Posts Tagged ‘Tony Allen’

D-League Hack-a-Shaq attack is out of whack

It could eventually mean a lot less time in the gym for Dwight Howard. Josh Smith would cut out early, too. Omer Asik wouldn’t have to waste all those extra hours on shooting form. Tony Allen, Draymond Green and Kendrick Perkins would have far less to fret about every time they show up for a game.

The NBA D-League announced a handful of rule changes for its 14th season, which opens next week. Coaches’ challenges are on the table, but effectively eliminated is the Hack-a-Shaq strategy of intentionally fouling away from the ball.

What is being sold as a way to speed up the game is actually cop-out to give poor free-throw shooters a free pass.

Labeled Hack-a-Shaq for its frequent use against Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal (career free throw percentage 52.7) to make him go to the foul line, some critics have complained that the ploy interrupts the flow and detracts from the artistry of the game.

What they miss, of course, is that all a highly-paid professional player need do is put in the time and effort to become a C-level foul shooter, say 70 percent, and no coach would ever use the strategy.

But by extending the current rule used in the final two minutes to the entire game, the change is extending the worst shooters — and quite often the biggest players — a crutch. Now if a player is fouled intentionally away from the ball at any time during a D-League game, any player on his team will shoot a free throw and his team will retain possession.

Free throws are a fundamental part of the game and learning to make them is no different than developing the skills to make a layup or hit a jump shot. The fact that Howard (44.5 in five games this season), Smith (47.4), Asik (50.0), Allen (53.8), Green (55.6) and Perkins (57.1) are virtual coin tosses from the foul line is entirely on them.

Nobody is asking the likes of Howard to become as proficient as a Steve Nash (90.0). But there is no need to bail out a perennial All-Star who cannot become acceptably average a decade into his career.

This a case of the Nanny State invading basketball. Not every Tom, Dick, Dwight or Shaq can make his free throws. So let’s spare him the trouble — and the glaring spotlight — give everyone a juice box and a cookie and go home early.

There’s always been a better way. Just make your free throws.

 

More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

Durant must answer call with authority

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s Dennis Scott talks about what the Thunder must do in Game 3

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – With or without miracle healer, if not yet miracle worker Serge Ibaka, the 2014 Oklahoma City Thunder’s postseason, sink or swim, will be owned by Kevin Durant.

The regular-season MVP and scoring champion has yet to sustain such a consistent level of brilliance in these playoffs, shooting just 45.4 percent from the floor despite a league playoff-best 30.1-point scoring average.

He acknowledged that fact the morning of Game 2: “I have another level I have to go to in order for us to get this thing done.”

And then the Thunder got thumped by 35 points, 20 more than Durant scored. Danny Green dropped more 3-pointers (seven) than Durant had field goals (six). Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were both plus-32 in 29 minutes. Durant was minus-26 in 29 minutes.

Allow those numbers to sink in.

As badly as Durant needs Thabo Sefolosha to can a jumper, and Caron Butler to come through with more than one 3-pointer since Game 3 against the Clippers, and for Russell Westbrook to stay in control when momentum swings against them, the second-best player on the planet has to show up as such.

LeBron James yielded the MVP to Durant this season, but the Miami Heat’s leader remains No. 1 in grabbing his team by the boot straps. With a squad thinner and more vulnerable than the past two championship versions, with Dwyane Wade playing mostly unspectacularly through the first two rounds and Chris Bosh averaging a pedestrian 13.5 ppg and 5.3 rpg, James has raised his scoring average in the postseason (28.8 ppg) while still shooting a remarkable 56.3 percent from the floor.

He’s increased his free-throw attempts by two a game compared to the regular season and improved his accuracy. He has the Heat now 9-2 in the playoffs, yes, against inferior Eastern competition compared to OKC’s playoff opponents. The Thunder stand 8-7 heading into Sunday night’s massively important Game 3 on their home floor (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

While Ibaka’s two-game absence (so far) has eliminated a lethal pick-and-pop game and robbed OKC of its third-leading scorer and fiercest two-way player against the most dangerous opponent, Durant has struggled with his shot throughout the playoffs. His 3-point percentage of 35.0 percent (39.1 percent in the regular season) has slowly trended up, although he’s 4-for-11 against San Antonio after an 0-for-4 night in Game 2.

After shooting 40 free throws in the last three games against the Clippers, Durant’s managed just nine in two games against the Spurs, and a total of one beyond the first quarter. During the rest of the playoffs, as well as the regular season, he’s averaged more than nine a game.

