Kevin Durant, Thunder, Spurs, Tim Dunan

Thunder remind Spurs, everyone they are contenders with rout

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The Oklahoma City Thunder would like to remind you that they are a very, very good basketball team.

For days now the buzz had been about the Spurs’ 20-game win streak, how they played like the old man at the YMCA that schools the more athletic kids with the extra pass and smart positioning.

But the Thunder are not inexperienced kids, they are a title contenders and reminded San Antonio of that — and maybe reminded themselves of that — as they routed the Spurs 102-82. The win makes this a 2-1 series in favor of the Spurs and sets up a huge Game 4 on Saturday night in OKC. It was a dramatic end to the Spurs’ streak.

We’ve got a real series now.

For the first time this series, the Thunder looked like the young athletic team that could overwhelm the old Spurs. Kevin Durant seemed to be everywhere, as did Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder put on an offensive show with some beautiful fast breaks and powerful dunks.

But that’s not what this game was about.

“Defensively, that was about well as you can play against the best team in basketball,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of his team’s effort. “And everybody did it throughout every possession.”

For two games the Spurs torched the Thunder defense. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili got free off picks and drove into the paint, either scoring or kicking out to an open man who made the extra pass for an open corner three. Or, Parker would pull back and hit the jumper. Or Parker would pull back and hit a rolling Tim Duncan. The Spurs just got the shot they wanted.

Oklahoma City changed lineups, changed strategy and blew that up. They sat Fisher more and played Sefolosha on the ball handler, then switched every pick-and-roll — and they did it with a physicality and energy lacking in the first two games. OKC cut off the Spurs’ penetration — the Spurs had six points in the paint in the first half. San Antonio’s ball movement went away. Its ability to reset the play went away with the pressure. The result was the Spurs were doing more isolation with Tim Duncan and others.

That defense worked from the start, when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run to open the game. The Spurs shot 39.5 percent and had 21 turnovers in the game. Sefolosha had six steals by himself. Only two Spurs scored in double digits.

Oklahoma City turned all those misses and turnovers into fast-break opportunities. They got out and ran and got looks closer to the basket because of it. Durant had 22 points and James Harden 15, but Sefolosha added 19 (including four threes) and Serge Ibaka had 14.

The pressure now shifts to the Spurs, who must make the offensive adjustments — they have to find a way to use Sefolosha’s aggressiveness against him. They have to get the ball moving again — with the Spurs jumping the passing lanes, we may see more cuts (particularly along the baseline).

For San Antonio this is an easy game to write off. They are a veteran team, they’ve been blown out before. They know what they need to do in the next game.

But the Thunder we expected to see from the start are back in this series. They have awoken and played like a contender. There will be nothing easy for either side from here on out.

We’ve got a real series now.

GM David Griffin: Cavaliers have made J.R. Smith ‘incredibly competitive and aggressive offer’

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers acknowledges the crowd during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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We’ve now reached the “negotiate through the media” stage of J.R. Smith‘s free agency.

Everyone expects Smith to re-sign with the Cavaliers, but training camp opened without a deal. Reportedly, discussions are somewhere between $10 million and $15 million annually with contract length a roadblock.

Cavs general manager David Griffin, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“As we have stated and coach has previously stated, we think very highly of J.R. and we love him as a member of our team, as a member of our locker room,” General Manager David Griffin said. “He was essential to our success and for that reason we have made an incredibly competitive and aggressive offer in re-signing him.”

I bet Smith’s agent, Rich Paul, would say his contract demands are perfectly reasonable, too.

The Cavaliers want to maximize chemistry as the they defend their title, and that means getting Smith signed as quickly as possible. But they also want to avoid paying Smith a large salary – and taking a big luxury-tax hit – as he declines into his 30s.

Something will eventually give, but first, Griffin is telling the world ending the stalemate is in Smith’s court – though not revealing the exact offer(s) to be judged publicly. We’ll see how Smith and Paul respond.

Report: Derrick Rose more concerned about rape allegation than he’s publicly revealing

FILE - In this June 24, 2016, file photo, New York Knicks' Derrick Rose speaks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden in New York. Phil Jackson made a risky move when he traded for the injury-prone Rose in June, and now the Knicks face the possibility of their point guard's involvement in a rape trial in California during his first preseason with the team.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
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Phil Jackson said the Knicks aren’t concerned about the civil and potentially criminal rape allegations Derrick Rose is facing. Rose doesn’t sound concerned, either.

