Posts Tagged ‘Chris Paul’

Love wisely takes control of own destiny

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters weigh in on the Kevin Love rumors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Be mad at Kevin Love all you want. Slap the head off of that bobble-head if it makes you feel better.

But understand this: He’s doing the right thing, forcing his way out of a tough situation in Minnesota. Love has already let the Timberwolves know that he will test the market, meaning that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

And that means the Timberwolves need to ask themselves if it makes more sense to waste the next few months trying to change Love’s mind or to spend the next few weeks sorting out the best trade option and getting something rather than nothing for the face of their franchise.

Survey the list of superstar and even All-Star talents in recent seasons who have decided they wanted to work elsewhere, and almost to a man each and every one of them found a way out, no matter how ugly the fallout. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Deron Williams in Utah (the Jazz jettisoned him before things got ugly). When a star wants a new destination in this day and age, dating back to LeBron James and his departure from Cleveland, it’s difficult to keep him in the fold.

The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the only teams to stare down its franchise player, Kobe Bryant, and not buckle to a trade demand (real, admitted to and or imagined)/request for an exit in some shape, form or fashion. Keep in mind they were working with an armored truck worth of cash, a rich championship history and freedom to manipulate the situation in whatever way Bryant wanted as part of their fool-proof recruiting pitch.

Love is in a completely different place in his career. He’s yet to sniff the aroma of the playoffs after six seasons in the NBA. The fact that he’s had enough in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have been unable to surround him with the supporting pieces necessary to reach the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, should surprise no one.

But this isn’t about Love’s exit strategy or even what a downtrodden Timberwolves franchise is going to do in the event that they have to part ways with a bonafide superstar (owner Glen Taylor and front office boss Flip Saunders, it’s your move). This is about the fact that Love recognizes that it’s now or never if he wants to graduate from that short list of first-line stars who haven’t dipped their toes in the postseason waters.

Love is wise to take control of his own destiny and write the next chapter or two of his legacy on his own terms. Whichever route the Timberwolves decide to take, he’ll have plenty of suitors willing to wait out the process in an attempt to add him to their mix.

Even more intriguing for some of those interested parties — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Lakers headline the long list — is whether Love is slated as the No. 1 or No. 2 option in the future. Whatever their designations, a Love-Steph Curry-Klay Thompson trio with the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr would be pure fireworks. He could be an absolute game changer alongside Anthony in New York and certainly with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau. The possibilities are endless.

Still, for all of his well-deserved individual hype, there are some, a scant few NBA front office types, who repeatedly point out that Love’s spectacular numbers never did lift the Timberwolves to that next level.

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio even questioned his leadership abilities in the wake of the news that Love wanted to explore his options elsewhere.

“Each situation is different, but this is a results league,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And he’s never led a team to the postseason. Chris Bosh takes a beating from people, always has. But the one thing you couldn’t argue when he was in Toronto was that he could lead his team to the playoffs. I think Love is in a similar situation in that he could be the ideal No. 2 in the right place, the guy who serves as the linchpin in a championship situation. He’s that skilled and that talented. And he works his tail off. But he has to get to the playoffs for any of us to know for sure. And in this day and age of analytics, that one metric that still matters is whether or not you get there.”

It’s clear that making the playoffs, being a “winner,” is the one thing that matters to Love.

He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be placed in this current predicament, where his name will be run through the rumor mill relentlessly, if that wasn’t his No. 1 priority.


VIDEO: An all-too familiar sight: Kevin Love goes off but the Timberwolves lose

MVP efficiency, free throws key for KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: How will the Thunder attack the Spurs without Serge Ibaka?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant has to step into a telephone booth and emerge once again as the league’s most efficient scorer. It might be the only way the shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder have of toppling the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.

Game-to-game consistency has eluded the MVP in the postseason, and now with the team’s defensive stopper and  third-leading scorer, Serge Ibaka, sidelined with a calf strain, an already razor-thin margin for error has shrunk.

Durant’s come through with stellar performances when the pressure’s risen highest, in two first-round elimination games against Memphis, and again when the Thunder’s fortunes turned bleak against the Los Angeles Clippers in the semifinals.

