Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant

Thunder show off against Bulls as a question of athleticism comes into play

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Derrick was out, and had he played, this would have been a totally different game. Let’s just get that out in front right now. There is just no way to understate the impact that Derrick Rose, last season’s MVP, might have had on the Thunder’s 92-78 win vs. the Bulls on Sunday. This team is entirely different in its offense and in part its defense because of Rose’s singular talent.

That said?

In a game with impossible expectations, where the Thunder couldn’t impress because of the absence of Rose, they still made a statement. Because Rose playing wasn’t going to change much about the Thunder putting up 70 points with 5:25 to go in the third, about how the OKC offense took it to what many consider the best defense in the league consistently over a 48-minute stretch and took the life out of a team that seemingly has no quit in it.

For the Bulls, it shows a concern towards athleticism. Rose is a super-freak, that’s pretty obvious. But outside of maybe Noah and Taj Gibson the Bulls don’t play as a hyper-athletic team. Luol Deng has great length and speed. C.J. Watson has good burst. But overall, the Bulls are much more built for a grind-it-out approach. And that, in general, has always been the more successful model come the playoffs. It’s clear that was the intention for how the team was built. But against a team like the Thunder (or the Heat in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals), the problems multiply. In short, teams that can outrun the Bulls’ transition defense can hurt them badly.

The game was actually not out of hand until the third quarter. In that quarter, the Thunder scored 31 points on 21 shots, with a 95.2% True Shooting Percentage (factoring threes and free throws). That’s just absurd.  They held Chicago to a 49 offensive efficiency. So if the Bulls had played like they did in the third for 100 possessions, the Thunder would have given up just 49 points. That is really very bad.

Chicago can’t tout their wins over teams like Miami without Rose as a sign of their dominance and throw away this one. If they had hung, it would have sent a big message that if they had Rose, they would be right in it. As it stands, they are no longer playing the best in the league, they do need Rose, and they are struggling against hyper-athletic teams. It’s not a major problem, it’s just one game and this is still one of the baddest teams in the land.

But is there a team better equipped to down Chicago than the Thunder and Heat? Hyper-athletic superstar teams who can get to the rim and hit mid-range jumpers. If the Bulls defense engages, the Thunder can hit jumpers off the screen. Even their bigs match up well, with Ibaka and Perkins being comparable counters for Boozer and Noah. It’s just not a good thing that the two teams Chicago is likely to face in their last two series in a Finals run would be the best teams geared to beat them.

And all that said…

Derrick Rose didn’t play.

We learned Sunday that the Thunder are every bit as good as advertised, that they are playing the best ball they can right now. That Chicago is not invincible. But we haven’t learned a thing about who would win a Finals series. We’ll have to wait two more months to get that.

Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy “encouraged” by players speaking out, protesting social issues

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 17: Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons yells to his players during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption ***Stan Van Gundy
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Athletes are injecting themselves into the needed national conversation about race, violence, and policing in this nation. That has taken some very public forms, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony speaking at the ESPYs, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and leading others to do so. Some NBA players likely will follow Kaepernick’s lead.

Pistons coach/GM Stan Van Gundy likes seeing players speak out.

A couple of his Detroit players — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — said they backed the 49ers quarterback. Here is what the never shy Van Gundy said about all of it, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

“I’m encouraged by the fact of what some of those guys stood up and did at the ESPYs and had a conversation,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have guys that not only see the problem, but want to try to do something about it…

“To me, in some ways, (police brutality is) just the most visible to focus on and it goes to deeper inequities in our criminal justice system, our education system so there’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”

Van Gundy has been telling his players part of that solution is to vote.

The players union and NBA sent out a release saying they wanted to work together to create positive change, but details are still vague on what that might be. The only thing we know for sure as we head into the NBA season — with as divided a nation and election as anyone can remember as a backdrop — is that some NBA players are going to try and keep the conversation going.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

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It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.