Posts Tagged ‘Enes Kanter’

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

***

No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

***

No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Ibaka: Thunder ‘soft, weak’ in Game 2

OKLAHOMA CITY — The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

Point guard Russell Westbrook is one who has rarely, if ever, been accused of putting his game on cruise control or having anything less than a hard edge and was more political with his description of OKC’s play.

“I wouldn’t say that (soft), but probably just didn’t play hard enough,” Westbrook said. “Yeah, you try to find ways to help each other out, help yourself out, find ways to not let the guy in front of you beat you to the ball, box out, do things that can change the game.”

Westbrook doesn’t feel he’s ever outplayed or out-worked.

“No, not on a night-by- night basis,” he said.

But he understands how it can happen to others.

“Definitely. As a player, I don’t think everybody plays the same way,” Westbrook said. “Some guys do other things better than other guys. So everybody shouldn’t be thinking the way I’m thinking or I should think the way they think. But my job is to be able to help those guys and those guys will be able to help me out.”

Blogtable: Which teams will win in the conference finals?

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


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> Your prediction for the Western Conference finals and the Eastern Conference finals? Who will win and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors in seven. This is going to be one great series, with star power coming out of its pores. It’s taken a long time, but OKC finally got strong play from its supporting cast in toppling San Antonio, and the thought here is that guys like Steven Adams, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter should be able to continue that stretch against the Warriors, who enter the series banged up. If Andrew Bogut‘s adductor is an issue throughout the series, OKC’s size will have an even greater impact. The reasons for sticking with GSW are these: 1) Klay Thompson does as good a job as anyone I’ve seen guarding Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t stop him, of course, but he makes it as hard as possible, not allowing Russ to break him down off the dribble. 2) Haven’t seen anyone slow down the Lineup of Death all season, and I don’t see the Thunder having the solution to it, either. 3) One team has the MVP, who makes shots no one else would even contemplate taking, and makes them. The other doesn’t. Fin.

In the East, it’s Cavaliers in six. So glad for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who faced down their playoff demons from past years (and the Indiana series in this year’s first round) to take their team somewhere it’s never been. But it ends against a Cleveland team that just has too many players clicking on too many cylinders. Yes, the Raps won the regular season series. But that Cavs team is buried somewhere near the old Richfield Coliseum. This one has been hyper-hot behind the three-point line, and even if that cools off a bit, Cleveland’s found chemistry that it lacked for long stretches of the regular season. A healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have made a huge difference, and LeBron James has gotten a week’s rest. Too many weapons, too much motivation to return to The Finals.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m already on record in our series preview as picking Cleveland in 5. The Cavaliers’ 3-point tsunami, even if it’s not quite what it was against Atlanta, still is going to be too much for Toronto, which has trouble scoring even against less potent opponents.

Out West, give me Golden State in 6. Greater depth, the Warriors’ counters to OKC’s bigs and the defending champs’ gang tactics against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will decide this one. Then we get a repeat – but entirely different version – of last year’s Finals matchup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in five in the East. Let’s not underestimate the job coach Tyronn Lue has done in getting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to feel comfortable within themselves and with each other. The Cavs went to The Finals a year ago despite slogging through injuries and battling self-doubt. Now they’re healthy, confident and have added the 3-ball to their arsenal. They’re ready and capable to get back to June and finish the job.

The Warriors in six in the West. The Thunder are now playing with tremendous confidence that borders on cockiness. They’ve been getting solid contributions up and down the roster. That’s enough to make the series interesting. But the Warriors are still the best team in basketball, won the regular season series 3-0 and are on a mission to show all the critics of last year’s championship what they’ve been missing about depth and drive.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWarriors in 6. I could see it going 7. The Thunder will not go quietly, but Golden State beats opponents from too many directions. The Dubs’ health is obviously a big factor.

Cavaliers in 5. This is the Cleveland team a lot of people thought possible all season but has not spotted until recently.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the West, I’m going with the Warriors in a seven-game classic. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should enjoy a tremendous series, and their support help was a bit better than expected through two rounds of the playoffs. And yet: Golden State is a better defensive team, makes fewer mistakes, has Steph Curry and too many additional weapons that will ultimately wear down OKC in a long series.

