Posts Tagged ‘Doc Rivers’

Brooks keeps on pushing right buttons for Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Scott Brooks speaks after OKC’s practice on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – Since everybody else with an armchair coaching degree lobs criticism at the Thunder’s Scott Brooks, including, apparently, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks figured he might as well sneak in a dig of his own.

During his team’s series-evening blowout of the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 4, guard Reggie Jackson rolled his ankle early in the first quarter. Brooks was asked his thought process as Jackson hopped around in pain and feared potentially to be out of commission.

“I was a little worried with Reggie when he hurt it in the first few minutes,” Brooks said. “I didn’t want to make a change in the lineup to get ridiculed, so I wanted to make sure I could get him a couple more possessions.”

Hey-O!

It was a rare shot of snarkiness from Brooks, who took to the postgame podium moments after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich belittled a reporter for asking a supposedly inaudible question because, as Popovich suggested, the questioner was oddly speaking with a mouthful of food. Brooks’ public speaking consists almost exclusively of monotone, mostly polite and low-key responses.

He rarely, if ever singles out players for criticism and steadfastly sticks to a script of optimistic, team-oriented answers. He consistently deflects credit onto his players and almost never inserts himself into the equation.

“No, that was a joke,” Brooks insisted of his spontaneous postgame wit after the Thunder’s light workout Wednesday. “That was my sense of humor. It’s a little dry at times.” (more…)

Hang time podcast (episode 162) featuring Nick Collison and Jamal Crawford


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers joins the crew this week on the Hang Time Podcast

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – How quickly things change in the Western Conference finals.

After two games the basketball world was reading the Oklahoma City Thunder’s last rights. They were finished, crushed beneath the big toe of the mighty San Antonio Spurs.

It’s a good thing for Nick Collison and his Thunder teammates that you have to win four games to advance to The Finals. Because with the series tied at 2-2 after back-to-back blowout wins the Thunder has new life. It’s the same kind they showed against Jamal Crawford and the Los Angeles Clippers in finishing the Western Conference semifinals in six games.

Both Collison and Crawford, two HT faves, join us on Episode 162 of the Hang Time Podcast, offering their unique perspectives on all things playoffs and more.

Collison talks about what it’s like to be stitches free (for a change), playing with the whirlwind that is Russell Westbrook and watching Kevin Durant‘s evolution from rookie string bean to MVP.

Crawford shares his insights on the Donald Sterling drama from the inside, what it’s like looking at the Western Conference finals from the outside (when you want in), how Doc Rivers guided his team through it all and a love for the game that hasn’t wavered in 14 seasons in the league.

You get all of that and our take on Phil Jackson, the coaching vacancies the Knicks and Lakers are trying to fill and who we feel is the best candidate (Lex Morrison, Derek Fisher, etc.) for each job and plenty more on Episode 162 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Nick Collison and Jamal Crawford:

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.

Off Season – Trailer from Vuguru on Vimeo.

24–Second thoughts — May 20

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade has LeBron’s back at crunch time … they’re not done yet, folks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Born Ready?

Not yet.

Not Lance Stephenson and the Indiana Pacers, who made it interesting until the very end of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Born Ready?

Not ready. Not yet.

Not when LeBron James (12 points) and Dwyane Wade (10) own the floor at crunch time in the fourth quarter.

The Heat have never trailed 2-0 in a series since they joined forces. They still haven’t. James and Wade 22 in the fourth quarter, Pacers 20!

Game 3 is Saturday in Miami.

The Heat are taking their talents and that always crucial 1-1 series split back to South Beach!

:1

LeBron and Wade either scored or assisted on every single basket in the fourth quarter for the two-time defending champs. Real Champs wore black!

:2

LeBron with the sick bounce pass to Wade for the reverse baseline jam and essentially the game!

(more…)

In Ibaka’s absence, underappreciated Perkins steps to the plate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins to step up in Serge Ibaka's absence.

