Posts Tagged ‘Derek Fisher’

Ibaka’s absence brings ‘fluid’ lineups

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

SAN ANTONIO – The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing their best sales job to suggest life without Serge Ibaka has to be business as usual. In basketball parlance, it’s simply next man up.

But, with 11:09 left in the second quarter of Monday’s Western Conference finals Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder pulled out their most unusual lineup, especially for this juncture of the playoffs. Jeremy Lamb checked in for Kevin Durant, but the the little-used, second-year shooting guard getting such early run wasn’t the exceptional part. It was who he was running with: Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler and Steven Adams.

Kevin Durant will need some help in Game 2 (Wednesday, 9 p.m.)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kevin Durant will need some help in Wednesday’s Game 2 (9 p.m., TNT)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

“Our lineups can be very fluid and we have flexibility all year long to have done that,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before Game 1. “We played small a lot and with Serge out, obviously we have more opportunities to play small.”

OKC climbed back from a 20-9 hole to 33-30 when Lamb came in for Durant. Exactly three minutes later, Lamb, whose head seemed to be on a swivel defensively as Spurs players raced by him to the bucket, checked out for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder trailed 45-37.

A small lineup that found success late in the second quarter was the unit of Westbrook, Jackson, Lamb, Durant and Kendrick Perkins. That group came together with 1:58 to go and OKC in big trouble, trailing 65-51. An 8-2 run trimmed the halftime deficit to a reasonable eight points, 67-59.

It’s a bad time of year to have to experiment with lineups. After the game, Brooks said he’s going to “have to find lineups that work.”

The Thunder’s best lineups are the ones in which Durant and Westbrook are on the floor together or, at least, with one of them in the lineup. And that’s mostly been the case. Durant logged 40 minutes in Game 1, the 13th time in 14 games this postseason in which he’s played at least 40 minutes, and the sixth in a row.

Brooks has to balance giving each of his stars some rest so they’re not totally gassed in the fourth quarter, but doing so while not putting the team at a severe disadvantage — which the Fisher-Jackson-Lamb-Butler-Adams group did.

There’s little choice for Brooks in deciding a starting lineup. Nick Collison is the only logical choice to fill in for Ibaka at power forward. Collison is a steadier player than the one that showed up Monday night and threw up three horribly off-target shots and was mostly poor defensively. A frontcourt of Perkins and Adams together doesn’t make much sense and Brooks clearly has little faith in 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet to contribute as a rim protector.

Although Brooks harped on defense after the game, his best bet might be to employ waves of small lineups that include Durant or Westbrook, or both, with Reggie Jackson and simply try to out-run and outscore the machine-like Spurs.

“I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job,” Brooks said. “No matter who we put on the floor, they have to be able to compete against this team. They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time. You don’t have a possession off. Not one. We can’t hide anybody.”

Thunder searching for Ibaka answer

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: OKC coach Scott Brooks talks about how Serge Ibaka’s absence impacted Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – Thunder coach Scott Brooks delivered a straightforward message to the San Antonio Spurs, some of whom apparently manifested visions of injured Oklahoma City power forward Serge Ibaka swooping into the arena and swatting shots as if he were Godzilla.

That, obviously, didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen.

“Contrary to what San Antonio was thinking, he’s not coming back,” Brooks said of Ibaka, who is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs, regardless of how deep the Thunder go. “He’s not coming through those doors.”

Ibaka wasn’t even in the building. He was back home, relegated to resting his damaged left calf muscle and watching Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on TV. Or at least as much of it as he could stand as the Spurs ran a layup drill through a wide-open paint in the opening half on their way to a 122-105 victory.

In the aftermath, maybe Brooks’ message was intended more for his own club. It is a horrible time to be without your chiseled, 6-foot-10 defensive eraser and offensive safety valve. Ibaka’s absence seemed to serve as a giant mind tease early on as the Thunder looked lost defensively in just their fourth game in four years without Ibaka.

“Your body tells you a few things, just send them Serge’s way,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “We have to get out of that mindset. Tonight’s the first night playing without him, so we have to figure a few things out.”

Tim Duncan was the beneficiary of an OKC starting lineup that included the considerably less-athletic Nick Collison playing in the 24-year-old Ibaka’s starting spot next to Kendrick Perkins. That lineup was a bust from the get-go on both ends. OKC tried to get Collison comfortable early, but he launched two hellacious bricks from either baseline on the Thunder’s opening few possessions.

The other end was a Texas massacre, save the bloody mess of a chainsaw for the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel for which the Spurs have become famous.