In the East, folks are sleeping on the Raptors, who are battle tested after a pair of punishing series against the formidable Pacers and Heat, which they survived even after losing Jonas Valenciunas for good. Therefore, I suspect they’ll push the Cavs to four games.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Raptors needed seven games to beat the offensive anemic Indiana Pacers and the score-in-the-paint-or-don’t-score-at-all Miami Heat. The Cavs are more potent than both of those teams combined, but I’ll give Toronto a game because Game 7 on Sunday was the best they’ve looked in the postseason. Cavs in 5.

The Thunder have two of the most dangerous offensive players in the world and can slow down the Warriors by beating them up on the glass. But Golden State has the defenders to make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work hard for their buckets, as well as the league’s No. 1 offense, which never goes stagnant. Warriors in 5.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve gone with the Warriors all season and will not change my mind now, even with the Thunder looking like they are capable of beating anyone they face right now. The Warriors won 73 games for a reason. Golden State will need six games to finish off the Thunder and get back to The Finals for a chance to repeat.

Cleveland has been resting nicely after two sweeps in their first two playoff series. If they play half as well as they did against the Pistons and Hawks, they advance without much of a scare. I’m sure the Cavs would love to make it three straight sweeps, but the Raptors win one up North as the Cavaliers win it in five.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in 5. They’re at at full strength and playing their best basketball of the season.

In the West I’m going to with the Warriors in seven games, because for two years they’ve been the NBA’s most competitive team. Golden State was the hungriest contender in the league all season, which is an amazing achievement for the defending champs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are talented enough to prevail, but can they summon the intensity and focus necessary to upset Golden State? I’m not saying they can’t; I’m just pointing out that no one has done so for a long time.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland will win in 4. They are focused and playing so well right now, and Toronto will be tired and are still dealing with injuries.

On the other side of the country, as I predicted on last week’s Hang Time Podcast, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder will win in seven games. I know, my Twitter mentions are going to go crazy, but the Thunder are white hot right now, and Westbrook and Durant are playing at the peak of their powers. Every year, some team gets hot in the postseason. And right now it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Western Conference finals?

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


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Western Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Andre Roberson. No secret the Warriors will likely put Steph Curry on him on defense to give the MVP an “easy” assignment and let him rest, saving energy for the other end of the floor, while Klay Thompson takes on Russell Westbrook. Roberson’s offensive output in Game 6 against the Spurs — 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, along with seven rebounds and solid defense against Kawhi Leonard (23 shots to score 22 points) — was key in OKC’s series-ending rout. Roberson shouldn’t be expected to be a go-to guy every night, but anything he can do to make Curry move and expend energy will help the Thunder in the long run.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Sounds like we’re looking for someone from the underdog team, so I’ll go with Enes Kanter for Oklahoma City. I voted for Kanter as my Kia Sixth Man choice and that’s the guy the Thunder needs against Golden State, coming onto the floor (and staying out there) to wreak havoc with his scoring and work on the offensive glass. The Warriors aren’t a bigs-friendly foe, which makes the challenge even greater.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m going to assume here that Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will all be big and all have their shining moments. So I’m going to reach off the marquee and say that OKC’s Steven Adams must repeat his solid performance at both ends of the floor and step into the spotlight against the Spurs. The Warriors will play small to try to take him out of the game. But if Adams can catch the ball at the rim as he did in the last round, he can punish Golden State and together with fellow big man Enes Kanter could make this series, very, very interesting.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Enes Kanter. I might have picked him anyway, but now, with Andrew Bogut hurting and questionable for Game 1, OKC especially needs to exploit its size advantage inside. If the Thunder can hurt the Warriors on the boards, a possibility, it could take minutes away from Golden State’s small-ball Death Lineup. Maybe not — Bogut’s health could prompt Steve Kerr to go small sooner and more often. If sixth man Kanter can make the Warriors pay with his offense and rebounding, and not get exploited too much on defense, that would be an important step in the OKC upset bid.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: OKC needs something every game from Enes Adams. Or is it Steven Kanter? You get the idea. The big man combo of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams is the ace card for the Thunder. The center position is where they have the decided edge over the Warriors. Sure, the Warriors will combat by going small ball, but why should OKC play them at their game? Golden State is bringing a limping Andrew Bogut and, while Festus Ezeli had moments throughout the playoffs, he’s not as skilled as Kanter/Adams. Kanter came up big in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks and Adams was the same in the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. You sense a pattern, where both might loom large this round?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Thunder starting lineup was the best high-usage lineup in the league and was a plus-23 in 32 minutes against the Warriors this season. But Billy Donovan was hesitant to use it late in games, because Andre Roberson‘s inability to shoot made it easier for opponents to defend OKC’s offense. If Roberson can make a few shots (like he did in Game 6 vs. San Antonio) and make the Warriors respect him somewhat on the perimeter (or via off-ball cuts), Donovan won’t have to use Dion Waiters as much, the Thunder will play more minutes with their best lineup on the floor, and they’ll have a better chance of upsetting the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many obvious names to choose from, but we always expect the stars to rise to the magnitude of the moment. My pick, though, is the two-man big man tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter for the Thunder. They showed up in a major way as the Thunder eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals and will need to do the same if the Thunder have any chance of upsetting the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder’s ability to go big and force the issue on the inside on both ends could be the winning difference, if they are indeed to spring that upset.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Russell Westbrook is going to be crucial at both ends, beginning with his defense against Steph Curry and/or Klay Thompson. Can he neutralize them to some extent? And can he attack efficiently enough to occupy the Warriors’ defense and enable Durant and others to score from the perimeter? OKC’s hopes of creating an upset will revolve around Westbrook’s aggressive leadership.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are some obvious answers to this question – Russell Westbrook, for one – but I’m going to give you a deep cut here: The guy who I think the Thunder could really use a strong series from is Dion Waiters. For so long the Thunder have tried to find an off-guard to pair with Westbrook, particularly in fourth quarters – from Derek Fisher to trading for Randy Foye this season. Waiters was really good against the Spurs, understanding his role offensively and playing tough defense. The Warriors have the best backcourt in the NBA. The Thunder are going to have to at least attempt to slow them down.

