Posts Tagged ‘Scott Brooks’

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 …

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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…)

Pop’s Game 4 retreat is no surrender


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich discusses Game 4

SAN ANTONIO – Let’s face it. If any other coach in the NBA — maybe on the planet — had done what Gregg Popovich did in Game 4, he’d be online toast by now.

Just imagine what would be left of poor little Scott Brooks if he tried that stunt in OKC.

Down by 20 just five minutes into the third quarter, the Spurs’ boss called off his dogs. After all, there are only so many times he can watch them roll over and play dead and still thinks it’s a cute trick.

Trouble is, 19 minutes in this league that is built on runs and streaks and offensive explosions is an eternity and the question was asked in more than a few corners why a coach who once snarled and told his team during a timeout that he wanted “some nasty” folded his tent so politely.

“Thursday,” Pop said.

He meant, of course, Game 5 at the AT&T Center, where the Spurs’ season — if not their era as a championship contender — hangs in the balance.

Yes, Pop surrendered for a night. But just to throw the only punch he’s got left.

If Russell Westbrook brings his 40-point, 10-rebound, five-steal game, maybe it won’t matter much what the Spurs try to do. Not with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka also there to stamp the Western Conference for certain as their domain to rule for the foreseeable future.

Popovich spoke of the Thunder’s superior athleticism and length and noted that it gives you just a small margin of error. That margin was long gone in Game 4 and there was no sense chasing a pipe dream.

All, really, that Popovich was doing was following his instincts and his philosophy on managing playing time and energy expended that he’s relied on for years. Whether it’s November and it’s the end of a five games in eight nights stretch at Miami or it’s late May and the Western Conference finals, Pop watches his veterans and he watches their minutes.

With a 38-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker turning 32, Popovich has never watched and micro-managed minutes more. Not a single Spurs player averaged 30 minutes per game this season.

No matter the specific circumstance, the belief is that no one night of overextending an individual is worth the long term goal of being healthy and fresh for the grueling playoff run.

None of the Spurs looked fresh on Tuesday night. They were all outrun, out-jumped, out-hustled and outworked. Not quite three minutes into the third quarter, there was a sequence where Duncan and OKC’s Kendrick Perkins got their arms locked and tangled in the low post. It evoked a rare angry reaction from Duncan. When play resumed, Duncan turned to put up a short jumper and Ibaka blocked it solidly and even sent Duncan flailing and falling to the floor. Two minutes later, Pop pulled the plug.

While it was interesting to see the Spurs eventually fall behind by as many as 27 and then have the bomb squad of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and Jeff Ayres use sheer hustle to cut it to 12, that’s all it was, interesting.

Steve Kerr mentioned on the TNT telecast that if the lead got under double-digits, Popovich might have to consider returning his to starters to chase the win.

Uh-uh. Not for even a second.

Pop knows his team and he knows the situation his Spurs are now in. There isn’t a strategic adjustment that’s going to turn the series around, suddenly make the Thunder look less youthful and less athletic.

The only chance in Game 5 — and for all intents and purposes, the season — is to meet that OKC athleticism with as much energy as those old Spurs legs can muster.

That’s why it was the right decision, even if it was tough to watch and no other coach in the league could have gotten away with it without taking a public flogging.

One reason: “Thursday.”

The only real minutes left that matter.


VIDEO: Game 5 preview between the Thunder and Spurs

Jackson fights sprain, ready for Game 5


VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson injures his right ankle in Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – Just when it seemed the Thunder must be snake-bit, Reggie Jackson‘s right ankle having turned so dramatically to the outside that it appeared to touch the floor, there he was chasing down a loose ball at the sideline and tossing an alley-oop to Kevin Durant.

Jackson said he expects to be back in the starting lineup for Thursday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. That’s significant news for Oklahoma City, which has been on quite a roll since Jackson and Serge Ibaka joined the starting lineup in Game 3, helping to turn a series that was all San Antonio Spurs.

“It’s not really a big deal,” Jackson said after Tuesday’s trouncing of the Spurs. “No excuse. I think a lot of people about this time have a bum ankle or a ding-up. Just play through it.”

Playing through it hardly seemed possible after watching the replay multiple times. And even after the game as the typically feisty Jackson gingerly walked in shower shoes, it seemed the real damage might not be discovered until the morning.

But he seems to have escaped that trap.

“He’s feeling pretty good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after a light team workout Wednesday. “He will get treatment throughout the day and then [Thursday], but he’s feeling pretty good today.”