With Serge Ibaka out, the Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins to step up. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Brooding Kendrick Perkins has handled being a punchline of sorts by his own teammates and those too-often incredulous, face-palming hometown fans with a playful touch. But what the Oklahoma City Thunder will need from their starting, sometimes stumbling center in the Western Conference finals is no laughing matter.

Power forward Serge Ibaka, the league’s leading shot blocker and the Thunder’s third-leading scorer, is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs with a left calf strain. Perkins, known more in OKC for his menacing scowl and misfiring putbacks than any meaningful point production, won’t be asked to duplicate Ibaka’s mid-range game. But Perkins’ 270-pound presence at the other end must be problematic for Tony Parker‘s penetrations and Tim Duncan‘s myriad of moves in the paint.

In early April, Perkins ignited a rally against the Spurs early in the third quarter in a way really only he can with a two-handed shove of Duncan after the whistle. The crowd howled and after the theatrics, OKC was off to the races, snapping the Spurs’ 19-game streak and making it a 4-0 sweep in the regular season.

“We’re a team that’s going to come and get real physical with you,” Perkins said after the game, which was his first back from groin surgery that sidelined him for six weeks.

Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach who coached Perkins in Boston where they won the 2008 championship and some say lost the 2010 Finals against the Lakers because Perkins was injured and couldn’t play in Game 7, placed a value on Perkins that he says numbers simply can’t.

“You just can’t,” Rivers said. “He does so many things on the floor, off the floor, he gives every team he’s on a perception of toughness. You know, I was amazed the difference when we [the Celtics] lost him (in the trade to Oklahoma City on Feb. 24, 2011). I’m not saying the next year, I’m saying the next week.

“After he was gone, all of a sudden now it felt like we were under attack. No one was scared of us anymore in Boston.”

This postseason, even some of Perkins’ numbers are revealing his value on the floor. He’s shooting 52.8 percent from the floor — his high mark since the 2009 playoffs and up from 26.3 percent last postseason when he was roundly ridiculed — meaning he’s sticking those put-backs, and even a decent number of those mechanical, one-handed push shots he attempts.

He was key in the Thunder’s Game 2 win over L.A., going for eight points and nine rebounds. Averaging 21.0 mpg, he’s grabbed six or more rebounds in six of 13 playoff games.

Like Rivers, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has maintained a high level of loyalty to Perkins, sticking with the 6-foot-10 native Texan when he’s struggled, and even when a smaller lineup would seem appropriate.

But Brooks’ confidence won’t magically allow the ground-bound Perkins to replicate the athleticism, strength and shot-blocking of the ever-evolving Ibaka, who has become so confident that he’s taken to mimicking the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave after denying an opponent at the rim. During his MVP speech, Kevin Durant praised Ibaka for cleaning up so many of the team’s defensive mistakes.

Losing Ibaka is hardly ideal, particularly against the Spurs’ front line of Duncan and burly Tiago Splitter. But the Thunder are more prepared to soldier on without him than in previous postseasons. Veteran Nick Collison is crafty and reliable regardless of the minutes he’s granted from series to series or game to game. And 7-foot rookie Steven Adams continues to get better while providing rock-solid minutes at both ends.

“He’s playing with a great level of confidence,” Perkins said after Adams posted 10 points and 11 rebounds in the Game 6 win against the Clippers.

The fierce New Zealander was drafted 12th overall last June by the Thunder after playing just one season at Pittsburgh. He’s averaging 16.3 mpg, but has shown he has the stamina to go much deeper if called upon. He logged 40 minutes in Game 6 and more then 20 minutes three more times. He has soft hands for a big man and is adept at catching and finishing as the ball inevitably comes his way underneath when his man leaves to help on Durant or Russell Westbrook.

“The unsung heroes on our team are our bigs,” Brooks said. “I say it all the time, I’ll continue to say it, they set screens, do a lot of things to put us in position to win a lot of basketball games.”

One significant big is down. It’s up to Perkins and his pals to pick him up.

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.”

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