He’s continually denied that his league-leading 3,121 regular-season minutes (Dallas’ Monta Ellis was second with 3,022) and a playoff-high 648 more (Indiana’s Paul George is second with 619, also in 15 games) has worn him down or flattened his shot.

Game 3 will demand Durant be at his sharpest, both shooting it and play-making to involve and potentially ignite a cast, that when involved, propels an offense that has sagged in Games 1 and 2 to 94.0 points per 100 possessions against a Spurs defense it burned for 110.2 points per 100 possessions in going 4-0 during the regular season.

If Durant, 25, can’t summon that “next level” against the longest-standing Big Three of them all, he’ll swallowed by pre-championship-level LeBron scrutiny.

Durant got an initial dose of it last year, mostly unfairly, when the Thunder’s title hopes were dashed by Westbrook’s first-round knee injury. Durant was bottled up by Memphis in crunch time and he couldn’t get OKC out of the second round.

At each stage of this postseason, Durant has been tested mentally and physically. He showed frustration early against the defense of Tony Allen and the Grizzlies. When the Thunder went down 3-2 to Memphis with Durant going 10-for-24 in Game 5, the “Mr. Unreliable” headline made its appearance the next morning. Durant answered it with consecutive stellar games to move on.

Following three fourth-quarter turnovers in the Game 4 meltdown against the Clippers, Durant responded with a late surge after a rough three quarters in Game 5 to propel an unlikely comeback that prevented a 3-2 deficit heading back to L.A. In the series-clinching Game 6, Durant recovered from another slow start to overwhelm the Clippers and earn a third West finals berth in four seasons.

The Spurs are a near-perfect machine with essentially one flaw that had worked in the Thunder’s favor so often before — difficultly keeping up with super-athletic lineups. Before this series, before Ibaka strained his calf, the Thunder were 10-2 in their previous 12 games against the Spurs.

If Ibaka is capable of playing in Game 3, it will certainly give the Thunder a psychological boost and shore up defensive holes from the first two games in which the Spurs totaled 120 points in the paint.

Game 2 was stunningly lost after Durant checked back in with 6:18 left in the first half. Tim Duncan was at the free-throw line and gave the Spurs a 37-36 lead. A sudden San Antonio surge, which sparked words between Westbrook and Durant heading into a timeout, and the Spurs were up 58-44 going into halftime.

For the Thunder to reverse course in this series as they did in the 2012 West finals when the Spurs also jumped out to a 2-0 lead on their home floor, Durant must answer this call with authority.

Next few steps critical for Grizzlies

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies fell in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The picture of instability.

The living and breathing definition of disarray.

That’s what that smoke cloud in Memphis looks like from afar.

The Grizzlies, a year removed from a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals and weeks after a first round exit from the 2014 playoffs, dismissed team CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash on Monday, ensuring a major shake-up would dominate their summer for the second straight year. They parted ways with HT fave and well-respected head coach Lionel Hollins after last season’s trip to the conference finals.

Further complicating matters this time around is the Grizzlies giving Dave Joerger – who succeeded Hollins and led the Grizzlies to a 50-win season – permission to speak with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their coaching vacancy.

On the surface it’s yet another head-scratching decision from a franchise that’s making that a habit:

“The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota … and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn’t see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

“He’s just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon,” said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while [Grizzlies owner Robert] Pera restructures the front office.

All signs point to Pera being the one instigating these changes after a reported clash with his management team, changes that elicited this simple but appropriate response from Grizzlies guard Tony Allen:

All this is yet another disconnect between ownership, management and the coaching staff that leads to dysfunction and entropy. The Grizzlies aren’t true championship contenders. But they’re certainly closer to the Western Conference power elite than they are to the consistent lottery crowd.

Pera has every right to do as he pleases with his franchise. He’s paying a handsome price for that right. But he should be careful. There have been others in his shoes who have chosen to do it their way, a “new” way, despite being advised to hire smart people and then step back and allow them to do their jobs.

The richest or smartest man or woman in the room isn’t always right when it comes to basketball decisions. It makes me think back to the way things unraveled in Phoenix when the Robert Sarver-led group took over a contender and slowly but surely reduced the team to a lottery-dweller that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.

(Granted, the 2013-14 Suns won 48 games and became just the second team in the past 40 years to win that many games and miss the postseason.)

In a copycat league in which teams structure their franchises based on the most successful outfits, down to the way the socks are organized in the equipment room, it boggles the mind that anyone would want to retrace the steps the Suns took when they broke from the sturdy leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo.

