Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

Thunder 117, Clippers 111: A Chris Paul survival guide

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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.

Report: Kevin Durant less likely to sign with Knicks after they fired Derek Fisher

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 15:  Kevin Durant #35 and Derek Fisher #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 15, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Thunder won 10-98 win the series four games to two.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Knicks reportedly believed hiring Derek Fisher made them a contender for Kevin Durant this summer.

If they were right, firing Fisher – a respected former teammate of Durant with the Thunder – certainly didn’t help New York’s ability to lure the superstar in free agency.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

New York faces long odds to land Durant to begin with. And their chances took a hit after Derek Fisher was fired, league sources say.

I suppose it was possible Durant would’ve picked the Knicks, because I don’t believe Durant has decided where he’ll sign. But their odds looked so slim, anyway.

If the Knicks believed Fisher wasn’t the best coach for them, they were right to move on. Keeping him for Durant would have been foolish.

Is there a way New York can gain credibility with Durant? What about hiring former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks?

Begley:

Brooks is a name to think about, for one reason: The Knicks have been informed that their chances of landing Kevin Durant this summer would be influenced by hiring Brooks, according to league sources.

Begley implies Brooks would help New York sign Durant, but his words don’t explicitly say that.

“Would be influenced.” Positively? Negatively? Won’t the coach of any team Durant considers influence his decision? Durant, while thanking Brooks, quickly and fully got on board with the Thunder’s decision to fire him.

And informed by whom? Do we trust the Knicks to properly assess whether the source of that information is credible?

It’s probably not worth exploring those questions, anyway. Brooks has neither Phil Jackson nor triangle ties, which seem to be perquisites.

At least New York can still use Carmelo Anthony to recruit Durant.

Report: Cavaliers tried trading entire team but LeBron James for Kobe Bryant in 2007

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 12:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers wait for the ball to go into play on January 12, 2006 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)
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Kobe Bryant requested a trade from the Lakers in 2007, and he later said he preferred to be dealt to the Bulls.

Though Kobe had a no-trade clause, the Lakers explored other options.

They talked with the Mavericks and even agreed to terms with the Pistons, but Kobe vetoed Detroit. The Lakers also spoke with the Cavaliers.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the event, the Lakers once contacted the Cavs to investigate whether Cleveland would make James available in a possible Bryant trade.

The Cavs said that James, indeed, was untouchable, sources said. Then they attempted to make the Lakers a different offer for Bryant, offering anyone else on their team in a package for him. The Lakers had no interest.

For Bryant, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, the answer was simple.

“I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never,” Bryant told Holmes.

This is just as the LeBron-Kobe arguments were kicking into gear. Regardless of which player was better at the time, LeBron – six years younger – was definitely more valuable than Kobe.

So, it’s unsurprising the Lakers asked and even less surprising the Cavaliers said no.

And even less surprising than that was the Lakers rejecting Cleveland’s counter offer. Here were the other Cavaliers during the 2006-07 season:

  • Larry Hughes
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas
  • Drew Gooden
  • Sasha Pavlovic
  • Donyell Marshall
  • Anderson Varejao
  • Damon Jones
  • Daniel Gibson
  • Eric Snow
  • Shannon Brown
  • Ira Newble
  • David Wesley
  • Scot Pollard
  • Dwayne Jones

That scrap heap doesn’t come close to Kobe.

The what-if of a LeBron-for-Kobe or Kobe-for-other-Cavs swap is intriguing, but both ideas were non-starters for at least one side. None of that came close to happening.

But, nine years later, that barely makes the discussion less fun.

Phil Jackson tweets manifesto on Knicks coaching

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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The Knicks fired Derek Fisher, and Phil Jackson explained the move in a press conference.

Then, the Knicks president tweeted a few more thoughts:

Jackson might be more intelligent and philosophical than you.

More than that, Jackson really wants you to believe he’s more intelligent and philosophical than you.

Two Kings dispute shootaround reports, including Rajon Rondo’s

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach George Karl of the Sacramento Kings talks to Rajon Rondo #9 of the Sacramento Kings during their game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2015 in Sacramento, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the midst of the Kings’ George Karl mess, Rajon Rondo complained about shootarounds – seemingly taking issue with Karl and/or his teammates:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated reported Rondo, Omri Casspi and Seth Curry were the only players at Monday’s shootaround:

The Kings played the night before in Boston and were in their fourth city (Cleveland) in six nights. It’d be reasonable – maybe even wise – to value extra sleep over an optional shootaround.

To Rondo’s point, perhaps Karl shouldn’t have called one at all. If so much of the team plans to skip it, is it worth bringing in anyone? Is that productive for the players who attend?

What happened after the shootaround certainly wasn’t.

Quincy Acy disputed Fischer’s report:

Then, Caron Butler took issue with Rondo’s account:

I don’t know precisely which Kings attended the shootaround, but someone fed Fischer a list of names for whatever reason. The agendas and leaks coming from the Kings are debilitating.

And for Butler to publicly disagree with a teammate like that is startling. Unless he’s saying Rondo was misquoted, which seems unlikely, considering Steve Herrick of the Associated Press also quoted Rondo saying three or four players attended shootaround (hat tip: Kevin Draper of Deadspin).

The tamest explanation is that Rondo used “three or four” as a euphemism for “not enough,” and the real number could’ve been closer to five. So, maybe Acy and Butler also attended but participation was down.

But that wouldn’t necessarily mean teammates appreciate Rondo – who declared himself the first veteran teammate DeMarcus Cousins ever respected – saying “three or four.” That could leave a couple of them under the bus.

And there’s still the issue of Karl using shootarounds productively – and Rondo maybe calling him out publicly for it.

Really, this speaks to where the Kings stand. They can’t even conduct a shootaround without controversy.

If you’re a Comcast subscriber in Northern California, you can stream tonight’s Kings-76ers game here.