Morning Shootaround — May 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clash of styles for Warriors-Thunder | Kyle Lowry’s star shines in Game 7 | Nothing but difficult choices ahead for Heat | King opens up about failures in Brooklyn

No. 1:   Clash of styles for Warriors-Thunder — The most devastating small-ball lineup in basketball against the most dynamic, big-boy lineup in basketball. That’s the clash of styles that will be on display when the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder square off in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals tonight at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, TNT). There are stars all over the place on both sides (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the Thunder), and yet the style of play and the work of support players will likely be the determining factor in the series. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman has more:

NBA fans remember the Stephen Curry 37-foot rainbow that won it in overtime. Thunder fans remember the Kevin Durant desperation turnover and foul that sent it to that extra session. But five minutes before, the Warriors trailed by 11 points when Steve Kerr made his last substitution of regulation.

Klay Thompson entered, joining Curry, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. It’s a five-man group nicknamed the Death Lineup, a small-ball mix of versatile shooters, defenders and playmakers that demolished opponents this season. Including that February night in OKC.

They outscored the Thunder by 11 in the final 4:50 but also dictated the style of play. Coach Billy Donovan took Steven Adams out, played a group of wings and tried to match small with small. It didn’t work.

Three months later, the teams meet again, this time with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. The rosters remain the same, but the Thunder’s identity has morphed, creating a potentially intriguing contrast of styles should OKC stay big when the Warriors unleash their speed.

“Is that the word on the street?” Steven Adams said when told of OKC’s bruising reputation. “Yeah, I’ll take it then. That’s good. I’ll stick with that.”

In beating up the Spurs on the interior — often with a twin tower frontline of Adams and Enes Kanter — OKC embraced its size. The Thunder has maybe the world’s best possible small-ball power forward — Durant — but the rest of its roster doesn’t form around him in that way.

Donovan continues to laud his team’s versatility publicly, saying they can and likely will play varying styles. But the trade-off is simple — should Donovan go small, he’ll be dipping into his thin bag of wings at the expense of his loaded set of big men. More minutes for Kyle Singler, Randy Foye or Anthony Morrow means less for Kanter, Adams or Serge Ibaka.

“Second half of Game 6 against the Spurs, they went small,” Durant said. “I thought Coach made a great adjustment staying big and not panicking.”

