Do not question the toughness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Don’t question their heart.
No doubt the collapse at the end of Game 4 Monday was ugly, but it was not about toughness. You don’t reach the Western Conference Finals with all your key players 22 or younger without being tough. Without heart.
You can reach that stage without learning how to execute under real pressure. You can reach that stage without having the right balance of scorers and defenders around your young stars.
So as we head into what could be a decisive Game 5 Wednesday night, with Dallas up 3-1 over Oklahoma City and looking to close out the series, you should expect the Thunder to come out and play with real passion. To show some toughness. If Dallas thinks it can coast to a win, they will find themselves in trouble.
But that’s not Dallas’ style. They are the better team and they are executing what they want to do at the highest of levels. They have the best player in the playoffs in Dirk Nowitzki. This should be their game.
Dallas certainly will want to jump on the Thunder early and kill their spirit. The Thunder were understandably crushed after giving up a 15-point lead in the final five minutes of Game 4 Monday, the Mavs want to get into their heads. If Dallas does get up early this could be a runaway. But look for the Thunder to make the Mavericks work for it.
The Thunder’s problem is execution — Dallas is doing it better than anyone right now while the Thunder get sloppy under pressure. Kevin Durant has to find a way to get enough space from Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion to get the ball where he wants it. Early in Game 4 he was getting the ball in the post and doing damage, but when the game was on the line he was pushed out by half court. Russell Westbrook has to create better for others and create at all under pressure. James Harden has to stay in the game, they need him as a third scoring option.
Dallas? Look for a lot of Dirk hitting shots nobody can defend. Look for Jason Terry to have a big game. Look for their role players to step up, feeling comfortable at home. Basically, Dallas is going to do what they have done all playoffs — Dirk is going to get his and somebody else is going to step up. They are going to defend and make it hard. They will play like veterans.
Expect the Thunder to put up a fight, but the Thunder are still learning hard lessons. Still growing. Still evolving. Dallas has done all that work already. Dallas will almost certainly win and close this series out. But don’t think the Thunder are not tough.
Celtics forward Jae Crowder — between criticizing Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors and Al Horford considering the Wizards — took aim at the Raptors.
“Toronto is not a team we’re worried about,” Crowder said.
Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll, via CSN New England:
“It’s a comment from a person who hasn’t really been in the playoffs that much. That’s how I reacted to that type of comment. When you haven’t been on that level and you don’t understand what it takes to get to that level. Myself going to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals, I understand what it takes,”Carroll said on SportsNet.ca. “It’s a comment from a guy who hasn’t been on that level, who hasn’t played on that level. It sounds like a young comment.”
“We’ll let Jae Crowder do all the talking,” Carroll said. “We’ll just fly under the radar and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Carroll is right. Crowder has never won a playoff series — though I’m not sure advancing in the postseason will make him any less brash.
Carroll’s credentials here also aren’t impeccable. He helped the Hawks in 2015 and Raptors in 2016 make relatively uninspiring runs to the Eastern Conference finals.
Still, that’s more than Crowder has accomplished. If Carroll wants to use that experience to shoot back at Crowder, more power to him.
For what it’s worth, I’ll take the Celtics over the Raptors next season — though Toronto is close enough that Boston shouldn’t look past its neighbor to the north.
Pau Gasol carried Spain’s flag and Yi Jianlian carried China’s flag for the 2012 Olympics.
The NBA will once again be prominently represented in the opening ceremony this year — with new Net Luis Scola.
Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press:
Argentina is back in the Olympics, and this time Scola isn’t just leading the basketball team.
He’s leading the whole delegation.
The veteran forward will carry the flag in the opening ceremony
Scola will team with Manu Ginobili to try stopping Argentina’s Olympic slide — gold in 2004, bronze in 2008, fourth in 2012.
There are not words.
Stephen Curry was paired with Justin Timberlake at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe this weekend, which at first led to mouthpiece throwing.
Then the Carlton. With Alfonso Ribeiro.
How could the NBA pull the All-Star game from Charlotte due to North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law and move it to New Orleans, considering Louisiana is suing the Obama administration over its directive on sex discrimination?
This leak from the Board of Governors meeting proves illustrative.
Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
In a poignant address, Golden State Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts, 63, who is openly gay, explained his meaningful and lifelong affiliation with the NBA and told league owners he didn’t feel comfortable attending the All-Star Game in Charlotte if the law remained as is.
He then said if the All-Star Game remained in Charlotte, he wouldn’t feel comfortable attending, and he said he has spoken to employees in the LBGT community from half of the league’s teams who didn’t feel comfortable attending either.
Another influence on the NBA owners: A number of NBA sponsor/partner businesses have told the league they would not be involved if the game remained in North Carolina.
This isn’t so much about a moral stance or punishing North Carolina. It obviously isn’t about punishing Louisiana.
It’s about treating employees and customers with respect.
Putting valued employees in uncomfortable positions is bad business. Holding All-Star Weekend in North Carolina would have done that. Maybe Welts and those he spoke with wouldn’t immediately quit in protest, but why should the league put them in such harsh work conditions? Imagine being forced to choose between your job and traveling to a place you’re denied fundamental protection under the law. Welts earned his position for a reason. The NBA should make reasonable efforts to retain him and other talent.
The same is true of potential customers, some of whom would have been reluctant to attend All-Star Weekend in North Carolina for the same reasons. Maybe the NBA still would have sold out every event, but it’s not worth alienating a portion of the fanbase. (Though the league’s decision inevitably alienated some fans on the other side of the issue. There is some moralism at play here.)
Maybe Louisiana will eventually succeed in its lawsuit and enact its own anti-LGBT laws. But right now, New Orleans doesn’t legally discriminate against the LGBT community. That makes it an acceptable place to host the All-Star game.
This isn’t about sending a message. It’s about finding a location people like Welts — people the NBA value — feel comfortable.