Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

NBA Playoffs: Nowitzki closes out Durant, Thunder in Game 4


Shortly after Kevin Durant entered the NBA, he was given the label of the NBA’s Next Great Closer. Everything about him suggests that he should be able to close teams out. He has a quiet confidence about him, is never afraid to shoot the ball, and never seems to break a sweat as he coldly pours in basket after basket.

More importantly, his game looks the part. Like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the current closer archetypes, Durant is a great athlete with a beautiful jump shot and a natural grace about his game — it’s so easy to picture Durant firing a jump shot over a helpless defender as time expires, which is the image we always associate with “closers” in basketball.

Nowitzki, meanwhile, has never really been seriously considered as a closer. He’s soft. He’s European. He’s a big man. He missed a crucial free throw in Game 3 of the 2006 Finals. He’s never won a ring. Et cetera.

The truth, however, is that Dirk has been perhaps the deadliest closer in the NBA for years, while Durant has had his ups and downs in late-game situations.

This season, the Mavericks were the league’s best team in clutch situations, and Dirk was obviously the biggest reason for that. Nowitzki averaged 42 points per 48 minutes on 62.5% True Shooting in “clutch” situations, and the Mavericks outscored teams by an average of 38 points per 48 minutes when Nowitzki was on the floor in close games.

It should be noted that the Thunder were very good in close games this season as well, as was Durant. Durant averaged 44 points per 48 minutes on 55% True Shooting in “clutch” situations this season, and the Thunder outscored their opponents by 19.6 points per 48 minutes when Durant was on the floor in close games.

However, while Nowitzki has been great in close games for years, the Thunder’s late-game success has been a relatively recent development. Last season, the Thunder were actually outscored in “clutch” situations, and Durant shot only 35.6% in those situations.

This season, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden having emerged as impact players for the Thunder, Oklahoma City was able to get some ball movement late and allow Durant what he does best late in games — make a jumper or drive to the rim off of a pass.

According to Synergy Sports, Durant averages an impressive 1.14 points per possession when he gets the ball in catch-and-shoot situations and .98 points per possession when he gets the ball coming off a screen, but he struggles when he’s forced to be a primary playmaker. Durant averaged .91 points per possession (37% shooting) in isolation, .87 PPP as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, and .84 PPP on post-ups.

Throughout the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Thunder’s improved offensive movement and additional playmakers allowed Durant to be successful in the clutch. But on Monday night, Durant was forced to try and do everything himself, and the results weren’t pretty. In the last five minutes of the game, Durant only got three shots up, missed all of them, and committed one turnover and no assists. In overtime, Durant went 0-3 from the field again, and had another turnover without an assist.

Considering the lead the Thunder had with so little time remaining in the game, Durant probably should have been able to get away with a poor clutch performance. Unfortunately for him, Dirk Nowitzki was in the building and in the mood to show why he should be considered one of the best closers in basketball, if not the best.

Nowitzki scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the game, doing his damage with two mid-range jump shot, a shot from the paint, a three-pointer, and three made free throws, two of which tied the game with six seconds remaining. Nowitzki only scored two points in overtime, but he did assist on the Jason Kidd three with 40 seconds to go that ultimately put the Mavericks up for good.

Nowitzki may not be seen as having the “clutch gene” because of his late-game struggles in the finals a half a decade ago and his perceived “softness” (which is more rooted in xenophobia than it is in actual analysis of Nowtizki’s game), but he’s much better suited to succeed in late-game situations than Durant is.

Nowitzki shoots a ridiculous 53.2% in isolation situations, and 54.4% in post-up situations, which usually occur in the mid-to-high post area rather than the low post. Nowitzki’s mid-range jump shot, which he has become an absolute master at setting up, is the best go-to move in the NBA, bar none. Even if the defense knows it’s coming, they have little hope of stopping it, and Dirk has developed a few nifty counter-moves that allow him to score if the defense attempts to overplay the jumper too much. And if you try to play him physical and end up committing a foul, that’s two nearly-automatic points.

No matter how hard teams try to run their offense late in games, things generally devolve into one-on-one play with the paint walled off, and nobody is better in those situations than Dirk Nowitzki, especially not Kevin Durant. The Thunder learned that the hard way in Game 4.

The aesthetics of Durant’s game may mean he’ll still be considered by some to be a be a better “closer” than Nowitzki. However, if the Thunder fail to win the next three games in a row and end up going home early, Durant’s sterling clutch reputation would be a meager consolation prize. Durant is a decade younger than Nowitzki, and has time to improve on his late-game play, but on Monday Nowitzki put aside any doubt that he’s currently on another level than Durant is when it comes to late-game situations.

