Posts Tagged ‘Scott Brooks’

Lamb, OKC’s rare 1st-rounder it didn’t select, needs to shine

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder have built a reputation as smart talent evaluators, having built a perennial contender on both lottery and late first-round draft picks. For now they hold onto the No. 21 and No. 29 picks in tonight’s NBA Draft.

That could change as the day progresses as plenty of teams without first-round picks want in on this deep and talented pool of players.

For the Thunder, the first-round pick they’re eager to see succeed is the rare one they didn’t select. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky, 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the sleepy eyes, was taken 12th overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. He came to OKC before he ever put on Rockets red as part of the James Harden trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Now Lamb, 22, has the opportunity to be a significant, if not transformational, player for a Thunder team that desperately needs a strong perimeter shooter.

On a team-friendly deal for the next three seasons, Lamb has the size, speed and length to be a nuisance defensively, although last season he was largely a liability on that end. He got off to a solid start offensively (he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc), but his production started to tail off in the second half of the season and once the Thunder acquired veteran small forward Caron Butler off waivers in early March, Lamb lost his spot in the rotation.

Butler, 34, will be seeking employment elsewhere next week, and so could free-agent-to-be Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s defensive-minded starting shooting guard for the last five seasons. But as Sefolosha lost his ability to can corner 3s in the postseason, he was benched in the first round against Memphis and in the West finals against the Spurs. He was not a part of the rotation in OKC’s final four West finals games.

There have also been persistent rumors since last season’s trade deadline that OKC is interested in trading for 6-foot-5 New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

The cost-conscious Thunder are never big players in free agency. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked into eight-figure contracts, there simply isn’t space to squeeze in an impactful free agent, and the cost-conscious franchise has no plans to venture into the luxury tax.

It puts the onus on player development, an area OKC prides itself, and rightly so. Players such as Durant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4th), Ibaka (24th), Harden (3rd), Reggie Jackson (24th) and Steven Adams (12th) all made significant strides after being drafted by the Thunder.

They believe Lamb, entering his third season, can also make a significant leap — whether that means winning a starting job or coming off the bench as the seventh man.

“He didn’t play much at all his first year; he had a pretty good second year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during the team’s exit interviews following the West finals. “We’re going to challenge him to continue to get better. He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively we’re going to have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, assumed the starting shooting guard spot upon Sefolosha’s West finals benching. While the Thunder had success with the lineup, both Brooks and Westbrook seemed only lukewarm when asked if a Westbrook-Jackson starting backcourt is optimal for next season. Coming off the bench, Jackson could compete for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

OKC also has Andre Roberson heading into his second season. He started 16 games as a rookie during Westbrook’s injury absence. He’s a solid defender, but lacks a jump shot. Lamb has the shot, but must improve defensively.

“It’s a player I feel confident going forward with,” Brooks said of Lamb. “I like what he does. His future is very bright with the work that he puts in.”

Morning Shootaround — June 7


VIDEO: Popovich discusses Finals opener, looks toward Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs look to get sharper for Game 2 | LeBron knows he’s an easy target | AT&T Center air is working | Utah Jazz hire Quin Snyder | Kings to give Rudy Gay full-court press

No. 1: Spurs look to get sharper for Game 2 — Even though the Spurs ended up winning Game 1 of The Finals by a whopping 15 points, 110-95, there were several facets of their game that could be tightened up in Game 2. And don’t you just know that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is going to be all over the little things?

Right at the top of the list were 23 turnovers, an amount that almost always spells doom against the Heat. Indeed, Thursday’s game marked just the fifth time in 52 games they’ve lost when forcing at least that many since signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh before the start of the 2011-12 season.

“For us, that’s always a bad sign,” said Popovich, even though his team is 12-6 this season when committing 18 or more miscues. “We escaped last night by shooting the ball the way we did, I guess. So if that continues, we’re going to have a big problem.”

Every bit as galling were the wide-open 3-pointers conceded by a defense that allowed the fewest makes from long range in the NBA this season. The Heat still made 12-for-29 beyond the arc, but it could have been far worse had they capitalized on more looks.

