Posts Tagged ‘Thabo Sefolosha’

Locker Room Etiquette: Perkins Is Right

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew shares their opinions on the Perkins-Noah incident

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins wanted no part of his Chicago Bulls counterpart Joakim Noah hanging out in his locker room after they had just battled on the floor.

Noah had been escorted in by friend and Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha with media members still conducting interviews. Perkins was dressing at his locker when he spotted Noah in what he believed to be a violation of the Thunder’s inner sanctum.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, Perkins shouted at Noah: “They just let anybody in the locker room?” The two engaged in a brief back-and-forth with Noah finally saying, “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.” Perkins then said, “Get yo’ (expletive) up out of here, (expletive).”

We all know that professional athletes are far chummier these days than they ever used to be. But has it come to this, where foes feel free to mingle in each other’s locker room after a game?

Not so fast.

“It’s not normal,” Mavericks forward and 15-year veteran Shawn Marion said. “It’s like basically bringing someone in the [bathroom] with you.”

Players and coaches I talked to at Friday night’s game between the Raptors and Mavs certainly believe the locker room is for team members only.

“Kendrick is known for being protective of his house, his team, his teammates, so I’m sure Joakim Noah would have done the same thing to him if he had gone through Chicago’s locker room,” Raptors fourth-year point guard Greivis Vasquez said. “So I think it’s part of that competition level and just protecting your house and you’re not going to just let anybody come in like we’re best friends. I like that attitude, to be honest. Even if it is after the game that really doesn’t matter. We play for different teams. We can call, we can text.”

Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry said Perkins received support from teammate Russell Westbrook. In a conversation Mayberry had a little later with the All-Star point guard, Westbrook told him it’s a matter of respect to stay out of another team’s locker room. Mayberry asked Westbrook if he would ever bring, for example, friend and fellow UCLA Bruin Kevin Love into the Thunder locker room. He answered, no.

For old-schoolers like Raptors coach Dwane Casey, it’s not even up for debate.

“That’s your sanctuary. You shouldn’t have opposing team players in the locker room. I agree with Perkins,” Casey said. “I don’t know how he went about it, but you want it be your sanctuary in the locker room. But today’s NBA is different than 20 years ago when I first came in the league. You used to see them after the game or go have a beer or whatever after, but not in your locker room.”

Casey said he knows there are still players who would have done the same as Perkins.

“There’s quite a few. K.G. [Kevin Garnett] I know would say something,” Casey said. “You have some old-school guys that still would feel that way. In our locker room it is. There’s a lot of things we talk about, we keep in the family and it should be where you can go and relax and get away from things and feel like this is us, right here.”

Still, things are different in today’s NBA. As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle noted on his weekly local radio show Friday, visiting teams are now permitted to use the home team’s weight room and other facilities prior to games. At the American Airlines Center, the Mavs’ locker room is a square area separated from a much larger space by partition walls. On the other side of the walls is the weight room, making it virtually impossible for opposing players to come in contact.

Still, Carlisle chuckled when asked if the old Celtics teams he played for in the mid-1980s would have welcomed an opposing player into their locker room.

There seems to be only one legitimate reason for a visiting player to wander into the home team’s locker room, and even then players say those visits are typically made before games, not after.

“I was with New Jersey, it was my first game against Dallas (after being traded),” said Mavs guard Devin Harris, who’s in his ninth season and returned to Dallas this season as a free agent. “I walked in, said hello to [head athletic trainer] Casey [Smith], Dirk [Nowitzki], Josh [Howard]. I’m not going in there unless I know people, the majority.”

Marion also said that he’s made pregame visits to the locker room of his former teams where he knows the majority of the players and staff. But never, he said, has an opposing player escorted him into their locker room as Sefolosha did with Noah.

“It’s a little weird,” Harris said.

BWB Africa: Fulfilling The Dreams

Basketball Without Borders Africa

NBA players, coaches and others attended the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg.

HANG TIME, Texas – It was just a few days after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Kyrie Irving saw other dreams.

They were in one of the impoverished townships outside of Johannesburg. They were in classrooms where hungry minds craved answers for a better life. They were on the basketball courts where raw talent gathered to show their skills and sought a way out. They were on so many of the faces that crossed his path during the 11th edition of Basketball Without Borders, Africa.

“In my short NBA career, I’ve had lots of great experiences,” said the Cavs’ 21-year-old point guard during a phone conversation from South Africa. “Just being in the league, winning Rookie of the Year, playing against guys that I looked up to. But being here is an amazing experience in a completely different way.

