O. J. Mayo, Kevin Durant

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder implode in the fourth quarter


In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Thunder and the Grizzlies, Oklahoma City was powerless against Memphis’ big men. In the early parts of Game 3, it was the Thunder’s speed that made the difference, particularly the speed of Russell Westbrook. However, the Thunder ended up falling on their own sword late in the game, and are now facing a 2-1 deficit after a heartbreaking overtime loss.

After a breakout regular season, Westbrook has had an up-and-down playoffs, mixing brilliant performances with games where he strangled the Oklahoma City offense by dribbling the air out of the ball and forcing outside jump shots. On Saturday, Westbrook had a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance that served as a microcosm of just how dangerous Westbrook can be to both is opponents and his own team.

For the first three quarters, Westbrook was masterful. He didn’t have a particularly efficient scoring performance, but he set the pace of the game. He attacked the rim constantly, pushed the pace to keep the Grizzlies from setting up their half-court defense, and did a fantastic job of setting up his teammates. Westbrook finished with 12 assists, and seven of Kevin Durant’s field goals were set up by a Westbrook assist.

When the Thunder played the Lakers in last year’s playoffs, Durant struggled to find space against Ron Artest in isolation situations, and only shot 35% for the series. With Westbrook commanding the defense’s attention and allowing Durant to either catch and shoot or roll to the rim for a dunk, Durant has been exponentially more effective. When Westbrook balances efficiency with aggression, the Thunder are a completely different kind of offensive animal than they were in last year’s playoffs.

In the fourth quarter, however, the bad Westbrook showed up, and the Thunder offense went completely stagnant. The team only scored two points between the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter and the 0:52 mark of the game, and the Grizzlies were able to tie the game by outscoring the Thunder 15-4 during that stretch. Although the entire Thunder team deserves a share of the blame for Oklahoma City’s miserable offensive display, Westbrook was the primary culprit for the Thunder’s offensive struggles — he dribbled the ball aimlessly, didn’t look to make aggressive moves to the rim, was far too eager to settle for jump shots, and made little effort to get his teammates involved. When Durant did get the ball, he usually got the ball 25 feet away from the basket with the shot clock running down and a defender in his face, and not even Durant is able to turn those situations into high-percentage opportunities.

While the Thunder imploded offensively, the Grizzlies were slowly but surely able to claw their way into the game, and the game went into overtime with the score tied at 86.

In overtime, the Grizzlies continued to attack the basket aggressively; the Grizzlies scored 80 points from the paint and the free throw line on Saturday, and all of their overtime points came at the rim or the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Thunder continued to look confused — a beautiful James Harden feed to set up Nick Collison for a dunk only served as a reminder of just how broken the Thunder’s late-game offense was. When it was all over, the Thunder had been outscored by 20 points over the last 17 minutes of play, and they now find themselves in a 2-1 series deficit.

This was a horrible loss for the Thunder, and it could easily have been the difference between a conference finals berth and an early playoff exit. The Thunder did everything right. Westbrook and Durant were working well together, the offense was rolling, and Perkins and Co. were actually winning the battle in the trenches against Memphis’ twin towers, holding them to 12-36 shooting from the field . They were doing absolutely everything they needed to do to beat the Grizzlies and regain home-court advantage.

Then they imploded, and they now have to face the fact that they beat themselves in a game they needed to win. Winning four out of seven games against the Grizzlies is no easy task; in order to advance after this performance, the Thunder will essentially have to beat Memphis five times in seven games.

If the Thunder play the way they did in the first three quarters for a full 48 minutes, they can absolutely tie up the series before it comes back to Oklahoma City. But on Saturday, the Thunder’s inexperience was their undoing, and they may not be ready to contend for a championship until Westbrook and company can stop putting on these types of performances.

Byron Scott believes Lakers management still supports him


Lakers coach Byron Scott has said plenty of ridiculous things lately:

Maybe Lakers fans ought to hope Scott is wrong about this, too.

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Scott said he still senses support from Kupchak and Lakers executive vice president of basketball personnel Jim Buss. Scott is in the second-year of a four-year contract worth $17 million, with a team option for the final season.

“We still understand that this is a process,” Scott said. “We have a lot of young guys on this team that we feel will be very good players. But it’s not going to happen in a month. It’s going to take some time. It might take a year or two.”

The Lakers are 2-12, better than only the 76ers. Scott has allowed Kobe to hijack and cripple the offense, and the defense might be even worse. Player development is suspect, at best.

Scott does not deserve job security, let alone multiple years of it.

So, what are Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss thinking?