Yes, the Suns survived for a couple of seasons without the Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni power structure in place. But that talented roster they initially had — Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson –  eroded over the years leaving nothing from the glory days but an aging Nash,who was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers..

The Grizzlies would be wise to tread cautiously as they go down what appears to be a similar path. Wallace has been in the front-office game long enough to know just how hard it is to get back to where the Grizzlies are now if they do dip below the playoff line.

Memphis battled back this year from early stumbles and an injury to Marc Gasol to secure that seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what would have happened in Game 7 of the opening round against the Thunder if they had been able to play Zach Randolph, who had been suspended for clocking Thunder big man Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6?

The point being, overreacting after a season like this could be detrimental to the long-term health of what’s been built in Memphis. Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Mike Miller and the rest of the the Grizzlies are ready to compete for the foreseeable future.

Someone needs to wake up, quickly, to refrain from any more of the foolishness that has marked the Grizzlies’ offseason for a second straight spring.

Blogtable: Is KD really OK?

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: Second-round squeakers | Indy: Reasons to believe | Is KD really OK?



VIDEO: The GameTime crew breaks down Tony Allen’s defense of Kevin Durant

> Tony Allen can play, sure, but what happened to MVP Kevin Durant in the first round? BTW, who’s your early leader for postseason MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I attribute Durant’s indecisiveness during the Memphis series to the playoff effect of a defense adjusting game by game to its opponents’ strengths. That’s going to continue, but Durant and the Thunder should be quicker to adjust back. As for postseason MVP, I’ll take LeBron James against the field. More than the first two, if Miami wins another ring, it will come via his will and his skills, happily swapping out the Podoloff trophy for the Russell.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Mostly, you answered your own question.  Tony Allen happened to him early and late, K.D. got a bit out of sorts and out of kilter and it became a series about survival rather than looking good.  He did, the Thunder did and that’s all that matters.  Even though his team was thumped in the opener of the second round, I’ll give LaMarcus Aldridge the edge for early playoff MVP for the way he carried the Blazers to their first series in 14 years against the Rockets.  But that’s only because LeBron James has barely had to break a sweat so far.  The best from the best is yet to come.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m still trying to figure this out. KD’s shooting percentages have dipped really since the start of April and there is genuine concern here that something’s not right. The biggest indicator that I red flag is his playoff free-throw percentage of 75 percent. He’s an 88-percent free throw shooter for his career and hit 90 percent last season. It suggests, to me, either he’s fatigued or not concentrating fully, or those two factors are working together.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I don’t know that anything “happened” to KD. He faced a good defensive team and a very good defensive player, as you mentioned. And he played huge minutes. As easy as it is to say Durant is young and can handle the heavy workload or that Durant is so much better than a lot of players that he can adjust, having 42 or 43 minutes be a slow day takes a toll after carrying so much burden in the regular season. He was spending a lot of time in the high-40s and low-50s.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince played fantastic individual defense, but Durant had the attention of the whole Grizzlies D, which happened to rank second after Marc Gasol returned in mid-January. The best players see extra defenders in the playoffs, especially when they have a teammate or two on the floor who can be left alone. My playoffs MVP so far is LeBron James, even though the Heat haven’t really needed much from him to this point. He’s just been the best player, there isn’t anyone really close, and the Heat are the only team in either conference that’s a clear favorite to make The Finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Durant’s fine. Tony Allen and the Grizzlies happened to him in the first round. Nothing more and nothing less. And he survived them. The real test comes against a Clippers team that doesn’t have an individual defender like Allen to slow him down. They’re going to try and limit him as best they can but the Clippers will live with Durant getting his and hoping to outscore him and the Thunder to get to the conference finals. My early leader for postseason MVP? He’s only played five games, so far, but I’m going with LeBron James.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I’ll tell you what happened to Kevin Durant in Round One: He won. Rather, his team won. And if there’s anything you should understand about Kevin Durant, it’s that he doesn’t care much about the individual numbers or stats — he just wants to win. That isn’t just lip service, either: KD is not nice when it comes to winning. Did he have some low scoring games? For him, sure. But the most important thing is he figured out how to give his chance the best opportunity at winning every night. Which is what MVPs do.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: KD had a couple of tough games, something that happens even to MVPs. He’s guilty of having them in the postseason: a consequence of Tony Allen stalking him even on the bench. Not to mention poor shooting, and some shaky playmaking in the team (Westbrook fell into I’m-gonna-win-this-alone mode at times). But when it counted most (Game 6 and 7) he averaged 34.5 ppg. But my early leader for postseason MVP is Damian Lillard, a playoff rookie who killed the Rockets with a buzzer beater and he’s averaging Jordan-esque and LeBron-esque numbers. Tony Parker thinks he’s already among top 5 PGs in the NBA: he has the chance to prove it against Parker himself, the No. 2 in my early postseason standings.

