The Blazers did pick up their fourth-year option on center Meyers Leonard and third-year option on guard C.J. McCollum, according to a team announcement.

Parker limp cramps Spurs’ victory party

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA crew looks at Spurs’ potential opponents and Parker’s injury

SAN ANTONIO — In a season the Spurs have spent exorcising ghosts from Miami, it could just be an eerie coincidence.

Or a scary bump in the night.

Tony Parker walked tenderly off the court with 8:46 left in the second quarter and limped to the locker room, followed by the team trainer and general manager R.C. Buford.

Tightness in the left hamstring. Tightness rippling throughout Spurs Nation.

Parker didn’t return in Game 5 against the Blazers. He didn’t have to. Not with Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Patty Mills leading the 104-82 closeout win with another tightrope walker’s display of instinctive balance.

In the end, the return flight from Portland for the Blazers was just the biggest waste of fuel since the invention of the Hummer as the Spurs wound up on top by an average margin of 19.5 points in their four wins in the series.

The Spurs now advance to the Western Conference finals for the 13th time in franchise history, ninth time in the Tim Duncan era and for the third season in a row. It is a testament to consistency and excellence.

Yet it will not be enough if the Spurs don’t at least get a chance to return to the NBA Finals to clean up unfinished business that left them ringless.

That’s the Parker question. That’s the haunting flashback to last June. That’s the painful reminder that one small tweak can lead to big consequences.

Long before those ugly last 28 seconds of Game 6 became a lost championship, the Spurs watched Parker limp off the court in Game 3 against Miami with tightness in his right hamstring. He came back to play the rest of the series, but he was never quite at the same crackling level. He often looked tired, worn out and was no longer explosive.

Now Parker will have an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of any damage to his left hamstring and the Spurs will likely, for a night at least, become Clippers fans. It’s all about getting their point guard time to rest and rehab. If L.A. can win Thursday to force a Game 7 against OKC, that would push the start of the West finals back to next Wednesday, giving Parker a full week off.

“We hope for him to be back and healthy,” said Manu Ginobili. “It is too early to tell. I don’t know what’s going to happen. If we want to have a chance to make it to The Finals, we need him healthy.”

Because it’s been evident for at least the past two seasons that the baton has been passed and now it’s Parker who sets the tone and the pace for the Spurs and simply confounds defenses.

With the Blazers entering the conference semifinals feeling so confident after winning their first playoff series in 14 years, Parker simply blew them down like a house of grass and twigs.

Coach Gregg Popovich now has the deepest lineup in the league at his disposal and is not at all afraid to use every inch of it. He practically walks around in front of the Spurs bench wearing a tool belt and reaches for another implement when he needs one.

In comes Mills to replace Parker for the second half. Up pops Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes and the Spurs roll over Portland. But this was a Blazers team with a lineup thinner than gruel. They used only two different starting lineups all season long and played the original lineup in 80 of 93 games from start to finish.

The Spurs could wear out and wear down the top-heavy Blazers with sheer numbers. That won’t be the case against the survivor of Thunder-Clippers. Or ultimately in The Finals.

It’s the grind of the playoffs, the minefield that has to be negotiated on tiptoes, knowing that a misstep can blow everything up, ruin a season’s worth of planning and growing together and building something special. One second you’re driving to the hoop to score and the next you’re limping to the locker room.

Minor coincidence? Or a scary bump in the night reminder of what happened in Miami?

Just say Tony Parker isn’t the only one feeling a little sudden tightness in San Antonio.


VIDEO: Spurs push aside Blazers to advance to the Western Conference finals

Batum speaks Blazers’ winning language

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Portland’s Nic Batum breaks down what went right for him and his team in Game 4

PORTLAND, Ore.Pourquoi pas?

Why not?

That was the question that Nicolas Batum floated in the locker room as the rising water reached the Blazers’ chins in the last few days. It didn’t take a French-English translator to read the numbers. No team in NBA playoff history has ever climbed out of an 0-3 hole to advance. It’s just never been done.

Doesn’t mean it can’t.

Pourquoi pas?

