Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka’

Morning Shootaround — June 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Jazz seek depth | More straight talk, less Bull, please | Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax

No. 1: Jazz seek depth  — The reported addition of George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to turn their focus to role players, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, after a 2015-16 season in which injuries pulled back a curtain on a roster lacking depth:

Though Utah brass like their young core — including rehabbing Dante Exum and Alec Burks, both expected to be healthy by training camp — the organization has an offseason objective of fortifying the roster.

That means, if possible, acquiring more talent via free agency and/or trades.
Securing veteran playmaker George Hill — whom ESPN’s Zach Lowe described as “a really good point guard” — was a good start for this playoff-hungry franchise.

But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has even more in mind. He’s used words like “active” and “aggressive” in describing how his staff will approach the upcoming free-agency period.

In retrospect, Lindsey took responsibility for not having enough depth on the Jazz roster in 2015-16 to help Quin Snyder deal with the unexpected rash of injuries that the team experienced, including to Exum, Burks, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“We’re not going to sit here and alibi. Every single sports team has injuries,” Lindsey said the day after the team’s 40-42 season ended a couple of wins shy of a playoff spot. “Ultimately, I’m the most responsible up here on the dais — not Quin, not the coaches, not the players — about roster construction.”

The Jazz’s plan last offseason seemed to make sense. The team had finished the 2014-15 season on a tear, winning 21 of their final 32 games led by a dominating defensive surge.

Instead of rolling the dice on acquiring experienced free agents to bolster the up-and-comers, Lindsey & Co. opted to gamble on youth. Injuries — and a late-season collapse — made that plan backfire on a team that came oh-so-close but not close enough.

“If we do this the right way with the right character — and Quin’s such a good communicator — we’ll be able to manage the season better,” Lindsey said. “The players are like everybody else. They saw what happened last season and they know that we know that we need some reinforcements. Come early July, we plan on being very active in the free-agent market.”

***

No. 2: More straight talk, less Bull, please — A year ago, it was the coach’s fault. This season, it was the players’ fault. At some point, it’s going to be management’s fault, even if the Chicago Bulls’ top-heavy down management style doesn’t acknowledge that. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for backing the suits in his front-office, be it with the Bulls or the MLB White Sox. But sooner or later, general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson are going to face some measure of scrutiny and have to ‘fess up for the team’s underperformance the same way former coach Tom Thibodeau did in 2015 and the way Derrick Rose did with his trade last week to New York. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Bulls’ monolithic approach and the growing distrust from many of the teams’ fans:

The bigger issue that emerged is this: Will Bulls fans trust a rebuilding plan designed and executed by a man so many find hard to believe?

With Rose gone, Forman instantly becomes the most polarizing member of the organization, lacking Butler’s popularity while eliciting the most emotional reaction. Lately, it’s Grrrrrrr, Forman. Chicagoans can detect BS as easily as they can spot red-light cameras, and they dislike both.

Forman first sounded disingenuous when he insisted on saying the Bulls are retooling, not rebuilding. Then consider Forman’s muddled confirmation of the Bulls’ interest in Providence point guard Kris Dunn, selected fifth by the Timberwolves

“We liked him. … We had talks like we do about moving up,” Forman said.

Of course the Bulls did. On draft day, teams in flux as much as the Bulls weigh a variety of options, which is what made Forman’s flat denial of [Jimmy] Butler trade talks so implausible. How did the Bulls admittedly explore trading up for Dunn with the Celtics and Timberwolves without dangling Butler — whom both teams wanted?

Forman comes across to those of us who know him as likable and funny, but you never will hear the words candid or transparent used to describe the Bulls GM. With a return to respectability the most realistic goal for 2016-17, the Bulls could use a little candor and a lot of transparency. Anything less threatens to turn people off. A team likely to struggle on the court need not give fans another reason to look away.

The Bulls have no worries related to attendance — the United Center regularly sells out — but the Rose deal reminds us that this is the wrong week to ignore how perception can shape reality in Chicago sports. No metric accurately measures civic confidence, but experience tells me the Bulls rank lower in that category than any other professional sports team in town, at least rivaling the lack of faith in the White Sox. Since the day the Bulls replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg — Forman’s hand-picked candidate — skepticism has surrounded a team whose dysfunctional decline only intensified the scrutiny

Everybody understood how badly Rose needed a change of scenery because of his incompatibility with Butler. But isn’t it fair to wonder how Hoiberg’s arrival exacerbated the problems that hastened Rose’s departure? And who is most responsible for Hoiberg coaching the Bulls? The same executive who just added “I Traded Derrick Rose” to his legacy.

Yet the Bulls have left no doubt whom they want associated most with their latest plan to get past LeBron James. To articulate the Bulls’ biggest transaction of the post-Jordan era, Forman appeared alone to face questions. To discuss drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, an excellent pick that created a positive ripple, Forman again sat solo behind the microphone.

***

No. 3: Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax — Reputations matter. So do resumes. So when a successful team completes a trade with an unsuccessful team, there might be some bias involved when folks on the outside evaluate the deal, tilting its apparent merits ever so slightly. That’s what Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz sees in the reactions to the Magic-Thunder trade in which veteran power forward Serge Ibaka was shipped to central Florida in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis. What allegedly looks so lopsided to some doesn’t appear that way to Schmitz:

This is what happens when you lose as much as Orlando has the past four seasons: You lose credibility locally and nationally.

A lot of what you do will be panned by the public – no matter if essentially trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka makes sense for the Magic.

The Magic had, as [GM Rob] Hennigan called it, a “logjam” of wing players, thus making Oladipo expendable. The Thunder had a stable of big men, thus making Ibaka expendable. The underlying theme in both scenarios is that Oladipo and Ibaka will be looking for new contracts after next season. Neither player was particularly happy at times with their role last season.

