Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Morning shootaround — May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Warriors fall in Game 1 | Bosh, Heat face uncertainty | Vandeweghe: No changes ‘imminent’ to Draft lottery | TNT’s Smith won’t get Rockets gig

No. 1: Curry can’t save day in Game 1  Golden State fans awaken this morning undoubtedly in a state of shock or disbelief after their Warriors blew a 14-point lead in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. The eventual 108-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder has the Warriors trailing in a playoff series for the first time in the 2016 postseason. Perhaps more shocking to Golden State fans, though, is that the reigning Kia MVP, Stephen Curry, couldn’t save the Warriors’ bacon as Game 1 wound down. Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group has more one what Curry and the Warriors must do better come Game 2:

There were several moments Monday night that called for Stephen Curry to put on his cape and save the day. There were several times when past practice made you believe the Warriors would turn on the jets.

But Curry never pulled off the magic that he so often does, no matter how hard the home crowd begged. And the Warriors never woke up.

In what has been a rarity this season, Curry didn’t shine the brightest in this meeting of stars. He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. But it wasn’t enough to cover his seven turnovers, his 1-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter, and his questionable decision making.

In what has been a rarity this season, the Warriors were not the team to get it downe down the stretch. Monday was their first loss to one of the league’s top four teams when fully healthy.

“I do think we lost our poise a little bit,” coach Steve Kerr said, “and that had a lot to do with the quick shots. I think we were trying to rectify the situation in one or two plays instead of letting it play out. So that’s something we’ve got to get better with.”

Is Curry’s right knee an issue, or was it the Warriors’ game plan to use him as they did?

Curry still has pain, he said, but it’s tolerable. It’s not 100 percent, he said, but it’s good enough.

In Game 1, Curry spent a lot of time off the ball. The Thunder responded as other teams have, grabbing and holding Curry away from the sight of the officials. When Curry didn’t get the ball, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson became the one-on-one players.

Late in games, the ball in Curry’s hands might allow him to get a better rhythm and allow him to set up for his teammates. It forces the Thunder to adjust their defense to stop him and could result in him getting some free throws. Curry went to the line only twice in nearly 40 minutes Monday.

“We have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions and pace and flow,” Andre Iguodala said after scoring six of the bench’s 16 points. “It’s good to get hit in the mouth. That’s when it really shows.”

Was Game 1 a sign that Oklahoma City has found the formula to beat the Warriors?

The Thunder were the Warriors’ toughest foe during the regular season. Even though the Warriors swept OKC, all three games were closely contested. Neither San Antonio, Cleveland, Toronto nor the Los Angeles Clippers could stake such a claim. And Monday, OKC played with a comfort that suggested a feeling of superiority.

The Thunder got better as the game wore on. The Thunder made adjustments, fixed their ills. It was the OKC point guard — not the Warriors’ popint guard — who took charge of the game.

“There were several key (plays) in the second half when we kind of lost our momentum,” Kerr said. “Careless passes. Didn’t have the flow to whatever set we were running. And I thought we lost our aggressiveness and momentum offensively. A lot of that had to do with his speed and aggressiveness.”

Or was this the Warriors not bringing it like normal? Was their demise their own doing? Did the weight of their historic chase finally catch up with them?

In their mind, they played out of character. They failed to live up to their standard.

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.

Durant picks up ambulance assist

A review in the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J., seemed to be in order with a news report that Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant provided a helpful emergency escort to an ambulance mired in rush-hour traffic.

According to News9.com in OKC, the Thunder star helped paramedics from the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) reach their destination more quickly by pulling in behind the ambulance and turning on his exoticar’s flashers.

“We were stuck in traffic, so pretty much cars surrounding us all over,” EMSA paramedic Peter Radford said. “All of a sudden, I see a silver Ferrari or a silver sports car pull in behind us.”

Before Radford knew it, the lanes of traffic started clearing.

“I see this Ferrari has it’s flashers on,” he said. “It’s actually making way for us to get through and navigate all the traffic.”

The paramedics were finally making their way to the emergency.

“Once we actually get through all the traffic, this silver Ferrari comes over to the side and waves to my partner,” Radford said. “And my partner goes ‘Do you have any idea who that is?’ And of course I’m clueless. ‘That’s Kevin Durant.’ “

But behind them? And with traffic already at a standstill, the last thing authorities might want is some sports celebrity to increase the gawker quotient exponentially.

No matter. Radford told the local news outlet that, because his crew made it to the first emergency call on time, they also were available and able to complete a second call promptly. The second one, he said, involved a girl who had traveled to OKC for cancer treatment.

Durant aw-shucked it when asked about the real-life drama by reporters. If anything, it sounded as if he started out intending to use the ambulance as a blocking back, opening traffic and driving in its wake in a manner upon which some law enforcement frowns.

