NBA Playoffs: Bryant, Lakers hold on against Oklahoma City

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The Lakers-Thunder series promised a showdown between two of the best defensive teams in the Western Conference and two of the best scorers in the league. When Durant and Kobe struggled on Sunday, the game became an ugly, grind-it out affair. On Tuesday night, both Durant and Kobe showed up. The result was one of the best first-round games so far. 
Before the game, Phil Jackson talked about how he wanted to establish the Lakers’ inside game and had become concerned about Kobe Bryant’s number of shot attempts. Naturally, Kobe came out gunning, and the Lakers didn’t even make their first entry pass into the post until four minutes had gone by in the quarter. 
Kobe made a contested jumper on the Lakers’ first possession of the game, and was clearly looking to get himself going early. He had mixed results in the first half, going 6-16 from the field, but his confidence ended up paying major dividends late. 

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was out to remind the viewing public that he didn’t win the scoring title by accident. He made a big adjustment in his offensive game, getting his catches backing down Artest in the mid-post area and rising over him for 15-20 foot jumpers rather than relying on off-ball movement and screens to free him up with good looks on the perimeter. When I asked him about this after the game, Durant said that “I was trying to mix it up a little bit. Artest is so strong, it’s hard to post him up. But I was able to use my length a little bit to shoot over him. It’s about playing physical, and I think I did a better job of that on both ends of the ball tonight.
Durant still wasn’t able to have success at the rim in game two, going 2-6 on shots at the rim and only shooting six free throws all night. In fact, Durant had serious problems whenever he put the ball on the floor, as he turned it over eight times. Just by virtue of taking his mid-range shots closer to the basket and getting set up with some catch-and-shoot threes, Durant was able to drop 32 on the Lakers. If he can have this kind of success from the perimeter and find a way to get to the rim, he could explode. 
Both the Thunder and the Lakers played great interior defensive. The Thunder only shot 10/22 from the paint, and the Lakers got blocked 17 times on their way to an 18/45 performance from inside the painted area. Seven Thunder players recorded a block on Tuesday, Kevin Durant had four, and rookie Serge Ibaka introduced himself to a national audience with seven blocks. And believe me, each of the seven were memorable. Ibaka’s been a fan favorite on Oklahoma City all year, and now a much wider audience has been introduced to Ibaka’s shot-blocking prowess. 
The 17 blocks were somewhat of a two-edged sword for the Thunder. Thanks to the Lakers’ length advantage and the Thunder’s eagerness to go for the block, the Lakers absolutely dominated the Thunder on the boards. They had 19 offensive rebounds to the Thunder’s seven, and gave the Lakers second chances in crucial situations down the stretch. 
There were other key mistakes by the Thunder that look bad in what turned out to be a one-possession game. Durant flubbed a wide-open fast-break slam in the first half. The Thunder turned it over with a chance to run out the clock at the end of Q1, allowing the Lakers to score. Russell Westbrook sent himself to the bench by tripping Derek Fisher with one second left on the shot clock and picking up his third foul. There were a few plays like throughout the game, all of which will likely cost Scott Brooks some sleep tonight. 
As soon as Kobe Bryant came out to play the second half, he had that look in his eye. He started the quarter off with two deep, flat-footed threes from the left wing. He absolutely embarrassed Thabo Sefolosha with a gorgeous mid-post spin halfway through the quarter. When he re-entered the game with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, he ripped off five points in 50 seconds to put the Lakers up four. Bryant ended up with 15 points in the fourth quarter. While Durant was holding his own trying to match Bryant’s production, the former MVP got the better of the 21-year old on Tuesday night. 
After Bryant hit a contested jumper and a pair of free throws to push the Laker lead to four with 1:31 remaining, missed free throws by the Lakers left the door open for the Thunder. Shannon Brown split a pair, and Russell Westbrook came back down to draw a foul and make both free throws. After an OKC stop and a Jeff Green leaner in the lane, Kobe was intentionally fouled and split the pair to give the Thunder a chance to go for the tie or the win down two with 15 seconds to play. Scott Brooks elected to go for the win, and Durant missed a three-point attempt off a screen that would have given the Thunder the lead. After Pau Gasol split yet another pair of free throws, the Thunder had no timeouts and seven seconds to get a three. They set Jeff Green up with a good look behind a back-screen, but no dice. Lakers lead the series 2-0. 
There are some problems with this Laker team. They can neglect to use their bigs and exploit their size advantage inside. Artest and Fisher will take things off the table offensively. The bench is paper-thin. Even Kobe isn’t quite as dominant on a night-in, night-out basis as he once was. 
But this Laker team manages to find ways to win as well as any team I can ever remember seeing. When they miss a big shot, they come up with the offensive rebound. When they need a stop, they get one. Artest, Fisher, and even Odom aren’t great three-point shooters, but they’re all capable of delivering a dagger three at the worst possible time for their opponents. And Kobe Bryant is pretty good when the game is on the line. The Lakers aren’t a juggernaut like they were last year or the year before, but somehow they keep winning basketball games. They did it in the regular season, and now they’ve done it in the playoffs. Call it luck, call it experience, call it skill. Whatever it is, the Lakers need to do it fourteen more times to repeat as NBA champions.   

