Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

Thunder 117, Clippers 111: A Chris Paul survival guide


Chris Paul is terrifying, and he knows it. Paul doesn’t score just to score — he does it to establish the threat. When you’re 6-foot-nothing in a league filled with giants, you manipulate instead of overwhelm. Paul can have 6 points and it will feel like he’s dominating, just because he made his shadow look a little bigger.

Stopping Paul isn’t easy, but the Thunder did it better than any team has in a long, long time. In the Clippers 117-111 overtime loss in Oklahoma City, Paul was denied everything. Passing lanes closed up. Avenues to the hole were non-existent. Paul was regularly caught in the air, just hoping for something to materialize — a shocking sight for any long time viewer of his brilliance. It was jarring. Paul is the NBA’s greatest dictator, a player who is in control of himself and everything around him at all times. He makes roster decisions. He distributes the touches. He tells guys where to go and what to do. But tonight, it was the Thunder defense that took control, forcing Paul into a dreadful 2-for-14 effort from the field.

How’d they do it? Let’s take a look at Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul survival guide:

Keep your distance

Because Paul doesn’t attack in a straight line, you can’t just slap a speedster on him and call it a day. You need gobs and gobs of length to disrupt his patented side-step jumper and other horizontal attacks. If you were to construct a Chris Paul stopper from scratch, it would probably be Thabo Sefolosha. Paul is able to trick more physical defenders like Tony Allen, but Sefolosha does a wonderful job of playing off of Paul and giving him space, knowing that he can use his long arms to at least partially contest any pull-up jumpers. As a general rule, the farther Paul stays away from the rim, the less damage he can do. Sefolosha did a wonderful job of deterring Paul’s penetration in the isolation setting, forcing CP3 into an 0-for-9 shooting night from outside of the paint.

Don’t Switch

Paul loves toying with big men ill-equipped to stay in front of him, so the Thunder wisely went “blue” on pick-and-roll coverage and turned down the screens by showing CP3 mobile bigs like Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison instead of switching. It’s the same strategy Gregg Popovich used for much of the Los Angeles-San Antonio playoff series, and the Thunder were able to implement it well here with good foot speed all across the floor. One of the best examples of the Spurs refusing to switch was Russell Westbrook staying at the top of the key in the Clippers last possession in regulation and not letting Kevin Martin have to deal with CP3. Westbrook is a pretty good defender when he’s both motivated and directly attacked, and he took over the defensive stopper role just fine once Martin came in for Sefolosha for offensive purposes.

Make him defend

Covering Westbrook (23 points) is a full-time job, simply because you can’t predict his actions. He takes pull-up threes off his own dribble, he drives when there is no lane to drive, and he does it all at a speed you can’t possibly hope to keep up with. Paul was off and the defense on him was great, but give Westbrook credit for applying constant pressure on the other end as well. With Westbrook flying around and Kevin Durant getting to the line a whopping 21 times, Oklahoma City’s offense felt a little more unrelenting than the Clippers did. Those pindowns for Durant (35 points) just kept coming, and Durant just kept attacking off it. Paul knew it wasn’t his night, but unless it was Jamal Crawford doing something similar in a clear isolation, the Clippers got nothing designed down the stretch and simply survived off improvisational plays from the like of Matt Barnes (19 points).

While Westbrook and Durant functioned like an occasionally bumbling but ultimately effective two-party democracy that took turns wielding power, the Clippers dictatorship failed them late in the game. Blake Griffin played a nice offensive game and had 23 points, but he only shot the ball 3 times in the fourth quarter and overtime combined. Paul is one of the best point guards the game has ever seen and nearly every night his decision-making will be as good as it’s going to get for the Clippers, but like the oh-so-wise Kanye West says, no one man (especially on a night like this) should have all that power.

Draymond Green on Warriors’ 16-0 bid: ‘I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy’

Draymond Green
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anyone who thought the Golden State Warriors would be content after winning one NBA title was sadly mistaken.

