Paul Pierce and a confusing view of the lockout

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Paul Pierce has been a leader for labor during the lockout. If you look for his name on the list of executive committee members in the new now-defunct NBPA, you will not locate him. He’s been an unofficial leader, leading the charge in resisting the owners due to, in his words, having been there before in 1999. He and his Celtics teammate Kevin Garnett has been adamant in not backing down to the owners’ dungeon-master tactics.

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Pierce talked about his position and the motivations for it regarding the lockout. If you want the news-grabber, it’s this: Pierce says it’s on the owners to restart talks.

Q: Do the players or owners have to take the next step to renew labor talks?

Pierce: “I think the owners have to take the step. We have taken a lot of steps. I think we have taken as many steps as we can take, which is why we are at where we are at. We feel like we’ve taken the most steps. That’s why we are going to court now.”

via Paul Pierce: Players needed to make stand – NBA – Yahoo! Sports.

Now the owners have certainly been the more intractable of the two sides, and anyone paying attention knows that it’s the owners who have been behind the labor stoppage, from locking the players out to slowing negotiations to unreasonable demands. But the owners provided the last proposal. One reason the players took criticism over the decision to disclaim interest was that they had the option to simply ignore the league’s threat of reverting to an earlier and worse proposal and return a proposal of their own based on the concessions they’ve made and ones they were demanding of the owners. That way if the owners then reverted back to the previous offer, the players could still decertify (or disclaim or de-unite de-evolve or whatever you want), but they would have provided the last offer. For this to be on the owners means the owners’ last proposal is still the last element in the negotiating process.

Pierce says a number of rather bizarre things in the interview. He talks about how he still thinks there will be a season in a couple of weeks,  but he’s been the driving force behind legal movement which would undoubtedly scuttle a season. He says that he’s confident there will be a season, but he’s starting look at teams in Italy and Spain to join.

But the most confusing segment regarded decertification and his role in it (be sure to read the entire interview, it’s good to see a player speaking openly about this):

“A lot of players saw that and were frustrated just seeing that stuff at the top was going on. Then they started asking me what was going on. All I did was I had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer a lot about decertification. And then I offered it to the players who wanted to hear what the guy had to say. A lot of guys were interested in talking to the lawyer so we had a conference call with like 40-something guys where we went through the ins and outs of decertification, the positives and negatives.

“At that point, players got to make a decision whether to negotiate or decertify or do what we’re doing now [disbanding the union and filing an antitrust suit]. That’s pretty much what it was. … I don’t know if I was leading the charge. If I was, I’d probably have the [decertification] petitions in my hand. I just wanted the guys to get the information. There were a lot of guys who were really critical of decertifying because they didn’t believe that the NBA would negotiate a deal with us.”

Q: The union dissolved last Monday as the players decided to unanimously to file a “disclaimer of interest” and take their fight to court. Did you agree with that move?

Pierce: “I don’t know what the right move is. Billy and the lawyers have the expertise on that type of stuff. I don’t know if that’s the right move or [forced] decertification is the right move or sitting at the table is the right move. We weren’t getting nowhere at the negotiation table. The players felt like they were giving, giving, giving while the owners were taking all the concessions.

via Paul Pierce: Players needed to make stand – NBA – Yahoo! Sports.

So you don’t know what the right move is, and you don’t have the petitions in your hand and you’re not leading the charge, but you organized the conference call and spoke with a lawyer.

It’s not that what he’s saying is necessarily double-speak, it just seems odd. It’s as if Pierce is playing it both ways. “I’m not behind decertification, I just did everything that someone pushing decertification would do and say.” And “I totally trust Billy and Derek, I just sought outside counsel and then brought that counsel to about 40 players on separate conference calls without consulting the union leadership.” In Pierce’s defense, given the way that Billy Hunter has run this thing, I’d probably cut him out of the loop as well. But it doesn’t change the fact that Pierce remains a lightning rod during this dispute and any deal that gets done is going to need his acceptance if not approval.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.

Donovan Mitchell outplays Thunder Big 3 in fourth, Jazz win to even series

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Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were 0-of-15 shooting in the fourth.

That, in a nutshell, is how the Jazz bounced back from a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter that had OKC in charge of the game. It’s how Utah got the win Game 2 win, 102-95, to even the series as it heads to Salt Lake City.

“There was a time out (after the OKC run) where there was a just a determination, and we felt like we would rely on our defense, and that’s what we did,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there.”

It was what fueled them all night. In Game 2, the Jazz defense was more settled and like itself than the opener, and that forced more isolation ball out of Oklahoma City — they had eight assists and nine turnovers in the first half. The Thunder were still getting buckets because Playoff P and Westbrook are just great scorers, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been.

