Manu Ginobili

Manu Ginobili and the dark cloud of the Spurs on the Western Conference horizon

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If the Spurs are going to win the title this season it will be on the back of Manu Ginobili. That has become abundantly clear over the past six weeks or so. The Spurs are facing what can genuinely be considered their 14th consecutive season of championship contention, which is, in every way possible, completely and totally amazingly bonkers. That’s consistency of a kind that we simply almost never see in the NBA. Not even the Lakers have truly been contenders for that length of time, and they have five titles to their credit. But in the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic shift from the gritty, patient, bore-a-hole-in-y0ur-head-and-suck-out-your-brains-with-a-vacuum-cleaner Spurs to an offensive juggernaut with defensive issues.

In March of last year, the Spurs defensive efficiency skyrocketed to 108.5 up from 101.1 for their season average. It was a trend few were examining until the playoffs came and all of a sudden the Spurs couldn’t stop the Memphis Grizzlies, eventually losing to them in the first round in one of the biggest upsets ever. For most of this season, the trend had been corrected. Unfortunately, over the past month, we see the same trend picking up as what bit them in March of last season.

So that’s not good (I ignored the four game stretch in December for sample size purposes and the two games in April. But let it be known those six games they were good defensively overall.) They were really locking down in February but March rolled around and things changed. Interestingly, both Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, the two deadline and buy-out additions for the Spurs haven’t been the problem, the Spurs’ defensive efficiency is better than average with them on the court. It’s everyone around them that has slid backwards.

Does this mean that the Spurs are terrible at defense? Not at all. In the past ten games, the Spurs have the 9th best defensive efficiency in the 4th quarter. They’re quite capable of good defense and all signs point to their having a superior defensive front than last year. It’s just that they are clearly not a tremendous defensive team. They’re average-to-slightly-above-average, at least in the regular season. I had anticipated them turning it on in the playoffs last year, only to find defense to be the biggest reason they lost in the first round. Can they turn it on this year? Probably to a degree, but they won’t be winning with defense.

They’ll be winning with Ginobili.

Ginobili missed a large portion of the year with various injuries. To say that the Spurs have crept to this record because of Ginobili would be false. It’s been Tony Parker, and the bench’s brilliance, and Popovich’s coaching, and overall execution. But in the playoffs, when the margin between teams is narrowed to a handful of possessions, it will be Ginobili that will make the difference.

Like on plays like this.

As Spurs blog Pounding the Rock has described Ginobili:

The 34-year-old shooting guard (34 being considered as chronologically challenged in the NBA) carefully brings the basketball past half court methodically, seemingly taunting the defense. Ten eyes are scanning his every move. His passing ability alone warrants the defense’s undivided attention. Couple that with his quirky offensive game — a game is crafted with artifice, predicated on unique angles, balanced upon the threat of scoring from every part of the floor, his ambidextrous dribbling and the ability to draw fouls continuously — Manu Ginobili is still incredibly hard to stop despite having logged 652 games at the professional level (not counting his International experience).

Manu has always been as attuned as any player can be to the ebb and flow of a game; ready and able to deliver what his team needed from him at any point. For me, the worst part about watching the ’08 and ’09 playoffs, was having the involuntary thought, “Ok, Manu needs to step up now,” only to realize that he was in street clothes. If we can all agree that his sensitivity to where and how he needs to play is as advanced as it’s always seemed to be, then it’s a really short trip to believing that we’re seeing a metamorphosis in his game that will take him places we can only imagine. And that will take the team where it hasn’t been in five long years — into the Golden Hour, where the end of the day brings beauty, even as night closes in.

via Manu Ginobili’s Game Is Changing Right Before Our Eyes – Pounding The Rock.

Ginobili’s continued excellence lies in his ability to make key plays. Not clutch plays. But well-timed conversions of low-percentage opportunities. Slipping between defenders and hitting the and-one when the lead has swelled to seven. Nabbing the steal when the offensive momentum is with the other team. Canning the open three when the defense loses him for just a second. These are the Ginobili plays that will make the most difference.

The Spurs’ defense is not where it needs to be. But it’s good enough. And when the playoffs come around, if Ginobili is playing at this level, there will be no first-round upset. There will be the Spurs, standing in the Thunder’s way, with every matchup advantage you can imagine.

The Spurs are the dark cloud on the horizon of the Western Conference. Ignore them at your peril.

Andrew Bogut comes up big for Warriors, who so often shun him to go small

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The Warriors’ Nuclear Lineup propelled them to the 2015 NBA championship. It has drawn praise from the President of the United States. It has been credited with revolutionizing basketball.

And it has marginalized Andrew Bogut.

Golden State has been at its best the last two years when benching Bogut for Andre Iguodala and shifting Draymond Green to center. That small-ball unit has defended well, pushed the pace and found quality shots.

But with the death lineup looking more vulnerable than ever – and, really, vulnerable at all for the first time – the Warriors turned to the starter who had sat and cheered his teammates in the biggest moments.

Bogut scored 15 points (his career playoff high) and grabbed 14 rebounds (his 2016 postseason high) in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the the Thunder.

The biggest number: Bogut’s 30 minutes.

He played just 17, 16, 12 and 11 minutes in the series’ first four games. Foul trouble contributed, but so did Golden State’s sloppiness – turnovers and quick shots – that turned games into track meets. At 7 feet and age 31, Bogut isn’t built to keep up. But the Warriors slowed the game just enough to let Bogut shine.

