Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka’

Ibaka: Thunder ‘soft, weak’ in Game 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he understands how it can happen to others.

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

Warriors prepare for ‘fun’ challenge

OAKLAND — The team always trying to run down the next challenge — the quest for a perfect regular season at home that failed, the record for the most wins in a regular season that succeeded, the ongoing attempt at consecutive championships — has found the latest mountain to climb: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Golden State Warriors lost Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Monday night and in the process at least temporarily lost home-court advantage. As if that isn’t concerning enough, they also lost their playoff poise in the fourth quarter with quick shots and a failure to move the ball, adding up to the big problem of trying to climb out of an immediate hole against an opponent playing well.

The Warriors can fall back on the experiences from the 2015 playoffs, sort of. They trailed in two of the four series, the Western Conference semifinals against the Grizzlies and The Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but never while losing the opener. Those were 2-1 deficits after splitting at Oracle Arena and losing the first road game, before Golden State in both cases responded by winning the next three.

And there is this, in case anyone still hasn’t gotten the message that OKC is a serious threat while winning four in a row against the San Antonio Spurs and Warriors: the Thunder are better than Memphis in last year’s conference semifinals and better than the shorthanded Cavs in the 2015 Finals.

Golden State also has a lot of work ahead and with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut hurting.

“It’s a huge test for us,” Bogut said after practice Tuesday. “They’re a great team. Give them a lot of credit. Three or four years ago they were kind of like that team that was coming out poised to win a championship. So they’re not a team that’s just there by accident. They beat a very good Spurs team and they’ve had a pretty good year. So they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries in their past as well.

“Give them a lot of credit, but at the same time, it’s a huge challenge now for us. Especially Game 2 at home. We’ve got to get this one, and then going on the road, OKC is as tough as coming to Oracle to play or going to San Antonio. So it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

Curry said Monday after the Thunder’s 108-102 victory that this is a “fun” challenge, “to be able to have this opportunity to come back and show what we’re made of, show our resiliency.” That would be starting Wednesday with Game 2 at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, TNT).

“I think we’re fine,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve been through this. We haven’t lost a Game 1 (before), but last year we lost two home games (in the playoffs)…. Twice we were forced to go on the road and down 2-1 on the road without home court. We’ve been through this. So we know where we are. We know what we have to do. As I said, there’s a reason. There’s a reason that it’s so exhilarating to win a title. It’s just really, really hard.”

 

Blogtable: Which teams will win in the conference finals?

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers preview: Warriors-Thunder

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

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

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

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

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Western Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Golden State Warriors (73-9)

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

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

20160514_gsw_byround

20160514_gsw_offense

20160514_gsw_defense

Warriors playoff notes:

20160514_gsw_shooting

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

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

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

20160514_okc_byround

20160514_okc_offense

20160514_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

20160514_okc_shooting

The matchup

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

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

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

(more…)

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Antonio Spurs (67-15)

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

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

20160428_sas_offense

20160428_sas_defense

Spurs playoff notes:

20160428_sas_shooting

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

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

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

20160428_okc_offense

20160428_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

20160428_okc_shooting

The matchup

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

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

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-on-five works well for OKC


VIDEO: Thunder handle Mavs 131-102 in Game 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ | Lakers’ youngsters will finally get to play through mistakes | Gentry comes to defense of beat up Davis | Mavericks say they owe it to Dirk to make playoffs

No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:

When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.

But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.

One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?

“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”

Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.

“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”

As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell WestbrookSerge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.

“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”

(more…)

Blogtable: Are Thunder a great team?

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: Are Thunder a great team? | Deciphering LeBron’s cryptic messages? |
More dangerous sleeper playoff team — Hornets or Blazers?



