Posts Tagged ‘western conference finals’

Westbrook Deserves More Time

DALLAS – In the months-long aftermath of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s demise in the Western Conference finals, Russell Westbrook is going to hear his name kicked around even more than he did during the month that led to this early-career crossroads for the second team All-NBA point guard. And considering the way Westbrook was knocked by analysts, fans and observers nationwide the past five weeks, that’s saying something.

The criticism is legitimate. As breathtaking as Westbrook’s game can be at times, his decision-making and inability to dissect a situation and attack it appropriately is every bit as maddening as his talent is off the charts.

He averaged as many turnovers (4.8) during the conference finals as he did assists (4.8). And there are few instances where Westbrook taking more shots than Kevin Durant, the league’s two-time scoring champ, or even superb sixth man James Harden, makes much sense in a playoff series.

But remember that Westbrook is just 22 and has been a full-time point guard for all of just three years. He didn’t play the position exclusively at UCLA. He has a steeper learning curve at the position than any of his contemporaries, guys like league MVP Derrick Rose and stalwarts like Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.

Westbrook deserves more time before anyone makes lasting judgments about his game. He deserves more than two postseasons to prove himself worthy of all the praise heaped upon his young shoulders at the start of his NBA career. And he certainly deserves more time to see if he is the ideal fit for a team with championship aspirations. We are willing to give him that time, provided Westbrook goes into the lab this summer and examines the deficiencies that were exposed by both the Hang Time Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks … and comes back a better player becauseĀ  of it.

“These people talking about trading this kid and him not being a winner are out of their minds,” an Eastern Conference executive told me before Game 5 of the conference finals. “You don’t ignore the strides he’s made and the things he’s done at this stage of his career and assume he won’t improve and work to make his game better. They should know better, writing off a young guy like this so soon. It’s the hardest position in the league to play, the hardest to learn and the most difficult to manage and maintain. These same people who talk about getting rid of him must have forgotten about guys like Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups, who faced similar criticisms early in their careers and you see how that worked out. But you can’t compare and contrast him with Jason Kidd, who is one of the best to ever play the position. That’s just not fair the kid.”

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Carlesimo Rides To Durant’s Defense

DALLAS – For a player toe-deep into what should be a colossal and potential Hall of Fame career, Thunder forward Kevin Durant has already piled up plenty to be proud of.

Back-to-back scoring titles, All-Star and All-NBA honors, a Rookie of the Year award, international acclaim (and a gold medal) and universal appeal as a breath of fresh air for fans and observers alike.

Yet his stumbles down the stretch in games during these Western Conference finals has suddenly cast a different light on him.

Suddenly, people are questioning his abilities as a finisher and as a leader. Some are suggesting that the 22-year-old Durant, as good as he is right now and could be in the future, is not yet the superstar he’s been made out to be.

This is, mind you, Durant’s first foray into the pressure cooker that is the conference finals. Had he mastered the moment at his young age we’d need to require a DNA sample to make sure he’s human. We understand here at the hideout (we’re a Western Conference finals mobile-command unit right now) that this is a part of the process.

So too does Durant’s first NBA coach, P.J. Carlesimo. He offers up an interesting defense of Durant, via my main man Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger, who offers up his own (and quite interesting) take on Durant’s current predicament:

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You Try Explaining This One Away

OKLAHOMA CITY – Russell Westbrook‘s confidence is admirable.

The Thunder All-NBA point guard refused to budge on his ongoing stance in these Western Conference finals that whatever struggles his team endures are self-inflicted.

“We just didn’t make shots,” he said after the Thunder’s Game 4 meltdown that coincided with the Mavericks’ miraculous comeback to shift the momentum in this series decidedly into the favor of the men from Dallas.

Does he believe that? Or is it his defense mechanism for trying to cope with that which he can not — or does not — comprehend?

It’s more than just missed shots young fella, so much more. (Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and the rest of the relentless Mavericks’ veterans had a little something to do with it, no?)

But in your defense, there were plenty of us that struggled to make sense of what we saw last night. Lots of us will have a tough time explaining this one away, as no doubt you and your Thunder teammates will for years to come.