In Games 6 and 7 against Memphis, Durant shot 23-for-41 and was 5-for-11 on 3s (5-for-5 in Game 7 after 0-for-6 in Game 6) and 18-for-21 at the free-throw line. Following his 6-for-22 shooting in Game 5 against the Clippers, a game the Thunder won on the back of a brilliant Russell Westbrook effort, Durant went 12-for-23 (12-for-17 after a 0-for-6 start), 5-for-8 beyond the arc and 10-for-10 at the line in the clinching Game 6.

Across the board throughout the first two rounds, Durant’s MVP shooting percentages are down significantly: 45.3 percent from the floor, 34.8 percent from beyond the arc and 82.5 percent from the free throw line, a number that’s slowly been on the rise.

It won’t be easy against a Spurs defense that has fared decently against Durant this season despite losing all four regular-season games to OKC. The scoring champ averaged 32.0 ppg against the league (on 50.3 percent shooting, 39.1 percent from 3 and 87.3 percent from the free-throw line), but 26.3 ppg against the Spurs on 45.9 percent shooting and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. The latter figure should be highlighted considering the volume of 3s Durant is taking during the postseason, a slowly decreasing 7.1 per game compared to 6.1 during the regular season.

Ibaka is often a safety valve for Durant when double-teams come at him, but that option no longer exists. Ibaka averaged 14.0 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting against the Spurs this season, plus 11.5 rpg and 16 blocks, his second-highest total among all teams (17 vs. Houston).

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he has to figure out ways to move Durant, who will be guarded tightly by Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard among others, and get him into open space.

“It’s always a combination with Kevin,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to move him around and he has to continue to move around himself and get better setups and lower setups and forceful setups.”

Finding Durant some breathing room goes hand-in-hand with what might be his greatest weapon in this series: Free throws.

The regular-season and playoff leader in free-throw attempts, Durant got to the line 10 times or more in just three of the first eight playoff games. In the last five, he’s accomplished that four times, including shooting 40 free throws in the last three games.

Durant’s co-star Westbrook, one of the most aggressive rim attackers in the league, ranks second in the playoffs in free-throw attempts. He took 57 in the six games against the Clippers, and 28 in the last two games.

Only the Clippers have shot more free throws so far in the playoffs than the Thunder’s 357. Of those, Westbrook and Durant have combined for 237, just 40 shy of the entire Spurs team. Getting to the line is the easiest way to score and can help nullify Ibaka’s absence by getting key Spurs into foul trouble.

“KD and Russ are tough enough to guard as it is,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “When they start living on the free throw line … “

He didn’t finish the thought because, well, he really didn’t need to.

CP3 witch hunt needs to stop!

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Chris Paul endured some tough moments during the Clippers-Thunder conference semifinal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The grumblings started long before the fall, long before Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers fell in the Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

They’ve been rumbling around the basketball world for years now, the questioning of Paul’s place among the game’s current greats. Where does he fit in a landscape where he’s generally considered one of, if not the best point guard in the game? And yet there is still that glaring hole on his resume.

Paul has never been to the conference finals and has therefore only been a spectator when the NBA’s champion has been crowned.

He’s won multiple gold medals in international competition, including the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, and is a staple in the talent-laden USA Basketball pipeline. And still, there are folks that want to chip away at his armor after years of excellence from him.

It doesn’t help that his contemporaries have hardware he lacks. LeBron James has championships rings and MVPs trophies to spare. Kevin Durant joined the elite club with his first MVP this season. Tony Parker has a Finals MVP and plenty of rings. Derrick Rose has his MVP. Rajon Rondo a ring and multiple trips to the conference finals and The Finals. Even the oft-maligned Russell Westbrook has been to The Finals.

Paul is in that weird superstar purgatory where everyone knows he belongs in any conversation of the best of the very best, until they start weeding guys out based on their accomplishments. The same superstar purgatory that veteran All-Stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love have taken up permanent residence in the past few seasons (Anthony has been to the conference finals but still gets panned for not winning it all. Love is still waiting to make the postseason.)

Paul’s been a subject of a witch hunt, of sorts, this season in particular, with pundits and Hall of Famers questioning the validity of his superstar status. It’s a witch hunt that needs to stop!

Paul’s a seven-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA pick (three times on the first team), a five-time All-Defensive team selection and has led the league in assists three times and in steals six times. He knows better than anyone that the shortcomings in the playoffs are the one dark mark on his ledger right now, that’s why he takes the losses as hard as he does. That’s why this latest failure stings the way it does and will until he gets a chance to make it right.


