Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

The Duncan Experience keeps growing


VIDEO: Duncan comes through in the clutch to send Spurs to NBA Finals

OKLAHOMA CITY — Experience is the name men give their mistakes.

The Spurs have had nearly 12 months to learn from their very biggest.

On the first day of training camp back in October, coach Gregg Popovich showed them the video of everything that had slipped through their grasp last June in Miami.

As if they needed a reminder.

“It was just to put it away, get over that part of it, learn from it and move on from there,” said Tim Duncan.

So they’ve moved full circle, like the Earth around the sun, and here was Duncan, one of the immutable forces of basketball and nature, completing that orbit.

He’s done it so many times in the past– those critical rebounds, those key baskets, those difference-making plays — that you tend to nod your head and move on.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a 5-foot turnaround and the guy who typed that up probably would have called Rome just a city on some hills.

The Spurs had just a one-point lead when Manu Ginobili found him with the pass that OKC’s Russell Westbrook tried to swipe at and missed. Westbrook went around and underneath the play and took another swing at the ball and missed again down low. Duncan then rose up, let go with the turnaround over the outstretched arms of Reggie Jackson, but not before Westbrook took one more try and fanned one more time. The ball bounced off the front rim, kissed off the backboard and fell into the net.

“Finally got a roll,” Duncan said.

After four previous championships and five prior trips to the last series in June, the Spurs finally are making back-to-back trips to The Finals and it’s most important to be getting their chance to make up for the agonizing loss against the Heat.

The Spurs did it down the stretch without their starting point guard and best player Tony Parker, who was sidelined at halftime with a sore left ankle.

The Spurs did it against a Thunder team that probably had the two best individual talents in the series in Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The Spurs did it with balance and patience and poise and trust and with a few of the usual tricks from Old Man Riverwalk, who at 38, is still pulling out those tried-and-true basic moves that keep working in every lunchtime game in every YMCA from sea-to-head-faking sea.

Duncan was 2-for-2 in the overtime with a pair of rebounds and scored the seven consecutive points that ultimately lifted the Spurs to the 112-107 victory over the Thunder and the Western Conference title.

As he’s done so often for 17 NBA seasons, Duncan was there to make the plays and do the heavy lifting at the end, which was particularly poignant in a year when the Spurs carried their burden.

“We just had a weird year,” Duncan said. “We were pressing hard early on and grinding on each other, just because of what happened last year.

“We were able to settle ourselves down. We played with a bunch of different lineups all year long. We had guys ready to play and it’s shown throughout these playoffs where guys just step up and step in and are ready.

“I’m proud of the team for just being ready, just not letting that weigh on us and using it as an excuse for anything. We’re back here now and we want to get it done this time.”

When the Thunder had used their young legs and a wave of youthful enthusiasm to win two straight games on their home court to tie the series, there was some thought that the Spurs were finally ready to pass into history.

Instead Duncan kept right on making it by hitting 14 of 27 shots, scoring 41 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in the last two games to keep the door closed on what is supposed to have been the ushering in of the Thunder Era.

“You know that he might be struggling one game or missing a few shots,” Ginobili said. “But he’s there and the opponent has got to respect him. He’s always ready with a solution down the stretch.”

As ready as he has been for nearly two decades in the league. As primed for this moment as since the last second that ticked off the clock last June in Miami.

“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after exactly that, that devastating loss we had last year,” Duncan said. “But we’re back here and we’re excited about it and we’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”

Tim Duncan has had enough experiences.

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!

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

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They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

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Spurs need to follow smart path


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY — Going into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, all coach Gregg Popovich wanted to see from his team was fire and aggressiveness.

Now with a chance to close out the Thunder on Saturday night (8:30 ET, TNT), what the Spurs probably need most is smarts.

“If we just want to play crazy and take quick shots, they’re going to beat us,” said Manu Ginobili. “They are more athletic, they are more talented. So we’ve really got to be sharp.”

There’s a good chance that Popovich will again open with Matt Bonner replacing Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup to spread the floor and open up space in the middle of the OKC defense with Serge Ibaka forced to chase on the perimeter.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks could make the next chess move by shifting defensive assignments, putting Ibaka on Tim Duncan to keep him closer to the basket. But that would also mean that Kevin Durant would have to take time guarding the sizable-but-quick Boris Diaw, who came off the bench to start the second half of Game 5 in place of Bonner.

Ginobili says Diaw has just the kind of veteran experience and wisdom that can make a difference.

“He’s smart, he knows how to pass, and he is a great combination of being a good shooter without shooting too much, and a driver, and can post up more as a player,” Ginobili said. “He’s very versatile, and you can change things up with him a lot, and looking at each other, we can make decisions on the fly.”

