Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Clippers

For second time in a week, Clippers beat Thunder. Hmmm….

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When the Clippers beat Oklahoma City Thunder last Wednesday, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were 2-for-12 shooting in the fourth quarter.

In the second half Monday night, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 1-for-13 shooting and the Clippers pulled away with an 18-4 run in the fourth quarter to win 92-77. The OKC loss combined with a Spurs win over Golden State moved the two teams into a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference.

Taken by themselves, the Clippers’ wins over the Thunder don’t mean much. And regular season results have limited relations to playoff success (remember, last regular season the Heat struggled against the Celtics and Bulls while the Lakers owned the Mavericks). But the Thunder have lost their last five games against playoff teams now. They are not right, which again does not spell playoff doom but it can make you hesitate.

I think we can take away a couple things from these games.

• Under pressure, the Thunder still have their offense desert them for stretches, in part because they turn the ball over too much (19 times this game). That cost them in the playoffs last year against Dallas, it will cost this year against teams that can make them pay. The Clippers stepped up their defense and in the second half OKC struggled, scoring just 25 points. The Thunder didn’t score the final 3:42 of this game. That was with Durant missing a shot in the lane guarded by Chris Paul. It was isolations and drive and kick, things the Clippers could defend.

The only reason the Thunder were close after three quarters was a monster game from Serge Ibaka, who had more baskets in the third quarter (five) than Durant and Westbrook did in the second half. Ibaka had 12 points in the third and seemed to be everywhere with rebounds and blocks.

• Last week Griffin told PBT in an interview that defense was key to the Clippers play of late. He’s right. The Clippers are starting to play more consistent defense and when they do they are a tough team to beat. What’s more, Gs leading that defensive charge — he is using his physicality on that end and it works. Also, the Clippers threw some zone at the Thunder and it slowed the visitors who were slow to recognize it. This was a nice change of pace defense for the Clips.

Griffin and Paul also are developing a better chemistry. The Clippers made a great little run using a pick-and-roll with Griffin and Paul at the top of the key — OKC tried a little bit of everything with Paul off the pick and nothing worked, but at this point they trapped him — and Paul slipped the bounce pass to a rolling Griffin. Each time Ibaka was there to greet him in the lane but other help would come as well from Kevin Durant. That left Nick Young wide open in the corner and he drained the three. Young was on fire for the night, scoring 19 points on 10 shots.

I’m not convinced that in a seven game series the Thunder do not prevail. The playoffs are their own animal. But the Thunder have had flaws exposed that they will fix or get ripped wide open in the post season.

And the Clippers are still a team on the rise that could climb up (they are one game back of the Lakers for the three seed). If they can put performances on defense like the second half of this game on consistently, watch out. There is a lot of talent on this side.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.