Lakers-Thunder Game 5: Thunder all business in win over Lakers to advance to Conference Finals

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The future is now.

It can be said that the Thunder have done nothing more than advanced to the same position they reached last season before falling to another team from Texas in the Western Conference Finals. But this doesn’t feel that way. The Thunder exorcised their Mavericks demons in the first round, then took out the team that bounced them from the playoffs in 2010 in the semifinals, dropping the Lakers in five games with a 106-90 win in Oklahoma City. The ghosts have been defeated, the Spurs, who the Thunder have not faced in the playoffs but who have vexed them in the regular season and who stand as the old guard complete with OKC’s general manager coming from the Spurs tree, are all that stands in their way of the Finals. The Thunder are taking care of business. They took care of business in Dallas with a chance to close out. They took care of business in Oklahoma City with a chance to finish Kobe Bryant’s season.

They’re still kids. But they’re kids who have come with business on their mind and in their hearts, and their business is winning.

In Game 5, it was a back and forth aware. The Thunder seemed to have all the momentum, getting out and running, running, running the ball down the Lakers’ throat. But the Lakers responded by slowing the game down, and behind Kobe Bryant’s valiant 42-point effort, the Lakers hung. They were scrapping. They had a lead, even, in the third. There was a chance they could grab this game, hold it this time, get a win and take it back to L.A.. Just one more win to hold on to the season, to get control back just a bit, and hope the Thunder’s inexperience would break under pressure.

Instead? The rain came.

At 5:27 left in the third, the Lakers had a four-point lead. From there the Thunder outscored the Lakers 40-20. Russell Westbrook, the maligned co-star who often took heat for shooting too much and taking shots away from Kevin Durant? He scored 18 in that stretch. Westbrook did it all. Steals for breakaways. Pull-up jumpers in the key, driving attacks at the rim. Relentless, smooth, a cold blooded killer. You might even say Kobe-like. Durant chipped in 9 points, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison both had two offensive rebounds, and the Thunder put the Lakers on lockdown. It was over. No comebacks, no collapses. Just the better team being the better team, and cruising to a victory in front of that raucous crowd.

The Lakers turn to an uncertain futuRE> The Thunder turn to the Spurs. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were the iconic team of NBA destiny, always one step ahead in terms of talent and execution. Now they’re just another team left in the rubble by the Oklahoma City Thunder. No more growing pains. No more maturation. No more kid games. This is business.

Thunder Up.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.