Brooks said Ibaka is continuing to progress and has shown no ill-effects from playing in Games 3 and 4. He missed Games 1 and 2 with a Grade 2 calf strain that the team initially said would keep him out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Less than four minutes into Tuesday’s Game 4, Jackson drove to the basket. He planted his right foot on top of defender Danny Green‘s shoe and his ankle bent downward so far it wouldn’t have been surprising to see bone break flesh.

Jackson hopped all over the floor, flailing his arms in desperate hope of getting any one of the three referees to stop the game action. When the whistle finally blew, an agonizing Jackson hopped on his left leg to the baseline near the Thunder’s bench and crumpled to the floor.

He headed to the locker room, but returned to the bench and then started the second quarter in what seemed at the time to be an admirable, but unrealistic gut-check of his toughness. In the opening 1:25, Jackson missed a reverse layup, misfired a jumper, committed a turnover and then, again, limped off the floor.

“I liked Reggie coming back and trying to make another effort,” Brooks said. “It was a little too sore. I decided to rest him.”

Jackson’s night figured to be over, until he was back on the floor warming up with the team prior to the start of the season half. He would play more than eight minutes in the third quarter before Brooks, with the Thunder in control of the game, decided to rest him for the entire fourth.

“I would’ve played the entire game if I had to,” Jackson said. “I’d have found a way.”

No need on that night, but the fight is hardly over. Brooks has turned to Jackson as a replacement for slumping shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha, who has not played a minute since being benched before Game 3. Jackson played a team-high 37 minutes in that game and posted 15 points, five assists and four rebounds.

He and Ibaka have transformed a decidedly defensive starting lineup, with only Durant and Russell Westbrook as scoring threats, into a faster, attacking offense.

Jackson, 24, is another example of the Thunder’s researched drafting and player development. They drafted Jackson out of Boston College with the 24th pick in 2011. He averaged 11.1 mpg as a rookie with James Harden still on the team, and then just 14.2 mpg last year until he was called upon in the playoffs to replace injured Russell Westbrook.

Before that season, Jackson acknowledged, he began to doubt his ability to cut in the NBA. The playoffs boosted his confidence as he logged more than 30 mpg, but ultimately couldn’t help OKC get out of the second round.

Now he says he knows he belongs. After practice the day before Game 3, the very durable Jackson seemed pleased with his progress, but also sensed just how fragile a player’s body can be during the postseason.

“Hopefully, God-willing,” Jackson said, “I can stay healthy.”

It appears, a scare and some pain notwithstanding, he has.

Spurs letting Thunder party like it’s 2012


VIDEO: Thunder wax Spurs in Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s deja vu all over again.

Hello, 2012.

Can Obama win a second term? Can the Spurs win another game against the Thunder?

There was no need for postgame locker room fireworks this time. Things got explosive early in the third quarter when coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan went jaw-to-jaw over another uncertain pass that led to another sure-thing dunk at the other end.

It’s no longer just about the inspirational presence of Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup.

It’s about the entire energetic, athletic, run-til-the-cows-come-home Thunder lineup. And a Spurs lineup that, just as it did two years ago, suddenly looks like the morning after.

This is no longer a matter of simply asking Tony Parker to play better. It’s about finding a way for the Spurs to regain their poise and effectiveness against an OKC team that in the last two games has come at them like a rolling bundle of butcher knives.

There have been four games played now and four blowouts. But no matter what the series score sheet says, it doesn’t feel like the Western Conference finals are tied at 2-2.

You could say the Spurs have been put back on their heels, if it didn’t look like they were flat on their backs. It’s looking just like two years ago, when the Thunder spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead and then roared back for a reverse sweep.

Remember Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio when the Thunder front line of Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha put up just nine combined points? It pushed Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make a lineup change to get Reggie Jackson on the floor with the starters and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation.

Here was Duncan (nine points) Tiago Splitter (3) and Danny Green (3) managing to squeeze out just a few more drops and the solution is hardly to sound the trumpet for more of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and the Desperation Cavalry.

With the young arms and legs of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lamb and Jackson cutting off angles and jumping into passing lanes, the Thunder have smothered San Antonio’s offense.

With their driving, relentless aggressiveness, OKC has also overwhelmed the Spurs’ defense. Of Westbrook’s 40 points and Durant’s 31, a lion’s share came with them going to hoop and making the Spurs look helpless to do anything about it.

It ended up 21-0 in fast break points. What’s more, in the first half the Spurs did not even run a single transition play. That’s plays, not points.

While Parker came out determined to re-establish his attack mode in the paint, his constant challenging of Ibaka actually took the Spurs out of their offense.