But is Rose just putting on a front?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

For now, the Knicks wait – and hope. Hope that the civil suit is resolved quickly. Hope that Rose – who has been troubled by the uncertainty of his legal entanglements more than he is letting on, sources familiar with Rose told The Vertical – is able to block out the distractions and build on the progress he made last season.

Rose should be concerned. Whatever happened that night, the specter of criminal prosecution and/or civil judgment against him are daunting outcomes. He can try to put that aside and focus on basketball, but this is a major event in his life.

Jimmy Butler still begging Fred Hoiberg to coach him harder

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Head coach Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls talks with Jimmy Butler during a game against the Golden State Warriors
at the United Center on January 20, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly has chemistry issues last season stemming from the Jimmy Butler-Fred Hoiberg relationship. Butler’s most public critique of Hoiberg came in December, when the wing said, “We probably have to be coached a lot harder at times.”

A reasonable criticism for the mild-mannered Hoiberg? Perhaps, especially for a team that responded so well to the hard-driving Tom Thibodeau for the better part of five years.

The best delivery? Probably not, considering Hoiberg was still trying to find his way in his first NBA season.

But Butler hasn’t changed his message.

Butler, via CSN Chicago:

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example. I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.’,” Butler said. “Because if Doug or Tony or whoever it may be is watching coach talk to me like that, it’s going to be like, ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that, I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ That’s what I try to remind him every day. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else. I want that. I need that.”

Tim Duncan was celebrated for years for taking the brunt of Gregg Popovich’s criticism in San Antonio, setting an example for younger Spurs. So much of what Butler has done lately has been spun into a negative, but it seems he’s really trying to sacrifice his pride to help teammates like Doug McDermott and Tony Snell.

If Hoiberg goes along, this could quiet complaints about Butler’s leadership and preferential treatment.

With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in New York, the Bulls are Butler’s team now. Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have said as much.

It seems Butler is doing what he can to lead the Bulls – his way. The question: Does Hoiberg also think that’s the best way?

Jeremy Lin: My race made Linsanity bigger

Dallas Mavericks v New York Knicks
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Jeremy Lin might want to move past Linsanity, but  he’ll always be linked to that period in 2012. It was so enthralling for numerous reasons, including:

  • Lin played unsustainably great basketball, leading the Knicks to a 7-1 record while starting with Carmelo Anthony injured and averaging 25.0 points and 9.5 assists per game in that span.
  • Lin was excelling in New York, America’s biggest media market.
  • The Knicks were desperate for success, having not won a single playoff game in the last decade.
  • Lin was undrafted and relatively unknown before breaking out.
  • Lin played at Harvard, which is universally known for academics and barely known for basketball.
  • Lin is Asian-American, a rarity in high-level basketball.

Yes, that last factor mattered.

Lin, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“In some ways, Linsanity wouldn’t have been Linsanity if I was a different skin color, most likely, it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal, and that went to my advantage, too, but if you look prior to that, a lot of the obstacles to even get to that point where I could get to a position of getting on the floor, those were definitely obstacles that were very much stereotypes that I had to fight along the way. So I’ve always understood that there’s good and there’s bad and you have to take them together and just be thankful for it all.”

Linsanity was a culmination of all the elements listed above. Maybe it would’ve happened without one or two, but THE essential factor was Lin’s on-court production. Without that, he never would’ve become a national phenomenon.

Lin’s heritage – he was born in California to Taiwanese-born parents – accentuated his basketball skills, but the basketball skills were the base for his popularity.

And as Lin said, his race was a double-edged sword. It made him less likely to get the benefit of the doubt when rising through the basketball ranks. I believe that coaches, scouts and other players were less inclined to believe in his basketball ability because of his race.

But Lin overcame that and eventually reaped the awards of being an outlier.

Lin has long seemed to possess a keen understanding of himself and a willingness to discuss it. I think he’s spot-on here, and it leads to a better understanding of one of the biggest NBA stories in recent years.