“Like we said, ‘Why not us?’ ” Batum said. “We know it’s going to be tough. It won’t be easy. Especially against this team, the San Antonio Spurs. Like we always say, just take one game at a time.”

For a night, the Blazers were not overcome by the Spurs machine on Monday. For a night, the Blazers were themselves again, streaking from end to end up and down the court, attacking the basket, jumping and scrambling for every ball that was on the floor or up for grabs.

When it was over, 103-92 might have meant nothing more than the Blazers avoiding the indignity of suffering a sweep. Or it could have been the type of effort that starts something special.

This was the kind of game and the kind of situation that Batum has been working toward for six NBA seasons. It is, ironically, the kind of game for which the Spurs’ Tony Parker has been helping him prepare.

Parker first saw Batum back in 2007 when he starred at the Nike Hoop Summit for young prospects. He reached out and a relationship began, one that has grown. Like Batum, Parker was a 19-year-old when he entered the NBA and he wanted to pass on his knowledge to his French countryman.

They talked and become close friends. Parker taught. Batum watched and listened.

The knock on the door came late at night on the eve of the EuroBasket finals last summer. Parker came to tell Batum that he needed him to step up for Team France in the championship game against Lithuania. The next day Batum delivered with 18 points, six rebounds and two steals as France won its first title.

The next knock came Monday night with the Blazers at the doorstep of elimination. Parker had dominated the first three games of this series with his shooting, his scoring, his leading of the Spurs. The long and angular Batum drew the assignment of guarding Parker from the opening tip.

Parker didn’t own the first quarter and set the pace, as he did in the first three games. He wasn’t able to turn every corner easily and get to every spot that he wanted. With Batum all over him, Parker finished with a series low 14 points and one assist on 6-for-12 shooting.

“I tried to slow him down,” Batum said. “I was just doing my job.”

Meanwhile Batum scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, the first playoff double-double of his career. He also dealt out eight assists.

“I’m happy for him. He’s playing great,” Parker said. “He’s trying to do everything he can out there. I have to great him credit for a great game.

“He did a good job. I had the shots that I wanted. But he was great tonight. He was everywhere.”

The plan is for Batum to take over the mantle of leadership on the French national team, a seamless handoff from Parker, who will turn 32 in four days.

“I think he has all the skill-set to become the leader of that team,” Parker told The Oregonian. “He’s been winning everything with the young generation, the junior national team, under-20, they won everything, same thing we did with Boris (Diaw). The main goal for him has been to do the same thing as our generation, me and Boris and Ronny Turiaf. I think when I retire, he’ll be 28, 29, his best years to try to keep winning with the national team. I know he’s looking forward to it and I think the next step is to try to be an All-Star in this league and try to be a leader.”

Parker knocked one night and told Batum he was needed. Now, Batum is answering again.

No team ever has come back from 0-3.

Pourquoi pas?


VIDEO: Spurs-Blazers Game 4 recap, May 12, 2014

Are Blazers too stubborn to survive?

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Spurs-Blazers: Game 4 Preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — By now, everyone knows the definition of insanity.

So the question becomes: Are the Blazers are crazy enough to think they can stop the Spurs without changing the way they defend Tony Parker?

“I think our pick-and-roll [defense] is we like to keep guys on one side and when we keep it on the side our bigs play best,” said guard Damian Lillard. “We have been living all season on guys taking mid-range jump shots and that’s what [Parker] likes, so it’s been working against us.”

Yes, it has.

Parker probably couldn’t do more damage to the Blazers if he took the court swinging a sledgehammer. He comes off screens, gets into the paint and simply breaks them down. If Parker is not pulling up and sticking 16- to 18-foot jumpers right in the faces of the Blazers, then he’s dishing to teammates for easy buckets.

Through the first three games of a shockingly devastating 3-0 blowout, Parker is averaging 29.3 points and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.

Yet the Blazers keep insisting that the solution is just to play harder, not different. It is as if they view change as conceding a weakness.

“It’s not just the pick-and-roll,” said guard Wes Matthews. “It’s everything. It’s us forcing an air ball down 11 in third quarter after being down 20 and Boris Diaw grabs the rebound and makes a layup. It’s those plays. Those are the deflating ones, not so much an All-Star and Finals MVP with pick-and-rolls.”

