NBA Playoffs: Artest, Fisher came up big when they needed to

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Artest_layup.jpgComing into this year’s playoffs, a lot of people would have pointed to Ron Artest and Derek Fisher as potential weaknesses for the Lakers. Both players are battle-tested veterans who bring hustle and toughness to the floor every time they play. However, Artest and Fisher are also a step or three slow for their positions at this point in their careers, and both struggled to make shots all season. (Artest shot 41.4% from the floor; Fisher shot an abysmal 38%.)

Artest’s struggles from the field and occasionally questionable decision-making were to be expected to some degree; even so, many fans questioned whether the Lakers would have been better off simply keeping Trevor Ariza in the off-season. Artest’s brand of defense was a welcome addition to the Lakers, but it often looked like he was throwing away possessions when the Lakers had the ball. Role players on a team like the Lakers are expected to abide by one cardinal rule — know your role. It seemed like Artest forgot that edict at times, and fans noticed. (Witness the Laker crowd audibly shouting “Nooooo!” at Artest whenever he’s lined up an early-in-the-clock three this postseason.) 
Fisher was much more widely derided than Artest, and for good reason. Fisher has always been more valuable than the numbers show, but Fisher’s numbers were truly horrific this season. Of the 67 qualifying point guards, Derek Fisher finished the regular season 63rd in PER. In fact, because of his low PER and how many minutes he played, Fisher ranked 324 out of 331 NBA players in Estimated Wins Added: Basically, the stat says that only six players cost their teams more wins than Derek Fisher cost the Lakers this season. Not something you generally read about the starting point guard on a team heading to the Finals. Fisher was bad enough during the regular season that many Lakers fans were openly begging for GM Mitch Kupchak to get Kirk Hinrich or Devin Harris at the trade deadline, even though both of them were struggling as well.
Amid all the calls for change in the roster or the rotation during the regular season, Phil Jackson and the Laker front office stood behind their oldest player and their newest acquisition, keeping both of them in the starting lineup throughout the regular season. After the last two games of the Western Conference Finals, it looks like Jackson and Co. put their faith in the right people. 
In game five of the Lakers-Suns series, Fisher was quietly spectacular; he tallied 22 points and six assists on 7-12 shooting from the field. Artest was terrible for the first 47:58 of the game, but more than made up for it with his spectacular game-winning put-back as time expired. 
That game-winner clearly gave Artest confidence for game six, because he did absolutely everything right on Saturday night. Artest played with aggression and hustle, beating the Suns to every loose ball and taking the ball right at the teeth of the Phoenix defense whenever they gave him a chance to do so. Artest’s infamously streaky outside shot made the trip to Phoenix as well; he went 4-7 from beyond the arc in game six, leading all players in made three-pointers. Count on Ron Artest to finally put it all together in front of a hostile crowd during the most important game of the season. 
For his part, Fisher wasn’t as effective as he was in game five, but he did what he needed to do in key moments to help the Lakers get the win. When the Suns made their big post-flagrant run in the fourth quarter, it was Fisher who made the key plays that got the Lakers back on track. Not only did Fisher make two big jumpers when the Lakers desperately needed to get some offense going, but he drew a key charge on Amar’e Stoudemire that took away some of Phoenix’s momentum. However old Derek Fisher gets, it seems like he can always be counted on to hit big shots and use his savvy to draw fouls on unsuspecting opponents. 
Before the playoffs, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest looked like two old, slow players whose lack of explosiveness and streaky outside shots were bogging the Laker offense down. After the conference finals, they look like two crafty veterans whose defensive intensity, toughness, and savvy allowed the Lakers to get into the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. I wonder what they’ll look like after the finals. 

Watch all 17 three pointers from Warriors Game 7 victory over Thunder

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“They beat us from the three-point line the last two games, we beat them from everywhere else,” Kevin Durant said after Game 7.

He’s right. For most of seven games the Oklahoma City Thunder owned play inside the arc — their length and athleticism gave the Warriors tremendous trouble. But the Warriors had the three ball as the equalizer — or, it turns out, slightly more than the equalizer. Golden State shot their way to a series win by knocking down threes the last two games. Often contested, well-defended threes.