“Kids are kids no matter where you go in the world and they’re always going to get a smile out of you and make you happy. But these kids that we’ve worked with here in the camps and the younger kids that we’ve met in the schools, they seem to draw even more out of you, because of the environment they come from.

“I’ve traveled around a bit and taken part in some UNICEF programs in the past. You think you’ve seen some situations that are bad. But the poverty in Africa is overwhelming. There are levels of poverty that I’m not sure we can understand as Americans without actually having been here.

“Some of the kids knew my name, who I was, where I played in the NBA. Others didn’t. All they wanted was somebody to be with them and be there for them. That’s the way we have to approach it — help one kid at a time.”

Basketball without Borders is the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and social responsibility program that aims to create positive social change in the areas of education, health, and wellness. To date, there have been 36 BWB camps in 21 cities across 18 countries on five continents.

The program has featured more than 150 current and former NBA/WNBA players and nearly 140 NBA team personnel from all 30 NBA teams as camp coaches and mentors.

The inaugural BWB camp was in July 2001 led by former NBA players Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc, for 50 children from five nations of the former Yugoslavia. In 2013, BWB were held in three countries on three continents: Argentina, Portugal and South Africa.

FIBA and local federations help identify 50 to 65 of the top basketball players 18 and under from countries across the related continent to attend.

BWB has featured over 1,700 campers from over 120 countries and 28 BWB campers have been drafted into the NBA. There are currently 11 BWB alumni on NBA rosters: Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors/Lithuania; Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets/Lithuania; Enes Kanter, Jazz/Turkey; Greivis Vasquez, Kings/Venezuela; Omri Casspi, Rockets/Israel; Luc Mbah A Moute, Kings/Cameroon; Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets/Italy; Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers/France; Marco Belinelli, Spurs/Italy; Marc Gasol, Grizzlies/Spain; Andrea Bargnani, Knicks/Italy.

Four former BWB campers were drafted in 2013: Sergey Karasev, Cavaliers/Russia; Kelly Olynyk, Celtics/Canada; Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves/Senegal; Arsalan Kazemi, 76ers/Iran.

Other NBA players in South Africa were: Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Hasheem Thabeet of the Thunder, Jerryd Bayless of the Grizzlies; Bismack Biyombo of the Bobcats, Luol Deng of the Bulls, Al Horford of the Hawks and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo.

NBA coaches took part, too, including Tyrone Corbin (Jazz); Luca Desta (Mavericks); Mark Hughes (Knicks); BJ Johnson (Rockets); Jamahl Mosley (Cavaliers); Patrick Mutombo (Nuggets); Monty Williams (Pelicans) and ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.

The BWB program has been a favorite of Dikembe Mutombo, who attended the first in Johannesburg more than a decade ago.

“The biggest difference that I see from when we held the first camp here is the level of play,” Mutombo said. “Back then, a lot of guys were just lucky to be able to get into the gym and show a little bit. Now they’re getting coaching, getting direction and they are giving themselves a real chance for a better life.

“We all know that it is a long shot for anyone to make it into the NBA, even more when you’re coming from the background of Africa. That’s why the real goal for a lot of these kids is to come here and attract attention and maybe get an opportunity to come to the United States for a high school education, to play basketball and then maybe to attend an American university.

“To me, that’s how we make the world, and Africa in particular, a better place. We lift these kids up, educate them and hopefully many of them will return to their countries and try to make things better.”

Irving recalled that he had learned about apartheid in schools while he was growing up, but that had not prepared him for an up-close experience with people who had lived through it.

“To me, Steve Biko and Hector Pieterson were names I read in books,” Irving said. “But here I’m walking where they walked and talking with their people. It’s had more of an impact. It makes me know that I want to come back to Africa and do what I can in the future.”

The 47-year-old Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rarely misses an opportunity. He had spent millions of his own dollars building a hospital in his mother’s name in his homeland and has spent more to erect dormitories and classrooms during his many BWB trips to South Africa.

“On the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, I took time to stop and think,” Mutombo said. “I have achieved so many blessings in my life after a childhood of poverty. I achieved a dream of working and getting noticed and getting myself an education.

“I realized a dream of playing basketball for a living and having the NBA doors open for me. I realized a dream of making a fortune and being able to use it to go back home and help my people. I realized a dream to build a hospital in my country.

“We all have to dream because big things are possible, especially in a world that has gotten smaller with things like cell phones and Facebook and Twitter.

