Kendrick Perkins, Scott Brooks unfazed by Suns’ intentional foul strategy

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The Suns’ season has been virtually (if not yet mathematically) finished since at least last Friday’s home loss to the Hornets. But despite the losing of four straight and the fact that the team’s playoff chances have all but officially disappeared, Phoenix had largely battled in each game until the final buzzer was sounded.

That all changed Wednesday night, however, as the Suns faced a 20-point deficit late in the fourth quarter before eventually falling by a final of 116-98 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The fight in Phoenix was palpable for most of the team’s games this season, but things unraveled substantially for the Suns in this one.

Forget the fact that the team went out in a blaze of technical fouls and late-game ejections; whether the referees contributed to that or not, it at least shows that the team still cares about fighting for its reaming games, however few there may be. But the strategy to intentionally foul the Thunder’s worst free-throw shooter, when trailing by 15 points with under five minutes remaining? Well, that just seemed pathetic.

That’s exactly what the Suns decided to do, however, with 4:55 left in the game and the Thunder leading 97-82. Jared Dudley reluctantly wrapped up Kendrick Perkins far, far away from the ball to commit an intentional foul, and send Perkins — a career 59.9 percent foul shooter, and just a 36.8 percent shooter with the Thunder — to the line.

It was embarrassing to watch the Suns resort to these tactics, especially with the odds being stacked so highly against them making a comeback, even if Perkins missed plenty of free throws. Jared Dudley, who was the first of three players to wrap up Perkins away from the ball per his coach’s orders, wasn’t exactly excited by the strategy, but seemed willing to try it because nothing else was working.

“I just do what the coaches say,” Dudley said. “Obviously that’s something that he wanted to do (or) to try and at that time, what do you want to try? We tried zone, we tried man. I think frustration might have set in a little bit. (Perkins) made a couple and I think the game was probably over by then, so you just try to do something new and just see. Typically, I don’t think players like to do it, but hey — if it works sometimes, then you try it.”

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks was fine with the strategy, but near the end of his comments made it clear that it wasn’t his preferred way of doing business.

“I’m comfortable with any of our guys shooting free throws,” Brooks said. “We work on it every day. Guys have a lot of confidence, and I have confidence in them. It’s good for us, we’re going to step up and make those shots. They’re free, and it puts a lot of pressure on them because now they have to score.

“You can’t give up free shots; a foul is not a good defense in my book. But that’s not my decision to make, and I like the fact that Perk went up there and knocked them in.”

Perkins hit five of his six free throw attempts when the Suns went to this strategy, and told Pro Basketball Talk afterward that if he were in the Suns’ situation, he probably would have done the same thing.

“(Shoot), I would too if I was them,” Perkins said. “Yeah, the way I’ve been struggling from the line, it’s the best chance for them to get back in the game. But I’ve got to take it upon myself, step up and hit the free throws, and just go from there. I probably would have done the same thing.”

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.