With Stephen Curry hitting 3-pointers at a record-setting pace and the rest of his teammates playing with a high level of intensity and focus, the Warriors have tied the NBA record with 15 straight wins to open the season.

Somehow, they have found a way to improve following a season when they won 67 games and rolled through the playoffs without ever being taken to a seventh game.

“We’re trying to win another championship,” forward Draymond Green said. “That’s what we’re fueled by. I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy. I think it’s way better to be greedy for success than hungover on success. I think we’re on the right end of the spectrum, which is great.”

The Warriors have a chance to break the record they currently share with the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

After downplaying the chase of the record at the start of the season, Golden State has embraced it.

“Now that we’re here and have tied the record, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Curry said. “You never know if you’ll ever be in this position again. We have a great group and to be able to be in position to do something that hasn’t been done in the history of the NBA with all the great teams and all the great players who have played in this league, that’s special.”

The only team standing in their way is the Lakers, who have the second-worst record in the NBA with just two wins in 13 games.

Lakers coach Byron Scott said the Warriors are the best team he’s seen in a while and star guard Kobe Bryant said stranger things have happened than a team playing as poorly as the Lakers beating one as dominant as the Warriors.

“We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there,” Bryant said Sunday in Los Angeles. “You never know.”

The Warriors have gotten to this point with the help of a late game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in a home win against Brooklyn, a comeback from 23 points down to beat the Los Angeles Clippers and plenty of blowouts.

They have outscored the opposition by 14.4 points per game, the most at this point of the season since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls followed up their record 72-win campaign by outscoring their first 15 opponents by 16.5 points on the way to a 14-1 start the following year.

“They’ve just been consistent,” said LeBron James, who lost to Golden State in the finals last season with Cleveland. “Think the most impressive thing is the way they’ve been playing at a high level for so long. I think it comes with a lot of health. They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win and that’s all that matters.”

Golden State has the depth to overcome whatever injuries the Warriors have had. Starting center Andrew Bogut missed six games with a concussion, guard Klay Thompson has been dealing with a stiff back that forced him to miss one game and key reserve guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa have also missed time.

Golden State has also done all of this without head coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined since training camp because of complications from offseason back surgery.

“It would be more impressive if they were doing all this without Steph,” James said. “Then there would be a conversation to talk about.”

Instead, Curry has been a driving force to the success under interim coach Luke Walton. Curry is on pace for a record-setting 404 3-pointers and his 490 points through 15 games are the eighth most in the league in the past half-century.

Curry and his teammates see no reason to slow down now.

“You want to keep it going and the only way you can do that is by staying sharp, staying focused and bringing effort every night and that’s the mentality that we have,” Curry said. “That’s the reason we’re 15-0. It’s the reason why last year we had a 16-game winning streak. We built up a winning mentality and confidence in each other. We want to bottle that up and ride the wave as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham, Pat Graham and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

Amar’e Stoudemire blames Knicks coaches for not using him, Carmelo Anthony properly together

Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony
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Many Knicks fans thought Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire would lead New York to greatness.

Instead, they won just one playoff series together.

Melo has expressed sadness Stoudemire’s injuries hindered their ability to succeed together.

Stoudemire found a difficult culprit.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Stoudemire said he and Anthony wanted to run more pick-and-rolls in the two-man game but couldn’t get the coaches on board, probably referring to Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson.

“I don’t think we had enough opportunities to play together,’’ Stoudemire said in the Heat locker room Monday. “I moved to the bench and [became the] sixth, seventh man. When I was in the game, Melo, he was out of the game and vice versa. When we did play together, we showed some flashes of what we could do on the pick-and-roll.

“I don’t think that pick-and-roll offense between Melo and I was ever taken advantage of, which we could have. The way he shoots the ball, handles the ball from the outside and the way I attack the rim, it could’ve been a pretty good combination. I don’t think the coaching staff at the time really bought into that.’’

Maybe the Knicks’ offense could have been better if they ran more Melo-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls. The combination seems good, though I question whether Melo had the passing ability to really make the play an elite weapon.

But what about defense?