But it is the pick-and-roll that gets everything started for San Antonio and gives a potent Spurs offense too many easy openings.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts continues to point out that his team has done a much better job of containing the Spurs in the second half of each game. But that’s after the Blazers have fallen behind by 19, 26 and 20 by halftime.

“You can change a little,” Stotts said. “You’re not gonna make drastic changes. You have to do things that fit your personnel, do things that you’ve worked on all year. But we can play zone a little bit, do more switching. There are things that you can tweak here and there, but I think it’s more sustaining what we’re doing.

“Nic [Batum] did a good job on Parker in the second half. We’re not built to be a trapping aggressive, double-teaming team. We haven’t done that all year and you’re not going to do that against the best passing team in the league.”

While it is admirable to have a consistent philosophy, firm beliefs and a resolute will, that can also be mere stubbornness.

“I don’t know if there’s any words for it,” Matthews said with an admiring shake of his head. “They’re playing extremely well. Everybody’s playing at a high level. Everybody on their team is looking like a first option on any other team. They’re playing well together. They’re shooting the ball well. Their conversion rate on our turnovers and our mistakes is off the charts. But they’re beatable. They are beatable.”

Not if they don’t stop Parker from beating them.

Blazers’ pride is left on the line

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs-Blazers Game 4 preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — The holiday was fitting, since it was a situation that only a mother’s hug could make feel better.

They’ll tell themselves to ignore history, that it doesn’t matter that no team has ever climbed out of an 0-3 hole in the NBA playoffs.

But all that’s really left for the Blazers to reclaim is their pride.

“The first thing is I don’t want to be swept,” said guard Damian Lillard. “That’s the first thing. That’s the main thing. If we win one game, that’s momentum. That’s going in the right direction. As a team we can’t look too far ahead. Just gotta go out there and try to get one and go from there.”

Just a week ago, the Blazers were still floating on the high on the emotional wave that came from Lillard’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that crushed the Rockets and gave the franchise its first playoff series win in 14 years.

Now they’re drowning in a Spurs tsunami that won’t let them catch a breath, let alone catch a break.

So how do the Blazers avoid thinking they’re now faced with trying to do, at the very least, the improbable?

“I think just pride,” Lillard said. “You don’t want to just give in. We’ve had such a great season. We’ve worked so hard to be in this position to just say, ‘All right, nobody’s ever done it.’

“Because it’s not impossible and if we count ourselves out that way, then we have no chance. I think you’ve got to look at it to try to be the first more than anything else.”

For now, it’s about winning a possession, winning a quarter and earning back just a little of the respect that might be slipping away if the Blazers surrender in four straight.

“That’s part of it,” said forward LaMarcus Aldridge. “We understand that we haven’t played well, that we have to do a lot of things better.

“Just by take it game by game. We can’t look too far ahead. Right now it’s a one-game season for us. If we can win, there’s one more game. That’s the way we’ve got to look at it. We’ve got to be locked in on that.

It’s not hard to know that you got one game left and if you don’t win, you go home. That’s easy to do.”

The hard part is slowing the Spurs who at the moment are like a huge boulder rolling down the side of a mountain. If it’s not Tony Parker’s offense, then it’s Tiago Splitter’s defense. If it’s not an All-Star starter in Tim Duncan, then it’s Boris Diaw or Patty Mills coming off the bench.

The Blazers contend that their effort has not been the least bit lacking and yet they have managed to lead for a grand total of just 34 seconds through three games. So the question must be asked if there comes a time when you have to simply admit that the other guys are better.

“No. No,” Aldridge said. “When they beat us, maybe. But not right now. We feel like this team is good and we’ve played them well and we’ve beaten them in the regular season.”

The ultimate challenge now is to beat the Spurs four straight times, which would let the Blazers write their names in the history books. But the immediate — if not just as difficult — goal is to force a Game 5 back in San Antonio, which would let the Blazers look themselves in the mirror by avoiding the sweep.