Morning Shootaround — May 31


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers-Heat rivalry never really existed | Your move Scotty Brooks | Composed Heeat dismantle Pacers, Stephenson | Phil Jackson asks ‘Melo to opt in, stick with Knicks

No. 1: Pacers-Heat rivalry? It never existedPaul George‘s less than rousing endorsement of “No. 1″ aside, the Indiana Pacers left Miami late Friday night filled with mixed emotions about finishing three straight seasons on the wrong side of the ledger against the Miami Heat. They’d call it a rivalry, their annual tussle with the Heat. Others, however, wouldn’t go that far. Not when the Pacers have fallen in this proposed rivalry in each and every battle that truly mattered. Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out the differences between a rivalry and what amounts to bullying and why it’s time for everyone to move on:

Make no mistake about it: The Pacers were nothing more than a solid group of antagonists, instigators and irritants that pushed, poked and provoked Miami these past few seasons. But they were never really the Heat’s equal.

At least not when it mattered most.

The East might as well start taking applications now for a new so-called “rival” for the Heat. Because these Pacers were officially relieved of their duties after being dismantled and shoved aside in a 117-92 season-ending loss in Game 6 of the conference finals.

It’s clearly time to move on.

The Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season as they pursue a third straight championship. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have known no other outcome since they became teammates before the 2010-11 season.

And for the third postseason in a row, including two straight in the conference finals, the Heat propelled themselves into the championship round after breaking down and eventually stepping over Indiana. The Pacers are all too familiar with the bitter flavor they’ve had to taste after being served and dismissed by the Heat.

Considering some of their actions, antics and comments over the course of the series, I completely expected the Pacers to be defiant in defeat when their locker room was opened to the media after the game. But a team that’s been full of surprises and bucked expectations — both high and low — throughout a turbulent season was true to its unpredictable form late Friday.

It’s difficult to describe just how deflated the scene was inside the visitors’ locker room. As reality sank in that the season ended well short of expectations for the 56-win team that held the No. 1 seed in the East, the Pacers were things they hadn’t been all series.

Humbled.

Quiet.

Sullen.

Sadly accepting that their best, despite three seasons of motivation, isn’t good enough. Not against James and the Heat. Not back then, not now, probably not ever.

“We know what they’re going to do in these moments,” Pacers forward David West said of the Heat as he slumped into his stall and stared at the floor. “And [we] weren’t able to, again, match what they’re capable of. I thought they just were the better team. We got right back to where we got to last year, and they’re just a better team. They’ve got a gear that we can’t get to.”


VIDEO: LeBron and DWade at the podium for the 4th straight season after winning the Eastern Conference finals

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Morning Shootaround — May 30


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sale price of Clippers shocks the world | Spurs smart enough to fear what they know | Welcome to West’s neighborhood for Game 6 of Heat-Pacers | Curry on board with Kerr, still getting over Jackson firing

No. 1: Clippers $2 billion sale price causes sticker shock — Stunning. That is the only way to describe the sale price of the Los Angeles Clippers, a robust and record $2 billion from would-be-owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. As if the Clippers’ saga couldn’t get any crazier, word leaked out Thursday evening and the reaction from the Southland and beyond has been a collective dropping of jaws that the Sterlings (Donald on the sidelines according to reports and his wife Shelly as the point person) are going to make off with billions. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times provides some context:

The Clippers curse has been at least temporarily swallowed up by the Clippers purse, which was bulging with Thursday’s news that the team has been sold to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Leave your jaw on the floor. It’s all true. The Clippers. Two billion bucks. No NBA championships. Two billion bucks. No appearances in the conference finals. Two billion bucks. No league most valuable players, no Staples statues, and no real national love until their owner became the most disliked man in America. Two billion bucks.

We all know how Donald Sterling feels about blacks. Now we’ll find out if he has a higher opinion of green.

The deal was brokered by Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling and, depending on whom you ask, may need approval by her husband. Donald Sterling has been banned from the league for making racist remarks on an audio recording that also led the NBA to vow to strip his family of ownership.

Representatives for Donald Sterling have claimed that he won’t give up the team without a fight, but here’s guessing that getting $2 billion for a team that cost him $12.5 million in 1981 — a team he mostly ran like a true Clip joint — would be enough to convince him to slink away.

The NBA would have to then approve Ballmer as an owner, but here’s guessing that would also not be a problem considering he was already vetted last year when he was part of a group that attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings.

So the good news is that there are now 2 billion reasons for the Sterlings to disappear. But the uncertain news is, what does that price mean for the team they are leaving behind? In other words, are the Clippers really worth $2 billion? How on Earth can even a brilliant former Microsoft boss crack the code to make this kind of deal work?


VIDEO: TNT’s David Aldridge discusses the latest in the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers

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Spurs find it easier to be hard



VIDEO: Behind Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio collects Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — Figuring out this wildly divergent Western Conference finals is getting harder than calculus after the Spurs’ 117-89 win over the Thunder on Thursday night gave San Antonio a 3-2 series lead.