“I saw the ambulance from behind me, and it was kind of slow in front of me, and I moved over. I said, ‘I’m just going to follow the ambulance so I can get through traffic real quick,’ ” Durant said. “So I moved over. I can’t take full credit for that.”

However critical Durant’s help was in the episode or embellished his role, for folks who hope the Thunder’s superstar free agent-to-be decides to stick in OKC, crafting a little Batman/Gotham City reputation can’t be a bad thing.

Morning shootaround — May 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Another Game 7, as Raptors define themselves | Was Pacers’ answer sitting right there? | Adams: No formula for Durant, Westbook | Ginobili weighs old love vs. new life

No. 1:  Another Game 7, as Raptors define themselves — Growing pains. Notice that it’s a plural noun. Adolescence of any sort would be a lot easier if it were singular, a one-and-done experience or rite of passage that got you quickly from Point A to Point Done. But real life rarely works that way and neither does the maturation of an NBA playoff team, as the Toronto Raptors are finding out. Toronto, as it tries to go toward something special in the Eastern Conference, has faced a gauntlet of tests and pressures. From the expectations that accompany home-court advantage for a No. 2 seed to getting pushed to seven games in the first round, from the frustrations of a franchise that historically has left its fans wanting to now, again, feeling the burden of a Game 7 (3:30 ET, ABC) that could define everything the Raptors have done since October. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star looks at the Raptors’ advancement, more internally than merely through the East bracket:

The Toronto Raptors and Wade’s Miami Heat will play Game 7 Sunday afternoon, and the winner gets to keep playing under the lights. Let’s be honest, for Toronto, the playoffs have been a fine agony, punctuated by the exhilaration of escape.

Two more Game 1 losses, because the Raptors almost always lose Game 1. So many missed shots, bad shots, empty shots. Kyle Lowry’s elbow, Kyle Lowry’s head, Jonas Valanciunas’s ankle, DeMar DeRozan’s thumb, DeMarre Carroll’s wrist. A Game 7 win that seemed comfortable, then nearly slid into the lake, then didn’t. And another Game 7, with the pieces dented or missing.

These are the Raptors. The franchise, in its best moments, has tended towards anxiety. The Raptors have never seemed born for this.

But these are the franchise’s best moments, or near enough. It can be hard to remember that when they get drilled off the dribble in Game 6. There was Vince Carter’s graduation day, and then there were 14 years that ended with 49 empty-calorie wins and a fourth humiliating game in Washington last season, and there is this.

At the trade deadline Masai Ujiri could have traded the top-10 pick he has in the draft, plus pieces, and brought back a rental — Ryan Anderson from New Orleans, maybe. Instead he stood still. That day Ujiri said, “you play with that in your mind a little bit, but I just don’t think we’re there yet, as a team, as a ball club. We’ve got some good momentum coming in here, but we’re a good team in the East, and we want to keep plugging along and figure out the playoffs.”

He wanted them to prove what they are worth, and while that picture is still muddled in places, here they are. Before Game 5, with Valanciunas sidelined, Lowry said that if he and DeRozan got going, “I think we’d have an opportunity to do something special. We’re not playing well and I think we still have an opportunity to do something special. And that’s the scary thing.” Lowry was asked how he would define something special.

“Finals,” he said. He didn’t have to, but he did.

“I already had this conversation with Kyle on numerous nights the last couple weeks — we can’t never get down, or let the media, or people discourage us in any type of way on the way we’ve been playing,” said DeRozan, before the Raptors won Game 5. “As long as we have the opportunity to put on these shoes and this jersey and go out there and play, we still have an opportunity to go as far as it goes. And that’s to get somewhere this franchise has never been to, to play for the world championship. That’s six (wins) away. And that’s the type of motivation, whatever we need to believe in ourself, we’re right there.

“And we can’t say, OK, we got this close, we can get even closer next year. We got to take advantage. I tell everybody, we might never get this opportunity again.”

***

(more…)

Numbers preview: Warriors-Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As expected, the 73-win Golden State Warriors reached the conference finals with minimal trouble. What’s unexpected is the team who’s meeting them there.

The 67-win San Antonio Spurs ran into a matchup problem that has troubled them in the past. The Oklahoma City Thunder found ways to score against the league’s best defense and came up big in close games to reach the conference finals for the fourth time in six years.

This series features the last three scoring champs and the last three MVPs. And for sure, the headlines and narratives will be about Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (with some good Draymond Green quotes thrown in). But role players will be critical, and if the Thunder can get as much from their supporting cast as they did against San Antonio, this series could be as fun as the game these two teams played on Feb. 27.

