Thunder-Spurs Game 5: San Antonio needs to find its offense

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San Antonio needs to find its offense to win Game 5 tonight, or this series will be over in a couple days.

It falls to the Spurs’ big three — Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili need to get free and penetrate the lane to break down the Thunder defense, Tim Duncan just has to play a better all around game.

It’s not that the Spurs offense was bad in Game 4 — they shot 50 percent and scored 112 points per 100 possessions. You look at that most times and say that’s good enough to win, you’d say the Spurs need to tighten up their defense. And their defense should look better in Game 5 because Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison are not going to combine to go 22-for-25 shooting again in our lifetimes. That was the Game 4 outlier.

But there is another bigger issue at play here — San Antonio can’t stop Oklahoma City. San Antonio’s defense has been good enough to win all season because it just had to slow teams enough and their offense would blow them out of the water. Their defense was good enough to take Chris Paul out of the equation and force the other Clippers to step up and they were not ready as a team.

Oklahoma City is different. They have maybe the game’s best pure scorer in Kevin Durant. They have the ultra aggressive, attacking Russell Westbrook. They have James Harden. They are going to get a lot of points every night one way or another.

If San Antonio is going to win Game 5, they need to get their offense back to where it was the first couple games. Which means Gregg Popovich and staff need to find a way to free up Parker and Ginobili. With Thabo Sefolosha’s long arms to start and Serge Ibaka on the switch off of picks, San Antonio’s driving lanes have been taken away. When the Thunder defense gets set with its long athletes, the Spurs are less effective.

Which is why they need to run — not fast break points but run drag screens and other sets early in the shot clock before the defense gets its bearings. Exploit the mismatches before the Thunder can recover. You are right that the Spurs don’t want to get in a pure track meet with the Thunder, but in the regular season the Spurs played at almost the same pace and were more efficient. They need to go fast.

For Oklahoma City, they also will need more from their stars — their role players will not duplicate that kind of scoring on the road. But the Spurs can’t stop Durant. Nobody can. And he with Westbrook and Harden will have to carry this team to be the first squad to beat the Spurs in San Antonio these playoffs.

Do and they will be on the doorstep of playing for a ring. But the Spurs have those rings and know what it takes.

This is going to be one great game.

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.