In particular, Ray Allen missed three open 3s in the span of two possessions. They were among nearly 30 Miami jumpers classified as open by NBA.com’s player tracking data, the type of breakdowns that gave Popovich the sweats even beyond the sweltering temperature at the AT&T Center.

“I thought they missed some wide, wide open shots that they had, that scare you to death once you watch the film,” Popovich said. “That’s not just blowing smoke or an exaggeration.  There were about seven or eight wide-open threes they had that just didn’t go down.”

The Heat helped mitigate those mistakes by suffering similar breakdowns. In addition to committing 18 turnovers of their own — leading to 27 points for the Spurs, one more than Miami scored on their miscues — they pitched almost no resistance at the 3-point line as the Spurs made 13 of 25 from long range.

***

No. 2: LeBron knows he’s an easy target — LeBron James was carried off the court with cramps toward the end of Game 1, and despite suffering from an injury where he couldn’t really move, LeBron was still on the business end of a lot of jokes. In an interview with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, LeBron said he understands that the criticism goes with the territory.

“For me, all I can control is what I control,” James told Wilbon. “For me, as one of the leaders of our team, one of the biggest competitors of our team, and knowing what it takes to win, for me, I’ll maintain my focus and get ready for Game 2. (There’s) anger in the sense that I wasn’t able to be out there for my teammates to possibly help them win Game 1 of the Finals. But what I can control is what I do to prepare myself mentally going to the next game.”

Heading into the 2011-12 season, James made it a point to start attempting to enjoy his life more, and to do that he stopped consuming as much media. After seeking the advice of Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and Jerry West, James said that he started to focus on enjoying the process and the journey instead of focusing solely on the end result.

In the three seasons since, James said he has gotten more comfortable and become more immune to attacks.

“I can’t play the game of basketball and live my life on what other people expect me to do or what they think I should do, that doesn’t make me happy,” James said. “What makes me happy is being able to make plays for my teammates, to be able to represent the name on the back of my jersey. That’s what makes me happy. What everybody else thinks? That doesn’t really matter to me.”

***

No. 3: AT&T Center air is working — Big news for everyone playing in Game 2, not to mention all the fans and media who will be in attendance: The Spurs say the air conditioning inside the AT&T Center has been fixed and is working! Probably a good idea to go ahead and hydrate, though, just in case.

The Spurs issued a statement during Thursday’s humid, cramp-inducing game that pinned the blame on an electrical problem. Friday morning the Spurs announced the problem — whatever it was — had been fixed.

“The electrical failure that caused the AC system outage during Game 1 of the NBA Finals has been repaired,” Spurs spokesman Carlos Manzanillo said in a written statement released Friday morning

“The AC system has been tested, is fully operational and will continue to be monitored,” Manzanillo continued.

“The upcoming events at the AT&T Center, including the Romeo Santos concert tonight, the Stars game on Saturday night and Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, will go on as scheduled. We apologize for the conditions in the arena during last night’s game.”

***

No. 4: Utah Jazz hire Quin Snyder — As the Jazz continue their rebuilding campaign, they’ve hired a coach working to rebuild his own reputation. Quin Snyder was once the fast track to a career as a college coach, but when that didn’t work out he ended up bouncing around professional basketball and working his way up. Now he will be the eighth head coach in Jazz franchise history.

One ‘n’ in his first name. Two majors and advanced degrees from Duke University. Three Final Four appearances as a point guard with the Blue Devils. Four previous jobs in the NBA, including with the Clippers, Sixers, Lakers and Hawks.

Five on the list of Jazz coaches since the franchise moved to Utah in 1979, following in the footsteps of Tyrone Corbin, Jerry Sloan, Frank Layden and Tom Nissalke.

Six gigs in the past five years, including this new one and stops in Atlanta, Moscow, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas.

And the list of accolades, accomplishments, trivial tidbits, flowing hair references and, yes, questions about his past go on for this former Missouri coach, who will be formally introduced to Utah in a Saturday morning press conference.