The downer that is OKC and KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double, the Grizzlies took Game 5 in OT

Full disclosure: I picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to win it all this season. I have defended Russell Westbrook as a worthy co-pilot for Kevin Durant, going so far as to declare them the most dynamic duo in the league. I’ve written that Scott Brooks deserves less criticism as a tactician and more credit as a talent developer and team builder.

These defenses are crumbling right along with the Thunder’s title hopes. So perplexing are their performances that the Oklahoma City fans, a tremendously friendly and faithful base, booed their boys during a particularly lethargic patch when they got down by 20 in Tuesday’s 100-99 overtime loss that moved my hand-picked champs to the brink of elimination.

And now everything I thought I knew about the Thunder is flapping in the wind.

The argument that the 50-win Memphis Grizzlies are not a typical No. 7 seed and a bear of a matchup for any opponent is valid. They have played solidly and a scheme to make the league’s scoring champ and soon-to-be named regular-season MVP miserable has worked.

A playoff-record four consecutive games have gone to overtime, three won by the Grizzlies. Rationally, it can be touted that a favorable bounce here, a shot lipping in instead of out, one extra tenth-of-a-second, and the Thunder own this series. But even the Thunder wouldn’t go there.

Suddenly Thunder general manager Sam Presti, the bright, young and bespectacled executive credited with creating this juggernaut is 48 minutes from facing a mountain of questions he didn’t see coming.

All the past criticisms are more real than ever, and things don’t turn quickly they swirl around the compatibility of Durant and Westbrook, and Brooks’ ability to make it work. Westbrook, the force-of-nature point guard who plays with no restrictor plate at all times, has said sitting out last postseason provided him new perspective of his position and role within the team. But as the Thunder offense devolves into an alarmingly high rate of isolation and heavy dribbling, his shots, some too early in the shot clock, some bewilderingly off-balance and from awkward angles, keep mounting.

His shot attempts have increased from 17.2 in the regular season to 25.6 in the playoffs. That he’s shooting only 34.4 percent overall and 18.4 percent from 3-point range, is as troubling as Brooks’ inability or unwillingness to reign in him at key times.

After Game 5, Westbrook said his shot selection can get better, but if Memphis is giving him the 15-foot jumper he’ll make it nine times out of 10.

Unfortunately, he finished Game 5 10-for-30 overall and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. And never was his complexity more apparent. He totaled a triple-double with 13 assists and 10 rebounds, plus a critical steal, pick-pocketing Memphis point guard Mike Conley that ensured overtime. He also allowed Conley to blow by him twice in overtime.

As for Durant, a cold-blooded killer during his historic regular season,  he is just cold. His smile has vanished, his body language has slumped. With grinding defender Tony Allen or long-limbed Tayshaun Prince hounding him on the perimeter and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol waiting in the paint, getting to the rim against the Grizzlies isn’t for the faint of heart.

But Durant’s perceived passivity — Brooks, and even Conley, said he remains aggressive — is removing a major part of his scoring arsenal, the free throw. According to SportVU stats, Durant has made fewer drives to the basket than Miami’s Dwyane Wade, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, and Dallas’ 37-year-old shooting guard Vince Carter, while playing in one more game than all of them.

It’s resulting in two fewer free throws a game than he averaged in the regular season, and more stunningly, he’s making just 71.8 percent (28-for-39). He is an 88.2 percent free throw shooter over his career and eclipsed 90 percent last season. Durant was 3-for-6 in Game 5 and missed the potential game-tying free throw with 27.6 seconds to go. Is that a sign of fatigue for the league’s far-and-away minutes leader during the regular season?

After Game 5, Durant said he was “fine” with being used as a decoy in the final six minutes after knocking down a 3-pointer that capped a 27-6 run and gave OKC it’s first lead of the game. He then went 12 consecutive possessions without getting off a shot. He only touched it three times as Brooks made the curious decision to use Durant in the corner to space the floor for Reggie Jackson to drive.