VIDEOInside the NBA’s experts dissect the Thunder

> After a loss last week, Kevin Durant said the Thunder want to be a great team, but they’re fooling themselves. My question for you: Are the Thunder a great team, or are they fooling themselves?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You can’t be a great team with a middling defense (19th in points allowed, 13th in Defensive Rating). Nor can you be great when you’re 0-3 against the Warriors. Now, with two Alpha Males like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on your squad, you are always close to great. But until and unless the Thunder figures out how to incorporate everyone on offense on a consistent basis, I see the same ending coming in May. Of late, it looks like OKC is making a more concerted effort to get Serge Ibaka, for example, more shots (double figure attempts in his last 10 games). That’s a step in the right direction.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWe throw around the word “great” way too easily. No, this OKC team isn’t “great.” There are two “great” teams this season, which is one or two more than most seasons, and one of them – San Antonio – could slip from that perch if a priority on resting players for the postseason chews up the final week or two of the regular season. If the Spurs were to knock off the Warriors, they still might wrest the “great team” title away from Golden State. But if the Thunder ends up winning the title, they’ll be known as the surprisingly good upstart team that upset the two powerhouses in the West.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Thunder have been fooling themselves for a while. They are an incomplete team with two great players and even with the splendid individual talent of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that’s a recipe not likely to win a championship in the age of the Warriors and Spurs. For an “elite team” they cough up fourth-quarter leads because their offense relies almost exclusively on Durant and Westbrook to make big shots late. Too many other players around them with limited skills at one end of the court or the other. That’s quite dangerous on any given night, but that formula just doesn’t add up to 16 wins through the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Neither. They are not a great team. But they could become very good in time for the playoffs, where greatness is truly established. That’s the potential, not where they are now. The Thunder are definitely not fooling themselves, though. Durant and coach Billy Donovan, two of the critical voices in the locker room, have not hidden from the reality that OKC has been inconsistent much of the season, even when piling up wins the first half of the season, and that it has been getting exposed since the schedule turned tough. This team is struggling in some ways, but the ability to live in reality is not one of them.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: We must first define greatness before giving an answer. Is greatness the 1986 Boston Celtics? How about this season’s Warriors and Spurs, are they the benchmark for greatness? Then no, compared to the teams above in the West, OKC is merely very good at the moment and therefore fooling itself. But the Thunder have the potential to be in that class and anyone who doesn’t think so is fooling themselves. It comes down to whether OKC can play some D when it counts, and if Billy Donovan can convince his stars to occasionally chill with the one-on-one and play team ball in the crunch and be less predictable. Two very big ifs.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’re a very good team, but they’re a clear step below the Warriors and Spurs. Their offense gets too Russ-and-KD heavy, with little ability to adapt, down the stretch of close games. But defense, especially when they go to their bench, is their real problem. They rank 14th on that end and 25th since late January. They have matched up well with the Spurs over the last several years, so Saturday’s game in San Antonio will be telling. But I’d believe in them more if they could play their starting lineup, which has been the best high-usage lineup in the league, 48 minutes a game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great team? Not exactly. Very good team? Absolutely. And I agree with KD: they are fooling themselves if they think playing the way they have, particularly against the other very good and great teams, is going to get it done. The Thunder’s flaws get exposed far too often for me to believe they are title ready. And I still need to see them involve some of their role players at critical moments. It’s always on KD and Russell Westbrook to rescue the Thunder when things get tight. Leaning that hard on your superstars will get you to a certain point, but you need to have other guys to fill in the gaps and make plays, on both ends, in order to take that next step.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They have great talent. Are they a great team? That’s one of those questions to be answered in hindsight only. Just because they have the talent and the potential doesn’t make them comparable to the Warriors or Spurs — the only way for OKC to be great is to prove it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are, obviously, a pretty good team. While their numbers are good, particularly offensively, to me the Thunder are a great example of the value of the eye test — despite a new coach and new philosophies, they seem to still end up going one-on-one and taking questionable shots at the end of games. (Unrelated but related: I don’t understand how a guy as big and athletic as Serge Ibaka is averaging fewer rebounds per game than Russell Westbrook.) I like the addition of Randy Foye, but I don’t think this team can get to that next level without major philosophical changes.