“The opportunity to join the Utah Jazz and to be part of such a highly respected franchise with an incredibly bright future is a great honor,” Snyder said via a statement released by Jazz PR. “I approach this opportunity with gratitude and humility and am committed to doing everything I can to help the Jazz become a championship-caliber team.”

If that last phrase sounds familiar, it might be because Snyder had a working relationship with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey from 2007-10 when they both worked for the San Antonio organization. “Championship-caliber team” is a phrase Lindsey has repeated often since he was hired as the Jazz general manager since leaving his assistant GM position with the Spurs two years ago.

After deciding to not renew Corbin’s contract following the 25-57 rebuilding season of 2013-14, Lindsey and Jazz ownership believe Snyder is the guy who can best help get this franchise back to that level. Not only is he well known for being a bright basketball mind, but he’s also been credited for developing talent and being a motivating leader.

***

No. 5: Kings to give Gay full-court press — Sacramento forward Rudy Gay has a few weeks to decide whether he’ll use an opt-out clause that could make him an unrestricted free agent. On the one hand, if he hits free agency he could sign a long-term deal. On the other hand, if he doesn’t opt-out, he will make a reported $19 million next season. Seems like an easy choice, but the Kings intend to make sure Gay stays a King by putting together a high-tech presentation that will include virtual reality glasses.

Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond, a former Kings star, are expected to join Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and head coach Michael Malone when they meet with Gay.

Gay was originally expected to have the meeting in his offseason home of Memphis, but preferred to have it in Sacramento.

When asked recently about his decision process, Gay told Yahoo Sports: “I’m just taking my time. That’s all.”

If Gay opts into his contract for next season, it could pave the way for future extension talks. During the meetings, the Kings also will have Gay wear a headset with eyewear that will give him a complete virtual digital tour of the inside of the new Kings arena, including the locker room and arena floor. The new Kings arena is expected to open in September 2016.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Donald Sterling still hasn’t signed the papers to complete the sale of the Clippers … Scott Brooks will be back next season in OKC … Before hiring himself as head coach, Flip Sanders tried to hire Jeff Van Gundy in Minnesota … This guy tracks every tattoo in the NBA … 76ers are looking into building a waterfront practice facility in New Jersey … Jabari Parker might be a nice fit in MilwaukeeAlvin Gentry is still in the mix for the Cavs’ coaching gig … But Derek Fisher is not in the mix in Los Angeles

Brooks and the power of continuity


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks with the media on Sunday afternoon

OKLAHOMA CITY – The fickle and volatile nature of the NBA coaching business swept aside four 50-game winners the last two seasons. Memphis’ Dave Joerger nearly became the fifth last month, and the second in a row with that franchise.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ job security always seems to be a topic fluttering in the breeze. He’s overseen three Western Conference finals appearances in the last four seasons, yet his critics continue to howl. Saturday’s Game 6 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs ended a second season of falling short of a return to the Finals.

However, it didn’t stop the franchise’s superstar, the league’s MVP from endorsing his coach.

“That’s our guy,” Durant said of Brooks during Sunday’s exit interviews, “and I’m riding with him.”

It would seem owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti would, too, but then Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Jackson – fired 50-win club members — are still tidying up their resumes.

That’s typically not the case for a coach who has won better than 70 percent of his games in each of the last three seasons. Brooks has two years left on his contract at what is believed to be between $8 million and $9 million. The Thunder are not a franchise that takes a cavalier approach to paying one man not to work while paying another to fill his position.

Yet, Mike Brown is out in Cleveland with $16 million owed to him.

Is it possible the Thunder believe Brooks has taken this team as far as he can?

“It’s something that I don’t even consider. I do my job every day,” Brooks said. “I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother and she’s always told me this: You do your job every day and you live with the results. ‘They say,’ you can’t worry about what ‘they say’; you never ever meet those people. I have many stories that I can tell you about my mom and that’s one of them — don’t worry about ‘them.’ Those are the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it as a 4-11 freshman in high school. My dream was to be an NBA player. If I would have listened to ‘they’ I would never have been able to make it.”

