Posts Tagged ‘Steven Adams’

OKC’s Adams trying to find comfort level


VIDEO: Steven Adams talks about his performance so far in Orlando

ORLANDO — It was a rookie season in which Steven Adams’ crunching elbows and physical play around the basket became well known.

Turns out he’s got a sharp tongue for trash talk as well.

When Willie Reed of the Pacers used two hands on his back to try to keep him from burrowing down into the lane, the Thunder big man turned with the best zinger so far in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“Hey, you won’t be able to do that in the D-League,” Adams said.

The 7-foot wise-cracking New Zealander scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and turned the ball over five times in game three of the project to turn him into more of an offensive weapon in Oklahoma City.

Nobody is going to confuse him for Shaquille O’Neal or even a lumbering, aging Jermaine O’Neal at this point. But it’s been acknowledged all along that Adams is a project.

“We want to see Steven being able get the ball in the low post more and creating from there,” said Thunder assistant Darko Rajakovic, who is running the summer league bench. “He showed a couple of really good passes from the low post and a couple of pretty good moves and we have to be happy with that. It’s something that is adding to his game and is going to be an emphasis for the rest of the summer.”

Adams averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game as a rookie and the idea is to finally get some offensive production out of the middle of the Thunder lineup where Kendrick Perkins has barely registered a blip for years.

But while there’s every reason to believe that Adams can be that inside game to balance the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right now it all comes down to getting him to embrace the role.

“I’m still a newb(ie), bro,” Adams said. “It’s getting better from when I started. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can do. They had that big 19 (6-foot-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku), who’s huge. I tried to back him down and got it stripped out. So I said, OK, I should use my speed against him. Just different reads like that.

“I’ve got to get comfortable with it and try to get more confident in getting the ball. Right now, I’m quite far away. I ain’t quite as demanding. It could be an option next year, but I’m not sure.

“If I was more confident with my moves, I’d be more demanding because I’d know I’d be able to score straightaway. That’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”

Through three games, Adams is averaging 9.3 points and shooting 9-for-15 from the field. More troublesome are his antics at the foul line, where he’s made just 11 of 23 (47.8 percent).

“Free throws, bro,” he said. “Free throws. Free throws. I’m working on that.

“I haven’t put up anything over the summer. We had a two-week break and I got advice to do nothing. At the end of the (NBA) season it was like, ‘He sucks at free throws.’ Now it’s ‘Oh my God. It’s rubbish.’ So I’ve got to get back to just sucking at free throws and we’ll go from there.”

Two years later, Cook seeks a shot

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

ORLANDO — The summer leagues are full of stories.

There are well-known rookies such as, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Shabazz Napier trying to make the step up to the next level.

There are second-year pros Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk looking to expand their skills and add polish.

There are guys like Maarty Leunen, drafted by the Rockets back in 2008, who has made a playing career for himself in Europen, but wants a crack at the big time.

Then there’s Brian Cook.

At 33, he’s not just the oldest player on the court at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He’s the only one who’s been away from the game for the past two years and is knocking on the door trying to get back in.

Cook’s wife, Victoria, had cancer and he stepped away from his NBA career to help her through the battle with the disease.

“It was something that I had to do and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t even think twice about,” Cook said. “There are bigger things than playing games.”

But now, two years later, the 6-foot-9 forward with 3-point range is here with the Pistons in an attempt to resurrect his career.

“I’ve really missed being out there on the court competing every day,” Cook said. “I know some people might think it’s kind of strange to try to do this at this point or it’s a long shot. But I kind of think that I still have something to contribute to the game and I’m looking to maybe get in a couple of years.”

Cook, who was a first-round draft choice of the Lakers in 2003 and played for five different teams — also Magic, Rockets, Clippers, Wizards — in nine seasons, reached out to Stan Van Gundy as soon his former coach took over in Detroit and asked for an opportunity in the summer league. He is here with no guarantees, no promises.

“I called him right away,” Cook said. “As a free agent, I can try to get on anywhere. But I’m comfortable with Stan’s offense and I’m also comfortable with the way he respected me and treated me and really cared about me when I played for him here in Orlando. Those are the kind of things that you take for granted as young kid and then come to appreciate more once you mature and have been around the block a few times in different situations. You really come to appreciate it even more when you’ve been at home like I have for the past several years helping my wife and being with the family.”

Cook has struggled to find his shooting stroke in his first two games, making just 5-of-18 shots and 3-of-12 from behind the arc. But he figures the shot will come with time and repetition and Cook is currently enjoying just being back in a locker room again, back wearing a jersey, back sharing the the highs and lows of game experiences, even if it is mostly with kids who are at least 10 years younger.