That was the game of the year. But the stakes are much higher now. The 73 wins will stand forever, but the Warriors still need eight more to repeat as NBA champions. And the next four won’t come easy.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Western Conference finals, 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

Golden State Warriors (73-9)

First round: Beat Houston in five games.
Conf. semis: Beat Portland in five games.
Pace: 101.6 (1)
OffRtg: 113.1 (2)
DefRtg: 98.4 (3)
NetRtg: +14.7 (1)

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

20160514_gsw_byround

20160514_gsw_offense

20160514_gsw_defense

Warriors playoff notes:

20160514_gsw_shooting

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

First round: Beat Dallas in five games.
Conf. semis: Beat San Antonio in six games.
Pace: 95.6 (7)
OffRtg: 111.3 (3)
DefRtg: 102.0 (9)
NetRtg: +9.3 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160514_okc_byround

20160514_okc_offense

20160514_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

20160514_okc_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-0 (2-0 at home).
Feb. 6 – Warriors 116, Thunder 108
Feb. 27 – Warriors 121, Thunder 118 (OT)
Mar. 3 – Warriors 121, Thunder 106

Pace: 102.9
GSW OffRtg: 112.9 (2nd vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 103.2 (8th vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

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.

Blogtable: Top 5 MVP contenders next season?

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: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Steph Curry is now a two-time Kia MVP. Looking ahead, who are your top five candidates for next season’s MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt the rate he and his team are going, Stephen Curry could be an MVP candidate again, but my hunch is the media beast will demand someone new. So how ’bout Draymond Green? If the Warriors continue their ride atop the league, their versatile and loquacious big-small man might get some love for the impact he has on Golden State’s lineups and success. Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who may be ready to ease LeBron James‘ load sufficiently and thus relieve him of some MVP votes. Damian Lillard might make the leap from snubbed All-Star to serious Podoloff trophy candidate, if he can coax another improved season out of the Trail Blazers. What I’m seeing right now in the playoffs suggests Kevin Durant isn’t going to be content with one MVP – and (wink wink) he might not be splitting votes with Russell Westbrook next season. For a long shot, considering the heavy lifting required, give me Anthony Davis over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course Davis would have to stay healthy while also keeping a few teammates out of the trainers’ room to boost New Orleans big-time in the standings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook. That is purposely in alphabetical order. It’s challenge enough narrowing the list of possibilities to five. I would love to squeeze Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and maybe a few others on as well. But I will give my very top candidate: Leonard. That’s with the understanding that a lot can change between now and the start of the season, since roster moves obviously effect roles.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI believe we’ll have the usual suspects once again: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. My choice is Westbrook, even if Kevin Durant signs elsewhere. Westbrook is that good, and more important, he’s due.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCurry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are obvious answers. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth while on the same team this year and could earn more votes if they’re on different teams next year. Honestly, it’s hard to find someone who finished outside the top five this year that could crash the party next year, unless TNT’s therapy session for Dwight Howard on Tuesday somehow hits home and leads to much better chemistry and much better defense in Houston (or wherever Howard goes this summer).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m seeing a list of the usual suspects, with Steph gong into the season as frontrunner followed by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Shuffle that list up any way you’d like, but if we’re at this point in May of 2017 with the same names finishing in the top five, I won’t be shocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry will be there, obviously, and so will LeBron James, as always. Kevin Durant will be another MVP candidate, wherever he is next year. I’m looking for Blake Griffin to demand consideration on the hunch that he’ll be motivated to make amends for this season. I’m also looking for a big bounce-back year from Anthony Davis; but if Durant should wind up leaving OKC, then I’ll move Russell Westbrook into MVP consideration ahead of Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Curry clearly remains the favorite, and I’m also loath to remove any of the other guys I voted for this season: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But for the sake of argument, and who doesn’t enjoy a good argument, we should probably also be willing to discuss Draymond Green, who continues to prove his worth to the NBA’s best team. The other guy who should probably be in the mix is Chris Paul, who carried an injured Clippers team to a top spot in the Western Conference.

Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Waiters: ‘One guy can’t beat us’ | Carroll says Lowry must ‘man up’ now | Report: Celtics in pursuit of Butler | Hawks shell-shocked by barrage of 3s | Report: Bickerstaff pulls out of consideration for Rockets’ job | Vogel awaits fate today

No. 1: Waiters says Aldridge alone can’t be Thunder — The San Antonio Spurs are more than getting their money’s worth out of free-agent addition LaMarcus Aldridge in the Western Conference semifinals. The newest Spur has been on fire in the series, averaging 39.5 points and shooting 75 percent in the first two games of the series. But to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters, the numbers that matter are 1 and 1. That’s the state of the series despite Aldridge’s heroics and, to Waiters, things are looking down for the Spurs as a team if Aldridge continues to sizzle. ESPN.com’s Royce Young has more:

“One man can’t beat you,” Thunder guard Dion Waiters said Wednesday. “So we’re fine with that. If they want to continue to get out of their offense and throw the ball down there to him, we’re fine with that. One guy can’t beat us, no matter how much he scores.”