The Warriors, of course, are a different beast, both lethal and experienced playing that way. Curry is the star. But Green is the key.

***

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Morning shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder KO Spurs in Game 6 | Carroll, Deng questionable for Game 6 | Warriors’ Green says ankle improvingWho do Magic turn to next?

No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher  It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:

The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.

And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.

In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.

Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.

Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.

The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.

No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.

Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.

Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.

It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.

Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.

But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Oklahoma City Thunder had much trouble in the first round of the playoffs. They each made quick work of injury-depleted opponents, registering point differentials of 22.0 and 18.2 points per per game, respectively.

Things are going to get a lot more interesting in the conference semifinals, where the Spurs and Thunder will have their third meeting in the last five postseasons. The previous two meetings were in the conference finals, with the Thunder advancing in 2012 and the Spurs advancing in 2014.

This season, we’ve been anticipating a Warriors-Spurs matchup in the conference finals. And the Thunder may be a bigger obstacle than Stephen Curry‘s knee injury for that dream meeting of teams that won 73 and 67 games in the regular season.

The Spurs have home-court advantage and have won six of the last seven meetings in San Antonio. But the Thunder have won 11 of the last 13 in Oklahoma City and, going back to the 2012 conference finals, 14 of the last 21 games that Kevin Durant has played against the Spurs.

Of course, Kawhi Leonard was just a rookie in that 2012 series and has since evolved into the two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the league’s best two-way player. His matchup with Durant will be the feature of this series, but there will be a lot more that will help determine the outcome.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Spurs-Thunder, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (67-15)

First round: Beat Memphis in four games.
Pace: 91.4 (13)
OffRtg: 111.9 (3)
DefRtg: 89.3 (2)
NetRtg: +22.6 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Spurs playoff notes:

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Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

First round: Beat Dallas in five games.
Pace: 94.8 (7)
OffRtg: 117.7 (1)
DefRtg: 99.3 (6)
NetRtg: +18.4 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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20160428_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (home team won all four games).
Oct. 28 – Thunder 112, Spurs 106
Mar. 12 – Spurs 93, Thunder 85
Mar. 26 – Thunder 111, Spurs 92
Apr. 12 – Spurs 102, Thunder 98 (OT)

Pace: 96.1
SAS OffRtg: 99.7 (22nd vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 102.9 (6th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Should Kanter be Fifth Man, not Sixth Man, for OKC?

He’s one of the most productive players in his first round series and in the entire NBA playoffs, if you project him over 48 minutes. But there’s no guarantee Enes Kanter will get more than his usual supply of 21 minutes in the next game against the Dallas Mavericks, or for the rest of the playoffs.

On the surface, that’s sheer lunacy. Kanter is averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes against the Mavericks leading into Game 5. He’s doing more damage against Dallas than Kevin Durant. A big man blessed with a dancer’s footwork and a diamond cutter’s touch, Kanter can score and is a decent rebounder yet is still being punished for his defense which, real or imagined, is shoddy and plants doubt in the head of coach Billy Donovan.

And so the question is this: Is he really that bad a defender that it’s necessary to prevent Durant and Russell Westbrook from having a very solid third wheel for half a game?

In Game 4, while Kanter was doing a number on Dallas once again — he finished by making 12 of 13 shots, one by falling on the floor — Donovan reflexively tried to remove him from the game. It took the intervention of Westbrook, who told the coach to chill out, that kept Kanter on the floor.

“I was going back and forth, whether to keep him on the floor,” Donovan admitted. “But Enes was playing so well.”

Westbrook: “He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed.”

If that’s true, then you only have Donovan’s substitution pattern to blame. Kanter averaged only 21.0 minutes during the season, yet averaged 12.7 and 8.1 rebounds anyway. Donovan starts Steven Adams, who’s tougher and sets meaner picks and yes, a notch above Kanter defensively. Crazy thing, though: Kanter’s minutes go unchanged even when Oklahoma City plays teams that lack an opposing big man who can score. And so, the question begs to be asked again: Is Kanter really so bad defensively that he can’t even defend centers who don’t touch the ball?

