All series long Thunder coach Scott Brooks has been taking flack for his handling of the Thunder rotations — sitting Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the same time, leaving guys with hot hands on the bench, not seeming to have a feel for his team.
It’s not just you and me, Kendrick Perkins feels the same way, too.
“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did with the lineup we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on,” a clearly frustrated Perkins said in the Thunder locker room after the game. “So they won the last three quarters and that’s what happened…
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Thunder raced out to a 13-3 lead and not long after that moment Brooks subbed out Serge Ibaka to bring in Nick Collison — which worked, Collison has six points, three rebounds (two offensive) and a block in his seven minutes to end the quarter and he was a +7.
So naturally, Brooks played him less in the second half — just over five minutes and he didn’t enter until late in the third. Derek Fisher however played more than 11 minutes in the first half, had zero points or assists or rebounds and was -8. So he played more than 10 minutes in the second half (and again went scoreless).
Perkins, like all the Thunder players, had a very dejected body language after the game but spoke the words of a team not giving up.
“This series is not over,” Perkins said. “We just have to keep taking it one game at a time. We win Thursday and we’re back in Oklahoma City.”
But can a team clearly frustrated with their coach and their play late in games really rally back like that? It’s hard to imagine.
Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine
The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.
Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.
If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.
This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.
For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season
The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.
But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.
He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.
Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.
Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.
Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.
But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.
This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.
Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history
I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.
Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”
“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”
You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”
Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.
As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.