VIDEO: A quick recap of the spectacular six-game series between the Clippers and Thunder

Those of us who chronicle the league have been tossed into the fire as well. We’ve been accused of giving Paul a pass because he’s always been good to us, always been as cooperative as possible and is a drama-free superstar in a world that boasts few of those.

That’s garbage. I don’t hold Paul to any different standard than anyone else. He and Deron Williams came into the league and promptly bum-rushed the point guard hierarchy. Paul played his way into the elite mix, held his own all the way up and fended off challenges year after year.

He doesn’t have to defend his position to me, you or anyone else.

He is not the fist superstar to fall down at a big moment in the playoffs, the way he did in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Westbrook and Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder. That final and disastrous 13.9 seconds will not define Paul’s season or career. And to hear people suggest that it would or even should is a testament to the prisoner-of-the-moment syndrome that permeates every fiber of our current sports culture.

“I just feel awful for him, point-blank I do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after his team bowed out to the Thunder in Game 6. “He’s the spirit of our team and right now his spirit is broken.”

You’d expect nothing less of a man who holds himself to the standard Paul does. But if we start running down the list of Hall of Famers who came up short in big moments, who didn’t win it all, we’d be here all day … and night.

This notion that Paul’s incapable of leading a team to championship heights is preposterous. No one took the Clippers serious as a contender before his arrival. For him to power them through the turmoil of the ongoing Donald Sterling saga the way he did goes down as another of his standout performances.

That in no way lets him off his own hook. Paul’s not looking to be patronized by me or anyone else for doing and saying the right thing, or coming close but not breaking through to the conference final threshold after a decade in the league. He wants more, he needs more. And that’s the way we all like our superstars, our champions to be built.

Paul believes he has championship DNA. And he knows that the only way to validate his own belief in himself is to make sure he and Rivers, Blake Griffin and the Clippers find their way to that next level in the near future.

If that means going back to the grind for yet another summer with the rumblings surrounding him and the questions lingering about whether or not he’s going to be a true superstar or a superstar with an asterisk, bring it on.

“I prepare for every offseason like I always do,” a clearly agitated Paul said after that Game 6 loss to the Thunder. “It’s nothing just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”


VIDEO: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin address the media after losing Game 6 to the Thunder

L.A.’s roller coaster came to weary end

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Doc Rivers speaks after the Clippers’ Game 6 and series loss

LOS ANGELES — Through all the ugly, unwanted daily questions that started with the name Donald, Clippers coach Doc Rivers maintained a sense of humor to the end.

In the postgame news conference moments after his team succumbed for the last time to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal series, Rivers was informed of the latest, jaw-clenching news of the day that broke shortly before tip-off: Banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling asserted he will not pay the $2.5 million fine levied last month by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and vowed to fight the league’s intention to force him to sell the team.

Seated at the dais in front of a microphone, Rivers threw up his hands: “I’m not paying my $25,000 fine either,” he deadpanned.

Rivers was fined by the league Thursday morning for his criticism of the referees following the controversial call at the end of Game 5, a game L.A had in its back pocket before a calamity of errors allowed a seven-point lead to evaporate in the final 49 seconds.

The standing room-only crowd of reporters burst into laughter. Rivers, his suit coat long gone and his tie and top button of his white dress shirt loosened, flashed a fatigued smile just as his players in the adjoining room slumped at their lockers in painful silence.

Sterling had not been permitted inside the Staples Center since the first round. But his specter never left the building.

“The locker room was not very good after the game, in a very sad way,” Rivers said. “Just watching our guys, it just felt like all of this stuff that they’ve gone through, they kind of released all of their emotions. That was tough. That was tough for me to see as one of their leaders. I wish I could have done more for them.”

Rivers, in his first year with the Clippers following the rare coaching trade that released him from Boston’s rebuilding job, has been hailed as the perfect man for such a uniquely dispiriting turn of events. Throughout the playoffs, Rivers spoke openly and honestly about how he and his players were feeling and thinking without once losing his cool during the daily drudgery of such an unexpected mission.

His blowup after Game 5 might have been less about a call that didn’t go his team’s way than it was a month’s worth of emotion bubbling to the surface.

