Thunder-Spurs Game 5: Oklahoma City won like battle-tested veterans

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The conventional wisdom coming into this series was that the younger, less experienced Thunder might well not stand up to the level of play the battle tested Spurs were at.

But the Thunder have plenty of experience, too. We thought all season they were the team to beat in the West, that didn’t change until San Antonio got hot. The Thunder have been together for years, they have grown through the playoffs each year. They’ve become battle tested. They have added guys like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher who have have rings. Even in these playoffs we have seen them evolve.

The Thunder are ready. They showed it Monday night in Game 5.

San Antonio played the game of a desperate team — they altered the starting lineup that had so recently won 10 straight playoff games, they played with spurts of incredible tenacity. San Antonio wanted this.

Oklahoma City withstood the storms, made their plays, came back and went on to win 108-103 (Stephen Jackson’s last shot three was waived off) and take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. OKC can close it out Wednesday night at home and advance to the NBA finals.

There comes a time in every series where the coach who realizes it is really slipping away from him starts making desperate moves with his lineup. When he’s willing to try anything to find a combination that works, to change the pace. It almost never works.

For Game 5 Gregg Popovich inserted Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup. He early on tried small lineups. It worked for a minute and the Spurs were up 8 quickly.

But the Thunder are experienced, they do not rattle easily, even on the road. They responded with a 9-0 run of their own and took the lead back before the end of the first quarter. As it had the last couple games, the athleticism of the Thunder disrupted the Spurs offense. The Spurs were out of synch. Their decisions were slow, the ball movement not crisp. Do that and the long, athletic Thunder can recover and contest shots. San Antonio shot just 39.5 percent in the first half with 11 turnovers. Yet they were only down 8, 52-44 at the break.

The start of the second half was like the start of the first, Ginobili was knocking down everything — he finished with 34 points on 21 shots. Tony Paker was defending Russell Westbrook the length of the court and the Spurs were hot, and 18-4 run. They took the lead, they looked like the old Spurs.

And the Thunder weathered the storm. Like a veteran team. They retook the lead, just like they did in the first half. Their defense was good enough, their offense was too much for the Spurs to stop. Kevin Durant had 27 points, Westbrook 23, Harden 20 on just 11 shots (including the dagger four point play). As a team, the Thunder shot 50 percent.

They were flat out better.

Call it a passing of the torch if you want, but we knew all season OKC was the team to beat. And it’s not like the Spurs passed the torch — OKC has ripped it out of their hands. They cranked up the defensive pressure, their offensive ball movement has taken a leap forward, they have been stellar.

They have been what we expect of contenders. And now they are one win away from the finals. Which they earned.

Report: Detroit Pistons become latest team with jersey ad deal, link up with Flagstar Bank

Darren Rovell on Twitter.
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Those new Nike NBA jerseys will have a little more flair and style than the Adidas ones — and I like that teams now can choose what color to wear at home, rather than be forced to don white.

Those jerseys also will have ads on them for a lot of teams.

Detroit is going to be one of them, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN. They will announce a deal Wednesday with Flagstar Bank.

When the season starts and people start to see the ads on jerseys during games… there will be a national shrug.

Sure, some curmudgeon will write a complaining newspaper column about how this is just greed, and that will get him spots on talk shows and networks to spout his “get off my lawn” rant. Fans, however, will shrug. It’s a small patch on the shoulder. In person at games, nobody will notice. On television, you will be able to see it when a guy takes a free throw and they do a close up of him, but you’ll have to look for it. Younger fans, and rational fans, will move along.

If the owners make a few more dollars — half of which goes to the players — then fine. It’s not a big deal. Will people also complain about the Nike swoosh on the other shoulder? Of course not. Of the ad deals, 25 percent goes to the team, 25 percent is shared with other owners in a revenue pool (that has numerous other sources), and 50 goes to the players through contracts (it is part of the “basketball related income” that helps set the salary cap number).

It’s progress. Times are changing, and a rose-colored glasses view of the past will not change that, in sports or anywhere else.