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench. They’d know who Serge was.

“(It was) really unwise basketball … instead of hitting open people that are out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots. We have seven turnovers in the first half, but really 14 because of seven blocks. You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error. You’d better be smart the way you play and you can’t afford to screw up as many times as we did.”

At this time of the season with a core of veterans, there are not Xs and Os to be rearranged on the chalkboard that will deliver a solution. That’s the reason why Popovich pulled Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard when the OKC reached 27 points and it was still the third quarter. He needs to conserve whatever is left in those worn tanks for what is left of the series and maybe the season.

“This has got nothing to do with adjustments,” Popovich said. “It’s about playing smarter and harder for more consistent minutes.”

Not doing that has turned Chesapeake Arena into the Spurs’ own house of horrors.

Since the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs have an NBA-best road record of 62-33 against 28 other teams. But they’re also 0-9 in OKC since then, too.

“I think we should not think like that,” Parker said. “Each game is different, each series, each year.”

So how come it feels like 2012 and we already know how the election and everything else turned out?

24 – Second thoughts — May 27


VIDEO: Serge Ibaka was feeling just fine in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Time travel is real.

Don’t believe it? Just look at how much damage Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder did to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They partied like it was … Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference finals.

What looked to be a whitewash a few days ago is suddenly a series. The Spurs were up 2-0 and in complete control with Ibaka supposedly done for the postseason with that calf strain. Two games later and the momentum has shifted in an entirely different direction with Ibaka, the ultimate rim protector, back in the mix.

Now we have to wait 48 hours to see the next twist and turn in this series. The Thunder reeled off four straight in 2012 to advance to The Finals and face the Miami Heat.

Could we be headed for a repeat performance?

If these two have anything to say about it …

… you never know!

:1

#RelentlessRussWest joins Michael Jordan in that elite playoff category … the 40-10-5 club!

https://twitter.com/SportsVentz/status/471494336581234689

:2

The two true #forcesofnature in these playoffs …

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Thunder rookie Adams gaining trust

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Rookie Steven Adams has given OKC a solid presence in the paint. (Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rookie Steven Adams has given OKC a solid presence in the paint. (Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lost in the Game 3 hoopla of Serge Ibaka‘s return was a solid performance from another Oklahoma City big man raised in a faraway land, who overcame a challenging childhood and has enough siblings to field three basketball teams.

New Zealand native and rookie 7-foot center Steven Adams has that much in common with the Congo’s Ibaka. Their games share few similarities beyond an ability to disrupt an opponent’s activity in the paint. Adams matched Ibaka’s four blocks in the Thunder’s Game 3 win and also added seven points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.

The Thunder’s No. 12 overall pick last summer started the postseason with a small role in the first round against Memphis, garnering 19 total minutes in the first four games. Since, he’s logged at least 19 minutes in seven of the last 11 games, and he played at least 28 minutes in three of the last four.

In those three games, he’s provided 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting, mostly going up for dunks after his man leaves him to help, plus 28 rebounds and six blocks.

“Steven’s impact was good [in Game 3],” Brooks said. “I thought he did a good job of scoring around the basket. He got fouled, so he can obviously do a better job of making free throws (he was 3-for-7). I thought his defense was good. He has a hard job, like we all do. You have to be able to contain all their pick‑and‑roll players, and also get your body back to get the rebounds. But he’s an improving player.”

Adams plays with a fierceness that irritates opponents, sometimes so much that he induces them to make poor decisions. The Memphis Grizzlies still believe they would have won the first-round series if they had Zach Randolph for Game 7. But Randolph was suspended for that game after balling his fist and hitting Adams in the jaw as the two ran down the floor during Game 6.

He’s also an option the Thunder haven’t had in the past as a backup to the more sedentary Kendrick Perkins. The 255-pound Adams is far more athletic and can play with big and small Thunder lineups. He possesses soft hands, making him a trusted receiver of tough bounce passes from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

In Game 3, he took over early when Perkins got into foul trouble. He played a significant role in limiting the Spurs to just 40 points in the paint after they averaged 60 in the first two games.

A repeat performance will go a long way to helping tie the series before heading back to San Antonio.

Westbrook accepts the Parker challenge

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook blocks a Tony Parker shot in Game 3 

OKLAHOMA CITY – Russell Westbrook is taking the Tony Parker challenge.

Spurred by Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ lineup shakeup in Game 3, which removed defensive-minded shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha and inserted Reggie Jackson, the onus of guarding the Spurs’ shifty All-Star point guard falls largely to Westbrook.