Presti won’t listen to ‘they.’ He’ll make up his own mind, if there’s even a decision to make. He spent Sunday conducting exit interviews with players and he will soon talk with Brooks, who Presti hired as an assistant onto P.J. Carlesimo‘s staff in Seattle and then promoted when he fired Carlesimo after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.

Soon after, Brooks elevated No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook to starting point guard. If Brooks and Westbrook have anything in common, it’s that criticism never strays far.

“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”

Brooks said the Thunder’s No. 7 -rated offense must continue to evolve around his two superstars, to become a better passing team with higher assist totals and fewer turnovers and periods of stagnation.
“I know I have to get better and I know our team has to get better,” Brooks said. “And we’re excited about moving forward together as a group as the summer unfolds, and coming back in October with a better team.”

If scheme isn’t Brooks’ forte, as his critics will claim, forging relationships is a strong suit. He’s helped develop a team of talented youngsters at the ages of 20 into perennial contenders now at 25. Before the All-Star break, Durant called Brooks the coach of the year for steering the team through Westbrook’s multiple knee injuries.

The Thunder remain as well-positioned as any club to challenge for Western Conference supremacy for at least the next two seasons, and beyond that if Durant re-signs when he can become a free agent in the summer of 2016. Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka have three years left. Reggie Jackson is eligible for an extension this summer.

The 2013-14 season was a struggle from the start of training camp when Westbrook was told he needed a second surgery on his right knee. He tore the meniscus in the second game of the first round last season and missed the remainder of the postseason. Westbrook had to undergo a third surgery in December just as he and the team were rolling. He was out through the All-Star Game.

Then OKC lost defensive-specialist, and now unrestricted free agent, Thabo Sefolosha and starting center Kendrick Perkins each for six weeks with injuries.

The Thunder still finished with 59 wins and Durant won the MVP. They beat Memphis in the first round and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers in the second round before falling to the Spurs. Both Westbrook and Perkins said the key area of improvement for next season isn’t personnel, but sharpening their mental approach to the game, specifically limiting careless turnovers that can turn a game or even a series against a team like San Antonio.

Changes will be made on the periphery of the roster, but the core is set for another run at a first title. It would seem the coach is, too, for a general manager and a franchise that place high value on continuity.

“You can easily say we lost the season because we didn’t win a championship,” Durant said. “But I don’t look at it that way because we learned so much throughout these years, throughout these last few months, especially, and it’s going to help us towards the future. When you look at it that way it stings not playing, but you also know that you’re just building the journey up, and hopefully one day you’ll look back at it and just enjoy what we went through.”


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his future in OKC and more

Thunder exit, but not going anywhere

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA crew discusses future of the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – The new guard came ripping through in 2012 like a whipsaw, razor sharp and bristling with youthful exuberance, striking size and superstar talent.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, unbridled and unstoppable, tapped out the last-gasp San Antonio Spurs, and set to unleash an era of mouthwatering East-West Finals fury with the Miami Heat not seen in 30 years since Magic Johnson‘s L.A. Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Boston Celtics.

Two years later and LeBron James — holding his end of the bargain with not one, not two, not three, but a fourth straight Finals berth after navigating the least competitive road to a conference title in recent memory — is still waiting for his Thunder contemporaries to join him.

Instead James will again see the San Antonio Spurs and their immortal Big Three, a group who raised their first of three Larry O’Brien trophies the year James was showing his percolating potential as a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Durant chased down LeBron as this season’s league MVP, but the championship remains on hold. He had a chance to give the Thunder a four-point lead in overtime, but his straightaway 3 — contested by Kawhi Leonard but still a good look — caromed off the back rim with 1:45 to go in overtime. Then down by three, the game’s most lethal closer got off a clean 3 off the inbounds, but it, too, wouldn’t go down.