So instead of the trade being portrayed more as good for both teams – ESPN’s Chad Ford did call it that — it is being hailed as a win for the Thunder.

“We need to call the cops — OKC robbed Orlando,” tweeted HBO Sports’ Bill Simmons.

“I don’t bet against [Thunder GM] Sam Presti when it comes to picking players. Trading Ibaka for Sabonis/Oladipo/Ilyasova? Advantage, OKC,” tweeted Skip Bayless of Fox Sports.

After I lauded Hennigan’s move, I received an-email from a ticked-off Magic fan that echoed others: “That’s a bad trade and a bad column. Let’s face it. This Magic GM is just as bad as the last one.”

Perception is a funny thing.

The trade made by the Thunder is largely considered genius because they’re contenders. The deal made by the Magic is largely considered wrong-headed because they’re bottom-dwellers.

Orlando also is perceived as a somewhat dysfunctional franchise, and it’s not without merit. They couldn’t keep Dwight Howard or — most recently — Scott Skiles from walking out.

I get it: OKC earns the benefit of the doubt.

But when you have All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, any move the Thunder make tends to look brilliant. They skew the evaluation system.

Why, all of a sudden, Oladipo has morphed into Dwyane Wade and Ibaka is viewed as a spare part. An ESPN.com article even suggests that this trade moves OKC ahead of Golden State in the West. Wow, if Oladipo had that kind of impact, the Magic should have won more games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes on board, Team USA’s roster finally looks set. … There is a Minnesota media crush on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio that might not be shared by new coach Tom Thibodeau and it has some in the Twin Cities fretting. … What is life like for Knicks’ prospect Kristaps Porzingis back home in Latvia? Esquire magazine with the answer to everyone’s most pressing question.

Morning shootaround — June 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Trade talks for Butler fizzle out | Celtics stand pat on Draft night | Magic, Thunder both benefit from trade

No. 1: Reports: Trade talks for Butler fizzle on Draft night — On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls dealt former MVP and hometown hero Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. On Thursday night, the Bulls held the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft and as the night unfolded, rumors began to circulate that the Bulls were looking to trade their lone remaining star, Jimmy Butler, to perhaps the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ultimately, Butler wasn’t dealt and remains in Chicago, but K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details why that’s the case (and some of the deals Chicago was offered):

The Bulls held advanced discussions with the Celtics centered on Butler and the No. 3 pick. One proposal featured Avery Bradley, a source said. Another involved Jae Crowder, a second source said. Other pieces would have been included.

But the Celtics have a reputation around the league of trying to win trades, and the overall package kept changing and never met the Bulls’ liking, sources said. Management understands the talent and value of Butler. And the Bulls ultimately liked the package they received from the Knicks for Rose more than the package offered for Butler.

Butler is on a favorable deal in the age of the rising salary cap. And the Bulls appreciate his two-way talents and hard work ethic, which is why the internal debate proved so engaging. Talks with the Timberwolves, who selected Dunn at No. 5 after the Celtics passed on him, stalled when they offered Ricky Rubio and the No. 5 pick, sources said.

“We like Jimmy Butler,” Forman said. “We didn’t shop Jimmy Butler.”

In a scene reminiscent of Elton Brand visiting the Berto Center in 2001 after Jerry Krause traded him to the Clippers for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler, Butler stopped by the Advocate Center for a workout. He was in an area off limits to reporters.

Timberwolves coach and President Tom Thibodeau told reporters in Minnesota he drafted Dunn to keep him.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more on how the Wolves angle of the trade sputtered out and how Forman tried to recover after it:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Timberwolves drafted Dunn, after the Providence guard unexpectedly lasted until the fifth pick, then pushed hard to see whether they could hammer out a trade with the Bulls, who are also known to be big fans of Dunn.

But the Bulls, sources say, ultimately decided not to go ahead with a deal in which they’d be forced to surrender Butler just one day after completing a blockbuster trade with New York that sent Derrick Rose to the Knicks.

Butler was actually spotted at the Bulls’ facility Thursday evening, a source told ESPN.com, but Bulls general manager Gar Forman said after the draft that he didn’t even know Butler was in the building and tried to cool off trade speculation regarding the two-time All-Star.

“Jimmy’s in and out of the building all the time when he’s in town,” Forman said, “During the draft, we started getting some texts and saw something on TV that we were in heated talks with somebody. I don’t know what it was saying. We were in no talks with anybody. There was no discussion during the entire draft this evening as far as Jimmy Butler was concerned.”

Butler rubbed teammates and front-office personnel the wrong way last season when he tried to take a more vocal leadership role within the locker room. But Forman, in a display of semantic gymnastics, held to the fact that the Bulls weren’t actively shopping Butler.

“We have never made a call in regards to Jimmy Butler,” Forman said. “We’ve talked about, we value Jimmy Butler, we’re very happy to have Jimmy Butler. We’ve got a phenomenal basketball player who was an All-Star and All-NBA defender, is still young. Obviously we’ve got him under contract long-term, those are all positive. He, again, is what we want to be. We’ve said this all along. We like Jimmy Butler, we did not shop Jimmy Butler. Did we receive calls? Of course we did, and that’s our job to listen to calls. We get calls on a lot of our players, and that’s stuff that happens all throughout the league.”

“You’ve got to keep an open mind,” Forman said in regard to a potential future Butler deal. “I think [Bulls executive vice president] John Paxson said it best when we met [with the media] in [April]. He was only around one guy in an 11-year career that was untradable, and that was Michael Jordan. I mean, you’re always going to listen, but we value — and I’ve said this — we value Jimmy. We appreciate Jimmy. We think Jimmy is a heck of a basketball player. We love his work ethic. And for us to ever consider anything, it would have to be something that just absolutely knocked our socks off.”