Above check out the 17 threes the Warriors nailed in Game 7 (on 37 attempts, or 45.9 percent shooting). There’s a lot of Stephen Curry (7) and Klay Thompson (6) in those highlights.

Here’s the NBA Finals schedule, clear your schedule accordingly

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7
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The Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Golden State Warriors. A rematch of the highest-rated NBA Finals since the Jordan era, which you know makes the suits at ABC/ESPN/Disney happy. But it’s also good for fans, these are the best teams from each conference, and it should be an interesting matchup.

The NBA has moved away from the Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday pattern of games the NBA Finals has followed for years. Below is the schedule for this year’s Finals, all times are Eastern, and all the games will be broadcast on ABC.

Game 1 – June 2 (Thursday) at Golden State  9:00PM

Game 2 – June 5 (Sunday) at Golden State 8:00PM

Game 3 – June  8 (Wednesday) at Cleveland  9:00 PM

Game 4 –Fri  June 10 (Friday) at Cleveland 9:00PM

Game 5 * — Mon  June 13 (Monday) at Golden State 9:00PM

Game 6 *  — Thu  June 16 (Thursday) at Cleveland 9:00 PM

Game 7 * —  June 19 (Sunday) at Golden State 8:00 PM

* means if necessary

Joel Embiid tweets he’s ready to recruit Kevin Durant to Sixers

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid has a great sense of humor.

I’m sure if Kevin Durant were going to consider going to Philadephia — instead his hometown Wizards, or the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, Warriors, or (the most likely option) staying put with the Thunder — he’d want to get the advice of a guy who has yet to play one NBA game.

Not long after the Warriors eliminated the Thunder from the playoffs — making Durant a free agent — Embiid tweeted this.

Needless to say, KD is not going to go to the Sixers. GM Bryan Colangelo says the team is in the market for veterans, but this may be aiming a little too high.

Durant said after Game 7 he hasn’t thought about free agency yet.

The smart money remains on Durant signing a two-year deal with an opt-out after one year with the Thunder, keeping that roster together for a year so they can make one more run at a ring (you can’t get much closer than the Thunder did this season). Then in the summer of 2017 Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Dion Waiters will all be free agents.

Maybe one of them goes to the Sixers then. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Report: David Blatt near deal to coach Darussafaka in Turkish league

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 28, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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David Blatt said he was going to be a head coach somewhere next season.

That turned out not to be in the NBA, where he interviewed and was in the running for the head coaching jobs with the Nets, Knicks, and Rockets but didn’t land any of them. So rather than be a lead assistant, or just wait the market out, he is headed back to Europe, Turkey in particular, reports David Pick, a well-connected basketball reporter.

Darussafaka Dogus is based out of Istanbul and was in the EuroLeague for the first time last season (that’s the highest level of European basketball, featuring the best teams from leagues around the continent, similar to the Champions League in soccer). Darussafaka is trying to climb the ladder and compete with the traditional powers of Turkish basketball, Fenerbahçe and Turkey Anadolu Efes. The Darussafaka roster includes Sixers’ Summer League standout Scottie Wilbekin, Luke Harangody, Jamon Gordon, and Reggie Redding from the United States.

Hiring Blatt, who had tremendous success in Europe before coming to the NBA, would be a coup for the club. One they certainly are paying handsomely for.

Blatt won 67.5 percent of his games over a season-and-a-half with the Cavaliers and guided the team to the NBA Finals, but he never fully meshed with LeBron James and the Cavs veterans. Part of that was on Blatt — he demanded respect for his time spent and success in Europe, and that plus his need to be the smartest guy in the room rubbed players the wrong way. Blatt wasn’t humbly trying to earn respect, and the players went to current Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue when frustrated with Blatt. Eventually, Cavaliers management turned to Lue to coach the team because of team chemistry concerns.

Blatt deserved another chance in the NBA, but that didn’t come this summer. We’ll see if his return to Europe impacts that in the future.