A few brave souls tried to do it on the spot.

Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com saw it this way:

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn’t have to be great down the stretch to win this game. They’d already been great, Durant especially, for most of four quarters. That gave Oklahoma City a 15-point lead with less than five minutes to play, and from that point, greatness was no longer required. Mediocrity would have worked. Hell, below-average play would have gotten the job done.

But Durant and Westbrook were neither mediocre nor below average. In the final minutes, they were awful.

And Dirk Nowitzki was not.

And that’s how it happened. Durant missed shots. Westbrook missed shots. Nowitzki didn’t miss a damn thing. That put the game into overtime, where it continued. More misses from Westbrook and Durant. More turnovers. More Nowitzki. In the final 10 minutes of regulation and OT, Westbrook and Durant were 1 for 12 from the floor and 0 for 2 from the line, and they committed three turnovers. Nowitzki? He scored 14 points in those 10 minutes.

That’s how Dallas won, taking a larcenous 112-105 victory for a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.

… and Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Now we know.

Now we know why experience matters. Now we know why you’ve got to pay your dues.

Now we know why young teams, no matter how good, no matter how talented, now matter how athletic, no matter how blessed, eventually get derailed in this meat-grinder known as the NBA playoffs.
The old Mavericks beat the young Thunder 112-105 in overtime for the simplest of reasons.

The tortoise kept running. The hare, not so much.
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Mavs, Thunder Putting It All On The Line

OKLAHOMA CITY – Three games into a series is more than enough time for a few noticeable trends to develop.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has observed at least one that he knows he can count on going into Game 4 tonight at Oklahoma City Arena between his Mavericks and the Thunder.

“The team that wins gets their [expletive] kicked the next game,” Carlisle said. “Really. that’s what’s happened.”

Taken another way, the team with the most to lose seems to repeatedly find a way to fight off whatever impending doom being forecasted for them if they lose.

The Thunder did it in Game 2, winning on the Mavericks’ home floor to keep from going into a two-game hole in the series. And the Mavericks returned the favor in Game 3, winning here snatch the momentum back and turning tonight’s game into a for-all-the-marbles affair for both teams, but especially the Thunder.

So how do you reverse that trend if you’re the Mavericks?

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Refocused Defense Lifts Mavericks

OKLAHOMA CITY – Before his team took the floor for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle laid out a clear plan for regaining control of the series.

Play defense at a high level, and not individually but as a team, and all would be right.

It turns out Carlisle was exactly right in his assessment. After surrendering 109 points per game to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first two games of this series the Mavericks locked down in Game 3.

From Jason Kidd‘s expert work on the perimeter to Shawn Marion‘s splendid effort against two-time scoring champ Kevin Durant to Tyson Chandler‘s rugged work down low, the Mavericks fine tuned their defensive scheme and cranked up their intensity, breathing life into Carlisle’s words.

“Every time they got a shot somebody was in their face,” Marion said. “That’s the defense we’ve been playing all playoffs.”

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Carlisle: OKC “Best Team We’ve Played”

OKLAHOMA CITY – The young Thunder don’t have to worry about getting the attention of their opponent in the Western Conference finals. They did that in the opener, staying close the entire way in a shootout, and provided the true wake up call by winning Game 2 in Dallas.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle took it a step further here Saturday morning, hours before the two teams lock up in Game 3 at Oklahoma City Arena, when he ranked the Thunder ahead of his team’s first two opponents in the playoffs.

“I think it’s important to point out that this is the best team we’ve played in the playoffs,” Carlisle said. “They’re better than the Lakers and they’reĀ  better than Portland. And I think the numbers bear that out. They’re scoring 109 points a game on us. So I think it’s important to recognize them. And we’ve got to attack this team very aggressively because they are good.”

The Mavericks beat the Trail Blazers in six games and swept the two-time defending champion Lakers in the conference semifinals. But the Thunder already has done something neither of those two more seasoned opponents could and that’s win at American Airlines Center.

So Carlisle’s praise for the Thunder is clearly more than just coach-speak or gamesmanship.