The killer, though, was a no-show third quarter. Tony Parker never returned from halftime because of a sore ankle and San Antonio answered with perhaps its finest period of the season, a 37-20 whipping that erased the Thunder’s seven-point lead and set the stage for their NBA Finals-clinching 112-107 Game 6 victory.

It was perhaps Durant’s worst period of the season — five points, five turnovers and one awful foul of Danny Green on a made 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds on the clock. The four-point play culminated a 7-0 run and put the Spurs up 79-69.

“They’re a great team, they made a run, but that shows the character we have on this team to force that overtime and not give up,” said Durant, who ended his seventh season with 31 points, 14 rebounds and seven costly turnovers. “It’s easy to give up, but you can say that about any run throughout our game. They could have put us away to start the fourth quarter, but they didn’t.” (more…)

Westbrook: Ibaka won’t be fooled again

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Spurs’ Game 5 strategy to use Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw as “stretch” power forwards to bait Thunder rim protector Serge Ibaka out of the paint worked just like Gregg Popovich drew it up.

Ibaka admitted the ploy threw him off, and he had his first dud since joining the Western Conference finals in Game 3. Yet any notion that the San Antonio’s two role players suddenly present an unsolvable riddle for the Thunder in Saturday’s do-or-die Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) literally made point guard Russell Westbrook shake his head.

“They’re not the first stretch-4s that we’ve played,” Westbrook following the team’s morning shootaround. “We played Dirk [Nowitzki], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Kevin Love, all these different bigs that can shoot the ball at a high percentage, so we know what to do.”

Then Westbrook sort of chuckled thinking of Diaw and Bonner as being the type of gunners he had just listed.

“Boris Diaw, Bonner, man, they can shoot the ball, but that’s nothing we’ve never seen before. We know how to guard somebody that can shoot the ball. Serge knows what he’s supposed to do, we know what we’re supposed to do as a team, so we’re not worried about that.”

And there this was this final guarantee from Westbrook regarding Ibaka’s ability to make himself a presence in the paint in Game 6 assuming the Spurs continue to try to drag him away.

“He won’t be dragged away,” Westbrook said. “He’ll be locked in tonight.”

The home team has been the one locked in through the first five games of a series that coaches and players on both sides have punted on reasons why we’ve yet to see a fourth quarter that matters. Earlier in the playoffs, road teams were stealing games. The Thunder wrapped up their second-round series on the Los Angeles’ Clippers home court.

The Spurs, the regular season’s best road team, are only 2-5 on the road during the postseason going back to Game 3 of the second round at Portland. They’ve also lost nine straight, including blowout losses in Games 3 and 4 of this series, at the Thunder’s raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City has won four consecutive home playoff games going back to their Game 1 loss in the second round.

HOME SWEET HOME

The home team has won every game in this series and has dominated all of the key statistics. A look at the Thunder’s production at home versus the road in the Western Conference finals:

Home      Road

FG%                  47.1            42.8

3FG%                34.2           28.2

OffRtg              111.5            94.6

DefRtg              95.6            125.0

FB PTS              16.5             9.3

PITP                   45.0           36.7

Opp PITP         38.0           53.3

Reb                     47.0           36.7

Blocks                9.0            3.0

Steals                 9.5             5.3

Popovich and Thunder coach Scott Brooks both say their teams’ energy and effort have dictated the wild fluctuations of this series more than game-to-game, or even in-game, adjustments.

The home team has simply played with more force and defensive determination for 48 minutes. Consider in their two home wins the Thunder averaged 9.0 blocks (3.0 on the road) and 9.5 steals (5.3 on the road). Those stats go hand-in-hand with their Jekyll-and-Hyde fast-break points that are so crucial to OKC’s offensive success: 33 in two home games compared to 28 in two road games.

Those turnovers and fast-break points work the Thunder crowd into a lather, turning an already hostile environment into one in which visiting teams feel as though the walls are caving in around them.

“Just because we’re home we can’t relax and think we’re automatically going to win because we’re at home,” Kevin Durant said. “This team [the Spurs] is looking to get to the NBA Finals, so we know how desperate they’re going to be to win the game, how hard they’re going to come out and play. We’ve got to match it. We know the circumstances.”