Van Gundy might not be able to provide the spot on his roster this season as he makes over the Pistons, but he is giving the veteran a chance to show other NBA teams that there is still something left after Cook gave the last two years to his family and wife, who is now cancer-free.

“I really believe that I’ve still got the ability to compete at this level and help a team,” Cook said. “I’m just hoping for a real shot.”

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

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

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Durant: Open, honest and still growing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks during the Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday

Kevin Durant mesmerized the basketball world with a regular season for the ages — 50-point games, impossible buzzer-beaters and statistical anomalies that flipped the record books back to Michael Jordan.

It all seemed to happen so easily, so naturally for him.

But on Sunday, barely 12 hours after his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out of the Western Conference finals, the league’s Most Valuable Player, in a very honest moment, admitted that the season’s many adversities had stretched his psychological boundaries.

“It felt like everything was being thrown at me as a leader, just talking about myself,” Durant said. “It just felt like everything was being thrown at me to try to get me to quit, and there were nights where I didn’t think I could do it, where I didn’t think I could lead these guys.”

With co-star Russell Westbrook sidelined for nearly half of it with a knee injury, and later two more starters, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, each missing six weeks with their own ailments, Durant said the burden of leading and lifting his team throughout these last seven months tested his resolve through multiple sleepless nights.

“There were nights where I didn’t think I could do it because sometimes I was going as hard as I could and it still wasn’t working,” Durant said. “But I just stayed confident and just knowing that there’s going to be good and bad days, days when you struggle, days when you do well. Just knowing that helped me out a lot, and it prepared me a lot for this season and hopefully for the future. I’m thankful for those times that I can grow through them and get better from them.”

In the end, Durant and the Thunder reached their third West finals in four seasons, but ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Still, the team remains young, immensely talented and intact. This season, with its many hurdles the team faced for the first time — including the blow of losing power forward Serge Ibaka for the first two games against the Spurs — might come to be looked upon as the moment on the timeline when Durant and OKC’s core came of age.

“Physically, I think I can compete with anybody; you put me on the court with anybody, I can hold my own, that’s just how I feel,” Durant said. “But mentally, everything being thrown at you, from Russell getting hurt — from him never being injured before — to having to be out there and being our source of energy for everybody on our team, giving everybody confidence from Serge to Nick [Collison] to Steven [Adams] to Thabo to Perk, from everybody looking at me and looking for confidence and looking to feel confident in themselves.

“Once I saw that I could do it, I kind of saw it from there in terms of having confidence. It was a great season as far as learning for all of us and being part of such a great group of guys that accept me no matter what, on my good and bad days.”

Durant won his first MVP in his seventh season. He averaged career-highs in points per game (32.0) and assists (5.5), plus 7.4 rpg. He was one of the game’s most efficient scorers, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

When Westbrook received the stunning news that he would need a third surgery on his right knee just hours after posting a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, the job of keeping Oklahoma City near the top of the West standings fell on Durant.

He bettered his season averages through 26 games without Westbrook — 35.0 ppg (52.7 percent shooting, 39.9 percent on 3s), 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg) — and virtually made the MVP award his to lose. Oklahoma City surged to the top of the West. An adjustment period upon Westbrook’s return eventually led to the Thunder finishing with the No. 2 seed and 59 wins, one off the previous season’s win total and the franchise’s highest since moving to Oklahoma City.

Durant’s scoring efficiency dipped in the postseason (29.6 ppg on 46-percent shooting, 34.4 on 3s) and his performances from game to game, starting against Memphis’ suffocating defense, were uneven as he averaged a team-high 42.8 mpg.

In Game 6 against the Spurs, the magic he performed all season eluded him. Trailing 100-99 in the final 27 seconds of overtime, Durant looked to make a move past defender Kawhi Leonard from a few feet above the top of the arc, but he slipped to the floor and lost the ball for his seventh turnover.

Finally, with a chance to tie coming out of a timeout, Durant missed an open 3 from the wing with 15 seconds left. It was his sixth misfire on eight 3-pointers in the game, and his last shot of a long, taxing season.

And one Durant will glean plenty of meaning from as he exits into the offseason.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Durant said. “And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I had this season to grow as a leader and a man and a basketball player.”

He will be back.

24 – Second thoughts — May 31


VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Next man up.

The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!

:1

Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!