Andrew Wiggins answers Carmelo with game-winning 3-pointer (VIDEO)

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Sunday’s matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves was perhaps a preview of a Western Conference playoff series. We should certainly hope so given the late-game heroics we saw this weekend courtesy of Karl-Anthony Towns, Carmelo Anthony, and Andrew Wiggins.

The two teams played a razor thin matchup in the fourth quarter, with Towns hitting a floating shot with just nine seconds left to take the lead. OKC took the torch just seconds later when Carmelo hit a 3-pointer with less than five seconds to play from the left wing.

That left the Timberwolves down by one point with no timeouts to spare.

After Minnesota inbounded to the ball, Wiggins drove down the left sideline and toward the middle of the floor. With the clock running out, Wiggins pulled up from nearly 30 feet out and drained 3-pointer off the backboard as time expired.

Here’s what the two threes looked like back to back.

Via Twitter:

Today was absolutely mental in the NBA. Between the drama that’s happening with the Phoenix Suns and this Western Conference shootout, the regular season just keeps amping it up each and every day.

Clippers say Milos Teodosic out indefinitely with plantar fascia injury

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The LA Clippers needed everything to go right for them injury-wise to be able to survive losing Chris Paul the same year many teams in the Western Conference got much stronger. Sunday’s news that rookie Milos Teodosic is out indefinitely with a left plantar fascia injury won’t help the confidence of fans in southern California.

Teodosic suffered the injury during a game against the Phoenix Suns earlier in the week. Teodosic could be seen pulling up lame toward the near corner on a seemingly innocuous play, which you can watch above.

Here is the release from the team on Teodosic’s injury..

Via Twitter:

Teodosic was expected to be a boost for the Clippers’ offense, who lost Paul over the offseason to the Houston Rockets. Teodosic is a 30-year-old rookie whose passing acumen was sure to be a highlight reel staple over the course of the season.

Plantar fascia injuries can be tough for players to come back from, although the severity of the injury can vary greatly. In the past, players like Damian Lillard and Al Jefferson have made relatively speedy recoveries or have been able to play through the injury itself.

However, a plantar fascia issue can be a tough one and is often difficult to get to recover given the inherent stress level of the area and because soft tissue injuries can be pesky. Obviously, a word like “indefinitely” is pretty dang scary.

Meanwhile, the Suns had a few issues of their own on Sunday. They fired head coach Earl Watson and point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted out that he no longer wanted to be “here”. The former Clippers point guard has already had lobbyists from LA come calling. Big man DeAndre Jordan already tweeted that he wanted Bledsoe to “come back home”.

Someone has to trade for Bledsoe. Might as well be the Clippers.

Report: Suns fire Earl Watson within an hour of Eric Bledsoe’s tweet

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Things are just getting weirder in Arizona.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Phoenix Suns have fired head coach Earl Watson. This comes in less than an hour after Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted out that he no longer wanted to be “here”. The assumption is that the “here” meant with the Suns organization, although Bledsoe nor the team have clarified.

Phoenix was always slated to be a bad team but they have been an absolute mess to start the season. Just three games in and they have yet to win a contest. They have lost by a combined 92 points in those games during some hilariously bad efforts. While Watson’s firing is sudden, it’s not entirely surprising.

Via ESPN:

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what the Suns will do from here both with Bledsoe and in filling the head coach spot on the bench.

Teams like the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers have struggled when players have requested a trade publicly. Much of their leverage is lost and it could be harder to find a usable return for Bledsoe. A friend of LeBron James, Bledsoe has been rumored in trades from Phoenix to places like Cleveland for years. Now, it will be curious to see if the Suns will need to move him and what they can get for Bledsoe once a deal is done. Any assets will be a vital to their rebuilding process.

In terms of coaching, Phoenix has both Ty Corbin and Jay Triano on the bench, both of which who have been head coaches in the NBA before. It appears Triano will be stepping into the interim role, but that still leaves the question of what Phoenix should do from here on out. A directionless team in the middle of a rebuild with less-than-stellar ownership is a recipe for continued failure.

Phoenix has been a poorly-run organization for some time, particularly when it comes to expenses. Phoenix owner Robert Sarver is notoriously cheap, even going so far as selling draft picks outright. Phoenix exchanged players like Marcin Gortat, Rudy Fernandez, and Rajon Rondo for pennies on the dollar.

They are already the worst team in the NBA, one of their star players wants out, and now they no longer have a head coach. If you are a basketball fan in Phoenix, things have to be tough for you right now.

Suns PG Eric Bledsoe tweets “I don’t want to be here”

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The Phoenix Suns were always going to be a bad team, but I think we were all surprised when they started off the season with a historical loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Now, it seems things are getting worse.

On Sunday, Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe sent out a message on Twitter that seemed to insinuate that he no longer wanted to be a part of the organization in Phoenix.

That tweet set the NBA sphere on fire during a relatively sleepy afternoon. Ramifications of players being open with their requests to move teams has not always played out well for the organizations. Think about the decreased leverage for the Knicks and Pacers when it came to Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Via Twitter:

It would be a major bummer for fans in Arizona if Bledsoe does indeed want out of Phoenix. The team has played all of three games, and after years of trade speculation around Bledsoe so it would be a huge blow to give him up to suitors for pennies on the dollar.

As of publication on Sunday afternoon we have yet to confirm that this is the intent of Bledsoe’s tweet, but no doubt we will hear more about it as the day goes on.