“I tell these young players that come here that we’re all connected. What Dr. King was talking about fifty years ago was not African-American dreams or American dreams. These are human dreams all over the world and every time I come here see a young player like Kyrie with his eyes wide open on his first trip, I feel like we can fulfill more.”

Planning The 2014 Parade Route

HANG TIME, Texas — Horns will be honking, confetti will be falling, fans will be wildly celebrating the championship season.

No, it’s never too soon to look at where the victory parade might roll in 2014.

Not so fast, Knicks. Last season was your best shot. The Clippers finally landed Doc Rivers, but without the rest of the makeover that Kevin Garnett provides, the Clips are still a Lob City sideshow.

The smarter-than-everybody front office booted the best coach in franchise history, so that takes the Grizzlies a step back. The Warriors are so much fun, but the fragile state of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut will again be a concern.

Can we really talk about the Lakers with Kobe Bryant rehabbing his Achilles’ and Dwight Howard with his head in the clouds?

So let’s take a peek at the six most likely teams to be dancing next June.

Miami Heat


Oh, there will be a summer of hand-wringing and debating about what to do to improve a team that’s won two consecutive titles and played in three straight NBA Finals. All this from people who would probably stand inside the Sistine Chapel and complain about Michelangelo’s brush strokes. Chris Bosh will be left out to dry more than a discarded bikini top on South Beach.

Then the regular season will begin, the Heat will eventually lose a game and the sky will fall again. Lose two in a row and there will be an all-out panic. Dwyane Wade will be sized up for a wheelchair to roll down Collins Avenue with the rest of the senior citizens. Even a 28-game winning streak won’t stop the fretting. Never mind that LeBron James will likely be on his way to a fifth MVP award.

But after all they’ve been through, all they’ve survived, all they’ve proven about themselves over the past two years, do we really doubt that the Heat can raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy again?

San Antonio Spurs


Go ahead, doubt them, disparage them, write them off as being too old and injury-prone. Again.

For all of the stumbling and bumbling around the court done by Manu Ginobili for most of The Finals, there was the overlooked and under-appreciated work done by Kawhi Leonard. At 21, he was a slashing force to the basket and a capable 3-point shooter, as well as a willing rebounder and the man who shouldered the defensive burden through every round of the playoffs. Maybe he is the future face of the franchise.

Yet there is no reason to think that a recommitted and fit Tim Duncan can’t hit the high notes again and Tony Parker can’t lead the offense again. After pushing the Heat to the seven-game limit — and coming within 5.2 seconds in Game 6 of winning the series — a fit Spurs team next spring remains Miami’s toughest challenge in The Finals. (more…)

Durant And Thunder Bow Out Of Playoffs Quietly, But Both Will Roar Again


Series hub | Game 5: Notebook | Box score

OKLAHOMA CITY – This wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Not this game. Not this series. Not this postseason. Kevin Durant’s historic offensive regular season came to a cringing, clanging conclusion Wednesday night, smothered for a fourth consecutive game by a focused Memphis Grizzlies defense.

Only the sixth player in NBA history to finish a season shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 from 3-point range and 90 from the free-throw line, Durant went down like this: 5-for-21, 0-for-4 and 11-for-15. Even his auto-dial free throws betrayed him in this series, 13 alone failing to go down in the final three games, likely flattened by fatigue as he played all 48 minutes in Wednesday’s Game 5 and 229 of 245 in all, and swarmed by defenders to the bitter end.

His first six shots failed to drop in the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder’s 88-84 defeat, just like his last one with 4.9 seconds left. It was a good look from 16 feet away, the kind he makes in his sleep, but this one caught a chunk of rim and had no prayer of rolling through like the mesmerizing, high-bouncing 3 that beat the Rockets in Game 3, the first game OKC played without Russell Westbrook.

And so there will be no Finals return. No revenge matchup against the Miami Heat. And for Durant, at least, there is no remorse, no regret.

“I gave all I have for my team. I left it all out there on the floor,” Durant said. “I missed 16 shots, but I kept fighting, kept being aggressive, and that’s all I could ask for. It is what it is. It’s tough to swallow right now, but I’m sure we’re going to look back on this down the line and really appreciate this tough time. It’s something we’ve got to embrace and get better from. It’s tough to lose your last game in the playoffs so you’ve just got to move on.”