:2

They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

(more…)

Thunder rookie Adams gaining trust

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Slowing down the Spurs

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


BLOGTABLE: OKC’s next move | Listen up, Kev | Indy-Miami snapshot


Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

> You’re Scott Brooks. You have no Serge Ibaka. You’re going against a well-oiled offensive machine in the Spurs. What do you do?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pray? Find someone to “GilloolyTim Duncan? Get my resume in order? Comedians can have a field day with that question, but to Brooks, the Thunder and their fans, this is no laughing matter. It’s a damn shame, really, that we won’t see the two West titans at their best. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I up Reggie Jackson’s court time as much as possible, getting creative with the matchup and rotation challenges. I use Nick Collison more than in Game 1, too, and I put a priority on getting more than five points from three starters — if only to hush up Charles Barkley.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While it may be more of a long-shot puncher’s chance, I think the Thunder have to roll the dice by going to a small lineup and try to beat the Spurs with their transition game. By playing Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha together, OKC is at far too much of an offensive disadvantage. They scored a total of five points in Game 1 and their upside is not significantly better.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comBrooks has to just keep going with his gut and putting the guys out there he thinks can get the job done. In a real sense, if the Thunder were told they had to be without one key player in this series — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka — I think they’d say they could make do best without Westbrook. That’s nothing against Westbrook, who is having a tremendous postseason, but rather just how important Ibaka is to defending the Spurs personnel and what they do. Brooks went small a lot in Game 1. He might try to stay bigger in Game 2 and keep Collison on the floor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Feel confident that Steven Adams will not shrink from the moment. Nick Collison moved into Ibaka’s starting spot, but a coach knows what he will get from Collison. I have to know what I will get from the rookie suddenly being placed into a larger role. He played a lot in the conference semifinals, valuable experience. But four to seven games against the Spurs is a new kind of test for Adams.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Play Nick Collison until he bleeds. ​In the regular season, no Thunder player had a better per-possession plus-minus than Collison. Simply put, the Thunder were at their best when he was on the floor. He doesn’t have the length or athleticism that Ibaka has, and it’s the Thunder’s length and athleticism that the Spurs have had trouble with over the last few years. But the list of back-up bigs who are better than Collison is a short one and, down 1-0, it’s not yet time to panic.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI unleash Steven Adams on the San Antonio Spurs and the entire world and let him play wild and free and as physical as possible without getting arrested by the San Antonio PD. Game 1 showed us all how little respect the Spurs have for the Thunder’s rim protecting ability without Ibaka. The amount of time you have to adjust between games in the conference finals is precious, so anything too complicated requires a time crunch that the Thunder cannot risk. So I go with my main man Blunt Force Trauma (aka Steve Adams)!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Well, as you found out in Game 1, you can’t outscore San Antonio. The Thunder tried to go small, which didn’t really work, and they tried to go big, which worked marginally better. So I’d go as big as I can, using Perkins and Collison as much as possible. I’d even dust off Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb and ask them to at least play some token defense. So what I’m saying is, I’d go big and try to defend, and hope to hold San Antonio under 100, and then hope Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant can keep me close enough to make it a game. Without Ibaka you’re basically fighting uphill, but you’ve got the MVP, so maybe you have a chance.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: I get back to the drawing board, burn every piece of tactical analysis and planning that I’ve done for my team in the past, and start over. Not having Serge Ibaka against the Spurs hurts, but the Thunder need to think positively instead of wallowing over their lost power forward. If I was Scott Brooks, I would give this current line-up a shake-up, move Kevin Durant to the power forward position, and go small in the perimeter by giving a starting spot to either Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson. Instead of trying to beat the Spurs with post defense, the Thunder need to counter Spurs’ offense with offense. This isn’t going to be easy, and as Scott Brooks, I’ll be hoping that the open shots fall for Sefolosha, Lamb, Jackson, etc., and that Durant and Westbrook flirt with triple-doubles every night. Improbable, but not impossible.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: It’s tough because they’ve lost a 2-way player, a guy who’s your third offensive option and your best defender. Even if it didn’t work out well in Game 1, I’ll insist on starting Nick Collison at PF. Because it keeps the Thunder unchanged, including off-the-bench options. Obviously everybody else needs to give extra effort on defense. But it’s the best you can do at this point, since the time has passed to experiment with different lineups.

Collison offers hope for Ibaka-less OKC

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: What must OKC change in Game 2?

SAN ANTONIO – Nick Collison is a naturally unassuming kind of guy. He grabs his lunch pail, goes off to work every day and earns his dollar.

Work conditions, however, have dramatically changed, and Collison is now at the center of a dilemma that threatens to unravel the Oklahoma City Thunder’s title hopes. Somehow he and his teammates must find a way to make life much more uncomfortable for the San Antonio Spurs’ offense without high-riser Serge Ibaka patrolling the paint.

Collison, the 6-foot-9, 33-year-old backup who had only averaged 11.6 mpg during the first two rounds of the playoffs and logged single-digit minutes in seven of the eight previous games heading into Monday’s opener of the Western Conference finals, is suddenly thrust into Ibaka’s starting job.