***

(more…)

Thunder trade Ibaka to Magic in four-player deal

VIDEO: Proposed Thunder-Magic deal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In something of a Draft-night stunner, the Oklahoma City Thunder will part ways with Serge Ibaka in a trade with the Orlando Magic that will send Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, the 11th pick in Thursday night’s Draft.

The deal was first reported by The Vertical.

Ibaka was a core member of a Thunder team headlined by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Ibaka served as the defensive anchor for the Thunder early on in his career before ceding that role to Steven Adams in the past two seasons. Moving Ibaka comes at an odd time, with Durant set to become a free agent July 1.

Ibaka immediately joins Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon in a Orlando frontcourt that should be a team strength under new coach Frank Vogel.

Oladipo gives the Thunder another young wing player to add to their rotation, a shooting guard who can play both ends of the floor at a high level. Ilyasova is a veteran floor spacing forward and Sabonis, the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, is a rugged big man who starred in college at Gonzaga.

 

Blogtable: What’s next for Oklahoma City Thunder and for Kevin Durant?

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: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> So what now for free agent Kevin Durant? And what now for the Thunder?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You’d be crazy to guess at this point, but the trend lines seem to be going in Oklahoma City’s favor, at least for one more year. As detailed in the Morning Tip on Monday, if Durant signs a two-year deal this summer with the Thunder with a one-year out, he’d set himself up for a potential five-year contract with OKC in the summer of 2017 for more than $200 million. Now, money isn’t the only thing driving Durant’s decision making, of course (and especially given the $250-plus million he’s already banking from Nike), but that’s not a sum you dismiss out of hand. More importantly, OKC’s rapid development the second half of the season and in the playoffs surely gives the Thunder more than a fighting chance of keeping its superstar. Coach Billy Donovan was more than comfortable matching Xs and Os with top-shelf coaches. Steven Adams went Beast Mode on opponents. Andre Roberson carried his weight offensively against the San Antono Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Serge Ibaka again asserted himself as a defensive force and Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter gave the Thunder one of the league’s best benches. And, oh yeah, Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrook. So, if you’re Durant, and you already like living someplace where people basically leave you be, and your team showed itself a legit title contender…where can you go that’s better? The Los Angeles Clippers’ core is older and the Miami Heat’s future is uncertain with Chris Bosh‘s health concerns. The Spurs already have an All-Star small forward in Kawhi Leonard. OKC already had the power of incumbency. After its playoff run, I’d put its chances at retaining Durant at 3-1.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Kevin Durant is interested in pursuing a championship, he should stay right where he’s at. That team has the talent and depth to contend again next season, and the Thunder surely can find ways to complement Durant and Russell Westbrook‘s firepower in a more balanced attack. Durant won’t find a more committed organization or adoring fan base, either. Now if it’s lifestyle he’s seeking, then fine, go live and work where you want to, the way 99 percent of America’s workforce does it — or could, if people really looked at their options. I don’t think he can get much more famous or ever spend any difference in off-court income that a bigger market might provide, but that would be Durant’s choice. For theatre, it would be fun to see Durant land on one of about a dozen different rosters, just to feel the NBA landscape shift. But for sheer balling, OKC seems to suit Durant fine. And vice versa.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Thunder simply wait on Durant. They don’t campaign or twist his arm or send him love letters. They just wait for Durant to reach the conclusion — and he might already be there — that there is no better place for him than Oklahoma City, where he is appreciated, adored and, most importantly, has the pieces already on hand to come right back next season and make another championship run. Where does he find another Russell Westbrook to be his sidekick? Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson all are the real thing. And coach Billy Donovan showed he has the chops. Does Durant sign a long-term deal in July or take the LeBron James one-year option and cash in even bigger next season? That’s for him to figure out. But one way or another, I believe he stays in OKC. For good.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing’s changed. Durant comes back for one season plus an option and goes through free agency for real in the summer of 2017. That has been my belief since before the playoff started, and nothing that happened in the postseason alters the opinion. There are a ton of reasons to stay in OKC well beyond 2016-17. He knows it and does not take the positives there for granted. What now for the Thunder? Respond to the ache of that elimination. How it changes them, if at all, will be one of the early storylines to watch for next season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Summer of Durant will fall flatter than OKC did late in Game 6 when Durant decides to return to OKC for at least another year. So much for drama. That’s the safe route, one that leaves him an out, if he so wishes to use it in 2017 when Russell Westbrook‘s deal is up. Meanwhile, OKC will be OK, provided the Thunder find a shooter (and he isn’t Dion Waiters, either). Folks need to calm down about this team. OKC beat a 67-win San Antonio Spurs team and took the 73-win Golden State Warriors to the brink. No shame in that, even if they were up 3-1.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLogic says that he should sign a two-year deal with the Thunder that gives him the option to be a free agent again next summer, when the max salary is projected to be higher than it is this year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs a long-term deal to remain in Oklahoma City. I would be surprised if he leaves after coming so close to a return to The Finals. The Thunder don’t need much to get over the hump. It would help to have a wing who can both shoot and defend at a high level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kevin Durant knew the day would come when he could no longer duck the free agency questions. Yet he still found a way to do so even in the moments after the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their collapse in the Western Conference finals. He insisted that he hadn’t given free agency a thought. Sure. Just go ahead and sign the two-year deal with the player option for the second season so we can get not to the free agents that might actually be in play for all of these teams with cap space to use up. The Thunder have no choice but to wait Durant out and see what his final decision will be. They’re clearly closer to championship level right now that many of us thought prior to their playoff run. So they should feel much better about a future that includes Durant.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t Durant have to return for at least one more year? Midway through the conference finals he and Russell Westbrook were playing the best basketball of their careers. It makes no sense to give up on their longterm investment when it is so close to paying off.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI’ve seen numerous people say that if Kevin Durant wants his best chance at winning a title, he would leave OKC and go to the Eastern Conference. Which I don’t think is correct. To get to The Finals in the East you have to go through LeBron James, and that is one heckuva roadblock. To me, as we just saw, as presently constructed the Thunder are nearly good enough to get to The Finals. So I think KD stays, at least for a year. Although, I feel like the Thunder are still one rotation player away, some sort of swingman type who can score when needed and reduce the land on KD/Westbrook. (An interesting name who might be motivated to make a fit work? How about Carmelo Anthony?) They just need one more contributor. For so long the Thunder had Derek Fisher as their off guard in crunch time, and this year they made a reach for Randy Foye who they couldn’t really use in crunch time. Making this an even tougher situation is that they don’t have time to develop a young player — this a team needs to win now. Good luck balancing all of that, Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Morning shootaround — June 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron not worried about Finals odds | Barnes unsure if he will start in Game 1 | Durant’s offseason begins