Duncan had 21 of his 27 points in the first half, going 9-for-11 from the floor, and 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the opening quarter. He had eight points in the first five minutes. His first bucket was an 18-footer. The eight baskets that followed in the first half came from no deeper than eight feet and four were no farther than 3-feet from the rim.

Imagine the 38-year-old Duncan’s delight to work against the Thunder’s 20-year-old rookie backup center Steven Adams, a mostly impressive youngster who saw just 17 minutes after logging 40 in the Game 6 clincher over the Clippers. He acknowledged he “screwed up” on pick-and-roll coverages and will have to be better.

The Spurs scored 66 of their points in the paint — 20 more than OKC typically gives up with Ibaka on the floor. They had 38 at halftime, more than the Thunder managed the entire game (32).

“Well, we play team defense, we don’t just rely on Serge,” said Kevin Durant, who had 28 points and found himself checking Duncan at different times. “He does a great job blocking shots, but it’s all because of our team defense.”

It wasn’t all a horror flick, and the first nine minutes of the third quarter is the example the Thunder will look to duplicate if they’re going to make this a series. It’s the only quarter that OKC held San Antonio below 30 points — 22 on 8-for-22 shooting. Combined with Russell Westbrook‘s accelerated aggressiveness to attack the rim, the Thunder, once trailing 63-48, led 78-77 after Durant’s 8-foot runner with 4:44 to go.

Brooks spent the first half experimenting with different lineups and twice had success in the first and second quarters with small-ball fivesomes. But as the Thunder plowed ahead in the third quarter with the original starting lineup, Brooks may have stuck with them just a bit too long.

In a flash, the lead was gone for good. Manu Ginobili got in the lane for a floater, Duncan tossed in another layup as Westbrook missed a couple tired-looking shots and turned it over.

But the defensive blue print is there, even if it emerged for only a small window of time in the opener. It was the only quarter the Thunder scored more fastbreak points than the Spurs because they were finally able to get into transition off missed shots and four of the Spurs’ 10 turnovers.

“We just got to do a better job of closing the paint off,” said Westbrook, who had 25 points, 12 in the third quarter, and seven assists. “We did a better job in the second half of just putting more pressure on them, making it tough for them to get inside the paint.”

Now they must figure out how to sustain it. Because everybody knows Ibaka isn’t walking through that door.

Fisher non-committal on coaching options

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

SAN ANTONIO – Derek Fisher says his intention remains to retire at the end of the season. His future beyond that in basketball? He’s not saying.

Since TNT analyst Steve Kerr turned down Phil Jackson‘s offer to coach the New York Knicks to instead lead the Golden State Warriors, Fisher’s name has reportedly risen to the top of Jackson’s wish list. And, of course, there’s still that vacancy in Los Angeles with Fisher’s former club, the Lakers, where his longtime championship buddy Kobe Bryant will enter the first of a two-year contract next season.

“I’m still kind of sticking with that for now,” Fisher, 39, said of retiring whenever the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season comes to an end. “I put it out there at the beginning and that’s what I’m sticking with until we finish up with what we’re trying to do right now. I’m not spending a lot of time on thinking about what’s next. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to these guys. We have to figure out how to beat the Spurs.”

Fisher, in his 18th NBA season and third postseason with Oklahoma City, said he spoke to Jackson after he took over as the Knicks’ president in March, but he said he has not spoken with him since.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Fisher wouldn’t make a good coach, “he will make a great head coach.”

But does Fisher, the former president of the players’ association, even harbor a desire to follow Jason Kidd, who walked off the floor a year ago as a player to become coach of the Brooklyn Nets? As Fisher walked out of the Thunder’s Monday shootaround on the morning of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, he straddled the fence on the coaching question.

“Right now it’s just tough to wrap my mind around anything other than playing basketball,” Fisher said. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time and to think about every week or two, there’s a chance it could be my last week.

“So, that part in itself is tough enough and like I said, until I’m done helping my team this year, I’m not spending a lot of time [thinking about the future].”

Fisher, who turns 40 in August, played in 81 games this season and averaged 5.2 ppg while shooting 38.4 percent from beyond the arc. In 13 playoff games, he’s averaging 13.6 mpg and 3.0 ppg — he’s just 12-for-44 from 3-point territory.

Morning Shootaround — May 19



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Celtics, Knicks getting into Love mix? | Bulls negotiating Mirotic buyout | Spurs don’t think Ibaka will miss series | Report: Knicks want to talk with Fisher first | Bosh disappears in Game 1

No. 1: Celtics leading pack for Love? — Just yesterday, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Minnesota Timberwolves might be getting used to the idea that Kevin Love might not want to stick around after the 2014-15 season and exercise his early termination option. Once that bit of information came to the NBA forefront, the knowledge of which suitors are most after Love has become more and more known. According to Wojnarowski, the Boston Celtics might present an appetizing deal to the Wolves and as the New York Post‘s Marc Berman reports, new Knicks boss Phil Jackson could be plotting for a way to bring Love to New York.

