NBA Playoffs: What the Thunder need to do to win in Los Angeles

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Durant_game3.jpgWith the Lakers stumbling a bit coming into the playoffs and the Thunder being anything but a typical eight-seed, many people believed that the Lakers-Thunder series would be a lot more competitive than #1-#8 matchups usually are. 
In game 1, things didn’t work out that way; the Thunder looked completely outmatched on both ends of the floor by the Lakers. The Lakers used Bynum and Gasol to punish the Thunder on the blocks. They made timely shots whenever Oklahoma tried to get within striking distance. The Lakers completely shut down the Thunder in the half-court, holding Durant to a 7-24 shooting night. Even though they only shot 41% from the field, the Lakers looked too big, too strong, and too talented for the Thunder to deal with on Sunday afternoon. 
What can the Thunder do to prevent a repeat performance on Tuesday night? Here are some adjustments that could help the Thunder steal a game on the road:
1. Get Kevin Durant Going

This is absolutely imperative for the Thunder. Durant is the Thunder’s franchise player, the league’s leading scorer, and Oklahoma City’s only consistent offensive weapon in the half-court. If Durant continues to shoot 29% from the field, the Thunder simply do not have enough firepower to score points against the Lakers. 
Durant seems extremely hesitant to take the ball at Ron Artest. He almost never drove on Artest when the Thunder played the Lakers in the regular season, and he didn’t take it to the rack against Artest in game one. Artest is a great man-to-man defender, but Durant is letting Artest take him out of his game and cause him to settle for jumpers. Durant is a good shooter, and he’ll make more of his jumpers on Tuesday night than he did on Sunday, but he’s got to get some points at the rim and trips to the free throw line. 
The Thunder also have to do a better job getting Durant some better catches. The baseline screens, pin-downs, and staggered screens the Thunder have used to try and get Durant free haven’t been getting him good looks. The Thunder need to try and use their other players moving with the ball to free up Durant on the weak side instead of continuing to give it to him on the strong side. 
2. Make an Effort To Push The Ball

Russell Westbrook did most of his damage in transition on Sunday and shot 10-16 from the field. The rest of the Thunder shot 19-56 from the field. The Thunder out-scored the Lakers 14-2 in fast-break points; if you take each team’s fast-break points away, the Lakers outscored Oklahoma City 85-65. Getting out in transition is always easier said than done, but the Thunder need to do their best to make it a full-court game. 
3. Do Everything They Can To Stop Bynum and Gasol

The Thunder played great perimeter defense against the Lakers on Sunday. In fact, Lakers not named Bynum or Gasol combined to shoot only 19-54 from the field while attempting a combined total of 14 free throws. The Thunder don’t have the size to play Bynum or Gasol straight-up, but they need to do whatever they can to front them, bring aggressive double-teams, and make the Laker perimeter players work for their points or try to win with outside shooting. The Lakers aren’t a good three-point shooting team, and more long rebounds mean more Westbrook in transition.
There’s always the chance Kobe could go off, but that can happen regardless of what kind of defense you play. The Thunder can’t allow Bynum and Gasol to run a Mikan drill if they want to have a chance. 
4. Get Some Production from their two-guard spot

In 37 minutes of play, Sefolosha and Harden combined for two points on 0-7 shooting from the field on Sunday. That’s not good. Sefolosha is in there for his defense, but he needs to make a few wide-open shots from time to time. Harden is a much better offensive player, but Kobe licked his chops and went right at Harden every time he saw him on Sunday. I’m not sure how long the Thunder can get away with keeping him on the floor for. 
5. Use the Bench to their advantage

The Lakers bench has been notoriously weak this season. The Thunder bring Nick Collison, Eric Manor, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden off their bench. On paper, the Thunder’s second unit should be able to get the Thunder some points, but the Lakers were actually +1 in the seven minutes Kobe sat on Sunday. If the Lakers play the Thunder even while Kobe sits, that’s a major win for them.
Well, that’s my list of adjustments. Oklahoma City definitely has their work cut out for them for the remainder of the series, but they’re 48 good minutes away from stealing a game at Staples and having all the momentum in the series. 

Warriors’ defense, Klay Thompson take over fourth quarter, earn Game 2 win

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Only one team in this series can crank up their defense enough to  win them games.

The Warriors’ offense feeds off that stingy defense — with or without Stephen Curry in the lineup, again Tuesday it was without — and the combination can lead to big runs.

Such as a 34-12 fourth quarter. It was historic, as our own Dan Feldman pointed out on twitter.

Golden State trailed by 17 at one point but came on in the fourth with a defensive energy that held Damian Lillard to 0-of-3 shooting and his entire Portland team to 26.5 percent shooting. Those miss shots fueled transition buckets and opportunities — Klay Thompson had 10 of his 27 points on the night in the fourth — and the Warriors roared back for a 110-99 victory.

Golden State now leads the series 2-0 as it heads to Portland, with Game 3 not until Saturday. The biggest question is whether Curry will play in that game, or will the Warriors use their position of strength to get him more rest (as they did in the Houston series up 2-0)?

The best player on the floor in Game 2 was Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points (on 20 shots), 14 rebound and seven assists. But that’s not where the damage he does starts — it’s on defense. His ability to defend the five, then show out high on pick-and-rolls to cut off Lillard or C.J. McCollum and take away their shots from three. With Curry out, Green also spends a lot of time as the guy initiating the Warriors offense. He crashes the boards. He protects the paint, including a key block late on Mason Plumlee. Green did it all.