There was a lineup change. There was a personality change.

There were tactical adjustments. There was an attitude adjustment.

The Spurs contested harder on defense. They battled harder for every rebound. They scrapped harder to come up with every 50-50 play. They worked harder at keeping the ball moving and at staying within their carefully constructed offensive identity.

And it worked for San Antonio. Again.

Five games in this series, five blowouts, all by the home team. The average margin of victory is 20.4 points. The Spurs have won their three home games by 26.6 points per game.

“You’re serious? You really think I can explain that?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asked.

For those obsessed by the Xs and Os, the Spurs replaced Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup with Matt Bonner and all through the game kept a stretch-four on the court to keep Serge Ibaka from making the low post and all of the paint his own personal dinner plate.

The Spurs switched defensive assignments, using the bigger Kawhi Leonard to block the tracks of the runaway train that can be Russell Westbrook and trusting Danny Green to give away a half a foot to league MVP Kevin Durant and not be overwhelmed.

They also made the most of Boris Diaw’s broad palette of skills, knocking down 3-pointers, moving shiftily inside for hoops and using a magician’s sleight-of-hand to slide the ball to all of his open teammates.

“It definitely helped,” said Tim Duncan, who broke free for a Throwback Thursday effort of 22 points and 12 rebounds. “Boris shot the ball really well and just the threat of Matt being out there, I think, helped us to keep [Ibaka] out of the lane a little bit and spread him out a little bit. It was a great move by Pop, a little adjustment there, and it obviously worked.”

But only because the Spurs also adjusted the way they played the game — going from lost and timid in OKC to ferocious and confident back home at the AT&T Center.

None of San Antonio’s best-laid plans would have meant a thing if Duncan hadn’t turned back the clock again to do practically hand-to-hand combat to get his dozen rebounds, if Leonard had not thrown off the dazed look of Games 3 and 4 to become locked in, if Diaw didn’t play perhaps the most feverish and significant playoff game of his career.

And if Manu Ginobili hadn’t once more bounced and banged all over the court like a funnel cloud clearing out everything in its path.

Often you can waste time trying to break things down to their smallest parts, rather than sit back and take in the beauty of the entire beast.

“Probably they were not aggressive and we were,” Ginobili said. “Today we were just sharp. We were smart and that’s what we were talking about. It’s the only way we have a shot.”

The Thunder are still younger, swifter and stronger and if the Spurs let them turn this into strictly an athletic affair, they won’t be making a return trip to the NBA Finals, even with the home-court advantage still in their hip pocket.

But a couple of possessions were a perfectly drawn blueprint of exactly what they must do:

  • Once Tony Parker drove the ball down under the basket, whipped a pass all the way back out top to Diaw, who gave a glance at the basket, but then passed the ball on to Leonard in the right corner for a 3-pointer.
  • On another occasion Ginobili raced downcourt in transition  while being dogged and contested by second year man Jeremy Lamb of OKC. He waited as Lamb got up in his face, then he waited some more while other Spurs caught up to the play and offered other options. He waited until Lamb finally took the bait and took a half-step away and then calmly and simply raised up and buried a killer 3 from the right wing.

The Spurs played smart. They played poised. They played hard.

None of that may translate to Game 6 on Saturday in OKC, where San Antonio has lost nine consecutive games. But two nights after not even running in a single fast break play in OKC, the Spurs outran the Thunder 14-4. They devoured the Thunder 48-35 on the backboards. They cleaned up on the inside with 17 second-chance points. For the first time in several years, they thoroughly neutralized Ibaka at both ends of the court.

“It was two things,” Popovich said. “What matters in a game is execution and mental toughness. You have to execute and you have to play with passion. So it’s like the old Dean Smith-Larry Brown thing — play harder than your opponent.”

The rest is easy.

24 – Second thoughts — May 29


VIDEO: Danny Green lets that shooting hand hang in the air after his fourth 3-pointer of the night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Throw that scouting report in the trash bin. Throw it away.

There is no explanation for what we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Five games. Five cakewalks for the home teams. And a bunch of us trying to figure out how two teams could look so unbelievably good at home and then get their respective doors blown off away from home. 

It’s not just us either. It’s the same on the inside. The mighty Tim Duncan, a man whose been doing this for nearly two decades, admitted he’s never seen anything like this series.

“This is the craziest series I’ve been involved in,” he said.

Spurs coach and reigning NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich made his move for Game 5. He made his adjustment (Matt Bonner into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter) and the lineup change did exactly what it was designed to do (specifics will not be shared by Pop), since the Spurs won the game.

Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and the mighty Duncan all did their part to help the Spurs return to the same style and tempo they played in Games 1 and 2.