“I’ve said this before, and I’m not trying to show humility or anything like that,” Rivers said. “I think any coach in this system would have been the right coach, the right man. I just think you had to be. It’s not like we had a choice in it. None of us was chosen for this. None of us signed on for this. But this is what happened. The way I looked at it, it was my job to do everything that I thought was right.”

Soon after the Sterling audio was released, when emotions were at their rawest, Rivers said he didn’t know if he could coach the team next season if Sterling remained as owner. On Thursday night he made it clear that he will be back.

“I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know,” Rivers said.

For point guard Chris Paul, another season ended without advancing beyond the second round. His series of costly miscues in the final 17 seconds of Game 5 ate at him intensely. He wasn’t shooting it well in Game 6, but he was doing everything else as the Clippers maintained a lead until the end of the third quarter when an OKC burst tied it, 72-72.

Paul’s jumper with 7:59 to go tied it at 80-80, but the Thunder bolted on a 10-0 run and never looked back. Paul’s 14-point quarter accounted for more than half the Clippers’ points in the period, but it wasn’t enough.

The seven-time All-Star never pointed to the officiating after Game 5, only shoveling blame on his own shoulders. And when it was all over, he didn’t even lay the team’s exhaustive second-round loss at the feet of the disgraced owner, only at his own shortcomings.

Asked in the postgame news conference for his thoughts if Sterling is still owner by the start of next season, Paul shook his head and decided he was better off not answering at such an emotional moment, only to say that Sterling — who Paul and teammate Blake Griffin addressed only as “him” — is being paid too much attention.

“He’s the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken,” Rivers said of Paul, who averaged 22.0 ppg, 12.0 ast and shot better than 50 percent. “He’s going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year. But he’ll be back. He’ll be ready.”

Most of the 2013-14 Clippers that won a franchise-best 57 games, will be back. The club has nearly $72 million tied into Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock. Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is under contract next season for $5.45 million dollars, but the full amount is non-guaranteed.

Even with Paul missing six weeks of the season with a separated right shoulder and Redick limited to less than half the season with multiple injuries, the Clippers earned the No. 3 seed in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Rivers predicted the coming summer to be “messy” as the Sterling fight enters the next phase. For now, it appears the Clippers’ coach and players are content to allow that drama to play out on the periphery while they focus in on a brighter day and renewed goals come next October.

“We had a really, really good team, a great team,” Paul said. “Before the game, Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime, ‘It’s crazy, you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play.’

“And it’s crazy that it’s over.”

24-Second Thoughts — May 15

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — That’s right, the Hang Time Headquarters have been shut down for the evening. The brains behind your usual 24-Second Thoughts, my Hang Time Podcast co-host Sekou Smith, asked me yesterday if I would mind filling in for him tonight.

So here I am, parked on the couch, laptop on lap, games on the tube, Twitter tweeting away.

The Wizards and the Clippers had their backs to the wall tonight, and both were at home. Would they use the home court advantage? Could either squad force a Game 7?

24 — Before we get to the games, check out Andrew Wiggins getting ready for the pre-Draft combine in Chicago. I believe these are called hops…

23 — In the phone booth for Game 6? Both Wale and Robert Griffin III

And Wale did his part to try and help the home team later…

22 — The Pacers got off to a great start, particularly Lance Stephenson

21 — For some reason, even playing at home (where, admittedly, they’ve struggled in the postseason, the Wizards just couldn’t seem to find their groove…)

https://twitter.com/MrMichaelLee/status/467106300317274114 (more…)

Thunder rise as one; Clips fall as one

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

 


VIDEO: Kevin Durant dominates as OKC ousts the L.A. Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti waited outside his team’s locker room after Thursday’s 104-98 series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Folded arms. Straight face. Business as usual.

Still a few birthdays shy of turning 40, Presti started cutting his teeth in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office more than a decade ago. Come Monday night in San Antonio, Presti’s hand-crafted Thunder will take on the Spurs for a second time in three seasons for the right to advance to the NBA Finals.

For anyone who believes it is impossible to recreate the successful, machine-like precision of the small-market Spurs in this demanding age of instant results and quick hooks, the Thunder deserve a much deeper look. Starting with the fortuitousness to be able to draft a once-in-a-generation superstar who lacks elitist sensibilities, both franchises are rooted in front office and coaching stability, fiscal responsibility, shrewd drafting and, beyond all else, an overarching foundation of trust and sense of family.