No. 1: LeBron not listening to oddsmakers’ predictions for Finals In Cleveland, the Cavaliers have been in wait-and-see mode ever since they wrapped up the Eastern Conference title on May 27 with a Game 6 rout of the Toronto Raptors. In Oakland, the Golden State Warriors’ win in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals clinched a return trip to The Finals and another date with the Cavs. In Las Vegas, the sports books have taken this and other data into consideration and declared the Warriors the heavy favorites in the series. As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com writes, though, the odds mean little to Cavs star LeBron James at this point:

According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Golden State is a 5.5-point favorite to win Thursday’s Game 1 (9 p.m. ET, ABC) and approximately a 2-to-1 favorite to capture the championship.

“Not my concern,” James said Tuesday, speaking to the media for the first time since the Cavs’ Finals rematch with Golden State was set. “I don’t get involved in all of that — underdog, overdog, whatever the case may be. It’s stupidity.”

James was confident in the Cavs’ chances compared to last June when Cleveland lost Games 4, 5 and 6 and the series after being up 2-1, but he framed that confidence as nothing that warrants special attention.

“We’re better built to start the Finals than we were last year,” James said. “Doesn’t matter who it’s against. I mean, that’s not a headline. It’s obvious.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the significance of the Warriors’ success against the Cavs in the past as a factor for the Finals.

“I wouldn’t say revenge,” Lue said. “I just think both teams are happy and excited to make it to the Finals. It’s a big thing, and I just think that we have a different team than we had last year. Organization-wise, it’s the same two teams, but playing-wise and players-wise, we’re a different team. Kevin [Love]and Kyrie [Irving] are both healthy, the addition of Channing Frye, we’re a completely different team than we were last year.”

And based on Irving’s response when asked about the Warriors’ 34-point drubbing of his team in Cleveland on Jan. 22, the Cavs believe they are a completely different team than they were several months ago, too.

“In January?” Irving said Tuesday. “I don’t remember it.”

Irving said that the memory of going out with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of last year’s Finals isn’t giving him any extra motivation for him this time around.

“No, the Finals are the Finals,” Irving said. “Just happy that we’re back here again.”

Morning shootaround — May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant versus Iguodala in Game 7 showdown | Warriors’ Kerr keeping it simple for Game 7 | DeRozan’s focus is on Toronto | Report: Bosh, Heat clashed over use of blood thinners

No. 1: Durant versus Iguodala in Game 7 showdown Tonight’s Game 7 showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder includes a number of wicked subplots, including a battle within the battle between one of basketball’s most lethal scorers in Kevin Durant against one of the game’s truly elite defenders in Andre Iguodala. The winner of this matchup will have a colossal impact on this game, the same way it did in the Warriors’ Game 6 victory, as Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

Kevin Durant has an earned offensive arrogance. He won a scoring title at age 21 and three more before his 26th birthday.

So even after the roughest of performances — like, say, a 10-of-31 showing in a gut-wrenching Game 6 home loss with the NBA Finals on the line — Durant’s refuses to doubt himself publicly.

“On the offensive end, you don’t have to worry about me,” Durant said Sunday afternoon. “I’m a professional scorer. I tend to figure things out.”
Professional scorer meet professional defender. Warriors reserve forward Andre Iguodala re-entered the game with 6:33 left on Saturday night and the Warriors trailing by four. From that point on, the Thunder committed six turnovers and only made three shots.

Golden State closed on a season-saving 21-10 run, remembered most for the Splash Brothers shooting barrage but fueled most by Iguodala’s defensive dominance. His late-game fingerprints were everywhere.

“The interesting part about him is obviously last year he’s the MVP in The Finals,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “But he just appears to be the kind of player that whatever their team needs against a specific series or opponent or player, he’s able to try to provide to the best of his ability.”

In this series, he’s easily the Warriors best matchup on Durant. Harrison Barnes starts on KD, but Iguodala handles the brunt of the work and the big moments. Golden State coach Steve Kerr even started Iguodala over Barnes in the second half on Saturday, a sign of earned trust during the Warriors most desperate moment.

The Thunder had the ball and a three-point lead with three minutes to go. Durant had it isolated on the wing. Iguodala was draped on him. As Durant drove and spun and located help, Iguodala tracked his every move, cut off all windows and forced an errant pass right before the shot clock buzzer.

