Thunder find some answers, still have many more questions

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If you were looking for them, there were glimmers of hope for the Oklahoma Thunder in this series from Game 2.

Their “big three” showed up — Kevin Durant had 31, James Harden 30 and Russell Westbrook 27. There was a run, early in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder were able to clog the lane, stall out the Spurs offense and make a little run. They may have found a lineup to close out games (if they just replace Derek Fisher in it).

The problem was it wasn’t enough. They are down 0-2 to a Spurs team playing beautiful and smart basketball.

But the series is not over. There is a chance as they head home.

But the Thunder need to find some answers. Fast.

The questions are mostly on the defensive end — the Thunder put up 111 points and were far more aggressive attacking the rim.

But they could not stop the Spurs. And that really comes back to they could not stop the Spurs penetration — once Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili get in the lane you are at the mercy of a little floater or a kick out to an open corner three. You have to cut them off early.

And for a stretch of the second half they did.

“I think we did a good job at the end of the third to the middle of the fourth just putting more heat on them, on the ball, really making it difficult for (Parker) to see those gaps, to see those passes,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game.

The Thunder found some answers with a lineup of Westbrook, Durant, Derek Fisher, James Harden and Serge Ibaka — a variation on their small lineup — that clogged the lane on the Spurs in and disrupted passing lanes. Oklahoma City made a 13-4 run in the fourth quarter that made you think maybe. It’s an athletic lineup (save Fisher), and that bothered the Spurs. San Antonio was forced to shoot contested jumpers that for a while they missed. The Thunder ran off turnovers (particularly Harden). The Spurs 22-point lead evaporated. To single digits.

But then Brooks made his second fourth quarter substitution mistake of the series — he stuck with Fisher once the Spurs started exploiting his defense. With Thabo Sefolosha, his best perimeter defender, sitting on the bench Brooks stuck with Fisher. Who missed shots (save one three) and was getting torched on the other end. Brooks can’t make that kind of mistake again.

Still, the idea was right. The Thunder blew up the Spurs rhythm with hack-a-Splitter them built on it. The Thunder did better for stretches guarding the paint. It’s just that the Spurs can beat that, too.

“You take away the paint, you give up something,” Brooks said. “They made 11 threes. That’s what makes them a good team.”

The Spurs are a relentless offensive machine, but the Thunder have the athletes to at least slow them. They just need to do it more consistently. They need more Ibaka and less Kendrick Perkins (a great one-on-one post defender, perfect for the Lakers series but less effective here).

They need the energy the home crowd brings in OKC, which elevates the Thunder game. The Spurs, it’s not changing them. These games could be played outdoors on asphalt with chain-link nets and they would do the exact same things. Gregg Popovich has probably even thought up special plays for a potential outdoor game. Just in case.

The Thunder have another gear, they need to find it, particularly on defense. They are learning what works, what they need to do. Now they need to execute it. Right now. At home, with all the energy that building brings.

That or this series will be over faster than a Kim Kardashian marriage.

Warriors complained of no water in showers in Cleveland

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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The Cavaliers are clearly frustrated.

Did someone in Cleveland take out that frustration on the Warriors after they beat the Cavs last night?

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Players were complaining about there being no hot water in the visiting locker room showers. When they walked in, they could be heard screaming in discomfort. Most of the players emerged shivering from taking a quick wash-off.

“Man, they got to do something in ‘The Q.’ Somebody call Bron!” Kevin Durant yelled, referring to LeBron James.

No one seemed angry; the situation was more humorous.

That’s the right approach. Whenever the hot water is out in a visiting locker room, the finger is pointed at the home team for sabotage. Sometimes, heating systems just fail.

Giannis Antetokounmpo assists fastbreak dunk with football-style long snap (video)

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Giannis Antetokounmpo is scoring more in the post, the basketball analogue of football’s trenches.

Apparently, he’s taking the comparison to the next level.

In the Bucks’ win over the Wizards yesterday, Antetokounmpo played the part of a long-snapping center to set up Khris Middleton in transition.

NBC Sports Washington:

Report: James Harden, Chris Paul and Gerald Green were holding back Trevor Ariza in back hallway

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Rockets players James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin in the Clippers’ locker room after last night’s game.

That’s one version of the story, at least.

But it apparently isn’t the only one – at least when it comes to Harden’s, Green’s and Paul’s involvement.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

A hallway runs between the Clippers locker room and the visitors locker room, where players from opposing teams often see each other and catch up. According to a Rockets source, Ariza was waiting on Griffin, and when the game ended he charged from the hallway into the Clips locker room. When Rivers spotted Ariza near the entrance, according to the source, he said: “Let his b—– a– come in.” Ariza then turned his attention to Rivers.

ESPN reported that Ariza was flanked by three teammates—Harden, Paul and Gerald Green—but their purpose was unclear. “They were holding Trevor back,” the source said.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Harden was sitting out his seventh straight game with a strained hamstring on Monday night, and Rockets sources believe that he’ll be ready for a return to the lineup on Thursday night against Minnesota.

Austin Rivers challenging Ariza is juicy, but the type of thing people say during altercations. The rest of this sounds like the Rockets trying to position themselves ahead of the NBA handing down punishments.

If they were just trying to restrain Ariza, then Harden, Paul and Green shouldn’t be fined or suspended. But if Harden is suspended, he could serve his penalty Thursday – even if the Rockets are fibbing about him being ready to play (though they at least previously laid the groundwork for that one).

There’s a lot for the league to untangle.

Russell Westbrook ejected (video)

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Russell Westbrook jumped from fifth to second in the NBA in technical fouls in about two seconds.

The Thunder star received two technical fouls and an automatic ejection late in Oklahoma City’s win over the Kings last night, leaving his nine technical fouls behind only Draymond Green‘s 11.

Westbrook got hit in the face on a drive, but instead of a foul being called on Sacramento, Westbrook was whistled for travelling. That’s quite a turnaround from the expected call to the actual call, so I understand why Westbrook was so upset. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook said something that warranted ejection. Thunder coach Billy Donovan also got a technical foul in the sequence.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

The league used to crack down on that more with public fines, but the Thunder have skirted the rule this season.