Heat-Thunder Game 1: Who has been here before? Poised OKC pulls away for win.

44 Comments

Miami is the team in its second consecutive trip to the NBA finals, the team that talked about its new attitude, how it learned from last season, about LeBron James’ new glare, and was more comfortable on the stage.

But like they did throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs — and like they did last finals — the Heat took plays off, quarters off in Game 1. And that costs them. The Thunder are just too good to coast against.

Miami had a 13-point first quarter lead and watched it evaporate under some pressure from the Thunder in the second half. OKC played better defense and the Heat became jump shooters, shots they missed. Meanwhile Kevin Durant was knocking down his jumpers on his way to scoring 23 of 36 in second half, as the Thunder scored on 21 of the last 29 possessions.

The result was a poised Thunder team pulling away from the Heat, winning 105-94 to take a 1-0 series lead in the NBA finals. Game 2 is Thursday night.

One game does not a series make — the NBA finals have a long history of teams losing the first game and coming back to win the series. Including Dallas last year.

But this game looked like the Heat have played all playoffs long. So far that has been good enough. It will not be anymore.

In the first half Miami got great performances from its role players — Shane Battier had 13, Mario Chalmers had 10 and the Heat were 6-10 from three from three. LeBron James had 14 but a quiet 14. Dwyane Wade was making good decisions.

Yet at the half, the Heat were only up 7, 54-47. You knew a Thunder run was coming. If you watched the Heat all season you knew a slump was very possible.

And you didn’t have to wait long. The Thunder came out with a lot more defensive intensity in the third quarter, they went on a 9-3 run and the game was tied. Miami shot just 33 percent for the quarter.

And that let the Thunder get out and run — they won the fast break points this game 24-4. Running is supposed to be the Heat’s thing, but they ran into a team as athletic as they are.

“They pounded us on the break and that led to everything else,” Chris Bosh said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to stop this team’s fast break because that really gets them going, especially here on their home court.”

One way to do that is to make shots — the Heat didn’t in the second half. They started to settle for jump shots. Credit the Thunder and particularly Thabo Sefolosha for that — he shut Wade off (7-of-19 shooting) and spent key stretches on LeBron (11-of-24 shooting).

Meanwhile, Durant and Russell Westbrook owned the show. Westbrook had 12 of his 27 in the third, Durant had 17 of his 36 in the fourth. The Heat defense wants to take away your passing lanes and force you into isolation basketball, it’s their design. But it doesn’t really work against the Thunder because Westbrook and Durant thrive in that setting.

“We’re a better defensive team than we showed tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. They need to prove it.

Each quarter the Thunder seemed to get more comfortable on the stage and with the matchups. The Heat did their coasting thing again.

If that doesn’t change, three out of the next five games in this series will look a lot like this one.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

Getty Images
1 Comment

Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

Getty Images
1 Comment

Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

Getty Images
6 Comments

“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.

Jason Kidd says Giannis Antetokounmpo offered to save his job minutes before firing

Getty Images
6 Comments

The stagnant Milwaukee Bucks shook things up by firing head coach Jason Kidd  Monday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was not happy with the news. So much he called up Kidd and offered to help save his job, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Antetokounmpo is understandably close to Kidd — he’s been the coach who helped transform the Greek Freak into an NBA superstar. Kidd is on his way to the Hall of Fame as a player, and as a coach had the vision to put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands as a point guard. Antetokounmpo trusted Kidd.

However, the Bucks’ growth has been stagnant — this is a team where the players talked about being a 50-win, top-four team in the East with a strong defense, instead they are a team on the way to around .500, barely hanging onto a playoff spot, with the point differential of a team that wins 36 games. They are not taking a step forward, and the Bucks — with the approval of ownership, which was very close to Kidd at one time — approving the move.

There was nothing Antetokounmpo could have done. It’s life in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.