As everybody knows by now, the Spurs clobbered OKC with an alarming 66 points in the paint. Tim Duncan maneuvered unmolested inside for easy buckets that led to 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting in the first half — 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first quarter.

“We want to make it hard for them to make all their cuts and their passes,” said Collison, who received a half-dozen stitches in his lip after Game 1 and visited a dentist Tuesday morning to examine a tooth he thought might have been jarred from its root, but was not.

“They’re really good when they’re running through their offense and the ball is flying around and guys are wide open,” Collison continued. “We want to be able to throw their timing off a little bit, and some of that is physicality, but a lot of it is getting back and start playing at the beginning of a possession instead of being back on our heels and letting them run where they want to run.”

Collison only played 16 minutes in Game 1 and was scoreless with three rebounds, but there’s a belief that his more engaged, defensive effort during the Thunder’s impressive eight-minute stretch of the third quarter when they defended the paint as a team with more authority and twice seized a one-point lead, can carry over to Game 2.

“Our effort, intensity on the defensive end was really good,” Kevin Durant said. “We scrambled out, we made efforts, we rebounded the basketball, we attacked,” Durant said.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks experimented with multiple small-ball lineups in Game 1, but was burned badly defensively. One option in Game 2 is stay bigger and ride Collison as long as possible alongside starting center Kendrick Perkins and backup center Steven Adams.

“It’s hard for a coach to know what to do, especially with one of our starters being out, not knowing who to throw into the game, what lineups to use,” Durant said. “So you got to take that into account. He’s a great coach and he does learn from game to game, and knowing who to put out there. We can play with any type of lineup. It all comes down to effort and energy and just having that mindset that we’re locked in every single possession.”

Expectation is that Collison will not only be back in the starting lineup, but that he’ll have a bigger piece of Game 2, with the first eight minutes of the third quarter being the blueprint.

“We’re capable of doing it, but have to be able do it longer,” Collison said. “What we saw in that third quarter, that needs to be how we play, that needs to be our new normal.”

Ibaka’s absence brings ‘fluid’ lineups

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

SAN ANTONIO – The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing their best sales job to suggest life without Serge Ibaka has to be business as usual. In basketball parlance, it’s simply next man up.

But, with 11:09 left in the second quarter of Monday’s Western Conference finals Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder pulled out their most unusual lineup, especially for this juncture of the playoffs. Jeremy Lamb checked in for Kevin Durant, but the the little-used, second-year shooting guard getting such early run wasn’t the exceptional part. It was who he was running with: Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler and Steven Adams.

Kevin Durant will need some help in Game 2 (Wednesday, 9 p.m.)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kevin Durant will need some help in Wednesday’s Game 2 (9 p.m., TNT)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

“Our lineups can be very fluid and we have flexibility all year long to have done that,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before Game 1. “We played small a lot and with Serge out, obviously we have more opportunities to play small.”

OKC climbed back from a 20-9 hole to 33-30 when Lamb came in for Durant. Exactly three minutes later, Lamb, whose head seemed to be on a swivel defensively as Spurs players raced by him to the bucket, checked out for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder trailed 45-37.

A small lineup that found success late in the second quarter was the unit of Westbrook, Jackson, Lamb, Durant and Kendrick Perkins. That group came together with 1:58 to go and OKC in big trouble, trailing 65-51. An 8-2 run trimmed the halftime deficit to a reasonable eight points, 67-59.

It’s a bad time of year to have to experiment with lineups. After the game, Brooks said he’s going to “have to find lineups that work.”

The Thunder’s best lineups are the ones in which Durant and Westbrook are on the floor together or, at least, with one of them in the lineup. And that’s mostly been the case. Durant logged 40 minutes in Game 1, the 13th time in 14 games this postseason in which he’s played at least 40 minutes, and the sixth in a row.

Brooks has to balance giving each of his stars some rest so they’re not totally gassed in the fourth quarter, but doing so while not putting the team at a severe disadvantage — which the Fisher-Jackson-Lamb-Butler-Adams group did.

There’s little choice for Brooks in deciding a starting lineup. Nick Collison is the only logical choice to fill in for Ibaka at power forward. Collison is a steadier player than the one that showed up Monday night and threw up three horribly off-target shots and was mostly poor defensively. A frontcourt of Perkins and Adams together doesn’t make much sense and Brooks clearly has little faith in 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet to contribute as a rim protector.

Although Brooks harped on defense after the game, his best bet might be to employ waves of small lineups that include Durant or Westbrook, or both, with Reggie Jackson and simply try to out-run and outscore the machine-like Spurs.

“I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job,” Brooks said. “No matter who we put on the floor, they have to be able to compete against this team. They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time. You don’t have a possession off. Not one. We can’t hide anybody.”