Spurs need to follow smart path


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY — Going into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, all coach Gregg Popovich wanted to see from his team was fire and aggressiveness.

Now with a chance to close out the Thunder on Saturday night (8:30 ET, TNT), what the Spurs probably need most is smarts.

“If we just want to play crazy and take quick shots, they’re going to beat us,” said Manu Ginobili. “They are more athletic, they are more talented. So we’ve really got to be sharp.”

There’s a good chance that Popovich will again open with Matt Bonner replacing Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup to spread the floor and open up space in the middle of the OKC defense with Serge Ibaka forced to chase on the perimeter.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks could make the next chess move by shifting defensive assignments, putting Ibaka on Tim Duncan to keep him closer to the basket. But that would also mean that Kevin Durant would have to take time guarding the sizable-but-quick Boris Diaw, who came off the bench to start the second half of Game 5 in place of Bonner.

Ginobili says Diaw has just the kind of veteran experience and wisdom that can make a difference.

“He’s smart, he knows how to pass, and he is a great combination of being a good shooter without shooting too much, and a driver, and can post up more as a player,” Ginobili said. “He’s very versatile, and you can change things up with him a lot, and looking at each other, we can make decisions on the fly.”

Emotions exposed in high-stakes series

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters: Thunder-Spurs Game 5

OKLAHOMA CITY – As the points mount in sudden flurries and push the fervor of the home crowd to maddening levels for the teeth-gnashing visitors, scenes of frustration have grown tenser and more emotional as this high-stakes Western Conference finals charges along.

Both arenas, the AT&T Center in San Antonio and Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City — the locals dubbed it Loud City years ago — have each become caldrons of frayed nerves and blown tempers in one of the more peculiar series in recent memory in which the home team has won all five games in a rout.

“This is the craziest series I’ve ever been involved in,” said Spurs star Tim Duncan, a veteran of 16 postseasons.

The two teams, though, are thought of as emotional polar opposites: The button-down Spurs exuding poise and professionalism; the hair-trigger Thunder being young, wild and always living on the edge. Yet neither team has escaped the other’s hostile arena with their emotions intact.

It’s easy to understand why. The Spurs, with the Big Three’s clock always ticking down on their championship window, are so close to a return to The Finals and a chance to seize the championship they let slip through their fingers a year ago that the pain of failing now would cut even deeper than the loss to the Heat. The Thunder, its stars both 25 years old, and Kevin Durant breaking through to win his first MVP, believe they would have been the team returning to The Finals for another showdown with LeBron James if not for Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs. What was supposed to be a dynasty in the making is instead trying to stave off elimination.

This roiling undercurrent is setting off even the most composed.

In Game 4 at OKC, with the Thunder blasting the game open, Duncan screamed at his legendary coach, Gregg Popovich, Duncan animatedly gesturing with his arms before fixating his glare elsewhere and turning up the verbal heat on teammate Danny Green.

In Game 5 Thursday night back at San Antonio, Durant screamed at the clock operator when he wasn’t allowed to check in during a second-quarter stop in play. According to USA Today, Durant also engaged a Spurs fan after she yelled at him to sit down. The always volatile Westbrook got on Serge Ibaka over a missed assignment as the chance to back the Spurs into a corner evaporated along with the Thunder’s composure.

“Well, it’s the playoffs, it’s going to decide who goes to The Finals and who wins the Western Conference,” Durant said. “It’s going to be emotional, there’s going to be words, there’s going to be physicality. It’s been a crazy series, yes it has, as far as momentum and teams playing well at home. But in our case, we’ve got another 48 minutes to try to take this thing to a Game 7, and who knows what happens after that.”

During Game 2 in San Antonio, with the Spurs running and the crowd raising the decibel levels to mind-splitting, Westbrook glared at Durant after giving up an easy basket and jabbed his index fingers at each side of his head, a gesture meant to tell Durant to wake up.