Jackson had his own challenge guarding Spurs’ 3-point specialist Danny Green, who was 7-for-10 from beyond the arc in Game 2 and 11-for-16 in the series.

In both cases, the matchups played out favorable to the Thunder in their 106-97 victory. Parker, who was 16-for-29 from the floor with five turnovers in the first two games, was 4-for-13 shooting and with as many turnovers (four) as assists. Green went 2-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“Big focus. I mean, that’s their team,” Westbrook said of his Game 3 defensive plan. “You control him, you can kind of control the rest of everything that goes on. They obviously have good ball movement when he’s in control. You try to control him. He’s definitely going to be aggressive and try to spoil what you can do and make shots for himself.”

As much as power forward Serge Ibaka aided the Thunder’s paint protection, and likely provided the peace of mind for Westbrook and Jackson to defend more aggressively on the perimeter, the new guard combo starting for the first time together simply delivered a greater level of intensity.

In the 2012 Western Conference finals, the 6-foot-7 Sefolosha had success guarding the smaller Parker, but this time Sefolosha’s defensive chops weren’t at a level that made up for his offensive shortcomings — scoreless in the first two games — prompting Brooks to make the switch.

The 6-foot-3 Westbrook has the quickness to keep up with Parker and the strength to at times overpower him.

“At my position, my advantage is my size, my quickness and being bigger than my opponents, so I’ve got to use it to my advantage,” Westbrook said. “Be smart about it, but use it to my advantage.”

With Westbrook and Jackson sharing the backcourt, they can also cross-match defensively whenever necessary.

Offensively, Jackson provided an additional attacker that prevented the Spurs’ defense from loading up on Durant and Westbrook as it had in the first two games. Jackson finished with 15 points, five assists and four rebounds in 37 minutes.

Sefolosha never got off the bench.

It marked the second time this postseason that Brooks opted to sit Sefolosha. In Games 6 and 7 of the first round against Memphis, a series OKC trailed 3-2, Caron Butler replaced Sefolosha and the move paid off. Sefolosha rejoined the starting line throughout the second round against the Los Angeles Clippers.

This time around, it appears Sefolosha will be hard-pressed in this series to get his job back.

Strong-willed Ibaka lifts OKC and just might have transformed a series

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Serge Ibaka does it all in Thunder’s Game 3 win

OKLAHOMA CITY – On the morning of his remarkable return to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound warrior admitted, through deep, dark brown eyes, that he had cried.

Doctors had told Serge Ibaka that his left calf was so badly damaged that he would not be able to play anymore. As the Thunder moved on to the Western Conference Finals, Ibaka sat alone, contemplating what all the hard work had been for, as tears streamed down his cheeks.

It was then that Ibaka determined that what the doctors say does not have to be. He decided the physical pain could be dulled by ice bags, by gnashing molars, by his strong faith and stronger will. The mental anguish of sitting it out would leave a much longer-lasting scar than any injury could.

“Pain is pain,” Ibaka said after the Thunder’s 106-97 Game 3 victory sliced the San Antonio Spurs’ series lead to 2-1. “I don’t want to be here talking about the pain.” 

And so Ibaka, 10 days after sustaining a Grade 2 strain of his left calf, nine days after being ruled out for the entire postseason and five days after not even being able to walk on his own, barreled through the Spurs and in 29 minutes, 36 seconds of action transformed a series.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook fed Ibaka on the team’s opening possession. He rose from 19 feet and swished it. Then again from 20 feet. And again from 18. And then he put it on the floor, drove and dropped in a feathery floater. The crowd roared with raucous approval as Ibaka exited at the seven-minute mark with eight points, three rebounds and two blocks.

“Oh, man, I was so nervous, but you can’t really tell because I was on the court,” Ibaka, his voice full of emotion, told a throng of reporters after receiving 45 minutes of treatment. “I just want to thank my teammates. Thank Russ, he got me going early in the game, Kevin [Durant], Perk [Kendrick Perkins], Reggie [Jackson], and I will never stop thanking them for tonight. I will never forget it. It was very special tonight.”

Just like that, an Oklahoma City team adrift found its bearings and was humming again. Ibaka would finish with 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds, four blocked shots, many more altered, and even a steal.z

With 3:17 showing on the clock and the Thunder up by 18, Ibaka would leave the court pointing his right index finger high toward the sky all the way to the bench, absorbing deafening adulation from a crowd that greeted and left him with a standing ovation, and then finally walking into the open arms of awed teammates. (more…)