The Warriors scooped up the steal, pushed it in transition and found Stephen Curry for a game-tying, wide-open 3 — set up by the turnover that was set up by Iguodala.

With 1:49 to go and the game tied at 101, Durant screened Russell Westbrook‘s man, an action the Thunder commonly run late to get favorable switches. But Iguodala and Klay Thompson are versatile enough to trade-off without worry.

Iguodala took Westbrook and slid with the quick-burst point guard on a drive. Westbrook got to about 12 feet out and turned for a fadeaway. But as he gathered, Iguodala timed his move perfectly, raking down and ripping the ball away. Iguodala gathered his third steal, pushed it upcourt and then fed Thompson perfectly for the go-ahead 3-pointer.

He’s always kind of our unsung hero,” Kerr said. “He never has the numbers that jump out at you in the box score, so people don’t write about him or show him much on the highlights. But he’s a phenomenal defensive player and he’s an incredibly intelligent player.”

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr keeping it simple for Game 7 — He understands the gravity of a Game 7, having played in three during his championship playing career. Warriors coach Steve Kerr understands that any drastic changes to the plan at this stage of the series wouldn’t be prudent, not at this juncture. So he’s keeping things simple for his team, which has won the past two games to crawl out of a 3-1 hole and put themselves into a position to reach The Finals for a second straight season. Rusty Simmons of the San Fransisco Chronicle has more:

Among the first 232 teams that trailed 3-1 since the league went to a seven-game format, only nine have won the series.

Things certainly looked bleak for the Warriors after consecutive 20-point losses had them facing elimination for the first time in Steve Kerr’s two-year tenure, but they’ve won two in a row to get the odds back on their side. Home teams are 100-24 in Game 7s. In conference finals, teams that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to play Game 7 at home are 8-2.

“What stands out the most is our team’s grit and hanging in there after being blown out twice in Oklahoma City,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Sunday afternoon, sitting in the shadow of the Warriors’ 2015 championship banner at the team’s downtown Oakland practice facility. “To show that kind of heart and grit was great.”

End-of-the-bench guys Ian Clark and James Michael McAdoo ran wind sprints in the background while Kerr spoke, but the regulars were given the day to re-energize, sleep and relax.

Kerr didn’t even have the players watch video of Game 6’s thrilling comeback win — a game in which they were down by as many as 13 points, still trailed by seven with fewer than five minutes to play and didn’t take a lead of more than three until Stephen Curry’s high-arching bank shot made it 106-101 with 14.3 seconds left.

Kerr said Curry, who is dealing with ankle and knee pain and also took another shot to his bruised elbow Saturday, looked “bouncier and livelier” in Game 6. The Warriors’ point guard said he likes being banged up, because the pain helps him understand the magnitude of the moment.

During his 13-minute media meeting Sunday, Kerr repeatedly talked about the need to simplify things in Game 7 — a stage that can naturally create jittery nerves under sports’ most intense spotlight.

Kerr said he didn’t anticipate starting Andre Iguodala in Game 7 after the Warriors’ sixth man started the second half of Game 6 and fueled the team’s game-closing 9-0 run. Instead, Kerr leaned toward a simple game plan, the same that was used to win a record 73 regular-season games and the one that was on full display during the fourth quarter Saturday: rebound, limit turnovers, play tough defense.

The Warriors have been outrebounded by nearly six boards per game in the series, but they were nearly even (10-9) in the fourth quarter Saturday. They’ve committed more than 15 turnovers per game in the series, but coughed up only one during the final 12 minutes of Game 6. They’ve allowed Oklahoma City to shoot 44.5 percent in the series, but pressured the Thunder into missing 14 of their final 19 shots.

It all added up to an improbable Game 6 victory and had Green bobbing through the corridors of the Oklahoma City arena in anticipation of the biggest game of his life.

“Any Game 7 brings a whole different energy,” Green said. “… Game 7 is Game 7, whether it’s in the conference final or the first round.

“That’s what people live for.”

***

No. 3: DeRozan’s focus is on Toronto — Free agency will be here soon enough for Toronto Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan. Plenty of teams with ample cap space will attempt draw his attention elsewhere, but DeRozan insists his focus is on continuing what he and Kyle Lowry have built in Toronto. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com provides the details:

 DeMar DeRozan expressed a desire to stay with the Toronto Raptors one day after his team was eliminated from the playoffs.

DeRozan, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has been with the Raptors for his entire career. He was asked specifically if he can find a better situation than Toronto

“I don’t think so,” DeRozan said Saturday. “My mindset has always been Toronto. I’ve always preached it. I was passionate about it when we were losing, when we were terrible. I said I was going to stick through this whole thing, and I want to be that guy who brings this organization to where it is now. I definitely don’t want to switch that up after we win.”

DeRozan, a two-time All-Star who averaged 23.5 points per game during the regular season, has been linked to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, who could be one of several teams to offer him a maximum contract starting at $25 million annually.

Per collective bargaining rules, the Raptors will be able to offer DeRozan up to five years at around $145 million, whereas other teams will be able to offer him up to four years at around $107 million. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri will address the media early next week.

“I grew up in L.A. That’s my home. There’s not a part of L.A. I haven’t seen,” said DeRozan, who attended Compton High School and USC before being selected No. 9 overall by Toronto in the 2009 NBA draft. “I don’t get caught up into it. I let whoever comes up with that say what they want to say.

“The only thing appealing to me is the things I’ve done in this organization and the things that can be done here. And that’s always been my mindset since I’ve been here.”