There are a few possibilities:

1. Management isn’t as sold on Scott as he says they are.

2. Management is using Scott – with or without his knowledge – to tank to keep the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick.

3. Management is as lost as Scott appears to be.

Good luck sorting out which is the case.

Stephen Curry: “We talk about 33” wins in a row

Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry
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Golden State has a ring, and that came with accolades about them ushering in a new era, a new style of basketball in the NBA. But if they are going to have a legacy as one of the game’s legendary teams, they need more than one ring. They need more accolades and accomplishments.

Such as starting the season with a record 16-game win streak.

But what about the all-time win streak mark of 33 (set by the 1972 Lakers)? Stephen Curry says they talk about it, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We talk about 33,” Curry said in a conference call with international reporters. “I think I’ve probably talked about it more than anybody else on the team, just because I know about the history and just really how hard it is.

“We’ve had like two 16-game winning streaks the last two years, and those are pretty special feats. For us to have to double that output, I mean we’re going to play hard and hopefully close in on that record, but it won’t be a disappointing effort if we don’t get there. Because there are so many talented teams in this league and for us to just be playing at a high level right now, that’s what we’re worried about. And if we close in and get to 29, 30 games, we’ll talk about it a little bit more.”

Considering they are not even halfway there yet, talking about this outside the locker room seems premature (much like talking about 72 wins already). The Warriors have had some less than stellar outings of late (the Brooklyn Game, for example), and they have a seven-game road trip with a couple back-to-backs coming up. There are a lot of places to trip up.

What this shows is that the Warriors have a little vanity, they have concern for their legacy.

And I love the confidence — this team is going to be disappointed when they do eventually lose. They are on a mission this season; they have not lost their hunger. Which may be the most impressive thing about their start.

Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor said he’s “embarrassed,” called actions “dumb”


Sixers’ big man Jahlil Okafor isn’t going to face serious repercussions for getting involved in a fight outside a Boston nightclub on Wednesday. The police are not investigating, the team is not suspending him (he is playing Friday night against Houston) and the Sixers are supporting him.

But Okafor admits he should have walked away, and his actions were “dumb” and “embarrassing.” Here is the money quote (the full video interview is above):

“It was definitely dumb on my part. It’s something that I am embarrassed about, (we’re) still dealing with the league and the team. But I’m not happy about it at all.”

Of course, this has led to renewed criticism of people around the league who are not fans of GM Sam Hinkie’s pushing the “be bad to get good” boundaries to new levels. Like it or not, that system can work, and depending on how the next draft unfolds, the future of Joel Embiid, and when Dario Saric comes over, there could be some very nice young building blocks — some real franchise cornerstones — in Philly in a couple of years. The plan can work if Hinkie nails the draft.

But one criticism of their plan does ring true to me — a couple louder, veteran voices in the locker room could help the maturation process. Would it have kept Okafor from doing something stupid with a heckler in front of a club? Likely not. But it would speed up the learning process, it would instill professionalism rather than the more chaotic system now. Michael Lee summed it up well at Yahoo.

The 76ers haven’t had a player older than 25 step on the court this season…. Carl Landry is the team’s oldest player at 32 but he has yet to make his season debut, putting too much pressure on Brett Brown and his coaching staff to teach the kids what it takes to be professional.

Philadelphia hasn’t hidden its desire to lose big now to win big later, but it shouldn’t just view veterans as salary-cap holds or a means to acquire more second-round picks. The Minnesota Timberwolves finished with the league’s worst record last season but invested in expediting the development of No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and fellow first-round pick Zach LaVine by bringing in aging vets Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller to help serve as examples on and off the court….

Through his one notable misstep thus far, Okafor might inspire the necessary change in Philadelphia. Having seasoned players around won’t prevent kids from making mistakes altogether, but the TMZ video should serve as a reminder that the long-term development of the 76ers might be enhanced if a chaperone or two were around to help the youngsters deal with getting their heads beat in.

Boston police say no investigation planned into Jahlil Okafor fight


BOSTON (AP) — Boston police say they do not plan to investigate an apparent nightclub scuffle involving Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor unless someone involved comes forward to say they were the victim of a crime.

Officer James Kenneally said Friday that police responded to reports of a fight outside the nightclub hours after the winless Sixers lost to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. But Kenneally says the participants were gone by the time officers arrived and nobody was arrested or charged.

TMZ posted cellphone video of the altercation on Thursday, showing Okafor yelling and later shoving a man. The website reports that the confrontation started when someone taunted the 76ers. Philadelphia has 16 losses and is the only team in the NBA without a win.

An agent for the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft did not immediately return a message Friday seeking comment. The 76ers declined comment.

Philadelphia plays at Houston on Friday night.