On the other side, Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph came up large in the biggest game of his career. He went to work in the low post early and finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds. He missed two free throws with 11.3 seconds to go to leave the door cracked for the Thunder’s late surge that closed an 80-70 deficit to 86-84 and a fifth consecutive game that came down to the wire. (more…)

Going Small Key For OKC & Golden State?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With each of the four conference semifinals tied at 1-1 (for the first time since this round went to seven games in 1968), it’s a great time to mine the lineup data provided by for trends, anomalies, and whatever information might be useful … or at least interesting.

The eight teams remaining have only played between six and nine games, so we’re not looking at very big sample sizes here. But small sample sizes are all you have to go on in the playoffs. Decisions have to be made on how players or player combinations have played in that series and against that opponent. Even if you include numbers against the opponent in the regular season, that’s at most four additional games of data.

We’ve already seen some of these teams change lineups mid-series. And sometimes, like when the Dallas Mavericks decided to start J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals, a lineup change can make a big difference.

So, as we take our first day off of the playoffs, here are some notes from 53 games worth of postseason lineup data…

The drop-off in Indiana
The most-used lineup of the playoffs should be no surprise. The Pacers’ starting lineup of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert have been getting it done on both ends of the floor and were a terrific lineup in the regular season as well. Though Indy ranked 19th defensively overall, this lineup scored at a rate that would have ranked fourth, playing the second-most minutes of any lineup in the league.

It was a plus-48 in the first round and a plus-5 in both Games 1 and 2 of the conference semifinals. The problem, of course, is that the Indiana bench stinks. In 216 minutes, all other Pacers lineups have scored 93.1 points per 100 possessions and allowed 105.8, for a NetRtg of -12.7 in the postseason.

Indy coach Frank Vogel talks often about his emphasis on defending without fouling. That’s key to not only keep the Pacers’ opponents off the line, but also to keep their starters on the floor.

Over their eight playoff games, every Pacer starter has a positive plus-minus and every sub has a negative one. So maybe the Pacers can benefit as much from three days off as the banged up Knicks can, with an ability to use their rested starters for heavy minutes in Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

Time for OKC to go small?
Setting a minimum of 35 minutes played, the best lineup (offensively, *defensively and overall) of the postseason has been Oklahoma City’s small lineup of Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. This unit of two point guards, two scoring wings, and a versatile big has outscored its opponents by 46.5 points per 100 possessions and had its best run in Game 6 in Houston, outscoring the Rockets 31-20 in 14 minutes. It was a plus-7 in seven minutes of Game 1 against the bigger Grizzlies, but Scott Brooks didn’t use it at all in Game 2 on Tuesday.

If you remove Nick Collison and just look at the four smalls together, they’ve been just as effective (OffRtg: 130.2, DefRtg: 80.9, NetRtg: +49.3) in a slightly larger sample of 51 minutes (43 against Houston and eight against Memphis).

With Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder have other small-lineup options. And thus far against the Grizzlies, they’re a plus-13 in 14 minutes playing small. They’re a minus-17 in 82 minutes playing big and their starting lineup (Jackson, Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins has shot a brutal 13-for-47 (28 percent) in its 28 minutes together.

That, of course, will be something to keep an eye on as the series heads to Memphis for Saturday’s Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN).

*The best defensive lineup with a minimum of 35 minutes played was actually the Thunder’s original starting lineup, which allowed the Rockets to score just 73.1 points per 100 possessions in the first two games of the first round. But Russell Westbrook‘s injury puts that lineup out of commission.

Small works in the other West series too
Both Gregg Popovich and Mark Jackson changed their starting lineups for Game 2 in San Antonio on Wednesday, moves that worked out better for the Warriors. Their (small) lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut is a plus-17 in the series (plus-12 in Game 2), the second-best mark of the conference semifinals thus far.

It was a mini lineup of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw that pulled off the Spurs’ amazing comeback on Monday, racking up a plus-13 in 10 minutes over the fourth quarter and two overtimes. With Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter healthy, Popovich didn’t use that lineup at all in Game 2.

Supersubs in Chicago
Obviously, Wednesday’s blowout in Miami makes for some funky lineup numbers in that series, but the Bulls do have a lineup – Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah – that’s a plus-14 over the two games (plus-13 in 16 minutes in Game 1 and plus-1 in three minutes in Game 2). It was a plus-7 in 21 minutes in the first round and was a strong plus-20.3 points per 100 possessions in 129 minutes in the regular season. If Kirk Hinrich and/or Luol Deng return for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), it will be interesting to see how much time that lineup plays together going forward.