“That’s a terrible feeling,” said guard Wes Matthews. “I’ve been swept before and it’s not cool, it’s not fun. You worked too hard all season. You worked too hard the first series to win the way that we did in the fashion that we did, against the odds that we had to come out and be swept. It’s not like we’re not playing hard. That’s not a question by any means. It’s just a matter getting a win. Get a win and you never know what can happen after that.”

Parker makes it a moveable feast

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Parker, Duncan lead Spurs to 3-0 lead over Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Presumably when it’s over, Tony Parker will have the Trail Blazers over for dinner. With fava beans and a nice Chianti.

This is no longer Parker simply moving all of the Xs and Os around the blackboard as if he’s giving a lecture at a coaching clinic. It’s his own canvas where the imagination and ideas fill up the blank spaces like oils.

We have certainly seen him play at a high level before. He’s won three championships, become a perennial All-Star and was the MVP of the 2007 Finals.

Now, at 31, there is something else.

Command.

It’s knowing when to pour like water through a crack in concrete and get all the way to the basket. When to pull up and take that mid-range jumper that the Portland defense continues to give him. When it’s a bounce pass that will find a cutting Tim Duncan in stride. When what looks like an over-the-shoulder prayer will find a wide-open Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobili at the 3-point line.

“Tony has been the engine for us,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after another throttling of the Blazers, this time 118-103 on Saturday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinals series.

The kind that takes the checkered flag at Daytona or Indy or LeMans.

The Spurs are a completely different kind of team running a completely different kind of offense from the days when the 19-year-old from France came into the league and was supposed to not screw things up for Duncan and David Robinson.

Now San Antonio has more ball movement than a pool table in an ocean storm and that means more responsibility for the point guard who gets to make it all run.

Before the Blazers knew what hit them in Game 3, Parker had run off four straight jumpers and virtually everyone sitting inside the Moda Center could tell that their team was going to get run off the court again.

“He got us out of the gates,” Duncan said. “He continues to shoot the ball really well. He’s getting to his spots. He’s making great decisions for our offense of our team. When his shot is there, he’s knocking it out.

“He’s doing a great job of coming off the screens and getting to his spot and knocking them out. He’s reading the defense real well. They start closing up on him and he’s doing a great job of getting to the basket as well. He’s matured and doing a much better job of doing exactly what the defense wants to give him.”

Everybody gets older, the Spurs quite evidently with a 38-year-old Duncan and 36-year-old Ginobili having their movements and usage handled as carefully as antique crystal.

Parker, of course, is older, too. But even after 13 years in the league, he’s the one with the twinkle in his eye and the spark that lights the fire in the Spurs’ entire offensive game.

“It’s what he does,” said shooting guard Danny Green. “He reads the situations. He makes the right decisions and he gets us all playing the way we want to play.”

When it comes to reining in Parker, Blazers coach Terry Stotts couldn’t grasp at more straws if he were dropped in a hayloft. Should he switch defenders? Does it matter?

What figured to be a competitive series lasted that way only until the opening tip of Game 1. With Parker lighting the match, the Spurs have had halftime leads of 19, 26 and 20.

Stotts keeps talking about how evenly the Blazers are playing the Spurs in the second half of games, which is like the guy whose parachute didn’t open saying at least he stuck the landing.

The fact is Parker has played this way now for the past two or three seasons, yet rarely gets mentioned in the MVP race, left in the exhaust fumes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. This year he finished tied for 12th in the voting. He never seems to be the hot new name, the slick new model and yet he’s that engine still running strong and late into June.

“He’s just been unbelievable for us and obviously been the driving force of this entire series,” Duncan said. “So we’ll continue to ride him and hopefully he can close this thing out.”

Then pick out the Chianti to wash down the Blazers.

Blazers in hole, need to dig deeper

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: The GameTime guys preview Game 3 between the Spurs and Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dig deeper.

That’s the answer for the Trail Blazers, even though they’re already standing in an 2-0 hole.

LaMarcus Aldridge says they’ve got to play better. Damian Lillard says they have to play harder.

“Everybody has to play better, starting with me,” Aldridge said.

“It’s going to be tough, but we have confidence in what we can do on our home floor,” said Lillard.

But as the Western Conference semifinal series resumes tonight with Game 3, the Blazers will have to go deeper into their suspect bench with reserve guard Mo Williams sidelined by a groin injury.