“We’ve just got to make adjustments, try to make it tough on him,” Waiters said. “He’s a great player in this league, an All-Star. He’s going to make shots. He’s playing tremendous right now. But we’re fine with one guy just beating us. We’re fine with that. At the end of the day, Serge [Ibaka] and Steven [Adams] got to continue to do what they’ve been doing, but guys are going to make shots in the NBA and as long as they’re not running the offense and dropping it down to them, we’re living with that.”

Aldridge was asked by reporters in San Antonio if he’s putting pressure on himself to not cool down after his two big games in the series.

“I’m just playing basketball. I’m not trying to go do it [have a huge game],” he said. “You know, honestly, I didn’t think that I’d do it again after the first game. It’s just I’m going with the flow of the game out there.”

The Thunder primarily stuck with single coverage on Aldridge, with coach Billy Donovan saying they were mostly happy with the defense on the Spurs power forward. In the series, Aldridge is 17-of-26 on contested shots.

“We’re making him take the shots that we want, and he’s just making them,” Adams said. “That’s the only thing that’s kind of bumming us out right now. … We’re making him take similar shots [as in the past] and he’s just making all of them. And it sucks.”

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Ignoring inbounds techniques would be out of bounds for Hawks

CLEVELAND – Inbounds plays are the green beans of NBA games, not all that interesting until the day they suddenly line up on your dinner plate and dance like the Rockettes in a Christmas spectacular.

At that point, they demand your attention, in much the way they have on consecutive nights this week in conference semifinal games in San Antonio Monday and in Toronto Tuesday.

So it was a legit question for players and coaches still participating, such as Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, to identify proper execution, some pitfalls to avoid and so on from the world of Xs & Os.

“I’m assuming you’re talking a little bit about the OKC-San Antonio one?” Budenholzer said.

Well, yeah, considering that the Thunder’s inbounds attempt with 13.5 seconds left in Game 1 surprised even longtime NBA insiders with the number of things that went wrong and were uncalled in OKC’s 98-97 victory. From defender Manu Ginobili‘s toe touching the sideline for what should have been a delay of game call to inbounder Dion Waiters‘ thoroughly unexpected forearm to Ginobili’s chest to clear space, the play and the game’s subsequent final seconds generated an epic “Last 2 Minutes” report from the NBA and were chaotic from start to confounding finish.

Precisely what a team doesn’t want happening in the playoffs, when every possession allegedly is treasured.

“It’s definitely something you work on in practice,” Budenholzer said after Atlanta’s shootaround Wednesday in advance of Game 2 against Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, TNT). “There’s subtleties for the inbounder, things that can hopefully help him find the right guy. You want great spacing, hopefully guys who are coming hard to the ball.

“But that inbound position, I’ll just tell you, it is not an easy spot. But we practice it, we drill it, we work on it. It happens a lot during the season so you get a lot of in-game reps too.”

In Miami’s overtime victory Tuesday, Luol Deng had turnovers twice in the fourth quarter on inbounds plays. First he ran along the baseline when it wasn’t permitted, then he miscalculated on a toss intended for Dwyane Wade. “If we would have lost – that would have been a bad one,” Deng said.

“It’s tough, man,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. “It’s a lot of pressure on that inbounding guy. Teams are doing a better job of guarding the play and putting pressure on that guy. You’ve got to make good decisions. But it’s very important, obviously. It can cost you a game.”

Atlanta assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was hired by the Brooklyn Nets in mid-April and will become their coach once the Hawks’ playoff run ends.

He said the Hawks spend considerable time — especially in the playoffs — on both executing and defending sideline and baseline inbounds plays. Atkinson said he thinks many NBA teams eventually will designate a coach for such “special teams” situations, not unlike the NFL. Most already have go-to guys to be their designated inbounders in crucial moments.

“Last year, [center] Pero Antic was almost like our ‘long snapper’ [another NFL specialty],” Atkinson said. “He’d sit there the whole game and we’d put him in with four seconds left because he was big and he was an excellent passer. He could just look over the defender.”

Patience and a thorough knowledge of the circumstances are key. “Your first priority is to read your options. You’re the quarterback,” Millsap said. “Take your options one read at a time. If nothing’s there, don’t force it. If you have timeouts, use ’em. But the worst thing you can do is turn it over in a situation like that.”

And the flip side? “If you make ’em use a timeout or force a turnover, force it to a guy they don’t want to give it to, I think you’ve done your job,” Millsap said.

Some teams put a big man on the ball to crowd the inbounder’s view. Others may drop off him to double-team elsewhere. The defense, generally speaking, can’t often count on the man with the ball to break the inbounds plane and forearm the nearest opponent.

Coaches, meanwhile, can’t always count on their inbounders to know every rule, in terms of what they can and cannot do.

“I would say we are confident,” Budenholzer said. “Yet life never ceases to amaze us.”