The average margin of victory in this series is a staggering 20.4 points.

Game 6 awaits in Oklahoma City Saturday night. Can the Thunder get more out of Serge Ibaka, the hero from Games 3 and, but an relative non-factor in Game 5.

Good luck figuring this series out by then …

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The Spurs revert back to form and get everyone involved, and things turned in their favor … and the night was, for most the part, antics free.

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Manu and the Spurs are one win away from a back-to-back trip to The Finals, a first in the Duncan-Pop-Manu-Parker era.

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Could be time for Spurs to tweak lineup


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn’t just Serge Ibaka’s miracle trip to Lourdes or a visit to the gods of Thunder that turned around the entire look and feel of the Western Conference finals. OKC coach Scott Brooks also jumped guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha and the offense has since been cooking.

While all of the official talk out of the Spurs’ camp the past two days has been about attitude and energy and determination, there is still speculation that Gregg Popovich could come back with a change of his own tonight for Game 5 (9 ET, TNT).

Would the Spurs consider benching Tiago Splitter and getting Boris Diaw’s outside shooting into the starting lineup to try to pull Ibaka way from the basket? Would they think about going small with Kawhi Leonard at power forward? And what of Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner, who came hustled off the bench in Game 4 to make the final score respectable?

“Ask him,” Manu Ginobili said, pointing to Popovich, when asked about lineup changes. “I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Popovich, of course, isn’t revealing anything, except to say, “we’re considering a couple of tweaks here and there, just in the plan. I don’t know exactly where that will be. But we saw some things that might warrant a little tweaking.”

Diaw told the media at Thursday’s shootaround that he was not starting. However, that means nothing.

Diaw did acknowledge that he was successful going against the Thunder’s small lineup in the first two games of the series.

“But since Ibaka came back, they don’t play small as much,” he said.  “So we actually like it when they play small. It’s when they play big that we have a hard time the last couple of games to score inside.  But whatever they give us we got to find a solution.”

Diaw said it makes sense to take advantage of his ability to score from the outside to possibly get Ibaka out of the low post, where he has disrupted and distracted the Spurs whenever they’ve gotten the ball into the paint.

“For sure,” he said. “Shooting from outside, he’s a guy that’s helping a lot so we got to try to keep him out of the paint.

“There are some open shots that we don’t take.  There are also some contested shots that we shouldn’t take, should be more patient, move the ball a little more so we can be open. We have got to pass the ball more. Because it’s what we have been doing all year. So we have got to find a way to move the ball enough so we get open shots.”

Perhaps one good tweak deserves another.

Will Game 4 horror show fuel Spurs?


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – While much of America has been caught up watching Godzilla wreak havoc on movie screens, the Spurs got ready for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals with a horror show of their own.

No popcorn or Coke, but there were plenty of reasons for those in the audience to cover their eyes and scream when they watched video of Game 4.

“A lot of things,” said Manu Ginobili following Thursday’s shootaround. “We played terrible in both games, in every aspect of the game. They scored too much, went to the line too much. We were not smart enough. We have to play close to perfection to beat them, especially over there. We were way too far from that, so we had no shot.”

Why did that happen?

“Because the opponent changes,” he said. “If we play the same opponent under the same conditions, we would play the same every same. Loose balls and you miss a couple shots, and things start to change in your head, in your team. Every game is different. For sure, they are a tough team. They are athletic, they are strong and they play even better at home. That’s basketball.”

The only one in the cast that got rave reviews was Cory Joseph for the way he fearlessly went at the Thunder.

“He was the one that played the most aggressive, that challenged them, that played physical,” Ginobili said. “We were not. We were slow. We really have to see how he played and how he attacked the basket, how he penetrated and kicked, something we all have to do. Because if we don’t, if we don’t get 10 guys playing like that, we don’t have many chances. That’s what we did in Games 1 and 2.”

A lot of actors say they don’t like watching themselves up on the screen and that went double for a film session that was tough on everyone else in a black and silver uniform.

“Very,” Ginobili said. “You hope your next trip you’re not there. We were watching the second half, I said ‘OK. I’m safe now.’ Sometimes you’re embarrassed to see what you did. You think you’re doing your best, rotating, and you’re slow and they’re more aggressive than us. It’s painful, but it helps you learn and understand the multiple things we did wrong and can do better. We might even lose again playing a great game. But to look in each others’ faces to say we gave it everything we had, we played smarter, they just beat us. That’s where we have to get to, a point where we play much harder and much smarter.”

To avoid getting flattened like Tokyo again.

Pop’s Game 4 retreat is no surrender


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich discusses Game 4

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

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

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

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

“Thursday,” Pop said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh-uh. Not for even a second.

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

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

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

One reason: “Thursday.”

The only real minutes left that matter.


VIDEO: Game 5 preview between the Thunder and Spurs