The Thunder haven’t looked like the team expected to make a run at the title since it came out smoking in the first half of Game 1. Maybe they figure things out and turn it on in Game 6, and maybe Durant regains his MVP groove that saw him accomplish multiple feats that hadn’t been done since Michael Jordan.

But then, that was the plot line for Game 5, and it didn’t happen.

Dirk knows Durant’s first-round pain

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew previews Game 5 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series

DALLAS – During their 2011 Western Conference finals matchup, Dirk Nowitzki called Kevin Durant the future of the league. Three years later, the Thunder superstar is the runaway leader to win his first MVP award.

But he’s been scuffling so far in the first round and the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, seeking a return to the NBA Finals for a second time in three seasons, find themselves in a dogfight against the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. After Durant scored just 15 points on 5-for-21 shooting (1-for-7 from beyond the arc) in Saturday’s 92-89 overtime win, OKC is fortunate to be going home tied 2-2 for Tuesday’s Game 5 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

About a month ago, Durant said Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are his favorite players in the league. He lauded Nowitzki for his humble, low-key style and said he studies Nowitzki’s moves and his training regimen. However, there’s one Nowitzki footstep Durant doesn’t want to follow.

In May 2007, with top-seeded Dallas knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by upstart Golden State, Nowitzki gritted his teeth through an uncomfortable and admittedly depressing MVP ceremony.

“I’ll still look back once my career is over [and think] it’s unbelievable that I won the MVP coming over from Germany,” Nowitzki said Sunday afternoon, one day after the surprising Mavs took a 2-1 lead over the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs. “But in the back of my mind it will probably always be connected to the first-round loss because I think we had a great chance that year.”

Durant has yet to find a rhythm against Tony Allen and the Memphis defense. He’s 40-for-101  (39.6 percent) from the floor and 9-for-34 (26.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Those figures are way off his season marks of 50.3 percent and 39.1 percent.

His slump actually started after his Michael Jordan-eclipsing streak of scoring 25 points or more in 41 consecutive games ended on April 8. In the final five regular-season games, Durant went 54-for-124 overall (43.5 percent) and 7-for-34 from deep (20.5 percent).

His first-round struggles harken back to Nowitzki’s 2007 MVP campaign. He averaged 24.6 ppg and accomplished the rare 50-40-90 trifecta — 50.2 percent shooting overall, 41.6 percent from 3 and 90.4 percent from the free throw line. But in the first round, Nowitzki’s trademark accuracy waned and with it went the Mavs’ hopes of returning to the NBA Finals. Dallas lost to the Miami Heat in the 2006 Finals.

            Nowitzki vs. Warriors (2007)                 Durant vs. Grizzlies (2014)

                   FGM-FGA    3M-3A                                    FGM-FGA    3M-3A

Game 1        4-16                0-2                                          13-25                3-7

Game 2        7-15                0-2                                          12-28               5-12

Game 3        7-16                0-1                                          10-27               0-8

Game 4        9-19                2-5                                           5-21                 1-7

Game 5        7-15                2-3                                             —                     –

Game 6        2-13                0-6                                            –                     –

Total              36-94            4-19                                     40-101              9-34

                     (38.3%)          (21.1%)                               (39.6%)          (26.5%)

“Once you lose in the Finals one time, I think your mindset is always anything but the Finals is a disappointment,” Nowitzki said. “The pressure’s high, but I think that’s what we compete for; we don’t compete [to] not make the playoffs, so yeah, we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform.

“I think he’ll snap out of it, I really do. That was a big win for them [Saturday] night. I watched the fourth quarter and they were able to come back. Now they’ve got two home games, so I think they’ll be OK.”

Durant’s miserable Game 4, which wasn’t helped by slumping point guard Russell Westbrook also scoring 15 points on 6-for-24 shooting, nearly put the Thunder in a 3-1 hole, just as Nowitzki and the Mavs found themselves seven seasons ago. Reggie Jackson‘s 32-point effort evened the series and breathed new life into the Thunder’s championship hopes.

“We felt if we get through the first round [in 2007] we would have had a great chance to compete for a championship again,” Nowitzki said. “So, yeah, it’s a little of mixed feelings, always. I think, honestly, it helped me later on in ’11 be the closer that I was.”

As Nowitzki knows, title chances are fleeting, and unpredictable. Dallas didn’t get beyond the second round again until that 2010-11 season, when Nowitzki put it all together and led the Mavs to the franchise’s lone title.

Footsteps Durant would just as soon skip.

Allen adds offense to his Grizz appeal

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Memphis holds off OKC for 2-1 lead

MEMPHIS – Tony Allen started shaking his head even before the question was half-asked, a slow, rolling, sheepish shake punctuated with a frustrated fist pump.