This is not the first time DeRozan has made his hopes known.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time. I haven’t changed, not one bit,” DeRozan said. “I took pride in putting that Raptors jersey on when people counted us out or when people said, ‘Why go to Toronto? Why this, why that, why this, why that?’ You hear it so much — that gave me the motivation to want to prove people wrong or prove critics wrong — why this organization can’t be a winning organization. You know what I mean? I took pride in that a long time ago. To see how far [we’ve come], that’s what it’s all about.”

***

No. 4: Report: Bosh, Heat clashed over use of blood thinners Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat are forging ahead together in an effort to get the All-Star forward back on the court next season after he finished each of the past two seasons in street clothes because of his issues with blood clots. But the sides clashed this past season over the use of blood thinners, according to a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

The sides remain hopeful he will return next season, barring a setback. So why did Bosh believe he could come back for the playoffs and the Heat resisted?

The Heat was adamantly opposed to allowing him to play while taking blood-thinners because it would be very dangerous for someone on thinners who sustained a cut, or fell hard and started bleeding internally, during a game.

According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.

Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.

None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg — an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.

“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After careful consideration P.J. Carlesimo has decided not to pursue the assistant coach vacancy in Philadelphia created by Mike D’Antoni‘s departure … Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue has made plenty of fans since taking over for David Blatt earlier this season, and that includes the two most important people in the organization, LeBron James and Dan GilbertGiannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis hit the streets to play ball in Greece over the weekend

Finals berth not only thing on line in Game 7 for Warriors, Thunder

There’s no need to minimize it or insult the process by saying it’s just another basketball game. Well, yes, it’s only a game, but plenty is at stake for the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and the principles involved in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

So let’s run it down here:

Golden State Warriors: All but one team that won 68 or more regular season games also took the championship (the 1972-73 Celtics came up short) and four of the six teams that won 67 were crowned. Which is to say the 2015-16 Warriors, who sit at the top of the heap among regular-season titans, would be forced to wear a nasty pimple on their nose should they fall to the Thunder. They should at least reach the NBA Finals after 73 wins, shouldn’t they? That’s probably the widely-held opinion in basketball circles, anyway, that the Warriors, by way of their own brilliance, have given themselves no choice.

If they double their pleasure and follow up 73 wins with a back-to-back title run, Golden State would demand to be in the conversation about best teams in NBA history. And if they don’t? Well, there wouldn’t be any shame in falling to a loaded and finally-healthy OKC team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right? Don’t know about that. The way the Warriors pulverized the field from November through April, there certainly would and maybe should be some level of disappointment if they didn’t defend their title. Debate that if you wish, but a failure to reach the ultimate goal would leave a nasty taste.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When they reached the NBA Finals in 2012 with a nucleus of three players 22 and younger, it was easy to conclude that OKC, at the very least, would have a title by now. But, stuff happened. Bad stuff, mainly injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka that benched them from the playoffs. And James Harden was traded. The good news is OKC is finally fit and desperate to reclaim their place in line, which currently is occupied by Golden State. Sam Presti, the GM, has done a good job in the post-Harden era by giving Westbrook and Durant a very functional supporting cast. If OKC loses this game, the Thunder could begin to wonder how many more cracks they’ll get.

Kevin Durant: It’s not totally his fault that he’s The Best Player Without A Title; circumstances have played a role. Still, will he suddenly be lumped with Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and a host of other greats who are missing something? And of course, there’s the mater of addressing the elephant in the room: Does a Game 7 loss nudge Durant in the direction of signing elsewhere as a free agent this summer?

Stephen Curry: He has shot, by his standards, somewhat poorly in this series, just 42.2 percent since Game 2. And there have been stretches where the two-time MVP has looked ordinary, perhaps because he isn’t completely healthy. With greatness comes additional expectations that might be unrealistic to an extent. Curry can erase all of that with a massive Game 7, which he’s fully capable of pulling off. If he comes up short, then LeBron James will spend his time in The Finals saying I-told-you-so.

Draymond Green: Overall, it’s been a messy series for Green, what with the groin kick and the constant yapping at the referees, the awful performances in Games 3 and 4 and the lost margin for error regarding flagrant fouls (one more and he’s suspended). Green is discovering that when you move up in class in the NBA, from a good role player to an All-NBA team member, the demands rise as well. How does he respond?

Russell Westbrook: We’ve seen the Good Russ and the Reckless Russ in this series, sometimes in the same game or the same quarter. When the Thunder assumed a 3-1 lead, he was the best player after four games. When the Thunder lost the momentum two games later, it was partly because Westbrook either missed shots and/or lost control of the ball. When his game is pure and clean, he’s a sight to behold. When it isn’t, Mark Cuban might be right.

Klay Thompson: The most consistently good Warriors guard in this series, and the playoffs, isn’t Curry. Thompson has proven why he’s so valuable to the Warriors. He’s a great player — making All-NBA gives you that distinction — who is fine with riding shotgun. Like all shooters, Thompson can go cold at times, but when he’s squaring up at the rim and releasing, is there a purer shooter in the game? Certainly not in this series. Plus, Thompson must guard Westbrook. OKC should be more concerned with him than Curry.

 

Morning shootaround — May 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder can’t pull off clinching win | Green gets back into gear | Magic plan to be active in free agency | Why Beal will likely get max deal

No. 1: Key surge in fourth quarter gets Warriors past Thunder The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to wait at least another day to clinch what they hope will be their second Finals trip in four seasons. Although the Thunder took the Golden State Warriors’ best shot time and again in Game 5 of their Western Conference finals series last night, ultimately the Warriors prevailed to trim OKC’s series lead to 3-2. As Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman points out, a key stretch to start the fourth quarter proved the difference in this still super-close series:

Oracle Arena was alive but nervous. The Warriors’ eight-point halftime lead had been sliced to four. Twelve minutes remained — maybe in their season. And to start that crucial fourth quarter, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were on the bench.

