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, Cavaliers advance past Celtics to meet Warriors in 2017 NBA Finals

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Let’s line it up and run it again. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are going to meet in the 2017 NBA Finals after LeBron James and the Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 5 on Thursday, 135-102.

It wasn’t much of a contest from the outset as Cleveland looked determined to put away their opponent. The Cavaliers played strong, shot well from 3-point range, and forced the Celtics into 18 turnovers over the course of the game.

The Cavaliers set a franchise playoff record in the first half, scoring 75 points in the first two periods. LeBron had 20 before the third quarter started, putting him just inches away from passing Michael Jordan to top the list for most points scored in NBA playoff history.

That moment came in the third quarter, with James dropping in a sweet 3-pointer from the left side of the arc to push him past Jordan. LeBron finished the game with 35 points, going 4-of-7 from 3-point range will adding eight assists, eight rebounds, and three steals.

Kyrie Irving was another bright spot for the Cavaliers, scoring 24 points to go along with seven assists. Kevin Love added 15 points, and Deron Williams had a rejuvenation off the bench with 14.

For Boston, yet another game without Isaiah Thomas forced their offense into stagnation. Avery Bradley — who had a considerable series in an effort that should not be overlooked — scored 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting. Gerald Green was Boston’s second-leading scorer in a bench role, adding 14 points.

Now we get to wait until June 1, when what seemed an inevitability way back in training camp has indeed come to pass. The Warriors get their shot at redemption after the worst breakdown in NBA playoff history, and the Cavaliers get a chance to solidify themselves over their peers and galvanize LeBron’s position as the best player of a generation.

The Finals don’t start for anther week. We’ll all be champing at the bit to see if Cleveland really does have what it takes to guard the Warriors offense. Likewise, a top defensive team in Golden State will need to prepare themselves for the LeBron that showed up against the Celtics in Game 1 and 2.

LeBron James passes Michael Jordan for most NBA career playoff points

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LeBron James is now above Michael Jordan in one very important, objective area. On Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, LeBron passed Michael Jordan for the most playoff points scored in NBA history.

James’ historic moment came in the third quarter of Game 5, with the Cavaliers up by double-digits.

LeBron passed Jordan with a 3-pointer that came from the left side of the arc.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers look poised to meet the Golden State Warriors yet again in the NBA Finals.

Cavaliers set franchise record, score 75 points in first half vs. Celtics (VIDEO)

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The Cleveland Cavaliers looked ready to put the Boston Celtics away in the first half of Game 5 on Thursday night. With LeBron James just inches away from becoming the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, the No. 2 seed exploded on the Celtics in Boston.

The result of the first two periods was James scoring 20 points, Kyrie Irving adding 11, and Kevin Love dropping 12 points.

Oh, and the Cavaliers set a franchise record for points scored in the first half of playoff game.

Via Twitter:

The play may or may not have been a goaltend by Al Horford, but officials saw it that way and gave Cleveland the points just seconds before the half ended.

Rumor: After spurning Celtics, Lonzo Ball is considering working out for 76ers

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UCLA guard Lonzo Ball is expected to be a Top 2 pick in June’s 2017 NBA Draft, but he won’t be working out for the Boston Celtics. If Danny Ainge wants to select Ball No. 1 overall, he will have to do so without seeing him up close and 1-on-1.

But if the Philadelphia 76ers (owners of the No. 3 pick) want to see Ball … well that could be arranged. Maybe.

According to a report from ESPN, Ball’s camp is considering a workout with the Sixers if they can get more information about the team situation.

Via ESPN:

A final decision will be made once Ball’s agent, Harrison Gaines, and Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo have had an extensive conversation centered on the identity of the team, sources told ESPN.

That dialogue is expected within the coming weeks. Most expect Ball to be off the board after the first two selections.

Of course, the situation in Philadelphia for Ball is excellent. The thing they need is backcourt help, which is why a move up for Markelle Fultz might make sense for them. That or drafting one of the two if either fall to No. 3. The Sixers have also been linked to Kyle Lowry, who is a free agent this summer. The Sixers have talked for a year about using Ben Simmons as their point guard, so they’ll need some amalgam to get a working situation put together.

In short, Philadelphia’s plan is to:

  • Sign / draft a guard
  • Win a lot of games

Where Ball doesn’t fit into that is a mystery, even if the 76ers end up grabbing another guard.

If you can’t read between the lines — or read the giant sign LaVar Ball might as well be holding up behind his son everywhere he goes — this seems mostly like a hilariously transparent way to add pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to select Ball at No. 2.

Will this strategy work? No. Is this necessary? Probably not! Magic Johnson already said he thinks Ball is the player that most resembles him in this draft, an equally transparent signal.

The Lakers are going to select Ball at No. 2. Or they won’t.

If they don’t it will be for reasons outside what Ball’s camp can influence, the potential for workouts with the team directly below them (but not the team above them) in the draft notwithstanding. He certainly won’t slide beyond No. 3. But the combination of both not working out for the Celtics and offering the idea that Ball might work out for the Sixers is extremely clumsy — and unnecessary — media work.

And to think we have a whole career of this to go. Strap in! I’m here for it if you are.