Er, about those 4-point plays, Tony?

“I blame it on missed coverages,” Allen said. “Maybe the big probably called a certain coverage and I was in another coverage, which allowed me to foul him. I don’t know, we’ll look at the film and we’ll have to try to get better at that. Because obviously we’ve been doing that a lot throughout the year.”

Allen, Memphis’ ace perimeter defender was ‘fessing up but not just on his foul on Russell Westbrook‘s 3-pointer with 26.6 seconds left that erased the Grizzlies’ 85-81 lead and forced them again to survive in overtime. He got caught tripping Westbrook on his heave from midcourt at the very end, with :00.9 showing on the clock that, had the shot gone, would have put the Oklahoma City guard on the line to tie.

As it was, Westbrook could have tied it the hard way if he had made his first two foul shots, intentionally missed the third, then had a Thunder teammate or himself tip in the miss.

Imagine Allen’s angst had that happened. The first one, forcing five extra minutes at FedEx Forum before Memphis escaped 98-95, was bad enough.

“Yeah, that was a bonehead play on myself. I take full responsibility for battling Westbrook on that specific play,” Allen said.

Allen could apologize with a smile because at night’s end, the Grizzlies had taken a 2-1 lead over the No. 2-seeded Thunder, with Game 4 set for Saturday night. He could apologize, too, because his body of work contained a lot more than a couple bonehead plays.

Most of Allen’s props come from his work as a pest and, if everything lines up right, a stopper. Against Kevin Durant in this series, as fellow Hang Time denizen Jeff Caplan chronicled two games into the best-of-seven series, Allen been a whole lot of the former, making the NBA’s scoring champ work hard (25-for-53) for point totals (33 and 36) that were right at his average.

But in Game 3, Allen veered toward the latter. Durant took 27 shots and made 10 on his way to 30, and came away with nothing for the eight 3-point attempts he missed. It was hard to tell whether Allen was more up in Durant’s shooting stroke or in his head.

But wait, this time there was more: Allen was an offensive factor, an unusual role for him. In 2013-14, the 6-foot-4 product of Oklahoma State and the city of Chicago averaged just 9.0 points and 7.5 field goal attempts. But he doubled that in Game 3, shooting 8-for-15 off the bench and scoring 16 points.

Better yet for Memphis, there were times in another fiercely fought – and frequently ugly – 53-minute game between two evenly matched and overly familiar opponents when Allen, of all players, seemed to have the best idea of what he wanted to do offensively.

Who would have imagined that, given OKC’s firepower and Memphis’ Clydesdales down low? But the X-factor people keep waiting for Thunder guard Reggie Jackson to become in these playoffs, Allen already is.

And yet, when so many others were standing around, Allen was the guy cutting back door to take a simple bounce pass from Mike Conley. Or worming his way into a seam for a rebound and putback for the Grizzlies’ final two points of the first quarter.

Or, for that matter, scoring six straight to open the second quarter and teaming with backup point guard Beno Udrih to string together 18 consecutive points for Memphis, buying time for Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and the rest.

Allen mattered late, too, with a baseline drive and dunk and a layup with Westbrook on him. Those two buckets broke the 81-81 and gave Memphis its four-point cushion before, y’know, bonehead.

“People are going to see the highlight of Russell Westbrook hitting a three and getting fouled,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “But the guy [Allen] did 99 percent of everything on the floor and it was spectacular. That’s the guy that we all love with his passion, how hard he plays, and his IQ is off the charts. He was aggressive. He was decisive. He took some shots. He was open. … those shots are going to fall for him.”

Some of Allen’s jumpers are more pancake than parabola. But then, the same might be said in this one of Durant and Westbrook, too (4-for-13 from the arc). They both rushed shots and took some they probably shouldn’t.

Their worst sequence came deep in OT, with Memphis up 95-92 and less than 30 seconds left. Westbrook forced a 3-pointer from 27 feet just to the right of center – completely ignoring a wide-open teammate on the left baseline. The rebound got thrown out to Durant at 29 feet and he clanged his, too.

OKC’s frustrations are the same as always, focused on Westbrook, his irrepressibility-slash-irresponsibility in seeking out his own scoring chances and the offense not dedicating itself to getting Durant better shots. Allen, one could argue, is the Grizzlies’ Westbrook, a nightly adventure, a.k.a., sixty shades of cray.

