Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

Thunder/Spurs Game 2: The rise of Westbrook, Harden

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I said going into this series Russell Westbrook was the key to Oklahoma City’s chances against the Spurs — he needs to attack off the pick-and-roll, get into the lane and finish. Or kick it out. But he needs to disrupt the Spurs defense and put a lot of points on the board in the half court.

James Harden has the same burden on him — he should be the guy setting up plays for the Thunder in the half court late in games. Yet Harden only had one possession where he controlled the ball in the last 10 minutes of Game 1 and that is just bad execution by the Thunder. Harden is their best playmaker.

Westbrook and Harden — more than Kevin Durant — are the keys to the Thunder getting the Game 2 win Tuesday and evening the Western Conference finals at a game a piece.

What Thunder fans learned the hard way in Game 1 is that the Spurs are a relentless offense — they keep attacking, keep pressuring, keep looking for lineups that work then they exploit it. In Game 1 the Spurs had success by going small in the fourth quarter, which allowed them to get their points in the paint thanks to a matchup that favored them. They had Manu Ginobili with 26 points, Tony Parker with 18 and they had balance.

There was a logical adjustment to the small ball for Scott Brooks — Serge Ibaka. But he didn’t go there. And he regrets it, as reported by the Expres-News.

“Every decision you make, if it doesn’t work out, you always say, ‘Why did you do that?’” Brooks said. “I’m with you on that. I wish I would have played Serge last night.”

The problem is if Ibaka does play the disciplined spurs will just move on to the next option that works. It is what they do.

Which is why the Thunder can’t have their offense go stagnant as it did in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Which brings us back to Westbrook and Harden.

Late in the game, Harden needs to be the playmaker for the Thunder. The ball needs to be in his hands because when it is Durant still gets his but so does everyone else. In Game 1 Durant was the guy with the ball, and the combination of good defense from Stephen Jackson and little off-ball movement stalled out the Thunder attack. It opened the door and Ginobili pulled the Spurs through it.

On the pick-and-roll, Westbrook simply cannot settle — he has to attack and get into the teeth of the defense. The same is true of Durant. In Game 1 the Thunder ball handler on the pick-and-roll hit just 10-of-28 shots, and that’s not good enough in this series. They are not playing the Lakers with Andrew Bynum’s long arms back there anymore, the Spurs don’t have that kind of back line. OKC has to get its points inside.

All this does not mean OKC should just try and run on the Spurs — San Antonio is more efficient in transition than the Thunder. Over the course of the season it’s true, and if this just because an up-and-down battle it doesn’t really favor the Thunder. There were 97 possessions last game, the Spurs won. As was pointed out in one Spurs preview, San Antonio has won 21 games in a row when the pace is above 94.

It’s not about just being fast, it’s about being smart.

And it’s about Westbrook and Harden.

Dwyane Wade does #SoGoneChallenge, calls for banana-boat buddies to join him (video)

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Rasheed Wallace isn’t the only NBA player doing the #SoGoneChallenge.

Dwyane Wade is also rapping to the music of 2003 Monica song “So Gone”:

Having alil fun haha!!! I challenge #TeamWade @kingjames @cp3 @carmeloanthony do this #Sogonechallenge

A video posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

Wade also invites LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to take the challenge. Will any accept?

John Wall: Bradley Beal and I ‘have a tendency to dislike each other on the court’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23:  Bradley Beal #3 and John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards talk in the first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Verizon Center on March 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Why is new Wizards coach Scott Brooks going so far out of his way to praise Washington’s backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal?

Maybe because the guards need positive reinforcement about their ability to excel together.

Wall, via J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball,” Wall said in a sitdown interview with CSN’s Chris Miller that airs tonight, Wizards Central: Offseason Grind, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Beal, via Michael:

“It’s tough because we’re both alphas. It’s always tough when you have two guys who firmly believe in themselves, who will bet on themselves against anybody else, who want to be that guy. We both can be that guy,” Beal said.

“Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other. I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in without John. John wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in without me, without the rest of the team. It goes hand-in-hand so it’s kind of a pride thing. We got to (hash) out our pride, fiigure out what our goals are individually, help each other achieve those goals, figure out what our team goal is, where do we see ourselves five years from now, 10 years from now and go from there.”

Wall and Beal have spent four seasons together. Wall is locked up for three more and Beal five more.

This isn’t a fleeting problem.

In theory, Wall and Beal should play off each other well. Wall is more of a slasher and passer. Beal excels as an outside shooter.

But complementary skills matter only so much if there’s a personality difference.

Michael credited Alan Anderson and Garrett Temple with soothing tension, but both those veterans have left Washington. It’s time for Wall and Beal to handle this better on their own – or, without the right support around them, interpersonal issues could sink the Wizards.

Jazz sign second-rounders Joel Bolomboy, Marcus Paige

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04:  Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels prepares to shoot a three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Jazz expedited their rise this offseason by trading their first-round pick for George Hill, using cap space to acquire Boris Diaw in another deal and signing Joe Johnson.

But Utah still has room for youth.

The Jazz signed two of their three 2016 second-round picks – No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy and No. 55 pick Marcus Paige.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick forward/center Joel Bolomboy (Ball-um-boy).

He will wear jersey #22 for the Jazz.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick guard Marcus Paige.

He will wear jersey #16 for the Jazz.

Bolomboy is an energetic and athletic rebounder, and that should translate to the NBA. Will the rest of his game round into form? If not, will rebounding and hustle be enough to carve out a role? The power forward from Weber State was worth betting on late in the second round. He might not get much playing time behind Derrick Favors, Diaw and Trey Lyles, but it’s probably worth keeping Bolomboy on an NBA contract and monitoring his development.

Paige is in a similar situation, though point guard is even more crowded with George Hill, Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto. After four years at North Carolina, how much untapped potential remains?

The Jazz have 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries plus Jeff Withey and Chris Johnson. So, barring something unforeseen, there isn’t room for both Bolomboy and Paige (let alone unsigned No. 60 pick Tyrone Wallace) to stick. Utah could waive either rookie and assign his D-League rights to its affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. But that player would become an NBA free agent.

That’s why I’m a little surprised the Jazz signed both. Perhaps, Paige forced their hand by accepting the required tender (a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain a player’s draft rights).

Essentially, this sets up a training-camp competition between Bolomboy, Paige, Withey and Johnson with one NBA salary on the line. My money is on Bolomboy.

Kevin Durant wants to top Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic scoring record, still unsure about 2020

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Gold medalist Kevin Durant of the United States celebrates after defeating Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Olympics served a therapeutic purpose for Kevin Durant, who won gold with Team USA after facing immense backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

What about 2020? What will motivate him to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Games?

Maybe Carmelo Anthony‘s American Olympic scoring record. Durant is just 25 points behind the Knicks star.

Durant, via Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“I can’t say right now,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’ll be 31, going on 32 …”

Overhearing the conversation, Anthony jumped in and shouted, “He’ll be playing in 2020 and 2024! I’m right. I’m right.”

Durant laughed and shook his head as Anthony darted ahead as the most decorated American Olympic basketball player. For now. “I want to pass him, for sure. Just because it’s ‘Melo, I would love to pass him. But I don’t know if I’ll play or not,” Durant told The Vertical. “Who knows? We’ll see. You never know what’s going to happen in four years. I’m just going to enjoy this one right now.”

Durant has already won gold medals (in 2008 and 2012). Potentially, he’ll rack up heavy mileage with multiple deep playoff runs with Golden State in the coming years. And as he said, he’ll be nearly 32 in four years.

That’s the type of record that usually leads a player to skip the Olympics.

But Durant would still be young enough that it’s plausible, and his game should age well enough that he’ll remain one of the top American players. Breaking Melo’s record could entice him, too.