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Maynor-For-Westbrook Move Pays Off

DALLAS – Russell Westbrook watched the fourth quarter of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 2 win over the Dallas Mavericks like most of the rest of the 21,000-plus people packed into American Airlines Center Wednesday night.

He watched it from a distance, closer than most but certainly farther away than he’s used to.

The Thunder All-Star and second-team All-NBA pick didn’t play a second in the fourth quarter of what has to be his team’s biggest game of the season yet. Eric Maynor replaced him for the entire fourth quarter and played a critical role in the Thunder holding off the Mavericks for the 106-100 win that evened the series at 1-1.

It was a gutsy move by Thunder coach Scott Brooks, sitting one of his top two players during the most crucial stretch of the season. Had it backfired … but it didn’t. And Westbrook didn’t shy away from addressing it afterwards, doing his best to defuse any potential controversy by praising Maynor and making it clear that his first objective was leaving the building with a win.

“As long as we’re winning I’m good,” Westbrook said. “We were winning. I know you guys all want to ask the same question and I’m going to give you all the same answer. We were winning.”

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Dirk V. Durant, Part II

DALLAS – If they give us an encore of their Game 1 showcase, maybe Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant will score a combined 120 points in a thrilling Game 2 of the Western Conference finals here tonight at American Airlines Center.

You saw the combined 88 points the put up in Game 1 (video above). Dirk’s brilliant 48 on 15 shots and Durant’s piling up the most under-appreciated 40-point game in recent playoff memory.

What makes Part II of this showcase even better is the glowing mutual respect these two superstars have for each other.

Dirk on Durant:

“I’m his biggest fan just because he’s a quiet guy,” Nowitzki said. “He’s fun to watch. He can get his shot up at any time. He’s athletic. He can get to his spots whenever he wants. He’s probably one of the toughest covers in this league. The future of this league is in his hands.”

And Durant on Dirk:

“He approaches his game as all about business, all about trying to win, all about playing well,” Durant said. “That’s what I try to do. I’m not worried about what the people in the stands think about my game. I just want to play well for my team and for myself and just try to get better. That’s what type of player Dirk is. He’s never the type of guy that’s flashy with it. He just goes out there and plays, gets it done. That’s the type of player I try to be.”

Bring on Game 2! (Tonight on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET)

Barea, Mavericks’ Bench, Still Ballin’

DALLAS – As well as Dirk Nowitzki played in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and he was absolutely brilliant, he might not have been the most efficient Mavericks player on the floor.

That honor goes to HT fave and Puerto Rico’s favorite NBA son, J.J. Barea, who showed that his work against the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals was no fluke.

Barea came off the bench to score 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including making two of his shots from beyond the 3-point line. He did all that in just 16 minutes and 11 seconds of work, combining with veteran sixth man Jason Terry (24 points) to give the Mavericks’ bench that punch they are used to in this postseason. They averaged 49.5 in that sweep of the Lakers and dropped 53 on the Thunder in Game 1.

Color Thunder coach Scott Brooks impressed, particularly with Barea.

“He’s very good,” Brooks said. “He’s a talented young player that has improved every year he’s been in the league. He gets in there because he has a great handle, he has great quickness and he’s crafty, and they set great screens for him. He was able to collapse the defense and he made the [3-pointers]. He’s good. I read the paper yesterday where Jason Kidd compared him to me, but that’s way off. I [was] nowhere near as good as that kid.”

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Marion Plays Through The Pain

DALLAS – Jason Terry saw Shawn Marion‘s eyes “rolling around in his head” and nose bleeding and figured it must be broken.

“He was out for a minute on the bench,” Terry said, shaking his head as he exited the Mavericks’ locker room after their 121-112 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. “It looked bad. There was blood dripping and everything … it was bad. “

Not bad enough for Marion to stay out of the game after getting cracked in the nose by an inadvertent elbow from Kendrick Perkins in the second quarter. He had to be helped off the floor after the shot but shook it all off and returned to the game with the Mavericks in the midst of taking control of a game they trailed by seven points after the first quarter.

“Whatever pain he was dealing with, he played through it,” Terry said. “That was huge for us and it sums up what we’re all about right there.”

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