The Thunder, of course, hope to begin their own ring collection.

“We’ve been together so long, we’ve grown a lot,” said the once-in-a-generation superstar and first-time MVP Kevin Durant, who persevered through a 1-for-7 start to then go 11-for-16 and finish with a game-high 39 points and 16 rebounds, two shy of his career best. “Guys have matured through every type of situation and every type of game.”

All of it shined through during difficult moments of a seven-game, first-round slog against Memphis and in this wild, momentum-shifting semifinals series against L.A.’s talented point guard Chris Paul, its rising star Blake Griffin and rock of a coach Doc Rivers. All were thrust into the unfair position of shouldering an untold emotional toll beyond the realm of the hardwood, heaped upon them by a disgraced owner now banished from his team and league for the remainder of his life.

It’s impossible to gauge just how much cumulative damage the ongoing Donald Sterling saga wreaked on the Clippers, but it was always there.

“I know I’m tired, I can tell you that,” Rivers said. “That’s what I was really trying to do throughout this, is try to bridge; I felt like I had to try to protect our guys. The playoffs are hard enough without any of this stuff.” (more…)

Controlling emotions huge key to Game 6

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Temperature is rising as Thunder and Clippers meet for Game 6

LOS ANGELES — A heat wave is cooking Southern California — 95 degrees out here in the land of palm trees. But inside the Staples Center tonight is where things could really boil over.

This Western Conference semifinal series has already seen earth-rattling events from natural wonders (Chris Paul knocking down eight 3s in Game 1; Russell Westbrook‘s Game 2 triple-double and Kevin Durant nearly matching it; Blake Griffin‘s various bloodied facial parts) and unnatural disasters (both teams blowing double-digit, fourth-quarter leads in successive games; Game 5′s controversial out-of-bounds call; Doc Rivers, a stabilizing rock and picture of calm during the Donald Sterling mess going volcanic after Game 5).

With nerves on edge and pressure dialed higher than the blazing L.A. sun, tonight’s Game 6 (10:30 ET, ESPN) could come down to which team keeps it cool through the inevitable ebbs and flows, no-calls, good calls and bad calls. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers finished the regular season first and second in technical fouls assessed, with Griffin (16) tied for first among all players and Durant (15) third.

“We have an emotional group of guys, I’ve known that since Day 1,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You have to have a very even-keel approach to the game because it’s an emotional game, it’s a very competitive game, 10 of the greatest athletes competing against each other and you have to be able to remain calm in the moments. At times we struggle in that area, but for the most part we do a pretty good job of that.”

In the five games, 10 players — seven on the Thunder — have been hit with at least one technical foul. Paul and Westbrook are tied for most in the playoffs with three each. For the Clippers, Matt Barnes has two while the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Durant all also have two. Even Brooks has a T.

Rivers worried about his team’s penchant to fray when things start to slip away a bit or when calls don’t go their way. During the season he instituted the fourth-quarter rule: No technical fouls in the fourth quarter.

The bigger concern tonight is the first quarter and how the Clippers respond emotionally from their demoralizing Game 5 collapse that left Rivers hot — he was fined $25,000 Thursday for his post-game criticism of the officials — and Paul, who in the final 17 seconds committed two critical turnovers and the foul on Westbrook’s 3-point play, as demoralized as some longtime followers have ever seen the seven-time All-Star point guard.

“He’s normal, he’s normal,” Barnes said of Paul. “A lot comes with being great. You get a lot of blame when you lose and you get praise when you win, and unfortunately it went the other way this time. We let him know it was any one play. We win as a team, lose as a team. He took it hard, but I have no doubt he’ll be back to his self today.”

Rivers tried to tamp down the flames from the Game 5 collapse and controversial call on the team’s flight home from Oklahoma City. He approached the players, asked for the music to be turned off and card games halted so he could talk to them.

“It gave me butterflies almost,” Barnes said. “It’s just like this guy really has our back and he really believes like we believe. It was already stuff we were talking about, but he just came and reiterated it, and told us it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be easy, enjoy it and be ready to work in Game 6.”

The Thunder know the feeling. A controversial call didn’t nip them during their nine-minute meltdown in Game 4 that allowed the Clippers to overcome a 16-point deficit to win. Oklahoma City started Game 5 flat, falling behind 30-15 after sprinting to a 29-7 lead in Game 4.