Portland raced out to a lead using their vintage style — their defense wasn’t that good, but it was good enough (especially with a cold Thompson who kept missing open looks), and their offense was hitting everything. With the Warriors missing shots it was Portland using the opportunity to run — and it was the Warriors defenders doing a poor job of recognizing the shooters and closing them out. So the opposite of Game 1.

Portland was also getting buckets from Al-Farouq Aminu — 10 first quarter points — and that’s always a good sign because he’s the guy (well, him and Maurice Harkless) that the Warriors will live with shooting.

Still, you knew the run was coming. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run to make it close as the second half started to wind down. But then Portland responded with some real poise and an 8-0 run of their own. Portland was getting their buckets and had a 59-51 run at the half. They continued to hold that lead through the third quarter thanks to a red-hot Damian Lillard, who had 16 points in the quarter.

But again, you knew the run was coming — and this time it was fueled by the Warriors defense. Festus Ezeli was a big part of that, his defensive presence in the paint helped turn things around, he was setting big screens to free up Thompson and others, plus he had eight points of his own in the quarter.

When the game got tight Portland missed seven in a row down the stretch, and that sealed the Blazers fate. Meanwhile, the Warriors kept hitting shots, and the Blazers have no great options to change up the defense and alter that dynamic. Even without Curry, the versatility of the Warriors makes them tough to slow, let alone stop. 

Going home, maybe the Trial Blazers can hit some difficult shots and hold off a Warriors charge in the fourth quarter.

Or, maybe Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors just get better.

Dwyane Wade’s determination outlasts Kyle Lowry’s buzzer beater

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade controls the ball as Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) defends during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in Toronto.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Dwyane Wade was helpless as Kyle Lowry‘s halfcourt heave sailed through the air (though Wade cocked his head back and leaned to the side, as if changing his view could alter the ball’s trajectory).

Wade was helpless as the referees swallowed their whistles despite Cory Joseph crashing into him on an inbound. (Haven’t we had enough incorrect no-calls on late inbound plays?) That led to a Heat turnover that preceded Lowry’s miracle shot.

Wade was helpless as the referees again swallowed their whistles despite DeMarre Carroll tugging his jersey on an overtime inbound. (Haven’t we really had enough incorrect no-calls on late inbound plays?) That also created a turnover and gave the Raptors another chance to tie.

So, Wade took matters into his own hands.

Wade snatched the ball from DeMar DeRozan, went to his knees to recover it and charged for a three-point play with 1.8 seconds left – finally clinching a 102-96 Miami Game 1 win in a second-round series Tuesday.

The game went to overtime on Lowry’s long-distance buzzer beater. When the shot fell, Wade dropped to one knee and buried his face in his hand. But he didn’t stay on the mat for long.

The Heat scored first eight points of regulation, and Wade (24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) outscored the Raptors himself in the extra period, 7-6.

This is Toronto’s seventh straight Game 1 loss, including four at home the last three years with largely this group of players. But as the Raptors’ first-round win over the Pacers showed, this series is far from over. Road Game 1 winners have taken the series 53% of the time, hardly an overwhelming clip.

Toronto must better stay in front of Goran Dragic, who led Miami with 26 points. Dragic, who had 25 in Game 7 against the Hornets, had never scored so much in consecutive games with the Heat. They’re thrilled to run their offense through him more often.

The Raptors should also more resolutely attack Hassan Whiteside, who scared them away from the basket. Beyond Jonas Valanciunas (24 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals), the Raptors were 8-for-20 in the paint with Whiteside in the game. It’s not so much the shooting percentage – which isn’t great – but the low number of attempts in 39 minutes. Whiteside is a premier rim protector, but he’s not invincible. That proclivity for the perimeter failed especially with Toronto’s star guard struggling so mightily.

Aside from his halfcourt highlight, Lowry scored four points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc. More than anything, the Raptors need him to play better.

Otherwise, the shot of the playoffs will only delay the inevitable.

Kyle Lowry sends Raptors-Heat to overtime with halfcourt buzzer beater (video)

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry makes a pass as Miami Heat's Luol Deng (9) and Goran Dragic (7) defend during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in Toronto.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Kyle Lowry was 2-for-11, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers.

Didn’t matter.

He hit the big one to stave off yet another Raptors Game 1 loss.

Video via Kenny Ducey of Sports Illustrated

C.J. McCollum on Warriors: ‘They set a lot of illegal screens’

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, center, reaches for the ball between Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, top, and forward Andre Iguodala during the second half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, May 1, 2016. The Warriors won 118-106. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts accused Anderson Varejao of being dirty on a particular play.

C.J. McCollum says the Warriors cross the line much more regularly.

via Jason Quick of CSN Northwest:

“They set a lot of illegal screens,’’ Blazers guard CJ McCollum said Tuesday at the team’s shootaround at The Olympic Club. “They are moving and stuff. That’s the respect you get when you are champions, you get a lot more respect from the referees. You have to figure out a way to get around those screens and make it difficult.’’

One underappreciated element of the Warriors’ success is their excellent screening. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut are two of the NBA’s best. Even the diminutive Stephen Curry wreaks havoc with his screens, leveraging his shooting ability to befuddle defenders.

Do the Warriors sometimes set illegal screens? Yup. Do they do so more than other teams? Yup. Do they do so more than every other team? Anecdotally, probably, though I’d love to see numbers.

But that’s part of Golden State’s strategy. The Warriors screeners so often straddle the line, they move it. It’s a fine line between a good legal screen and an illegal one, and Golden State dares the refs to blow the whistle.

McCollum can campaign for that to change, and his statements might cause the league to instruct referees to watch Warrior screens more closely. But even if Golden State has to harness its movement and arm extensions on picks, the team is more than capable of setting quality clean screens.