But Allen is a role player, a defense-first guy, who knows his place in the Grizzlies’ pecking order and can be reeled in as needed. Westbrook? His star is brighter, his role and ego are bigger, and the ever-looping risk/reward of his game is way more interwoven into the Thunder’s dreams and nightmares. If their worst nights were actual physical trauma, Allen’s would be a flesh wound, Westbrook’s would be getting gut-shot.

One of them has a conscience, too, that propels him to make up for his mishaps by returning to his roots.

As Allen said of the 4-point plays, “I hate for myself to be in one of those plays. [After getting caught up in one] I’m trying to get back out there and get another steal or rebound or stop. Force a turnover. Y’know, get it back on the defensive end because I know it was me who made the bonehead play.”

The Grizzlies love their bonehead, three games into this grindhouse series. The Thunder, maybe less so.


VIDEO: Allen discusses Game 3 victory over OKC

Durant can’t let them see him sweat

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The TNT crew breaks down Game 2 and previews Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series

Kevin Durant talked all season about rising as a leader. So now is not the time for you to let them see you sweat, Mr. soon-to-be-named league MVP.

Durant allowed frustration to get the better of him during and after Monday night’s Game 2 overtime home loss to the seventh-seeded Grizzlies. He scored 36 points, but nothing came easy. He was 12-for-28 with Grizzlies stopper Tony Allen again applying velcro defense. After the 111-105 defeat, Durant, through slumping body language and dismissive speech, presented an air of fatalism instead of optimism, confidence and determination.

Seated at a dais alongside Russell Westbrook, Durant slouched in his chair, his head hung and shoulders folded inward. He purposefully lowered his voice into the microphone to a barely audible level. One of the more insightful players in the league offered, purposefully, mostly curt, short answers to questions he seemed to deem beneath him. On occasion he sniped back at reporters.

It wasn’t a good look.

If Allen and the Grizzlies didn’t already believe they had Durant flustered by their defensive clamp-job, all they need to do is watch his postgame performance. Durant failed to follow his own words of wisdom spoken just prior to Game 1.

“I always tell myself to be a great leader, a great encourager and a great teammate and everything else will fall right after that,” Durant said.

Frustration is understandable. Allen is again proving to be the most effective Durant antidote in the game. He did it as a mostly fourth-quarter stopper in last year’s semifinal series the Grizzlies won in five games with OKC missing Westbrook. Even with Westbrook back, Durant’s operating space remains as cramped as an airplane lavatory.

“He’s in your face,” Durant, the league’s runaway scoring champion, said. “He’s a smaller guy and smaller guys, when you guard bigger guys you try to get up under him a little bit. I’ve been playing against him for a while. He’s the toughest guy in the league for anybody because he’s so quick and he’s strong. But I just got to rely on my teammates and rely on my work I put in and I’ll be all right.”

Durant didn’t get much help from his teammates in Game 2, an aspect the Thunder will have to address before Thursday’s Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Westbrook was 11-for-28 from the field and forced far too many shots. The bench was unusually impotent with Reggie Jackson failing to make a field goal and Caron Butler going 1-for-4 from the floor.

At least twice during the game Durant expressed frustration with his own team. Early on he glared at Serge Ibaka as play continued and said, “Give me the ball,” after Ibaka had instead passed out an offensive rebound to Jackson standing at the opposite wing from Durant.

Late in the game, Durant flailed his arms and made a B-line to coach Scott Brooks after Brooks called a timeout just as Westbrook had grabbed control of a loose ball at a critical juncture and was gaining speed the other way for a potential transition scoring opportunity.

“No, that wasn’t a key play,” Durant said afterward. “We got a great stop, it looked like a jump ball and coach wanted to be the first one to call a timeout. It wasn’t a turning point in the game. It wasn’t why we lost.”

Durant on Monday described his inner-sanctum as “peaceful,” though the load he shoulders is fraught with pressure. His remarkable regular season included performances and streaks that haven’t been accomplished since Michael Jordan and because of it the MVP trophy is virtually unanimously believed to be his. Now everybody expects him to take the next step and lead the Thunder to the championship, or at least get the chance to avenge their 2012 Finals loss to LeBron James and the Heat.

If not, the pre-title scrutiny that dogged LeBron will ramp up and the undying rhetoric regarding his and Westbrook’s compatibility will heat up all summer long.

All the Thunder has to do is win one in Memphis and they regain control of a series they already knew would be challenging, regardless of seeding.

Durant, 25, has been the game’s most devastating player all season long. Now is not the time to let them see him sweat.

