Derek Fisher has moved on from Lakers trade, embracing his new role in Oklahoma City

6 Comments

Derek Fisher returned to Staples Center on Thursday as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, his first time back since the deadline day deal the Lakers made to trade him away exactly two weeks ago.

The return was a triumphant one, with his new team thrashing his old one 102-93, behind strong performances from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, particularly in the second half.

Fisher wasn’t necessarily signed for the statistical on-court production that now, at age 37, he’s unlikely to provide on a reliable or consistent basis. But he impacted the game a bit on this night, personally carving into an early 10-point Laker lead by scoring seven points in seven minutes in his first stint off the bench. This, after receiving two separate, sincere standing ovations from the crowd — one following a video tribute played in the arena just before tip-off, and another as he was subbed into the game for the first time with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter.

Before all that, Fisher met with a large group of media — crazy-large, really, for a regular season contest involving a player not named LeBron James — and talked about his emotions as he prepared to face his former teammates.

“My emotions aren’t really strange,” he said.  “You know, I’ve kind of been through this dress rehearsal before a few times with a couple different teams. It’s different compared to what I’ve been used to the last four or five years, but it’s a game. And I play for the other team now.”

Fisher said he has come to accept the trade now, and the fact that it happened at all wasn’t really the concern — it was the way it came about so suddenly that he said was the part that wasn’t all that pleasant.

“I know there have been a lot of statements made — including mine, I guess — about what I thought I knew about the situation, whether I knew I was going to get traded, how I was going to feel about it, what my role would have been had I still been on the team,” Fisher said. “I’m in a good place right now.”

“Initially it was more shock than just pure disappointment,” he continued. “I’ve been in this business for a long time, and, not just for me personally, but for thousands of guys that have played this game, I’ve always thought there were different ways to handle trade and waiver-type situations, where there can be some more communication — not necessarily far in advance, but enough to not have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you’ve been traded.  And I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded. And that’s the part that shocks you more than anything.”

The prevailing belief in Los Angeles has been that those in power didn’t feel Fisher would adjust well to a reduced role on the team, moving further down the bench after the team acquired Ramon Sessions — a stance which was reiterated by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to reporters before the game.

“With Steve Blake and Ramon and Derek we have three point guards,” Kupchak said. “It’s not fair to the coach to get a young, ball-handling guard that you see as the future (in Sessions) and it’s not fair to the coach to have to choose between three players. It’s not fair to Ramon to come in and know he’s the guy pushing that guy to the bench.

“And the third thing is, Derek wants to play. And we felt making this trade that he probably would be the one not playing. And he would try to earn it, he would fight and scratch, but the odds were he would be the odd man out. That wouldn’t be fair to him.”

Fisher discounted this completely, saying essentially that his entire life has been about fitting in with the team concept.

“It goes against and flies in the face of — not just what I’ve been since I’ve been in the NBA, but the type of team player I’ve been in every group I’ve been a part of,” Fisher said in regards to possibly having to deal with a reduced role. “Team sports raised me, in a sense — outside of my mom and dad and family, I was raised on team sports. And that meant, and has always stood for, sharing and sacrificing and giving of yourself so that the group can succeed.”

Fisher genuinely seems fine with how things have shaken out, and has embraced his new situation in Oklahoma City. He specifically mentioned the fact that there was no “championship or bust mentality” as a positive, and said after his new team’s big win that the lack of that pressure has the Thunder playing in a free-spirited way that perhaps his former Lakers team hasn’t been able to in quite some time.

“It’s extremely refreshing and enjoyable to play on a team that’s really not playing with any additional pressure to have to do anything,” Fisher said. “We’re showing up every night just having fun and playing the game. To be on such a young team, it’s a lot of fun. The locker room is extremely different than what our locker room used to be like (in L.A.) in terms of preparing for games. But when that ball tips off, Kevin, Russell, Serge, Kendrick, Thabo — everybody’s ready to play. And it’s a good feeling.”

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

3 Comments

Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts it on himself to be more aggressive in Bucks-Celtics Game 6

AP Photo/Morry Gash
2 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo was criticized after Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference series against Boston for not doing more, particularly on the offensive end.

The harshest critic: Antetokounmpo, himself.

He took only 10 field-goal attempts, his third-lowest total of the entire season. Antetokounmpo still had a brilliant stat line, finishing only one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Bucks lost 92-87 and now go back to Milwaukee trailing the first-round matchup 3-2.

Game 6 of the Celtics-Bucks series is the lone matchup on the Thursday night NBA schedule.

“Game 6, I’ve got to come out and be more aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s on me. I had open shots, but they weren’t my shots so I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. … I’ve got to be more aggressive, make more plays because definitely, my teammates need me.”

It’s not like he was choosing to not be involved.

The Celtics got Marcus Smart back for Game 5, and Boston is much better defensively when he’s on the floor. Open looks seem to happen far more infrequently when Smart is out there, and the Bucks must solve that riddle or else their season is about to end.

Smart wasn’t the only defensive hero for Boston in Game 5. The Celtics put Semi Ojeleye on Antetokounmpko, and it worked as well as Boston could have hoped.

“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish … but we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller.”

If Antetokounmpko doesn’t come up bigger Thursday, it’ll be Boston going to the second round.

Here’s some of what to know going into Game 6:

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Boston leads 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

NEED TO KNOW: Since 2002, there have been 29 NBA teams with at least one postseason series win to their credit. The lone exception: The Bucks. It’s been 17 years since the Bucks advanced to the second round, and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding another year to Milwaukee’s wait. So far in the series, Milwaukee has outscored Boston 520-519 – which would indicate that it’s been a super-close matchup. That’s not the reality. There have been wild ebbs and flows, with one team leading by 16 points at some point in each of the last four games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Free throws. Boston is 99 for 130 in the series from the line, while Milwaukee is 68 for 100. The Bucks have been called for 30 more fouls in the series, 124-94 – which works out to six more per game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Clearly, the Bucks. They’re facing elimination, of course, so there’s the pressure. Antetokounmpko was on the Milwaukee team that won two elimination games against Chicago in 2015 (before the Bucks eventually lost that series in six games). And he also remembers the sting of last season, when the Bucks went home for Game 6 trailing Toronto 3-2 and wound up letting a pair of late leads slip in what became a season-ending loss.

INJURY UPDATE: Getting Smart back was a rare bit of good news for Boston in this injury-marred season, one where the Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night and ultimately lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. Smart hadn’t played in about six weeks after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, but was a clear difference-maker for the Celtics in Game 5.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
8 Comments

The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

Getty Images
5 Comments

We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.