A risky move from Steve Kerr. A chance for OKC to pounce. But, instead, the Warriors bench mob blasted open the game in a flash and created the separation their starters would need to close out Game 5 with a 120-111 victory and send the Western Conference finals back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night.

“I don’t know if it was the stretch (that won the game),” Kerr said. “But it was a very important stretch.”

….

Golden State went with Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Marresse Speights to start the fourth. The crowd grumbled.

But Livingston eased the tension with a 16-footer over Enes Kanter, whose rough night led to a postseason-low six minutes.

Dion Waiters, who went scoreless off the Thunder bench, threw a bad pass on the ensuing possession. It was picked off by Barnes and fed to Iguodala on the fastbreak eight seconds later. From the wing, Iguodala canned a 3. In 56 crucial seconds, Golden State had spiked its lead from four to nine.

To try and stem the tide, Billy Donovan called timeout and pulled Kanter, reinserting Serge Ibaka. But out of the break, sandwiched by a Thunder offensive rebound, Kevin Durant and Waiters missed jumpers. Livingston snared the rebound and found Barnes moments later.

Another three. The lead was suddenly 12, Golden State’s biggest on the night, while Green and the Splash Brothers played spectator.

“It was (a game-changer),” Durant said of that 8-0 spurt. “They made shots. They made those two threes that were huge for them and kind of stretched the lead. That was tough.”

Morning Shootaround — May 23


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder rush started with a kick | LeBron vows to protect himself | Green’s kick will get more scrutiny | Waiters at center of OKC’s passing fancy

No. 1: Thunder rush started with a kick The blitz started after Draymond Green delivered a kick to the nether regions on Steven Adams and by the time it was over, the Oklahoma City Thunder had blown the Golden State Warriors off the court in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Whatever notion there was that the reigning champion Warriors were head and shoulders better than a team they beat all three times during the regular season seems to have vanished. But as our very own Shaun Powell explains, the Thunder rush in Game 3 started with a kick:

This might be the first documented case where somebody kicked someone else in the manhood, and the kicker collapsed harder than the victim.

This isn’t meant to make light of Draymond Green‘s curious foot placement on the body of Steven Adams, but an attempt to explain what happened next, how Green and the Warriors wound up wearing the ice bag and wincing. Through three games of the Western Conference finals, they’re down 2-1 to the Thunder, and fresh off a Game 3 beatdown, and facing their most serious challenge since becoming a superteam a little more than a year ago.

There’s certainly no reason for them to panic, or to overstate a 28-point loss. It is, however, time for them and everyone to concede the obvious, that this Oklahoma City team and this series is unlike anything the Warriors have seen before.

The record will show the Warriors trailed 2-1 twice in the playoffs since last season, to the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. Each time the Warriors responded emphatically, and both on the road. They won by 17 in Memphis and 21 in Cleveland and once order was swiftly restored, the Warriors went about the business of being champions.

But these aren’t the scoring-challenged Grizzlies or the injury-ravaged Cavs. These are the Thunder, healthy and loaded, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked in. Finally, the Warriors are being confronted by a threat without asterisks, an opponent on their level or close enough.

And what do we make of the Warriors at this point? Well, it’ll be up to the NBA police to determine if Green’s kick was malicious enough to warrant a one-game suspension. After having the ball stripped from him during a jump shot against Adams, Green’s right foot caught Adams flush during the follow through. That will be tricky for the league; how can you know for sure about intent? Without that, it would be a reach if the NBA punishes Green and therefore affects a playoff series, even though Cleveland’s Dahntay Jones was just hit with a suspension for a similar crime, and even if this was the second time in as many games where Green connected with Adams’ groin.

No surprise, there was dueling stances on the subject.

Adams: “It’s happened before. He’s pretty accurate.”

Westbrook: “I don’t think you can keep kicking somebody in their private areas. It looks intentional to me.”

Green: “I was following through with my shot and my leg went up. I don’t see how anyone can say I did that on purpose. I didn’t even know it happened.”

Green did plead guilty of delivering a dud of a performance, and for that, he kicked himself.

“Awful,” he said.

***

No. 2: LeBron James vows to protect himself As the physicality continues to rise in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James has made a vow to protect himself. What, exactly, he’s protecting himself from remains the question, especially since he’s initiated as much contact as he’s received from the Toronto Raptors. But after things got a little testy for both sides in Game 3, LeBron has made a vow to protect himself tonight in Game 4 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

This is not the first time LeBron James vowed to protect himself.

After Cleveland’s 99-84 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern finals Saturday night – the Cavs’ first loss of the postseason – James was asked about his ability to shake off hard fouls without retaliation.

There were a couple against him in Game 3 – including one by his own teammate – and James got a little testy as the contact continued but ultimately dusted himself off and went to the foul line.

One play in particular, a hard foul committed by one of the Raptors’ stars of the night, Bismack Biyombo, in which he wrapped James around the neck and popped him in the jaw to try to stop a layup with 3:21 to go, was on James’ brain.

Biyombo was assessed a flagrant foul. But in the immediate aftermath of the play, James first jumped toward Biyombo before peeling away to cool off. He made both free throws to cut the Cavs’ deficit to 12.

“At the end of the day, I’m important to this team,” James said. “I can’t afford to react in any kind of way that will get me thrown out of a game, but I will protect myself, I will protect myself.”

And then James quoted his friend and rapper Jay Z, using the following reference to illustrate his place as one of the NBA’s brightest stars, and the target on his back that exists because of it.

Quoting Jay Z’s “The Streets is Watching,” James said “If I shoot you, then I’m brainless; if you shoot me, you’re famous.”