Magic sign 2nd-round pick Wesley Iwundu

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The Orlando Magic have signed second-round pick Wesley Iwundu to a contract.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman announced the deal on Tuesday. Reports from Iwundu’s agent, Austin Walton, said the deal was worth $4.1 million over three years, with a partial guarantee on the final season.

Iwundu was selected No. 33 overall in last month’s draft. In the Orlando Summer League he averaged 5.6 points per game on 30.3 percent shooting.

In college, he played in 132 games, with 124 starts, in four years at Kansas State where the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.

Watch the top 100 dunks of the last NBA season (VIDEO)

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Like you’ve got something better to do on a Wednesday morning than watch 22 minutes of dunks.

Every night on the NBA calendar — from opening night through the NBA Finals — there are impressive dunks. NBA players are insane athletes who need only the smallest gap to create memorable plays, and occasionally they don’t even need a gap. It’s a fun watch.

Although, with all due respect to Victor Oladipo, I don’t know how Larry Nance Jr.’s throw down over now teammate Brook Lopez came in second.

 

Anthony Davis says he is tired of losing, Pelicans look good on paper

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis says a New Orleans Pelicans are “tired of losing” and have the roster to do something about it.

That is, if they can find a new offensive scheme that suits their mixture of incumbent starters and recent acquisitions.

“We can’t wait for the season to come and try to make some noise here in the loaded West,” Davis said Tuesday afternoon while promoting a youth camp he’ll host in early August.

“We’re doing everything, whether it’s signing players, trading players … whatever it is to just try to make sure that we try to be a winning organization,” he added. “We have the tools right now to be successful. … Right now, I think we look good on paper. So we’ve just got to figure it out.”

The Pelicans will likely need the right scheme, good chemistry and good health to contend in the Western Conference, which features defending champion Golden State as well as Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

Davis is optimistic that could happen. He’s been working out this offseason with fellow All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins, and he fully endorsed the recent signing of veteran point guard Rajon Rondo.

Davis said Rondo’s savvy play-making and defensive acumen will strengthen the New Orleans on both ends while also allowing Jrue Holiday to become more of a scoring threat from the shooting guard spot.

When the Pelicans re-signed Holiday to a five-year, $126 million contract to open free agency, general manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry mentioned the possibility of playing Holiday off the ball more, and the acquisition of Rondo should allow that, Davis said.

“When I first heard about Rondo, I thought it was a good situation for us,” Davis said. “He knows when to get guys involved, when to make that pass.”

Davis said Rondo and Holiday also will be a formidable defensive tandem along the perimeter, meaning the Pelicans’ All-Star big men should have more chances to protect the rim and rebound. He said Rondo’s long arms and big hands help him disrupt drives and passes as well as rebound.

“They’re going to give a lot of guards, this year, problems,” Davis said. “It’s always good when you can add a guy who knows how to play defense.”

By the time Davis hosts his clinic for kids Aug. 7-8 at the University of New Orleans, he’ll have spent a considerable portion of the offseason working out with Cousins, who was acquired in a trade after last season’s All-Star game.

As the fellow All-Stars prepare to enter their first full season together, Davis said Cousins is trying to adapt and further develop his game. Coaches and teammates have complemented Cousins this summer on how he looks after committing to a conditioning program than has helped him shed some weight and improve his endurance.

“We know we’re going to be the big focal points on every team’s scouting report, so we just wanted to get together and work at it together and figure out the things we like to do,” Davis said. “He’s trying to adapt. He wants to win for sure and we didn’t have that much time last year. … He’s trying to do whatever the team asks him to do.”

Davis said he’s supposed to meet with new assistant coach Chris Finch soon to start discussing the offensive scheme he envisions when New Orleans’ top two front-court stars are playing together. Finch could be a good fit because of his recent experience on Denver’s staff helping versatile young big men Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic play effectively as teammates.

Davis said the Pelicans want to emulate “how they ran their offensive package with those two bigs who are very skilled.