A change of fortune in Miami
The Heat had a killer lineup – Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh – that Erik Spoelstra used rather sparingly (only 112 minutes), but outscored its opponents by 30.3 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. That lineup was a plus-12 in 10 minutes in the first round against Milwaukee, but is a minus-13 in six minutes in the conference semis, having allowed the Bulls to shoot 6-for-9 (3-for-3 from 3-point range) in the closing minutes of Game 1.

Offensive struggles in New York
The best offensive lineup in the regular season (minimum 200 minutes) was the Knicks’ lineup of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, which scored 119.3 points per 100 possessions in 269 minutes together. With Kidd, Smith and Anthony all struggling, that unit has scored just 86.6 points per 100 possessions in 18 playoff minutes, and has been even worse defensively.

Thunder Big Men Must Make More Noise


OKLAHOMA CITY – Seven-foot-1 Marc Gasol sat at his locker, both knees buried under a mountain of ice wrapped in plastic as bruise-brother Zach Randolph slowly made his way to the showers, teetering from side to side as if walking on wooden pirate legs.

Yes, the bludgeoning has begun in this anticipated battle between a half-ton of big men. The Memphis Grizzlies’ old-school duo (and inarguably the craftiest low-post offensive tandem going) are so far doling out the type of punishment that has to be concerning for Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks and his defensive-minded tandem of Serge Ibaka and the ever-scowling, always-scrutinized Kendrick Perkins as this series, tied 1-1, moves to Memphis’ Grindhouse.

This matchup has yet to devolve into the dislike and sumo-wrestling tactics seen in the first round when Randolph battled Los Angeles Clippers nemesis Blake Griffin. But Randolph stressed that nothing has come easy in attaining his and Gasol’s impressive totals through two games: 38.5 ppg on 29-for-55 shooting (52.7 percent), 16.5 rpg and 6.0 apg.

“We’re just playing hard. I’m trying to stay away from that,” Randolph said, referring to the extracurricular activity between he and Griffin. “I’m just trying to play my game, play physical. I’m not trying to get into no altercation, ain’t trying to be like last series, me and Blake, just trying to go out and play.”

And for an extra tweak aimed at the vacationing Griffin, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Randolph said this of the Thunder’s combo of Ibaka and Perkins:

“They are tough. They’re tougher than the Clippers — Ibaka and Perkins — they’re tougher than Blake. So yeah, they’re tough and they’re strong.”

In Tuesday’s Game 2, when Kevin Durant did everything imaginable and it still wasn’t enough, he was asked to take a turn defending the 265-pound Gasol. That strategy that backfired as Gasol scored seven of his 17 first-half points in a span of 96 seconds that flipped a 39-35 Thunder lead into a 45-42 deficit.

Late in the third quarter, Ibaka and Perkins each sat with four fouls, halting what might have been their best defensive quarter. Perkins held Gasol without a shot attempt until heading to the bench with about three minutes left, and Randolph scored four points on two shot attempts.

Down 54-51 at halftime, OKC managed a 74-69 lead after three.

But the fouls kept Ibaka, who has 10 rebounds and six blocks in the series, on the bench from the 4:29 mark of the third to 8:40 of the fourth as Memphis surged. Perkins sat out until the final 3:03 of the game when reserve forward-center Nick Collison fouled out. Perkins also drew the wrath home fans during that third quarter after bumbling plays where he couldn’t convert offensive rebounds and clumsily threw away two other possessions. (more…)

Defensive Specialists Allen, Sefolosha In Unfamiliar Spots

OKLAHOMA CITY – The most intriguing chess match for the two coaches in this second-round series isn’t about big vs. small, but how to best utilize their defensive stopper. In Game 1, Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha and Memphis’ Tony Allen were like two fish out of water.

Normally charged with checking the opposition’s most dangerous scorer, Allen and Sefolosha are stuck guarding each other in this series, which resumes with tonight’s Game 2 at Chesapeake Arena (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Allen would typically be hounding Russell Westbrook, but he’s out of the playoffs following knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has already said he will no longer play his 6-foot-4 grinder on Kevin Durant, whose long frame is stronger than a few years ago, allowing Durant to punish Allen on the post.

Durant is Tayshaun Prince‘s responsibility, and went mostly without the aid of a double-team in Game 1. So Allen, one of the top on-ball defenders in the league, is left to guard Sefolosha, a good corner and wing 3-point shooter, but easily the Thunder’s fourth or fifth option even with Westbrook out. Sefolosha played just 18 minutes in Game 1, scored four points and missed his lone 3-point attempt after averaging 4.6 attempts from beyond the arc in the first-round series against Houston.