It’s not a pattern the Clippers want to follow.

“I think we’re in a good mental place, I really do,” Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford said after the team’s Thursday morning shootaround. “Obviously that night, guys were really frustrated and really down. I think that’s a normal reaction; I think it’s good to be that way, to try to get it out and you move forward from there.”

Hang time podcast (episode 160) featuring Stu Jackson and the ‘call’

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Stu Jackson joins the Hang Time Podcast crew to discuss “the call” from Game 5 of Clippers-Thunder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Will the “call” from Game 5 really be one of the “definding moments” of the Clippers-Thunder Western Conference semifinals?

Clippers coach Doc Rivers certainly think so.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks certainly hopes so.

The players on both sides better not let it be so, because they’ve got another game to play, maybe two, including Game 6 tonight in Los Angeles. And any lingering issues from that wild finish in Game 5 could be detrimental to the cause.

But before we dive into Game 6, we go back and examine the call with former NBA Executive VP of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson, aka the “Dean of Discipline.”

If anyone can explain what happened, it’s Stu!

We also talk about the crazy ride that is the 2014 playoffs, postgame presser Fact or Fiction, Stan Van Gundy to Detroit as its new boss, the coaching carousel and much more on Episode 160 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Stu Jackson and the “call.”

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

 

Wild series testing mettle of its stars

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 6 preview — Thunder look to close out Clippers in wild series

OKLAHOMA CITY — Truth is the regular-season MVP rarely winds up holding the only trophy that matters when all is said and done.

LeBron James’ conversion of consecutive MVPs into back-to-back NBA championships (and two NBA Finals MVPs) is the outlier. Since the turn of the century only two other MVPs have turned the title trick — Tim Duncan  in 2003 and Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. Kobe Bryant in 2008 and Allen Iverson in 2001 are the only other MVPs to even get their teams into the Finals.

Perhaps that’s why when Russell Westbrook stepped to the free throw line with 6.4 seconds left in the pivotal Game 5 Tuesday night with a chance to give Oklahoma City the lead if he could make all three attempts, the 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant couldn’t watch.

In football, players on the sidelines will look away, cover their eyes or turn around during a last-second field goal. Baseball players in the dugout will bury their faces in their caps.

Durant did all he could think to do. He headed all the way to the other end of the floor and plopped down in the corner of the court, knees raised, his long arms draped across them, his back facing Westbrook. The Thunder point guard sank one, two three free throws, Durant knowing by the roar of the crowd, for a 105-104 lead that would stand and give OKC a 3-2 lead as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Thursday night’s Game 6 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Had Westbrook not capped an individually brilliant night of 38 points and six assists with those three free throws, had he not made the steal of the series only 10 seconds earlier, swiping the ball from Clippers point guard Chris Paul, typically as secure as a Brinks truck, the MVP would find himself, just as he did in the first round down 3-2 to Memphis, one loss from elimination and a summer of scrutiny.

Durant unraveled under defensive pressure in OKC’s Game 4 collapse and it carried over into Game 5. He was having the worst shooting performance of his 66-game playoff career, just 3-for-17 with the clock ticking under four minutes to go and the Clippers’ lead back up to 13 at 101-88.

“Yes, that was definitely frustrating,” Durant said. “I was missing some shots I felt good about, but that’s how the game goes from time to time. I just try to stick with it though and come through for my team.”

“I just tell him great players can have a bad shooting night, but have a great three minutes and be the superstar they are,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “And that’s what he had, three big baskets down the stretch and made big plays defensively. I thought he hung in there. There are some times when he may think nothing was going to happen right for him, but he hung in there.”

Durant hit two massive 3-pointers in the final 3:23 and scored eight of his 27 points during the Thunder’s 17-3 finishing kick.

And now it’s Paul’s turn to regroup after a five-turnover, late-game fade or face, for really the first time in his nine-year career, questions why he can’t seal the deal. Paul is almost universally recognized throughout the league as the game’s best point guard (although Stephen Curry beat him out in fan voting as the All-Star starter), yet this is only Paul’s third venture into the second round and he has never advanced to a conference final.