Brooks said he doesn’t worry about his team becoming its own worst enemy during the course of a heated game. He said he takes it as proof his team is engaged.

“I know this is probably strange to say this, we’re always at our best when we’re on edge with one another because we are raising the bar high,” Brooks said. “We are competitive. We don’t want to let each other down. Just like when San Antonio had Duncan and Green, it happens everywhere. I know when we’re locked in defensively and our competitive spirit is at a high, our guys are ready to fight for one another and sometimes it takes a kick in the pants to get each other to do that.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 29


VIDEO: Danny Green lets that shooting hand hang in the air after his fourth 3-pointer of the night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Throw that scouting report in the trash bin. Throw it away.

There is no explanation for what we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Five games. Five cakewalks for the home teams. And a bunch of us trying to figure out how two teams could look so unbelievably good at home and then get their respective doors blown off away from home. 

It’s not just us either. It’s the same on the inside. The mighty Tim Duncan, a man whose been doing this for nearly two decades, admitted he’s never seen anything like this series.

“This is the craziest series I’ve been involved in,” he said.

Spurs coach and reigning NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich made his move for Game 5. He made his adjustment (Matt Bonner into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter) and the lineup change did exactly what it was designed to do (specifics will not be shared by Pop), since the Spurs won the game.

Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and the mighty Duncan all did their part to help the Spurs return to the same style and tempo they played in Games 1 and 2.

The average margin of victory in this series is a staggering 20.4 points.

Game 6 awaits in Oklahoma City Saturday night. Can the Thunder get more out of Serge Ibaka, the hero from Games 3 and, but an relative non-factor in Game 5.

Good luck figuring this series out by then …

:1

The Spurs revert back to form and get everyone involved, and things turned in their favor … and the night was, for most the part, antics free.

:2

Manu and the Spurs are one win away from a back-to-back trip to The Finals, a first in the Duncan-Pop-Manu-Parker era.

(more…)

Could be time for Spurs to tweak lineup


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn’t just Serge Ibaka’s miracle trip to Lourdes or a visit to the gods of Thunder that turned around the entire look and feel of the Western Conference finals. OKC coach Scott Brooks also jumped guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha and the offense has since been cooking.

While all of the official talk out of the Spurs’ camp the past two days has been about attitude and energy and determination, there is still speculation that Gregg Popovich could come back with a change of his own tonight for Game 5 (9 ET, TNT).

Would the Spurs consider benching Tiago Splitter and getting Boris Diaw’s outside shooting into the starting lineup to try to pull Ibaka way from the basket? Would they think about going small with Kawhi Leonard at power forward? And what of Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner, who came hustled off the bench in Game 4 to make the final score respectable?

“Ask him,” Manu Ginobili said, pointing to Popovich, when asked about lineup changes. “I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Popovich, of course, isn’t revealing anything, except to say, “we’re considering a couple of tweaks here and there, just in the plan. I don’t know exactly where that will be. But we saw some things that might warrant a little tweaking.”

Diaw told the media at Thursday’s shootaround that he was not starting. However, that means nothing.

Diaw did acknowledge that he was successful going against the Thunder’s small lineup in the first two games of the series.

“But since Ibaka came back, they don’t play small as much,” he said.  “So we actually like it when they play small. It’s when they play big that we have a hard time the last couple of games to score inside.  But whatever they give us we got to find a solution.”

Diaw said it makes sense to take advantage of his ability to score from the outside to possibly get Ibaka out of the low post, where he has disrupted and distracted the Spurs whenever they’ve gotten the ball into the paint.

“For sure,” he said. “Shooting from outside, he’s a guy that’s helping a lot so we got to try to keep him out of the paint.

“There are some open shots that we don’t take.  There are also some contested shots that we shouldn’t take, should be more patient, move the ball a little more so we can be open. We have got to pass the ball more. Because it’s what we have been doing all year. So we have got to find a way to move the ball enough so we get open shots.”

Perhaps one good tweak deserves another.

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…)