The Boston Celtics have emerged as an increasingly intriguing destination for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love, and the Celtics’ draft position coming out of Tuesday night’s lottery could be telltale in determining the feasibility of a trade, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

If the lottery percentages hold to form, Boston would draft in the No. 5 slot, which could hold appeal to Minnesota in this talent-rich draft. If Boston moves up and cracks one of the top three spots, general manager Danny Ainge would have a more difficult decision to make on using the pick in a deal for Love.

Love’s representatives with Excel Sports are pushing Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to find a trade acceptable to them before the beginning of summer free agency in July – preferably by the June 26 NBA draft, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Love, 25, wants a chance to play for an immediate contender, but has an open mind about multiple destinations in the league, sources said. In six NBA seasons, Love has yet to reach the playoffs in Minnesota.

The Houston Rockets also plan to make a run at a trade for Love, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Officials believe Love’s close relationship and respect for coach Kevin McHale could give the Rockets an edge. Golden State, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago are among those also planning to pursue Love deals with an eye on signing him to a long-term extension.

Love has no veto power over a trade, but it is unlikely any team will unload significant assets for him without an assurance he’ll re-sign a max contract.

Houston doesn’t have the draft picks to offer Minnesota, but does have appealing young players in Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik to include in packages. McHale acquired Love for the T’wolves with a draft-night trade and coached him. Beyond McHale, Houston could offer Love an immediate chance to be part of a contender.

Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz and Ainge have a strong relationship and a good working history. Ainge helped another Schwartz client, Paul Pierce, get to a preferred trade destination in Brooklyn a year ago. The Celtics believe they can sell Love on becoming the next big Celtics star, and all the adulation that comes with that for a franchise that has won 17 NBA championships.

And here’s Berman’s report on how the Knicks are getting into the Love sweepstakes, too

According to an NBA source, Knicks president Phil Jackson has been plotting to be involved in making something happen with Love via a trade.

However, the report stated rather than the Lakers and the Knicks being Love’s top two choices, the power forward is more interested in Golden State and Chicago. It’s unclear if Steve Kerr knew Love’s preference when he chose to coach the Warriors, but it’s very possible.

Adding Love to the Knicks’ mix with their 2015 cap space is one of the selling points for Anthony to stay in New York. It’s doubtful a team would trade Love for just a rental. Another source said the Lakers also will make a monster push at trading for Love, who played at UCLA.

The Knicks believe they have the expiring contracts — Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert in particular — the Wolves might want so Minnesota can keep cap space to go after the star-studded 2015 free agent class.

What do they Wolves have to say about all this chatter? Team owner Glen Taylor told Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune that Minnesota has no plans to deal Love anytime soon:

Amid renewed media reports that three-time All-Star Kevin Love intends to leave Minnesota in July 2015 and the Timberwolves are reconsidering their position, Wolves owner Glen Taylor reiterated on Sunday the team doesn’t intend to soon trade him.

The Associated Press, citing two unnamed sources, reported Sunday that, with Tuesday’s draft lottery and the June 26 draft approaching, the Wolves are softening their position that they won’t trade Love and are open to the idea of doing so for the right deal.

“Not by the draft,” Taylor said before Sunday’s Lynx home opener at Target Center about such a possibility.

Saunders told WCCO Radio on Sunday morning that he hasn’t talked to Love’s representatives since the season ended in mid-April.

“We’re proceeding the same way, that Kevin is part of our team, that we have,” Saunders told WCCO. “You’re always trying to get your team better. There have been reports we’re actively trying to trade him, which isn’t true. What we’re actively trying to do is get our team better. When you do that, you look to see what’s out there no matter what it is or for anybody. We’re a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years. We’ve got to get better.”

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Morning Shootaround — May 18




VIDEO: Recapping the Clippers-Thunder series

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Minny to move Love? | Fisher fits NY | Tough summer for Clippers

No. 1: Timberwolves to consider trading Love — While team president Flip Saunders’ first job is hiring a coach to replace replace Rick Adelman and Sam Mitchell has emerged as top candidate, it also seems the Timberwolves might finally be coming round to the reality that they’ll have to trade Kevin Love before he flees as a free agent in 2015. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has the scoop:

Beyond the coaching search, the Wolves are under pressure to start considering trade scenarios for Love, who’s anxious to exercise his Early Termination Option (ETO) in the summer of 2015 and leave as a free agent, league sources said.
“For the first time, [Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option,” one rival executive told Yahoo Sports.
The Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are among many teams determined to make hard runs at trades for Love, league sources said. Boston and Los Angeles plan to make high-lottery picks in the 2014 NBA Draft available in offers for Love, sources said.
No team is likely to trade for Love without an assurance that he’ll commit to a five-year, $100 million maximum contract extension. Despite a belief that Love prefers Los Angeles or New York as a potential destination, he’s open to deals in other markets where he can be part of an immediate contender, sources said.
Nevertheless, Saunders has made finding a coach to help convince Love to reconsider free agency as a top priority, but the bigger issue for the All-Star forward comes with a roster that hasn’t been talented enough to make the Western Conference playoffs.

***

No. 2: Brooks says Fisher a perfect fit to coach the Knicks — Though Thunder coach Scott Brooks hopes to have him around for two more rounds of the playoffs, he says veteran point guard Derek Fisher is a perfect fit in New York to help Phil Jackson repair the Knicks. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News spoke to Brooks and on the eve of the Western Conference finals as Fisher, Brooks and OKC prepare to tangle with the Spurs:

“Derek will make a great head coach,” Brooks told the Daily News on Saturday. “He’s smart, he knows the game and works hard. He’s also played for one of the greatest coaches in sports history . . . and I’m not talking about myself, by the way.”
Fisher, of course, played under Jackson in Los Angeles and has some of the same qualities that Jackson’s first choice, Steve Kerr, possesses. If Fisher happens to make the immediate jump from retired player to head coach, it would not be unprecedented. Jason Kidd was a rookie head coach with Brooklyn after retiring last spring following his one season with the Knicks.
Fisher, 39, is a candidate to become the next head coach of the Knicks along with Tyronn Lue, Luke Walton and Kurt Rambis. All have either played for or worked under Jackson. It is unclear if former Knick Mark Jackson, a sentimental choice for many Knick fans, is a candidate. Jackson was rehired by ABC/ESPN on Saturday but can get out of his deal to accept a head coaching job.
A person familiar with Phil Jackson’s thinking insists the new Knicks president will hire someone he’s either coached or worked with. According to Brooks, Fisher has not mentioned the possibility of coaching next season. In fact, Brooks claims that Fisher has not entirely closed the door on playing next season.
“In the role that he has, he’s done a great job for us this year,” Brooks said.
“I think it would make a lot of sense for Derek to coach in New York. But there’s no rush. If they wait a few more weeks they can talk to him. I don’t think Phil would talk to him now anyway because Phil has too much respect for the game and Derek. He knows how hard it is to accomplish what we’re trying to do here. But I hope they do speak at some point.”

***

No. 3: Sterling saga could mean a long and difficult offseason for Clippers — It was one thing to try to live with the controversial finish to Game 5. It was another to let Game 6 against the Thunder slip through their hands. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times notes that the real problems for the Clippers could just be starting. The NBA is trying to oust owner Donald Sterling as quickly as possible, but that may not be so easy and the whole affair hangs over the franchise:

When asked whether the Sterling debacle ultimately weighed his team down, Doc Rivers finally answered yes.
“I think a lot of stuff, yeah,” he said. “The playoffs are hard enough without any of this stuff, so….”
Then came Thursday’s fourth quarter, during which the Thunder charged out to a 10-point lead in the first six minutes, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook making their shots while the Clippers never seemed to get into their offense.
Paul committed two turnovers in the quarter, Griffin scored just two baskets in the quarter, and the exhausted team never found its flow.
The Clippers were not only outscored by six in the fourth quarter, but by 14 in the second half.
“I personally thought at halftime, we never got our energy back,” said Rivers. “We tried. That’s all you can do.”

Now it just gets harder. Donald Sterling’s lawyer Maxwell M. Blecher has reportedly sent a letter to the league vowing that Sterling would not pay his $2.5-million fine, a sign of the fight that awaits.
If the NBA thinks everyone understands the removal of Sterling could take months, the NBA is seriously misguided. The league’s players want Sterling gone before the start of next season. The Clippers players will be faced with enormous pressure to refuse to wear a Clippers uniform next season if Sterling is still in charge. Rivers will face the same pressure to remain as coach.
“I think I’m prepared for somewhat of a messy summer, mentally at least,” said Rivers. “I just think it’s going that way.”
On a night the Clippers finally succumbed, it was clear that Donald Sterling has not.
On a night the fight was valiantly lost, the fight was just beginning.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyler Ennis of Syracuse says forget out Dante Exum and Marcus Smart, because he’s the top point guard in the NBA draft class of 2014. … Kevin Johnson is taking charge of the NBPA search for a new leader. … The crop of new head coaching candidates has thinned out considerably with all the recent turnover.