Protecting the paint has two major components:

1. Preventing shots at the rim. Even the worst finishing teams score at point-blank range more efficiently than the best mid-range teams do between the paint and 3-point arc.

2. Forcing misses at the rim when the opponent gets off a shot. Obviously.

Golden State improved tremendously in both areas tonight.

The Warriors allowed a series-low 18 attempts in the restricted area:

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And they held Oklahoma City to a series-low 44% shooting in the restricted area:

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Add it up, and that means the Thunder made just eight shots in the restricted area – a third as many as Game 3 and half as many as any other game:

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Bogut was central to the interior defense. Oklahoma City shot just 3-for-10 (30%) in the restricted area with him on the floor and 5-for-8 (63%) with him off.

“Bogues is our best defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, providing news to the voters who picked Golden State forward Draymond Green second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Green defended well tonight. But Bogut – who had two blocks and two steals – really drove the turnaround.

“It’s probably the key if you want to look for one thing – Bogues’ play leading to better defense,” Kerr said.

Add his quality finishing (7-for-9 from the field) and plus passing from the post (which generated two assists), and this was a real gem from Bogut – at a time the Warriors needed it most.

But can Bogut help them in Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City? He hasn’t played 30 minutes twice in three days in more than a year.

“I believe in Bogues,” Kerr said. “I think he can play that way in Game 6.”

Golden State will need him – or another way to defend the paint. Given the results of this series so far, including Green uncharacteristically struggling to protect the rim as the small-ball center, I’d turn to Bogut again.

Stephen Curry attacks rim, makes defensive plays, lifts Warriors to 120-111 win

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Stephen Curry wasn’t hitting threes like the video-game version of himself (the one we have come to expect), so he attacked the rim and made plays in the paint. The result was 31 points on 20 shots — and he set the tone for the Warriors all night.

Not just on offense, Curry had a key steal plus blocked a Kevin Durant shot late — highlighting an improved Warriors defense.

“I thought he looked like 91 percent,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr joked about Curry after the game (referencing the report Curry is just 70 percent healthy).

Curry played better than he had since Game 2 — so did Draymond Green, who had some offensive struggles but played the defense we know. The Warriors also got 27 points from Klay Thompson, and 15 points plus a lot great play in the paint from Andrew Bogut allowing the Warriors to stay with bigger lineups. Also, with Golden State attacking the rim, they got to the free throw line 34 times.

The result of all of it was a 120-111 Golden State win at home in Game 5, making the series 3-2.

Now the biggest test of the season comes for the Warriors — they will need to play better than this Saturday on the road in Oklahoma City to force a Game 7.

“We played with great energy, we played with great desperation, that’s the way you have to play in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “We were out of sorts the last two games, and we looked more like ourselves.”

The best way to describe Curry’s night was “good enough.” Credit to him attacking when his threes were not falling, look at his shot chart on the night.

Curry Game 5 shot chart

The Warriors also took the Thunder out of what had been successful for them the past couple games — OKC had just 15 fast break points (compared to 28 for the Warriors), the Warriors were +18 on points in the paint, and the Warriors outrebounded the Thunder on the night. The Warriors didn’t overthink thier defense on the Thunder in this one, they just did a better job of executing switches and, thanks to Bogut, taking away easy buckets inside.

Russell Westbrook and OKC struggled out of the gate — as a team, they shot 8-of-28 in the first quarter and at one point Westbrook missed 10 shots in a row. The Warriors were not hot with their typical shots — 2-of-10 from three — but they were getting to the rim and finishing better inside, which got them a lead in a game where Oracle Arena is rocking.

Steve Kerr did not dramatically change what had worked so well for Golden State all season, counting on his team to just be better — and it was, they outscored the Thunder small-ball lineup 20-15 in the first half (after being destroyed by it in the previous two games). The Thunder hung around in the second thanks to mid-range jumpers (5-of-7 in the second, plus 3-of-5 from three). But the Thunder did not get the same lift from their stars, Kevin Durant had 15 first half points on 15 shots, Westbrook had 13 on 14 shots (but still had six assists). Golden State led 58-50 at the half.

The Thunder opened the second half on a 9-2 run and things yo-yoed between tied and a small Warrior lead for much of the second half, until the Golden State’s bench pushed the lead into double digits again late in the third and early in the fourth. That lead held until the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run fueled by some sloppy Warriors turnovers.

But the Warriors showed more poise than they have in the past few games, holding on for the win, making plays at the end when they needed to.

Now, can they do that and better on the road?

Draymond Green banks in shot from logo after whistle (video)

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors warms up prior to Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Draymond Green missed both his 3-pointers prior, but he made this.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, it didn’t count because it came after a whistle (that few heard over the loud Golden State fans).

Stephen Curry sunk a 3-pointer later in the possession. That one counted.

Report: Khloe Kardashian files for divorce from Lamar Odom

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
AP Photo/Evan Agostini
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1. Khloe Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom.

2. With Odom facing health problems after a drug overdose, they rescinded the filing.

3. Odom reportedly continued drinking, frustrating Kardashian.

Associated Press:

Court records in Los Angeles show Kardashian filed for divorce Thursday, citing irreconcilable differences.