For the Thunder, it was often the Russell Westbrook show, and he was scoreless in the second quarter and had just a couple of free throws in the fourth.

All of that made this a game it felt like the Jazz needed to win — there are few chances to steal a game on the road against a good team, and this was one. The game was defensive and played in Utah’s style.

Which is why it was devastating when the Thunder had their 19-0 third quarter run, turning a deficit into a 10-point lead. In that stretch, the Jazz missed shots, took a few bad ones, and turned the ball over in that run. Mitchell even missed an uncontested dunk in there.

When Mitchell struggled, other guys stepped up.

Derrick Favors had a huge game for Utah, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. He was particularly impressive in the first half, when Mitchell struggled (with George draped all over him). Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, six of those by Favors. Utah’s dominance on the glass was big for them, Utah got a second chance on 37.5 percent of their missed shots in the first half, which is far too high a percentage. Steven Adams battling foul trouble had a lot to do with that.

“The biggest thing for us, Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said after the game. “When we were missing shots he was getting rebounds, I think he had a double-double almost at the half [note: he had 10 points, 8 rebounds at the half]. Without Fav we wouldn’t even be at this point.”

The other key was Ricky Rubio. He was being more judicious about when to shoot and was looking to set up teammates. However, when left open and able to shoot in rhythm, Rubio was hitting, he was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points and nine assists. Rubio struggled with his shot inside the arc (1-of-8) but he hit the big buckets and kept the floor spaced when asked. he had seven fourth-quarter points.

But the fourth belonged to Mitchell, who showed exactly what he meant to this team all season — they are not in the postseason without him. Mitchell finished with 28 points to lead the Jazz.

For the Thunder, the shots that fell in Game 1 did not in Game 2, much as it has been night to night for this team all season. George had 18 points on 21 shots, Anthony had 17 points on 18 shots, and Westbrook had 19 points on 19 shots. Combine that with Adams being in foul trouble most of the night and it was not the Thunder’s game.

Now the onus is on them to steal one in Utah, starting Friday night.

LeBron James starts hot, scores 46 in Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over Pacers

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LeBron James attempted no shots in the first 10 minutes of Game 1.

Less than half that long into Game 2, he scored all of the Cavaliers’ points as they built a 16-1 lead over the Pacers.

LeBron dominated early, and Cleveland held on for a 100-97 Game 2 win Wednesday. The first-round series is now tied 1-1 with Game 3 Friday in Indiana.

LeBron finished with 46 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals. It was his highest-scoring playoff game in his second Cavs tenure.

More than any point since he left Cleveland for the Heat, LeBron’s team is built for him to carry it singlehandedly. He was obviously always the leader and best player, but at times, he could let Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving cook. Now, LeBron has no teammates worth deferring to – only teammates who can flourish when LeBron positions them to succeed.

LeBron showed a willingness to accept that challenge tonight in a way he didn’t even in Game 1, when he had a triple-double. That bodes well for the Cavaliers as they undertake what they hope will be a long playoff run – and maybe even as they approach LeBron’s free agency.

But as well as LeBron played tonight, the Pacers battled back. Victor Oladipo missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 27 seconds left after Cleveland blew its coverage and left him open.

“We got lucky,” LeBron said. “We gave up a wide-open 3 to Oladipo, and he missed it. I’d rather be on time and on target than being lucky.”

Cleveland was also fortunate with Pacers coach Nate McMillan’s handling of Victor Oladipo’s early foul trouble.

McMillan sat Oladipo just more than a minute into the game. Oladipo picked up two quick fouls, but both were offensive – more fluky than indicative of a problem. During the regular season, Oladipo committed four fouls (necessary at that point to foul out tonight) every 58 minutes he played. Oladipo returned in the second quarter but got pulled again midway through the period with a third foul, a questionable call as Kevin Love jumped sideways into him on a shot. Oladipo committed three fouls (necessary at that point to foul out) every 44 minutes during the regular season.

Oladipo finished with three fouls. Indiana was +11 points in his 28 minutes and -14 points in the 20 minutes he sat.

That could bode well for the Pacers going forward. Many of the Cavs’ advantages tonight might not continue throughout the series. In particular, Kevin Love left the game late with a thumb injury.

But Cleveland’s biggest advantage remains: LeBron James. He showed tonight just how much that still matters.

Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, dies

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The Spurs may be in the playoffs, but all of that takes a backseat now for Gregg Popovich.

Spurs:

With deep regret the San Antonio Spurs announce that Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, passed away earlier today. Erin and Gregg were married for four decades and were blessed with two children and two grandchildren.

“We mourn the loss of Erin,” said Spurs General Manager RC Buford. “She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”

The organization asks media to respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

What devastating news. Hopefully, Popovich had time to make peace with this eventuality, but that doesn’t make it easy to handle.