Morning Shootaround — May 15



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs await word on Parker’s injury | Pierce expects to play ‘one or two years’ at most | Fisher on Knicks’ short list of coaches? | Report: Van Gundy a fan of Monroe

No. 1: Spurs wait for word on Parker’s injury — The San Antonio Spurs made quick work of the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of Game 5 to wrap up that semifinal series and clinch a third straight trip to the West finals. As happy as Spurs fans are to see the playoff train rolling along, there’s a bit of concern this morning surrounding point guard Tony Parker. Parker left Game 5 with about 8 minutes, 45 seconds to go with a hamstring injury. Our Fran Blinebury was on the scene and points out how this injury could put a severe cramp in San Antonio’s hopes of another run to The Finals:

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.

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.”

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CP3 puts injuries, fatigue behind and lights up the Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul’s career night helps Clippers torch Thunder in opener

OKLAHOMA CITY – Before Chris Paul scorched Oklahoma City for 32 points with a hand so hot from downtown it would make Steph Curry melt, an Oklahoma City Thunder player suggested anybody stepping onto the floor should just keep their pains, sprains and strains to themselves.

It was a little shot at the Clippers’ All-everything point guard. Plenty of Los Angeles hand-wringing has gone on lately with Paul nursing a strained right hamstring that needs rest and a sprained left thumb that is best off avoiding contact. And maybe the worry was for good reason: Paul’s scoring drooped against Golden State, his shooting percentage sagged to 40 and even his assists had slipped. Coach Doc Rivers contorted his face into a puddle of concern when asked about Paul’s speed.

Then came Paul’s takeover of  Game 7 of that uniquely emotional first-round series. He punished the Warriors for 22 points, 14 assists and four steals in 42 minutes, advancing the Clippers into the conference semifinals against speed-demon counterpart Russell Westbrook and the soon-to-be-named MVP Kevin Durant.

Man, just got done with Steph and then go right on to Russell, right?” Paul said following Saturday’s Game 7 win. “Y’all say a special prayer for me tonight.”

Do you believe in miracle healing?

“You could see it, like [Sunday] he wasn’t moving well,” Rivers said. “Today at shootaround, you just felt like he was moving better.

No one could have predicted what would happen Monday night: 32 points that stacked up with eight rapid-fire, rub-your-eyes 3-pointers raining from every angle on the floor. Paul hit all five of his attempts in the first quarter. That tied his career high. His sixth came after teasing Derek Fisher at the left arc, tip-toeing, spinning and firing. No. 7 was an impossible heave from the corner as 270-pound Thunder center Kendrick Perkins body bumped him to the floor without a call. No. 8 in a row came on a step-back against Caron Butler, caught in no man’s land trying to protect against Paul slicing-and-dicing him to the paint.

Finally, at the 5:19 mark of the third quarter, Paul missed his lone attempt from deep. But, seriously, 8-for-9?

“That’s what I do, that’s what I do,” Paul said grinning. “That is a lie. … This one definitely goes down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2.”

The barrage ended Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal almost before it began. The Thunder jumped out to a 16-10 lead and then, wham-o, it was gone and the running Clippers, with hometown kid Blake Griffin sensing Paul’s sizzle and working to free him with screens on possession after possession, were off. It was 39-25 after one quarter and 69-52 at the half.

Paul exited with 38.1 seconds left in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the 122-105 victory.

The Thunder, coming off their own grueling, seven-game series against Memphis, simply stated the obvious after being blow away by CP3.

“He hit eight 3s,” said the Thunder’s Westbrook, who led OKC with 29 points on 9-for-14 shooting. “You can’t do too much but contest. He hit some tough shots. We’ll live with that.”

Rivers compared Paul’s level of aggressiveness, which included 12-for-14 shooting overall, 10 assists and a pair of turnovers in 28 minutes, to only one other night this season, when he attacked Dallas for 31 points and nine assists the night after going an unthinkable 0-for-12 at New Orleans.

“Other than that, not this aggressive,” Rivers said. “We needed it though. We needed a tone-setter because turning around that quickly [from the Warriors series], I think he felt that he needed to set the tone.”

Nagging health issues have come into question in each of his two postseasons with the Clippers. In his ninth season overall, the seven-time All-Star has never made it beyond the second round, and this one is only Paul’s third appearance in the semifinals. He got there in his first season with L.A., but a groin issue and Griffin’s knee injury from the first round paved the way for a Spurs sweep.

In 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets, Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic lost Game 7 at home to the Spurs.