Beef? Bradley Beal says he wouldn’t have re-signed with Wizards and John Wall says he wouldn’t have begged Beal back if true

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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John Wall and Bradley Beal defined their relationship this summer.

Wall: “I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

Beal: “It’s tough because we’re both alphas. … Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

It’s hard to spin those direct quotes. These aren’t anonymous sources or players venting after a tough loss. In the calm of the offseason, Wall and Beal spoke bluntly about their partnership in the Wizards backcourt.

But no matter how difficult now, Beal and Wall are trying to cast their relationship in a different light.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”

“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”

The flaws in that logic:

Beal was a restricted free agent. The Wizards weren’t letting him go.

Wall is locked up for three more years. It’s in his best interest to have the best teammates possible in that time, whether or not he stays in Washington past 2019. The Wizards had no way to replace Beal with a similar-caliber player.

So, maybe Wall and Beal are completely cohesive. But even if they aren’t, circumstances dictated they continue their basketball partnership.

I believe last summer’s interviews exposed a rift that was forming somewhat beneath the surface. Their honest assessments in the open, Wall and Beal can now go about repairing any cracks in the foundation.

There’s an mostly unavoidable tension between a team’s two leading scorers. That they’re both guards who want to handle the ball makes it only more difficult.

But if Wall and Beal acknowledge their problems, they can try to work past them and win together.

Manu Ginobili: ‘I gave my right one for the Spurs. I can say it. I can really say it’

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) poses for photos during Spurs Media Day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Manu Ginobili missed weeks last season due to a testicular injury.

Once you finish wincing, let’s share a good laugh.

Casey Keirnan of News 4 San Antonio asked Ginobili whether he’s familiar with the phrase “I’d give my left…”


I gave my right one. I gave it all. I gave it all. I gave my right one for the Spurs. I can say it. I can really say it. True.

Why again did we anoint Tim Duncan THE franchise icon in San Antonio? I don’t think he ever made that level of sacrifice to the Spurs.

Report: Timberwolves declining Adreian Payne’s fourth-year option

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 7: Adreian Payne #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots a basket against Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter of the preseason game on October 7, 2015 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Thunder defeated Timberwolves 122-99. 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 Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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A few players – Mitch McGary, Jordan Adams and R.J. Hunter – had their rookie-scale-contract team options declined as their teams waived them this offseason. Another player, P.J. Hairston, had his third-year option declined last fall.

But only one player that we know of so far from the 2013 and 2014 draft classes remains on a team but won’t finish his rookie-scale deal:

Timberwolves forward Adreian Payne, the No. 15 pick in 2014.

Minnesota will decline his $3,100,094 team option for 2017-18, a decision that will become official Tuesday.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

Payne will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Timberwolves can re-sign him, but only at a starting salary up to $3,100,094. Any other team can offer up to the max.

Payne probably won’t be worth $3,100,094 next summer. He’s a stretch four without 3-point range and a long 2-point jumper that is expectedly inefficient. He doesn’t move well enough in any direction, including vertically, to defend well. The concern on him coming out of Michigan State – that he relied too heavily on beating up on younger players – looks valid. Payne will be a 26-year-old free agent.

But $3,100,094 is a small amount against a large salary cap. Is it really worth letting Payne hit the open market without seeing what he does this season first?

This is the problem the Pacers ran into with Solomon Hill. They declined his $2,306,019 2016-17 team option, and he had a breakout year. He signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Pelicans this summer as Indiana could do nothing but watch.

I don’t expect Payne to duplicate Hill’s emergence, but the Pacers obviously didn’t see it coming with Hill, either. As long as Payne remains on the team, it’s probably worth Minnesota buying itself an extra year of potentially cheap labor.

If Payne develops, he could be an irreplaceable bargain. If he doesn’t, it won’t cost much to waive him – especially because the Timberwolves can stretch him.

Even if the odds are against that plan bearing fruit, the upside is high enough to justify exercising the option.

But Minnesota apparently feels differently. Barring a sudden change of plans in the next few days, Payne will be on an expiring contract.

Kobe Bryant says he was nearly late to final game, because was busy editing short stories

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd as he is taken out of the game after scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Already eliminated from the playoff chase, the Jazz weren’t focused for Kobe Bryant’s final game. They ceded 60 points to the over-the-hill superstar.

How locked in was Kobe?

Kobe via Thu-Huong Ha of Quartz:

“I was actually at the office until 4 or 4:15 editing a bunch of short stories, and lost track of time,” Bryant told the Wall Street Journal’s Dennis K. Berman. “And I looked at my watch, ‘Oh…I better go home. I got my last game to play.’”

Kobe clearly summoned a will to compete by the time he reached the arena. That was a sendoff for the ages.

But this is another sign he was ready for the next chapter in his life.