But unlike James before he won his first of two championships with Miami in 2012, or Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony or even now Durant and Westbrook, Paul has mostly eluded the scrutiny, his good-natured personality off the floor and point-god status on it steering him clear of postseason criticism.

If the Clippers fail to advance this time with their best, and healthiest, team in Paul’s three seasons, plus led by pedigreed coach Doc Rivers, Paul’s free pass will likely now include an expiration date.

The playoffs are where reputations are cemented and legacies born. This series, wild and unpredictable, has tested the mettle of two emotional teams that finished 1-2 during the regular season in technical fouls.

Westbrook, the Thunder’s highly charged point guard, who arguably absorbs more criticism than any player still in the playoffs, stands at the top of that list and, in the process, is beginning to redefine his reputation away from a reckless, IQ-challenged point guard.

He has elevated his game, blowing away his All-Star worthy regular-season numbers and giving OKC a facilitator when it needs him to be (8.2 per game against the Clippers), a relentless scorer when it needs him to be (29.6 ppg), a defensive force and the best rebounding guard in the postseason, averaging 8.4 a game.

Who figured Westbrook to be shooting 52.6 percent overall and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc in this series while Durant is a far more pedestrian 45.9 percent and 32.3 percent?

In the first two rounds, Westbrook has three triple-doubles in 12 games. No other player has one. He has four 30-point games. He has five games of double-digit rebounds and four games of double-digit assists, plus two more with eight in each.

“One thing I love about Russell, he competes every single night and he plays for his team every single night,” Brooks said. “He doesn’t get involved in all the things that are said about him, and why should he? You can’t win over everybody. As long as you can win over your teammates, that’s the respect that every player wants.”


VIDEO: Thunder rally late to stun Clippers in Game 5

The Call: Thunder-Clippers Game 5

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Stu Jackson joins the Hang Time Podcast crew to clarify the controversial call at the end of the Thunder-Clippers Game 5 game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Rule 8, Section II-c of the NBA rule book hasn’t gotten this much attention since it was first written.

But the text is being cited in all corners of the basketball universe as we try to make sense of what happened in the final seconds of Game 5 of the Los Angeles Clippers-Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference semifinal Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers called it potentially a “series-defining call.” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he definitely saw a foul that wasn’t called on Matt Barnes for slapping the hand of Reggie Jackson as Jackson frantically raced toward the basket with the Thunder’s comeback on the line with 11.3 seconds to play. (Brooks admitted, though, he couldn’t tell from the replays who touched the ball last as it went out of bounds.)

Whatever the case, after Barnes of the Clippers slapped at the ball and caught OKC’s Jackson on the left hand, after the ball went out of bounds (seemingly, in many people’s eyes, off Jackson’s right hand), referee Tony Brothers signaled OKC ball.

The refs went to the video replays to see who last touched the ball, but the replays, they said, were inconclusive. So Oklahoma City retained possession and went on to win, 105-104, completing a stunning comeback from 13 points down with 3:30 left to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

And a controversy was born.

Here is the replay of the controversial call, including some of the most poignant responses from the Clippers, who (they admitted) wouldn’t have been in a position for the call to matter if they’d have taken care of business:


VIDEO: The controversial call in question from Game 5 of the Thunder-Clippers series

And here’s what Rule 8, Section II-c states:

… If a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball will retain possession.

Not long after the call, Stu Jackson, the NBA’s former Vice President for Basketball Operations, made it clear that he thought the right call was made on the floor — pointing to 8-II-c — and that the replay rule was used properly.

We couldn’t let Jackson get away with just a 140-character response. We needed more and the Hang Time Podcast crew got it from Jackson this morning.

Complicating the whole matter is the statement from Brothers after the game. A pool reporter was dispatched to get a clarification on the ruling and returned with what appears to be a simple — though certainly not satisfactory to everybody – explanation.

Please provide clarification on the out-of bounds play with 11.3 seconds remaining in regulation in which Oklahoma City was awarded possession.

Tony Brothers:

“When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City. We go review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And 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.”

We know what Rivers thinks of that explanation. You can bet Clippers fans around the world agree wholeheartedly with their coach.

The Thunder and their fans, of course, are just glad to be on the other side of a crazy finish after surrendering a 22-point lead in Game 4 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Whatever the case, the buildup for Game 6 Thursday night in Los Angeles — where the Clippers have to win in order to keep their season alive — couldn’t get any bigger.