Paul, who turns 29 on Tuesday, is arguably the game’s best player never to make it to a conference final. He’s widely considered the league’s most dangerous point guard, but he knows whatever accolades he accumulates, the postseason is where a player’s legacy is ultimately written.

It’s a weight he bears.

“I’ve never been past the second round,” Paul said. “Every year you feel like you’re on that team. I remember that team I was on in ’08, we lost Game 7 to the Spurs and you just feel like you’re always going to be back there and that’s not the case. This team here I think is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, it’s fun to be around each other.”

They stuck together through one of the most emotionally taxing weeks any of them will ever have during the Donald Sterling disaster. They persevered against the Warriors and now have a fast lead on the Thunder and their two 25-year-old stars who have already played in two West finals and one NBA finals.

Maybe this is his time. Paul has a co-star, a deep and talented team around him and coach who seems to have the pulse of his players.

Paul’s pains, sprains and strains might be out in the public forum. And maybe he plays them up at times for dramatic effect. The drama he delivered Monday night was real, and so too are his Clippers.


VIDEO: Chris Paul hits a career-high eight 3-pointers to lift Clippers

Lillard becomes one for the ages

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Damian Lillard joins Arena Link to discuss the big shot

PORTLAND, Ore. — Teammate Thomas Robinson says you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This was just a start for the kid.

If that’s the case, Damian Lillard‘s next trick will likely be a re-creation of that old McDonald’s commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan: “Over the freeway, through the window, off the scoreboard…”

It wasn’t just a dagger through the heart of the Rockets. It was the kind of shot that defines a career, creates a legend and trails you like a permanent ray of sunshine long after the sneakers and jersey come off and the hair has turned gray.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a “25-foot, 3-point jump shot.”

And Moby Dick was just another whale.

“I’ve seen him do that kind stuff, make shots like that for the past two years,” said Wes Matthews. “From the first day you saw him out on the practice court, you could tell from the way he carried himself. He’s just, well, different.”

It’s the difference that allows a neurosurgeon to poke around inside somebody’s brain with with the sheer confidence, maybe the utter arrogance, that he just won’t slip with the scalpel.

It’s the difference that diamond cutter has when he knows that he won’t turn that big, expensive bauble into cheap rock with a bad tap on the chisel.

“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said the 23 year old who might as well be an ageless Yoda doing tricks with a light saber. “Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”

It came after Chandler Parson‘s out-of-the-blue put-back had given the Rockets a 98-96 lead with 0.9 seconds left.

“The first thing I did when I saw Parson’s shot go in was look at the clock,” Lillard said. “I saw there was time. I knew we would have a shot. I just didn’t know what kind.”

It was the kind of shot that will replayed on the giant video screen at the Moda Center or whatever new-fangled arena comes next for as long as they play basketball in Portland. The biggest last-second shot in Blazers’ history.

It came fittingly on a night when the franchise honored the legendary coach Jack Ramsay, who led the Blazers to their only NBA championship in 1977 and died on Monday.

Rip City — R.I.P. City — indeed.

Up on the screen, there was grainy old color film of Dr. Jack in his wild ’70s disco era plaid pants and wide collars jumping for joy as his share-the-ball Blazers clinched the title.

Down there on the court, just an hour or so later, there were the linear descendants of those Blazers — who move without the ball, do all the little things and play unselfishly — leaping into each other’s arm.

“When he made the shot, I didn’t let him go for the next three minutes,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, the workhorse who carried the Blazers, averaging 29.8 points in the series.

It was not just a Portland moment, but an NBA moment, the kind that should be frozen in Jurassic amber.

Lillard’s was the first buzzer-beating shot to clinch a playoff series since John Stockton did it to the Rockets’ ancestors in the 1997 Western Conference finals.

Put it a gold frame and hang it behind a velvet rope with:

Ralph Sampson‘s rim-rattling prayer that beat the Lakers and sent the Rockets to the 1986 Western Conference Finals.

Garfield Heard‘s heave for the Suns that forced triple overtime at Boston Garden In the 1976 Finals.

Derek Fisher‘s running miracle with 0.4 seconds in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference finals that beat the Spurs.

– And yes, even Michael Jordan‘s hanging, leaning, drifting to the side jumper over a helpless Craig Ehlo in the Bulls’ Game 5 clincher of the first round in 1989.

That last one started a legend. To hear the Blazers tell it, their second-year guard is already writing the first few chapters of his own.

“Oh, he’s doing things all the time in practice and all season long in games that you just don’t expect and maybe don’t think are possible,” said center Robin Lopez.

“I’ve been around the NBA for 10 years and played a lot of games with a lot of players and seen a lot of things,” said guard Mo Williams. “I’ve seen shots, yeah. Have I seen a shot like that? Noooooo.”