“It is kind of odd because you know there’s not really a prolific scorer in my size range,” Allen said. “But it’s about the Grizzlies playing a better game than the Thunder. We’ve got to keep that mindset. But whatever he [Hollins] wants me to do on the defensive end, I’m willing to fill that void.”

The logical maneuver then is to put Allen on sixth man Kevin Martin, who scored 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting and got to the free-throw line seven times in OKC’s 93-91 Game 1 victory. But because Allen starts and Martin comes off the bench, pairing the two can be tricky. Hollins played Allen just 20 minutes in Game 1 and he was on the floor with Martin, who logged 32 minutes, for all of seven minutes.

“They are different without Russell Westbrook,” Allen said. “The last game I was trying to float because I didn’t really know who to key in and lock into. Kevin Martin comes off the bench and I’m starting; when I come out he’s coming in so that’s kind of tough. But we got our feet wet in Game 1. Now it’s Game 2, we know what to expect without Westbrook, we know who are their main characters now and we have to do a better job on Martin, obviously, and you know, not let [Derek] Fisher get so many big-time timely shots, and just try to do a better job on those other guys.”

It wasn’t too unlike Game 1 in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers for Allen. He played 17 minutes while Jerryd Bayless got bumped up for offensive purposes and had to guard Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford. In Game 2, Allen logged 39 minutes and he averaged 30.5 mpg in the final four games.

So Allen figures to be on the court much more tonight and he must take advantage of the loose defense Sefolosha played on him in Game 1 to knock down open looks (Allen was 1-for-5 from the floor for three points) and use the open space to chase rebounds.

“He’s barely even sticking me,” Allen said.

That’s because Sefolosha is more concerned with dropping down and helping big men Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins defend Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Allen can alter that strategy by making baskets, which in turn helps to free up Memphis’ talented big men.

“My focus is to help the bigs,” Sefolosha said. “Help them rebound, help them get in a situation where Zach and Marc Gasol can’t get too deep in the paint, so basically helping off a little bit. But at the same time, Tony does a lot of good things without the ball and I have to be aware of where he is on the court.”

Durant Wins It, But Not Without Help


OKLAHOMA CITY – News that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would miss the entire playoffs rippled across the NBA like an earthquake tremor. The epicenter was Oklahoma City where the shock was sudden and the aftermath is fueling new opportunities for a team that still aspires to win it all.

“It was kind of a gut-punch initially that day at practice, and the whole day you could tell guys were disappointed and down,” reserve forward-center Nick Collison said. “Of course we’re at a deep disadvantage without him, but I don’t think we work that way really. We do a good job of seeing what’s right in front of us.”

As the Memphis Grizzlies frustratingly discovered on Sunday afternoon, count out the Thunder at your own peril. Oklahoma City stole Game 1 on its own home floor, rallying from 12 down late in the third quarter to take a 93-91 decision on a go-ahead, pull-up jumper by Mr. Clutch, Kevin Durant, with 11.1 seconds to go.

“My teammates did a great job of setting me up all game,” Durant said. “I missed some easy ones, some chippies, and I was able to hit that one.”

Let the box score show Durant with a game-high 35 points on 13-for-26 shooting, 15 rebounds, six assists, a couple blocked shots and a steal in 44 exhaustive, mandatory minutes. Yet the opportunity for OKC’s Big One to put his team ahead for good was supplied, as much of the Thunder’s gusto on this day was, from role players coming up big in Westbrook’s absence.

As OKC continues to adjust and tweak on the fly, it is discovering what lies beneath.

They’re finding a resilient Kevin Martin, who scored 25 points, 15 in a critical second-quarter stand when OKC scored 33 points without Durant attempting a shot. Martin’s game, which also included a season-high seven rebounds and a late fourth-quarter swat of Quincy Pondexter in the lane, came on the heels of scoring 26 in the clincher at Houston after being left for dead and his OKC future being questioned, following his Game 5 stinker.

Derek Fisher proved he can still bring it in the clutch at age 38, hitting both of his 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the first to start the period with OKC down nine. Then he’s making the defensive play of the game with 20 seconds to go, stripping driving Memphis guard Mike Conley from behind just before he can ascend to the rim and triggering a rush the other way for Durant’s big bucket.

