O. J. Mayo, Kevin Durant

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder implode in the fourth quarter

7 Comments

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.

Cavaliers getting open 3s again, just not making them

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three point basket in front of the Toronto Raptors bench in the third quarter in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LeBron James backed down Kyle Lowry on the left block and swung a bullet pass to Matthew Dellavedova in the right corner. As Dellavedova caught the pass, Richard Jefferson screened a closing DeMar DeRozan, ensuring Dellavedova remained open for his 3-point attempt.

Airball.

LeBron tapped the rebound to Channing Frye for a 3-pointer from the top of the key, his spot.

Miss.

After that sequence with about two and a half minutes left, the Cavaliers scored just three more points in their Game 4 loss to the Raptors. The Cavs are again getting the outside looks they desire. They’re just not making them.

Toronto (relatively) shut down Cleveland’s potent long-range attack in Games 1 and 2, holding the Cavaliers to 7-of-20 and 7-of-21 3-point shooting as Cleveland took advantage inside. The Cavs averaged 36 3-point attempts per game in the first two rounds.

But the Cavaliers have adjusted in Games 3 and 4, taking 41 treys in each game. Their 27 and 29 open 3-pointers (defined as the defender being at least four feet away) are right in line with their averages against the Pistons and Hawks and far above the 13 and 15 they produced in Games 1 and 2:

image

Cleveland just isn’t making those open 3s.

The Cavaliers shot 34.5% on open 3-pointers in Game 4, a far cry from the 43.6% these made against Detroit and 51.5% they made against Atlanta. It’s even below their regular season mark of 37.8% – which is misleadingly low, considering Channing Frye – a key playoff 3-point shooter – didn’t arrive until a midseason trade.

image

There’s a school of thought that 3-point defense is more about limiting attempts than lowering percentage. The Cavs are generating plenty of good attempts. They space the floor and share the ball, getting it to open shooters.

They were probably bound to regress from their hot shooting in the first two rounds. But likewise, they’re better than they appeared in Game 4.

If the Cleveland keeps getting this shots, I’m not convinced Toronto has much control over whether they go in.

The Cavaliers just have to make them.

Report: Goran Dragic pledged to re-sign with Suns before they traded him

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball upcourt during the second half of the NBA game against the Houston Rockets at US Airways Center on February 10, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rockets defeated the Suns 127-118.  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)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With trade rumors swirling, Goran Dragic told the Suns in February 2015 that he wouldn’t re-sign the following summer. Dragic said he no longer trusted Phoenix’s front office.

So, the Suns traded him to Miami.

But did they have to?

Then-Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek apparently got Dragic to change his stance.

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Within days of Hornacek having a heart-to-heart with Dragic and securing a commitment from the Slovenian point guard to re-sign with the Suns as a free agent the following summer, the Suns shipped him to Miami in a three-team trade, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports.

This substantially changes how we view that trade. At the time, it seemed the Suns got a tremendous haul for a player they were going to lose anyway. But if they could’ve re-signed him, it changes the equation.

Maybe not enough to say Phoenix erred, though.

Dragic was clearly wavering in his thinking. He later said he regretted his harsh comments about the front office. Just because he told Hornacek he’d re-sign doesn’t mean he was bound to re-sign

And Phoenix got solid return – a top-seven protected 2017 first-rounder that becomes unprotected in 2018 and an unprotected 2021 first-rounder. Picks with so few protections rarely move anymore. The Heat look solid right now, but they’re fairly old. That far into the future, anything can happen – giving those picks great upside.

So, maybe the Suns still made the right move. But maybe just keeping Dragic was more on the table than we previously realized.

Toronto security guard stops DeMar DeRozan: Do you work here?

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors speaks to media with his daughter Diar DeRozan after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
3 Comments

Kyle Lowry popularized the late-night workout in these playoffs, but he’s not the only one to practice until the wee hours.

Raptors teammate DeMar DeRozan shot until about 1 a.m. Monday, according to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, preceding Toronto’s Game 4 win over the Cavaliers.

But the funniest part came when DeRozan arrived at the arena earlier.

Haynes:

Upon entry into the bowl area, a female security guard spotted him and stopped him. She asked what he was doing there and even went as far to ask if he worked at the arena.

DeRozan just chuckled and kept walking down the 100-level steps and onto the court where his backcourt teammate Kyle Lowry was waiting. The security guard called for backup, assuming a possible trespasser was on the scene.

Once help arrived and saw who was on the court, he said to his colleague, “That’s our two best players.” He was not quite accurate. On Monday night, those two were the two best players on the court.

“That was the first time that ever happened,” DeRozan said of the incident. “I just laughed about it. You know me. I wasn’t tripping. You can call the whole security team in here and obviously somebody is going to know, but she was just doing her job.”

Jeremy Lin ought to feel better now.

Report: Trail Blazers receive permission to interview Stephen Silas

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 21: Assistant coach Stephen Silas of the Charlotte Bobcats (L) works on a computer with Cory Higgins #11 before a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is putting the “carousel” in coaching carousel.

Hornets assistant Stephen Silas (a Rockets head-coaching candidate) and Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts (a Grizzlies head-coaching candidate) are also both interviewing to become the Warriors’ lead assistant. If Tibbetts gets the job, Portland would have a vacancy, so…

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Portland also was granted permission Sunday to talk to Silas about being its top assistant, league sources said.

Working for Steve Kerr in Golden State – which propelled Alvin Gentry to Pelicans head coach last year and Luke Walton to Lakers head coach this year – is probably preferable. But Silas’ star is rising, regardless. He’s a highly regarded assistant coach.

Terry Stotts, contract extension in hand, could add Silas without fearing being undermined. That’s the value of giving head coaches security. Hiring good assistants becomes more tenable.

Why would Silas leave another good coach, Steve Clifford in Charlotte, for the Trail Blazers? I don’t know for certain, but in these situations, there’s usually one place to start: money. Portland’s willingness to spend could pay off.