It ended a series that had three overtime games, only one margin of victory that was by more than single figures. The only double digit lead of the night lasted just 16 seconds. The biggest lead of the second half by either team was four. The cumulative score of the entire series had the Rockets ahead by two points.

Just like they led by two with 0.9 seconds left and when Lillard zipped away from the defender Parson and came zooming wide open right toward the inbounding Nicolas Batum.

“I clapped my hands at Nico,” Lillard said. “He threw it to me and I turned. The rim was right there.”

And Lillard let it fly.

If we ain’t seen nothing yet, that next chapter will be a doozy.

Relaxing amid urgency, Durant gets bonus 48 minutes — Game 7 vs. Grizz

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: OKC rolls over Memphis to force Game 7

MEMPHIS – Facing elimination, on the road, ground down by the pushing and banging of the Memphis Grizzlies and worn out from a playoff-record four consecutive overtime games, Oklahoma City’s players squeezed into the narrow hallway outside their locker room in the moments before the anthem, intros and tipoff.

In the middle of their scrum, the man who has played in the most postseason games in NBA history: Derek Fisher. He was talking. His teammates were listening – OK, Russell Westbrook was spinning and fiddling with a basketball but he presumably could hear Fisher, too.

Kevin Durant was nodding. And smiling.

More than three hours later, after the Thunder put on their most complete and dominating performance of the series to force Saturday’s Game 7 back on their court, Fisher shared some of the old-head wisdom he’d imparted.

“With this team, it’s all about relaxing and playing our game,” Fisher said. “We don’t want to be thinking about playing the perfect game. We can’t be worrying about making mistakes. I’ve seen it – if we play our game, we win.”

OKC won big, 104-84. It pumped its lead to 20 points three minutes into the second half, never let it dwindle below 17 and had it right back at 20 by the end.

There’s relaxed. This was planking (uh, we all remember planking, right?)

“I think [staying relaxed is] when we’re at our best, to be honest,” Fisher said. “We all want to do so well and we expect great things from ourselves, but in these types of situations, I’ve seen this team since I’ve been here do exactly this: Win a game on the road when it’s necessary to win. We didn’t bring the baggage from the last game or Game 3. Anything before tonight was irrelevant.”

Said Westbrook: “We did a great job of just being calm. A great job of coming in and being cool, calm and collected as a unit. For 48 minutes, we had that. We didn’t take a long dip – we just kind of went up and down [the court].”

None of the Thunder players wanted or needed to relax more than Durant. None was in a worse position to do so, though.

His world, all sweetness and light for so much of 2013-14, was rapidly turning sour and dark. His offense was AWOL. Assuming he gets named the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, he was on the brink of the quickest ouster for a league MVP since 2007 (Dirk Nowitzki) and one of only a handful not to survive the first round. As a group, Oklahoma City had many of the same criticisms and reactions headed its way as are hanging over Indiana, which also survived a while longer (in less convincing fashion).

Even the hometown paper, The Oklahoman, piled on Durant Thursday morning with a headline that overreached and triggered such an outcry, you figured Donald Sterling wrote it: “Mr. Unreliable” the newspaper dubbed OKC’s star in bold, block letters, using a blunt ax where a scalpel was required.

The fascinating thing was, Durant already had laid out his strategy for Game 6 before he ever learned of the silly headline. Consider what he said in the morning, when the FedEx Forum was mostly empty and quiet:

You can talk about Xs and Os, what we have to do. But it comes down to laying it all out on the line, for you brothers, for your city, and playing as hard as you can. I think everything else is going to take care of itself. I really believe in that.

We have another chance to play another basketball game. We’re guaranteed 48 minutes. … We tend to take things for granted, but I get to play another basketball game. Something I love to do. You never know, this could be our last time stepping on this court, so I’m going to play as hard as I can. That’s what motivates me.

Durant did exactly what he said, against the backdrop of all that urgency, by staying relaxed and finding fun where others might see only stress. He scored 14 points in the first 12 minutes (the Thunder are 5-0 in playoff games when Durant has done that), 18 by the break and another 18 after halftime. He got to the line for 15 free throws, more than in the past two games combined.

And Durant quickly found the openings and the rhythm in which to assert himself, which isn’t as simple as you might think, superpowers or not.

“It’s hard for someone like him,” said Caron Butler, a surprise starter in coach Scott Brooks‘ lineup in Thabo Sefolosha‘s place. “He has so much responsibility here. He’s got to figure out every game, ‘Should I look for my own offense? Should I get other guys going?’ It’s not easy knowing what’s needed and when to do it.”

