Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs' Ginobili and Parker during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference basketball finals in Oklahoma City

Thunder-Spurs Game 6: Oklahoma City proves it’s ready, advances to finals

35 Comments

Since the 1999 season, only three teams have represented the Western Conference in the NBA finals — the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.

In the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder crushed Dallas. In the second round they showed they were well ahead of the Lakers.

And on Wednesday night they proved they are ready to be champions. They showed they are the worthy continuation of that legacy.

The Thunder came back from 18 down, 15 at the half against a veteran and feisty Spurs team to win 107-99 and take the series 4-2. After the Spurs won 20 games in a row the Thunder picked up their play at both ends — their defense cut off dribble penetration and their offensive ball movement improved — and OKC swept the Spurs out of the playoffs in four straight. There was nothing Gregg Popovich or the Spurs could do about it — the Thunder were the better team.

The NBA finals will begin Tuesday in Oklahoma City (they had a better record than either team left in the Eastern Conference).

San Antonio did not go easily or quietly — they made adjustments to free up Tony Parker and get him penetrating again and the Spurs raced out to an early lead. Parker initiated his offense earlier and when he did wait for the high pick the player (Tim Duncan, usually) came from farther away off the baseline to make the Thunder bigs cover more ground. It worked. Parker had 17 points in the first quarter alone (he finished with 29) and the Spurs led by 18 at one point in the first quarter and 15 at the half.

We tend to think of these Spurs as young — Kevin Durant is just 23 and their core is all under 25 — but they have been through the playoff wars. And they used that youth and veteran skill to change the second half. Once again the long arms and fast legs of the Thunder seemed to be in the way of every Spurs player.

“We can’t have their legs, we can’t have their energy,” the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili said after the game in a televised press conference. “I can’t jump as high.”

The Thunder have grown up — they grew up in this series as their ball movement improved game to game. They withstood the Spurs storm in Game 5 and in this game you knew a second half run was coming.

Oklahoma City did it with defense — they are long and athletic and disrupt shots and passing lanes. They close out fast. They took away the Spurs easy looks. The Spurs shot 32 percent in the third and were outscored 14, they shot 33 percent in the third and were outscored by nine.

Durant led the charge with 14 of his 34 in the third quarter when the Spurs lead disappeared. But it was every Thunder player — Westbrook slashing through the lane, James Harden with a key wing three, Derek Fisher doing what he does in big games with a three from the corner. It was a team win.

Right now, the Thunder are playing better than either team out of the East. They have the athleticism to match the Heat, and Boston’s offense has not had to deal with this kind of length and athleticism. OKC has an amazing offense, a good defense, great young talent…

And they are not wide-eyed kids. They have paid their dues the past three years, learning how win, how to get here.

Right now the Thunder are poised to win the NBA title. It’s not that simple, but it’s theirs for the taking.

NBA: Hornets incorrectly denied game-tying FT attempts in final seconds of loss to Clippers

Leave a comment

Foul or defend?

That’s the eternal question for teams trying to protect a late three-point lead.

While many fans believe fouling is the astute strategy, most American coaches opt to defend.

Defending is a better strategy than meets the eye, because it’s relatively easy to defend the arc when you know your opponent needs a 3-pointer. Plus, as coaches commonly believe, fouling offers too many opportunities for something to go wrong.

The Clippers almost learned that the hard way in their win over the Hornets on Sunday.

But an officiating error helped L.A. preserve its late lead, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

With the Clippers up three, Chris Paul intentionally fouled Kemba Walker with 2.1 seconds left. Walker made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second.

In the battle for the rebound, Blake Griffin should have been called for committing a loose-ball foul on Marvin Williams with 2.0 seconds left, per the league:

Griffin (LAC) grab Williams’ (CHA) jersey and affect his ability to rebound.

The league also ruled Williams got away with a loose-ball foul on Griffin in the same tenth of a second, but Griffin’s foul should have been whistled first.

A correct call would’ve given Williams — who’s making 85% of his free throws this season and 80% for his career — two attempts from the line with a chance to tie the game.

Instead, Griffin grabbed the rebound and was intentionally fouled with half a second left. He hit one free throw, and the Clippers won, 124-121.

Draymond Green, Kevin Durant take turns playing while holding Durant’s shoe (video)

Leave a comment

The adventures of Kevin Durant‘s shoe:

  • Falls off as Durant shoots a jumper
  • Left on the far side of the court for an entire Warriors defensive possession
  • Lightly kicked by 76ers forward Robert Covington, who should have tossed it into the crowed
  • Picked up by Draymond Green, who sets a screen while holding it
  • Tossed by Green to Durant
  • Held by Durant as he defends and tips a rebound
  • Put back on by Durant just in time for him to assist Stephen Curry

Patrick Patterson falls on his back, still strips Derrick Rose (video)

Leave a comment

This is mostly good effort by Patrick Patterson. It’s also bad luck for Derrick Rose, who’s not accustomed to avoiding a player lying on his back.

But it’s hard to resist the jokes about Rose losing a step to the point he can no longer beat even a man who’d fallen on his back off the dribble.

 

Potential top-three NBA-draft prospect, Kansas’ Josh Jackson, charged with misdemeanor property damage

Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) during a time-out against the Baylor Bears the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann
1 Comment

Markelle Fultz is the consensus top prospect in the 2017 NBA draft, and Lonzo Ball is a strong second.

Leading the pack for third? Probably Kansas forward Josh Jackson.

But Jackson’s résumé is now tainted by a misdemeanor property-damage charge.

The incident, which allegedly involved Kansas teammate Lagerald Vick and Kansas women’s basketball playerMcKenzie Calvert, occurred just before 2 a.m. Dec. 9.

Laura Bauer and Mara Rose Williams of The Kansas City Star:

Calvert is the same female KU student who a university investigation found Vick likely committed domestic violence against more than a year ago.

Calvert reportedly threw a drink on a male patron while leaving the bar. The Star has learned that the patron was Vick.

Jackson followed Calvert to her car, according to the release, and they argued. Witnesses saw Jackson kick the driver’s door of Calvert’s car and kick a rear taillight.

The Star has learned that Calvert — a standout on the women’s team — was in the driver’s seat while Jackson kicked her car.

Investigators have interviewed several people who witnessed the reported crime. A police report categorized the $2,991 in total damage to the car as a felony. But Friday’s release listed the damage at a higher amount, $3,150.45.

“Felony criminal damage (damage in excess of $1,000) was not charged because the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all the damage to the door and taillight were caused by Jackson,” the release said.

Jackson said in a statement he would pay for damage he “directly caused.” Kansas coach Bill Self, in his statement, called Jackson a “great ambassador for this university.”

NBA teams shouldn’t and probably won’t blindly accept Self’s self-interested assessment. Jackson’s conduct will likely be investigated during the pre-draft process, determining where it falls on the spectrum of a youthful transgression and the hot-button issue of domestic violence.

The better Jackson plays, the more forgiving teams will be. Right or wrong, that’s how it works. But this incident will be included in the overall assessment of Jackson.