The moment once again didn’t swallow second-year guard Reggie Jackson, who starts in place of Westbrook but watched from the bench while Fisher played down the stretch until the final possession when Memphis had to foul with 3.5 seconds to go — a sequence set up by Thabo Sefolosha’s deflection of an errant Marc Gasol pass. Jackson calmly sank both free throws, as he did against Houston, to make it 93-90 with 1.6 seconds left.

Fisher and Jackson totaled 20 points with a couple of assists and just one turnover. Conley, coming off a big series going toe-to-toe with All-Star Chris Paul, finished with 13 points, three assists and two turnovers. The final one cost Memphis the game.

“We got a nice little flow going right now,” Martin said. “I think we settled in, realizing that we’re not going to have Russell, and guys are stepping up.”

How about Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who absorbs criticism at times for stubbornly sticking to lineups? When he deployed a small unit for the first time in the game as he sensed it getting away at 70-58 with 1:57 left in the third quarter, the momentum shifted drastically in OKC’s favor. A 15-5 run — with three of the Grizzlies’ points coming on Pondexter’s halfcourt heave at the end of the third — cut Memphis’ lead to 75-73 with 10:10 to play.

And his trust in Durant to take the turnover created by Fisher’s poke of Conley uninterrupted by a timeout proved masterful. The ball came to Durant who pushed it up at his coach’s insistence. With Memphis trying to get back, Durant pulled up from 19 and banged it home.

It was a game the resolute Thunder could have lost and one the Grizzlies believe they should have won.

“I feel like we gave it away, honestly,” said Zach Randolph, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

But that’s not giving the Thunder enough credit. OKC’s big men, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, were atrocious offensively, going 2-for-16 from the floor, and Perkins nearly blew OKC’s chance altogether when Durant’s routine inbounds pass slipped through his hands, leaving Durant rolling his eyes and Memphis with the ball up 90-87 and 1:07 to go.

But the Thunder’s inside duo made Memphis’ Randolph and Gasol pay a physical price in the paint. Perkins played 34 minutes, the most of OKC’s starters other than Durant, and played big in holding the inside-oriented Grizzlies to just 32 points in the paint and four second-chance points on eight total offensive rebounds.

It wasn’t always pretty — OKC missed its first 10 shots and scored 31 points in the first and third quarters combined — and it won’t be the rest of the way. But in taking Game 1, the Thunder, down a star, are coming up with alternatives.

“We know what Russell brings to our team,” Brooks said. “He’s an amazing player and an incredible leader that has been missed, there’s no doubt. But we’ve changed in different ways. We’re different, but we’re still a good team and on both ends of the floor we present problems.”

Hack-Asik Says Thunder Not Contenders


HANG TIME, Texas – There’s little debate that Oklahoma City’s chances of holding a victory parade in June took a hit the moment it was announced that Russell Westbrook would be on an operating table instead of in the starting lineup for Game 3.

But there is no question at all when the Thunder ceased to be championship contenders in 2013.

There was exactly 5:51 left on the clock in the fourth quarter of Game 5 when Serge Ibaka ran up and clamped a hungry bear hug on Omer Asik.

It was that split second when Thunder coach Scott Brooks went to Hack-Asik and announced to the world that his club doesn’t have the stuff to go the distance through four rounds of the playoffs.

It smelled of gimmick and positively reeked of desperation for the No. 1 seed in the West against the No. 8 seed that approaches every game with a style and an attitude that is more Shirts v. Skins than the playoff wars.

Here were the mighty Thunder, virtually without an offensive clue that wasn’t named Kevin Durant, admitting that they had run out of bullets and ideas.

Never mind that over the course of the next 3 1/2 minutes Asik stepped up to the line and knocked down 8-for-11 free throws. It wasn’t simply the result that allowed the Rockets to get out with a 107-97 win that cut OKC’s lead in the series down to a scary 3-2 that made a statement. The real message delivered is that it’s only the first round of the playoffs and the Thunder already are out of answers.

Intentionally fouling a 56.8 percent free-throw shooter is legal and has proven through the years to be occasionally effective against the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. But in this case, it was a Brooks waving a white flag.

What we have seen now in the three games without Westbrook is one thing we knew and another that we suspected: 1) there is very little anyone can do to stop Durant from getting his looks and getting his points; 2) the rest of the OKC roster is more of a crapshoot than a back alley dice game.