Afterward, Durant talked about making those decisions with a 3-2 imbalance in games, in a best-of-seven series, bearing down.

“I just tell myself to cut hard, play hard and [see what happens],” he said. “If I see a shot, shoot it. If I see a pass, pass. I just try to keep it as simple as possible. If I clog my mind with anything else as far as where the passes are going to be and whose guy is going to help off, all that type of stuff, it makes me play on edge, not on instinct.”

Other Thunder players helped more this time by adhering to the plan and the habits that got them this far.

“All we can really do is go into the game and say, ‘We want to play the right way,’ ” reserve forward Nick Collison said. “There are a lot of things that lead up to that. If we execute our offense, he’s going to catch the ball in better areas. He’s going to catch the ball in rhythm and he’s going to have more space to play in. That’s the biggest thing – if he’s catching the ball at the 3-point line with four guys staring at him, ready to help, it can be hard for him. That’s not good for us either.”

Things aren’t good for Memphis now. The Grizzlies head to OKC where, yes, they’ve won twice in three tries but where the Thunder were 34-7 in the season. That crowd there is a force with which to reckon, and getting blown out at home in what could have been a happy, clinching game was a lousy way to prepare.

The grindiest thing in the Grindhouse Thursday was Memphis’ offense, sagging under its poor shooting (37.3 percent) and eventually from point guard Mike Conley‘s sprained right hamstring, injured in a third-quarter loose ball pile-up. He was done after 28 minutes and 2-for-10 shooting.

“I don’t think we played very well so it shouldn’t be like we have a good taste in our mouth,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “We’ve been playing 21 days of must-win games. This is it. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, hurt, nicked up or not. This is the performance that we’ve been looking for all season long. Unfortunately it didn’t come tonight. So for Game 7, it has to be there.”

So does this, if Durant and the Thunder are to serve as any guide: relax.


VIDEO: Durant, Westbrook discuss Game 6 win

 

Morning Shootaround — May 1



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Fisher next to lead Lakers? | Report: Magic interested in owning Clippers | Hawks unveil revamped ‘Pac-Man’ logo | Report: Bulls trying to trade Boozer | Nets’ Twitter account blasts own fans

No. 1: Should Lakers look to Fisher next? — ICYMI last night, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni resigned from his position … and the speculation about who will have one of the NBA’s most glamorous jobs began almost immediately. Our Sekou Smith thinks Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski would be a good fit in Lakerland, and there’s buzz out there that ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins might be interested in the gig, too. But what about a former Laker (and Kobe Bryant running mate) coming back in the fold to lead L.A.? Adrian Wojnarowski broaches the idea of current Thunder reserve guard Derek Fisher taking the reins some time soon:

As little as Mike D’Antoni wanted to coach Kobe Bryant in the end, Bryant wanted to play for D’Antoni even less. They had barely communicated for months, steering clear until a permanent parting on Wednesday night. They would’ve been miserable together, would’ve inevitably imploded the Los Angeles Lakers locker room.

D’Antoni is a great offensive mind, but his difficulties with Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Bryant have played a part in the unraveling of his coaching career. Lakers management had a willingness to bring him back next year, but refused to make a commitment beyond 2015.

The Lakers have lost talent, lost stability, lost what separates winning and losing franchises. Bryant won’t pick the next coach, the way he had no input into Mike Brown and little into D’Antoni. Bryant will wish for Tom Thibodeau to free himself from Chicago. He loves Jeff Van Gundy, and shares management’s affinity for Euro legend Ettore Messina, who spent a season on Mike Brown’s staff.

Bryant has long admired Byron Scott, but there’s a different ex-Lakers guard who could go much further to regenerate the franchise’s culture and hold the insight into getting the most out of Bryant’s final two seasons: Derek Fisher.

The Lakers need to make themselves a destination again. Free agency has major importance in 2015 and ’16 for the Lakers, and they’ll need to be positioned to make a run at Kevin Durant.

Superstars want desperately to consider the Lakers in free agency, but they won’t go anywhere based only on geography and banners. They’ll need to see an infrastructure of talent, management structure and coaching. Durant will want a culture, and Fisher could’ve grown into the job by ’16 to sell him on the Lakers’ brand.

It is risky to hire a coach with no experience, but the right minds and right coaching staffs can make it work. Fisher will command respect and he’ll be synonymous with a championship heritage that Lakers fans crave as a face of the franchise. Fisher is close to the end with the Thunder, and he’ll be the rare non-star to choose his next direction: management, coaching or television.

Derek Fisher is nearing the end, and willing to listen. This is a call the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak must make, a conversation with Fisher they owe it to the franchise to have sooner than later.

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