“We anticipate that he will not play,” said coach Terry Stotts.

Portland is a young team, with no starter older than 28, but even young teams can get worn down. The Blazers compensate for a water-thin collection of reserves by playing their starters more, with three of them averaging at least 41 minutes in the playoffs and another logging 39 per night.

Williams suffered the injury in the Game 6 close-out win over Houston in the first round and labored to shoot just 3-for-11 with four turnovers in Game 1 against the Spurs. In Game 2, Williams played just under nine minutes before the injury flared up again and he was forced to the bench.

For a team that is being overwhelmed by San Antonio’s depth — the Spurs regularly use 10 players — and with Lillard already up to 43.3 minutes per game in the playoffs, the loss of Williams is significant.

“I would assume that Earl [Watson] will get some minutes and Will Barton will get some playing time,” Stotts said. “With Mo averaging his 24 minutes, some of them are at point guard and some of them are alongside Damian. His 24 minutes will kind of be spread out among at least two or three other players.

Barton was on the court for less than 90 seconds total in the entire first-round series win over the Rockets, but has played 20 minutes in two games against the Spurs. In Game 2 on Thursday night, he shot 5-for-5 for 13 points in 12 minutes and during the second quarter was the often the only Blazer who was on the attack offensively.

“Will comes in ready,” Stotts said. “He loves to be on the court and I think that showed when he made his first two shots in maybe a minute of being on the court.”

Morning Shootaround — May 8



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Whose house? Russell’s house! | Blazers have to prove they can hang with Spurs | Hibbert feeds off of positive vibes from teammates, mentors | Heat always ready for “lineup Twister”

No. 1: Round 2 of an epic point guard battle goes to Russell Westbrook: Chris Paul fired the first shot in Game 1. Russell Westbrook‘s response … whew! After spending the opener as a guest on his own floor, Westbrook made it clear whose house it was with a wicked Game 2 effort, finishing with a triple-double* that helped lift the Thunder. Before things head for Hollywood for Games 3 and 4, Westbrook took his star turn. Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman has the details:

Russell Westbrook made it clear early that Game 2 was going to be different.

On the first possession of the night, he snagged a steal, then in the process of gathering the ball and heading up court, he ran counterpart Chris Paul into an official. It was whistled a foul on Paul. Then, Westbrook got an offensive rebound and drew a foul on Blake Griffin. Then, he dished an assist to Kevin Durant.

The game was less than a minute old, but the Thunder point guard was already filling the stat sheet.

Setting the tone, too.

“I think Russell probably played harder than all of us combined,” Paul said. “He was all over the place.”

On a night when the Thunder needed to win on home hardwood and even up this Western Conference semifinal – and did just that with a 112-101 victory — Westbrook made sure that this series turned around. He scored. He rebounded. He assisted. He defended. He hounded.

In the process, Westbrook notched his third triple-double of these playoffs.

No other player has even one triple-double in this postseason.

Roll that around in your head a minute. Westbrook 3, rest of the NBA 0.

His triple-double numbers: 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists. He became the fifth player in the last 25 seasons with three or more triple-doubles in one postseason. The others: Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo.

Westbrook added three steals and plenty of defensive headaches for the Clippers. What’s more, Westbrook contained Paul, who managed only 17 points and 11 assists. Maybe that seems like a lot, but compared to what he did in Game 1, the damage was minimal.

Two nights after Paul dominated this matchup with eight three-pointers, 32 points and a career night, Westbrook showed that he wasn’t going to back down. Yes, Paul is great. Sure, he might be the best point guard on the planet.

Then again, maybe not.

The point guard battle royale is back on.

And it is because Westbrook went right at Paul. He drew that foul on the opening possession. Then, he just kept coming. He crashed the boards. He looked for contact. He drove to the basket. For as good as Paul is, he’s more jitterbug than bruiser, and with Westbrooks height and size advantage, he used that to his advantage.

Less than halfway through the first quarter, Paul picked up foul No. 2 and had to go to the bench.

“It’s tough to guard him as it is,” Paul said, “but you get two bad fouls early in the game … it makes it that much tougher.”

(more…)