The best advice for him is to simply follow his own words.

“I feel great. I’ve seen it all in the playoffs, throughout the regular season,” Durant said at the start of the series. “Teams are going to try to beat me up, but I’m ready for it. I always feel comfortable because I feel comfortable with myself, I feel comfortable with my game. I’m not the strongest guy, I’m not the quickest or fastest, but I just feel comfortable with myself and I know what I can do out there on the floor.”

Allen making life rough again for KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: The Grizzlies grind out a win at OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – Remember that commercial from last season where Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade haunt each other’s dreams? They got it wrong. Tony Allen, gritty, grimy and forever grinding, is Durant’s worst nightmare.

And now, after Allen made life miserable for Durant in Memphis’ impressive 111-105 overtime victory on the second-seeded Thunder’s home floor Monday night to tie the series 1-1, Allen and his seventh-seeded Grizzlies welcome the soon-to-be-named MVP back to The Grindhouse  — where they’ve put away 14 consecutive opponents.

“First thing first, Kevin Durant, he’s the scoring leader, All-Star, probably one of the greatest in the game right now,” Allen said. “But it’s a competition at the end of the day. Basically, it ain’t about me, it’s about the Grizzlies coming in here, basically playing grit-n-grind basketball, holding our hats on the defensive end.”

But it is about you, Mr. Allen. You suffocated Durant into submission in the fourth quarters of last year’s semifinals series without Russell Westbrook and you’re pushing KD’s buttons again with Westbrook by his side.

It seems crazy to say it with Durant scoring 33 and 36 points in the first two games of this wild first-round series between these familiar foes, but those 69 points have come on 53 shots and with Allen draped all over practically every one of them. Nothing phases him, not when Durant drops a miracle 3-point shot that becomes a four-point play after Allen tipped the initial pass or when Durant started to heat up in the fourth quarter after having just 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting after three quarters.

“I [have] got to do my work early,” Allen said. “If that’s being physical with him then trying to push him through screens, just cause havoc the best way possible. The guy still had 36 points. He’s going to get his. The biggest thing is not to get discouraged, just keep fighting throughout the game.”

Allen gives up eight inches to Durant. It doesn’t matter. He burrows under him and invades his space. He swats shots from behind, curling over screens and closing fast to get an outstretched hand high enough to disrupt his shot. The Thunder have to find some answers, have to figure what makes this Allen fellow tick and take him out of his game.

“I wish I knew what made Tony Allen tick,” said teammate Mike Conley, who’s been masterful with 23 assists and three turnovers in the two games. “He’s hard to explain. He’s a guy that comes in every day with a chip on his shoulder. You don’t know why, you don’t know what’s got him mad, what’s got him angry, but you roll with it. I think playing against top-level competition, KD, Russell, those guys, he really gets up for that opportunity and that challenge, and I’m happy to have him on my team.”

Memphis controlled Game 2 virtually from the start, leading for all but just a couple of minutes of the 53 that were needed. Allen and company did a number on the defensive end, holding OKC to 39.8 percent shooting, Memphis shot 49.4 percent with Conley and Beno Udrih — yes, Beno Freaking Udrih — carving up the Thunder for 19 and 14 points, respectively.

Durant didn’t get much help. Westbrook was 11-for-28. Reggie Jackson didn’t make a shot and the rest of the bench was impotent as well.

Allen and the Grizzlies’ punishing defense pushed Durant out of his comfort zone and into taking 12 3-point attempts — two more than the entire Memphis team — including the miracle corner 3 in the final 15 seconds of regulation that helped the Thunder simply get to overtime.

Allen left Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamenting how the Grizzlies put their hands all over Durant and Westbrook to slow them down. He left Durant in a somber mood in the postgame interview room. He spoke softly and often reluctantly, projecting a tone that he wasn’t much interested in discussing what just went down.

“We shot the shots that were open,” Durant said. “I think we settled for a few, but we put ourselves in position to win a basketball game and they made more plays than we did. So that’s the name of the game, so we’re not panicking at all.”

MVPs don’t panic. They produce. And now’s the time for Durant to carry over his historic regular season into the postseason. Since OKC opened the first half of Game 1 as if guzzling rocket fuel, it’s been nothing but mud-buggying ever since.

“Basically it’s just going to be a slugfest,” Allen said. “We’re going to pound it. They’re going to run it. Whoever can come up with the most stops pretty much wins the game.”

Durant and the Thunder have two days to figure out how to find some breathing space on the road, where Allen will be waiting.