The Cavaliers essentially shrugged off the loss. They tipped their caps to the Raptors, and said there was little they needed to change after the 15-point defeat. Just play a little better.

Asked if losing for the first time in the playoffs constituted “adversity,” James said “why not?” Commenting on the collectively poor outings from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who shot a combined 4-of-28, James quipped “I think it’s good for them.”

There was virtually no sense coming from the Cavs that this series had changed yet, that the upper hand so firmly in Cleveland’s grasp had slipped. But James and the Cavs are definitely going to have to protect themselves.

***

No. 3: Green’s kick will get more scrutiny Draymond Green insists his kick that landed below the waist line of Steven Adams was not intentional. Whether or not that explanation satisfies the league’s disciplinary office remains to be seen. One way or another, word will come down before Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup (9 p.m. ET, TNT). Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group takes a deeper dive into the play that changed the game and perhaps the series:

Draymond Green insisted his kick in the area of the family jewels of Steven Adams was unintentional as he flailed on the follow-through to draw a foul.

While Adams crouched in agony as Green pleaded his case, it all went the Oklahoma City Thunder’s way after that.

The Warriors were blasted by the Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, losing 133-105 on Sunday and now trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Afterward, Green had to answer for the low blow.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I hit him,” Green said of Adams. “I walked to the 3-point line, clapped everybody’s hand. I turned around, he’s on the floor. I’m going like, ‘What happened?’ ”

After Green was whistled for a flagrant foul and hit two free throws on the shooting foul, the Thunder responded with a 24-5 run to close out the first half with a 72-47 lead.

“This is the Western Conference finals,” Warriors center Festus Ezeli said coach Steve Kerr told the team.

“It was just like a stern, ‘We know we’re better than that.’ “

The 72 points were the most allowed by the Warriors in any half this season, as they lost their poise in the heat of a frenetic playoff game on the road.

Fans chanted “kick him out” at the officials as they reviewed video of Green’s kick to Adams., but a Flagrant Foul 1 was assessed that he didn’t think he deserved.

“If I was throwing a shot, I’m not trying to kick somebody in the midsection,” Green said. “I’m sure he’d want to have kids one day. I’m not trying to end that on the basketball court. That don’t make sense.

“I know my core’s not strong enough to stop my leg halfway from wherever it was going.”

Asked if he felt the kick was intentional or not, Adams said, “I have no idea, mate. That’s for other people to make the judgment.”

***

No. 4: Dion Waiters at the center of Thunder ball movement party He wouldn’t be the first person you’d look for when the topic of ball movement comes up regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder. But there he was in Game 3 Sunday, Dion Waiters in the middle of the ball movement mix for a Thunder team that dismantled the Golden State Warriors by sharing the wealth beyond just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Erik Horne of the The Oklahoman explains:

With the Thunder leading by three points in the first quarter, Billy Donovan made his first substitution at 7:19, bringing in Dion Waiters.

Less than two minutes later, Waiters picked up the ball on the break and saw 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli in front of him. The Thunder guard hesitated a beat to get Ezeli thinking he was going to pull up for a jumper. Wrong.

Waiters blew by Ezeli … but looked stuffed at the rim before uncoiling a wraparound pass to Serge Ibaka for an easy dunk.

Jokes have been made about “Waiters Island,” a place where ball movement stops and jumpers go up. But Waiters’ infectious passing spread throughout the Thunder in its 133-105 blowout of the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

By the end of the first quarter, the Thunder had nine assists on 13 made baskets. If Russell Westbrook captained the assist effort with five in the first, Waiters was his running mate, providing arguably the top two helpers of the night.

“We had several different ballhandlers in there that could help contribute and make plays alongside of Russell and Kevin,” Donovan said. “I thought our ball movement was very good. We got everybody involved. It was good to see that.”

Two possessions after Ibaka’s dunk, Waiters saw an opening on the fast break, but it closed quickly. He drove into a mass of bodies in the lane, yet managed to twist his arms around for a highlight assist, releasing the ball softly into the path of Kevin Durant for a layup and the 25-13 lead.

Waiters said even with his view partially obstructed, he saw the double team coming and knew Durant was running to the rim.

“I knew two was gonna collapse,” Waiters said. “(He’s) 6-11. All you have to do is give him the ball, he’s gonna finish.”

Waiters finished with 13 points, three assists and one turnover. When he entered at 8:41 in the third, he tiptoed the baseline and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer, then hit a rainbow jump shot of his own at 3:40 put the Thunder ahead 33.

By then, the Showtime passing had reached rare levels even for the Thunder. Westbrook finished with a team-best 12 assists, but his one that wasn’t could have been the most impressive. Westbrook jumped out on a two-on-one break and threw a through-the-legs pass to Randy Foye who was fouled at 3:35. The lead was 34.

Even in a runaway, the Thunder was still passing it around with gusto. It finished with 21 assists, 19 coming in the first three quarters in which OKC put the game out of hand.

In Sunday’s victory, the so-called island was inhabited by all the Thunder, with Waiters handing out the early invites.

“They’re gonna make you pass the ball, the way they’re playing us,” Waiters said. “They’re loading up on guys and they’re almost begging you to pass.

“Your job is to be as aggressive as possible with the ball so you can make the right play … and the smart play at the same time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The big man who saved the Eastern Conference finals from a sweep: Bismack Biyombo … Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is eager to get to work under Frank Vogel … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is set to interview Stephen Silas for the vacant position on his coaching staff … Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue admits he should have gone to LeBron James more in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Raptors … Toronto native Cory Joseph is fired up and believes the Raptors can hang with the Cavaliers …

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Oh yeah, they were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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