Durant finished with 36 points and poured in 18 in the third quarter, but was held scoreless in the fourth. Until Reggie Jackson tossed in a handful of buckets when the Rockets were holding them at arm’s length, the Thunder didn’t really have a second offensive option. Ibaka mixed drop-off dunks with thoughtless jumpers, Kevin Martin was a why-bother 1-for-10, Thabo Sefolosha scored just nine points, Derek Fisher eight, Nick Collison six and Kendrick Perkins two.

The idea that the Thunder can survive with Durant playing point forward and distributing the ball from the top of the offense only is valid if his teammates can consistently make shots. And they can’t.

Funny isn’t it, how all of the howling about Westbrook’s wild and crazy game and penchant for mind-altering shot selection has suddenly become as quiet as the so-called Loud City itself?

Even if the Thunder can pick themselves up off the floor and get past the Rockets — and history says they will — there can be no strong belief that OKC can keep trotting the same “KD-and-a-prayer” attack with success as the competition level gets stronger.

If that wasn’t apparent before, it came clearly into focus with 5:51 left in the game when Ibaka wrapped up Asik.

It was the moment the Thunder ran out of real answers and stopped being a 2013 championship contender.

Ball In Durant’s Hands, Fate In Others


Twelve seconds left in the game and the only way for Francisco Garcia to have gotten any closer to Kevin Durant’s jersey would have been to wear it with him.

This is life now, as far as it goes without Russell Westbrook, for as long as the Thunder can keep going in the playoffs.

OKC has always been a team looking for Durant as the ultimate bailout guy in the final seconds of a game. Trouble is, now the Thunder pretty much need him to be loading, pulling and driving their wagon from opening tip to the final horn.

Yes, Durant got a luxurious six minutes of rest in Game 4 on Monday night, but he still had to make 12 of 16 shots, score 38 points, grab eight rebounds and deal six assists just to give his team an opportunity to flub the final possession.

Without Westbrook on the court, there is nobody else to simply step in and step up and make the plays at both ends of the floor that can change the tide and halt momentum. He couldn’t be a game-changer on defense when the Rockets were scoring 38 points in the third quarter and he couldn’t be the difference maker when OKC was scoring only 19 points in the fourth.

There are no more “Gipper Games” left in OKC’s locker room as it tries to rally round its fallen buddy. Now the Thunder have to live with the reality of being without their unpredictable lightning bolt if they are going to follow through on those plans to get back to the NBA Finals.

“It was a different feeling, for sure,” backup forward Nick Collison said. “I think for us, we have to be able to get over that. Russ is not going to be with us in the playoffs. It can’t always be this emotional ‘Win one for Russell’ for us because it’s too much an emotional roller coaster.

“I think for us we have to focus on what we’re doing on the court, getting ready to play and take a business-like approach to these games. Still have the emotion you need for a playoff game, but really focus on what we need to do on the floor.”

Quite simply, the margin for error to make a serious reach for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is the kind usually familiar to only the bomb squad and the Wallenda Family.

The Game 4 score when the Thunder lineup was on the floor was 31-14 in favor of Houston. The rest of the combinations beat the Rockets 89-74.

A couple of questions: How many times can OKC get away with such insignificant production from the starters? Can the reserves deliver consistently enough to tip-toe through the minefield of four full playoff rounds?

As splendid as he is and as many clouds as Durant may be able to scrape with his soaring talent level, it’s going to take much more Serge Ibaka (eight points), Kendrick Perkins (zero), Thabo Sefolosha (five) and Collison (three) to keep rowing the Thunder ship through the deeper waters. The Rockets are young and athletic and play with the abandon of a shirts-and-skins game on the playground, but they are no real threat to beat the Thunder in a seven-game series. That will come when they have to body up against the bruising Grizzlies or lobbing Clippers in the next round or the much deeper Spurs in the Western Conference finals, if they make it that far.

If the Thunder are going to stay afloat, they have to do it with the unlikely combination of the second-year man Reggie Jackson and 38-year-old veteran Derek Fisher manning the point. Jackson score 18 points before seeming to run out of gas at the end, while Fisher kept advancing the AARP cause by knocking down four 3-pointers.

While playing the point-forward position may give Durant a better view of where he can create his own scoring chances, the Thunder can’t let it come at the expense of not producing enough offense of their own.

Durant is young and willing with the legs and spirit that are capable to play virtually from start to finish every time out from here to June, if that’s what it takes. Nobody doubts that he can deliver individually. But in the end, how he can take them is not in his hands.

Series hub: Thunder vs. Rockets