Donovan’s reasoning is that the two-headed center of Kanter and Adams works best for Oklahoma City, and Adams’ blue collar work is valuable for a finesse team. There’s also the feeling that Kanter doesn’t rotate well and therefore doesn’t offer “help” defense, especially on the pick and roll. Perhaps.

But it’ll be curious to see how Kanter is used should the Thunder eliminate the Mavericks as expected and face the Spurs in the next round.

He had success against the Spurs during the season, averaging 15.8 points and 14.8 rebounds in 27.9 minutes. He’d be matched against Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, who are older yet very crafty. Duncan has been an afterthought for much of the season and particularly in the Spurs’ sweep of Memphis, but is Timmy showing his age, or merely laying low until the Spurs need him, which will be the case against Oklahoma City? Last season Duncan was tremendous in San Antonio’s seven-game series with the Clippers, and the Spurs can expect a similarly strong challenge from the Thunder.

Kanter finished third in the voting for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award and Westbrook thought the wrong guy won.

“All due respects to Jamal Crawford, but I don’t believe it should’ve been close for sixth man with Enes, a guy who shoots 68, 69 percent form the field. He’s been doing it all season.”

Well, that’s a question Westbrook should ask of his coach: If Kanter can do this all season as a sixth man, shouldn’t he start or at least get starter’s minutes? Shouldn’t he fill the role of the “missing” third wheel in OKC, especially in the fourth quarter, when he’s often on the bench?

Two-on-five works well for OKC


VIDEO: Thunder handle Mavs 131-102 in Game 3

DALLAS — There is never a downside to having a pair of top-five players as teammates, especially if they respect and genuinely like each other and seldom, if ever, conflict on the floor. This is certainly the case with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City would be a dusty NBA outpost without them.

There is a nit-pick, though. When the Thunder are involved in tight finishes, you often wonder why they bother calling a timeout, because there’s no sense drawing up a play. Everyone knows what’s coming. OKC will spread the floor and allow either Durant or Westbrook to go one-on-one.

It’s the type of simple and non-creative strategy that helped grease Scott Brooks‘ path out of town. The ex-OKC coach, freshly hired in Washington, showed no imagination with his playbook in the final two minutes and critics howled and cringed whenever OKC lost close playoff games to the elite teams in the West. The blame went to Brooks instead of key injuries to Westbrook and Durant.

But look here: Billy Donovan is doing the same thing, and in that sense, you can’t tell the difference between one coach and the other.

This strategy was moot in a pair of blowout victories over the Mavericks in their first-round series, but in Game 2, which OKC lost by a point, Donovan had Durant keep firing even though Durant eventually missed 26 shots. He did drill a critical 3-pointer in the final minute, but by then OKC was seconds away from being upset.

In one sense, how can any coach take the ball out of the hands of players who are averaging more than 20 points and bring great credentials? If anything, that would be grounds for a coach getting fired, or at least it seems. Besides, Durant and Westbrook probably wouldn’t stand for it and would keep the ball anyway.

“Kevin and Russell are such great one-on-one players that you’re not going to run motion offense,” Donovan said. “What you do is space the floor for them. When you create space, then it’s up to them to make good decisions. They just can’t jack-knife and shoot over two guys.”

Westbrook is so great at reaching the rim, and Durant brings superb shooting range, that Donovan (like Brooks before him) will play the odds. The downside is their teammates stand around and make little effort to be anything more than mannequins. Also, it feeds the notion that Durant and Westbrook don’t trust their teammates with the ball in those situations, and so great defensive teams will exploit that lack of trust and simply leave those teammates open while doubling on the All-Star duo.

Again, this is likely good enough to get OKC  beyond the first round and the understated Mavericks. But what about the next round against the Spurs, who can use Kawhi Leonard on single coverage on Durant? Or a smart defensive team like the Warriors? Doesn’t Donovan need to introduce a new wrinkle that in some way involves, for example, Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, the under-used Anthony Morrow or Dion Waiters?

It’s probably too late for that. Those players, neglected all season in these situations, probably aren’t comfortable with the ball and the burden that comes with it. And so, unlike the Spurs or Warriors, the Thunder’s offensive formula omits all but two players, although they are two very special players. OKC will go two-on-five and continue to believe that is a big advantage in its favor.


VIDEO: Durant scores 34 points in OKC’s Game 3 win