Melo and Stoudemire were a dreadful defensive combination, especially as power forward and center – their best offensive positions. Does Stoudemire have any ideas how New York could have defended better with those two on the court? Perhaps, the Knicks could have scored enough on Melo-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls to offset any defensive shortcomings, but that would have been a mighty tall task.

In four of the five seasons Melo and Stoudemire played together, the Knicks were both outscored when those two shared the court and played worse with those two on than off. The only exception was last season, which featured the smallest sample before Melo got hurt and Stoudemire took a buyout.

This was a partnership that looked better on paper than in reality.

Stoudemire’s injuries played the foremost role in holding it back. Coaching might have also contributed, but it’s difficult to believe D’Antoni or Woodson prevented the pairing from becoming special.

Kobe Bryant names his four closest teammates

LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 15:  Caron Butler #1 holds back teammate Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers after Bryant received a technical foul during the game against the Utah Jazz on February 15, 2005 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant‘s relationship with his teammates through the years has largely been defined through Derek Fisher.

Kobe called Fisher his favorite teammate, but Fisher once said he’d never been to Kobe’s home.

That’s Kobe, whose greatness always made him seem removed from/above the fray.

Kobe addressed a slightly different question in the foreword to Caron Butler‘s autobiography, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA.”

Kobe on Butler:

It’s very rare for me to open up to somebody like that, but I just had a connection with him. He’s one of my favorite teammates.

When that happens, it makes the season better. It doesn’t always happen. It’s not something that I need to happen, but there are certain players that I just automatically get along with. You gravitate to each other because you eye to eye on things and you get along extremely well. And Caron was one of those players.

There aren’t many like that. There’s Caron, there’s Pau, there’s D. Fish, and Ronnie Turiaf. That’s four guys in a twenty-year career.

I just found that an interesting look into the psyche of one of the greatest players of the generation.

Kobe has spoken extremely positively of Pau Gasol. The Lakers star has never hidden his fondness for Butler, Fisher and Turiaf, either. Those four have exhibited professionalism amid any difficult circumstances. That’s where I’d start with a common denominator, and it makes sense Kobe would appreciate that.

It’s also unsurprising Kobe has trusted so few teammates enough to develop a tight connection. He seems intensely private (really, intensely everything).

Kobe also seems very secure in how he operates. As he wrote, these types of close relationships aren’t necessary to him if they don’t come about naturally.

He’s sure not forcing them in his later years.

Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich rip referees-union statement on Mike Budenholzer

Sean Corbin, Rick Carlisle
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Mike Budenholzer fell on his sword after the National Basketball Referees Association criticized the Hawks coach’s light penalty for bumping a referee.

But two of Budenholzer’s peers are being more aggressive about the referees-union statement, which was attributed to NBRA General Counsel Lee Seham.

NBA Coaches Association president and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, via ESPN:

“The NBA Coaches Association greatly values our working relationship with the league office and our officials,” NBA Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle, coach of the Dallas Mavericks, said in a statement. “For the record, our association would NEVER lobby for the suspension of an official for a situation like this one that has been thoroughly reviewed by the NBA and clearly determined to be incidental in nature. We view the unwarranted and reckless verbal attacks by Referee Union general counsel as grandstanding in nature, and beneath the dignity of the highly regarded group whose interests he claims to represent. The best interests of our great league lie far above what appears to be an obvious cheap and misguided attempt for a blast of short-term Twitter fame.”

Popovich, via Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

“I think it’s just a case of an anonymous suit trying to gain 15 minutes of stardom more than anything. It’s comical…A lot of people trying to get famous on Twitter. And I guess this particular suit is one of them.”

This seems like a coordinated attack, with both coaches strangely citing Twitter fame. If Seeham is trying to make a name for himself, I don’t see how he’s doing it more on Twitter than anywhere else.

Regardless of Seham’s motives, I don’t find his point so egregious. Referees should be like the third rail – never touched. Budenholzer deserved a one-game suspension.

That said, the statement contained plenty of grandstanding. No coach or player is more likely to physically harm a referee because Budenholzer wasn’t suspended.