Rockets Heat Basketball

Baseline to Baseline recaps: LeBron, Wade enough for Heat

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while trying out your stylish new Get Smart shoe-phone….

Heat 114, Rockets 108: What a fun finish. After collapsing in the finals last year against the Heat, James Harden exacted a little personal revenge. Harden was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring 36 points 10-for-16 shooting on the night. Whenever it looked like the Heat would put away the Rockets for good, Harden kept coming back with an answer, scoring 8 straight points late in the fourth quarter. Ultimately though, two was better than one, as Dwyane Wade put together his best performance all season with 31 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, while LeBron James (32 points) just sort of did what he always does.

Despite the offensive prowess of the dynamic duo, the Rockets had a few chances late to tie the game. However, it was ultimately Miami’s role players that did what they’re paid to do. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem drew back-to-back charges in a one possession game helping Miami to win the high-scoring 114-108 game with a little defense.
—D.J. Foster

Thunder 119, Warriors 98: Oklahoma City took control of the game with a 12-2 run in the first quarter and never looked back. It was a blowout. Sure, the Warriors got the lead down to 11 at the end of the third quarter, but the Thunder opened the fourth on a 16-4 run and that was all she wrote. Oklahoma City did a great job moving the ball all night and the Warriors defense could not keep up. Kevin Durant had 25 points and seven rebounds, Russell Westbrook added 22 points and Kevin Martin finished with 21.

Wizards 106, Knicks 96: John Wall got into the paint pretty much whenever he wanted, carving up the Knicks defense like Top Chef’s Hung Huynh with a chicken. Wall had 21 points, 9 dimes and just abused the Knicks pick-and-roll defense. Paired with that for the Wizards was the 11-for-20 shooting from three, spacing the floor and making life hard for any defense. Washington took control in the fourth quarter when it shot 68.4 percent and outscored New York 36-23.

The Knicks just seemed flat. With everyone getting healthy in Washington you can’t just show up flat and expect to roll them anymore. So much for the Knicks five-game winning streak, their defense let them down. Carmelo Anthony had 31 for the Knicks, but like the rest of the team he didn’t really have it all going at his peak.

Celtics 99, Raptors 95: If you’ve been following the Raptors this season, you know the story. They get up early, play well through three quarters, and then completely collapse down the stretch. Holding a 10-point lead going into the fourth, Toronto quickly saw it melt away, as Celtics guard Leandro Barbosa went into takeover mode by scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final period.

When it wasn’t Barbosa issuing the damage, it was Kevin Garnett, who led all scorers with 27. KG had a few ridiculous shots fall in, but his jump shooting down the stretch kept the lead cozy and gave the Celtics a 99-95 win.

As for the Rudy Gay-DeMar DeRozan experience? Not so great tonight. A lot of wing players have inefficient nights against Boston, but Gay and DeRozan combined to go 13-for-40 while the Raptors only connected on 4-for-18 as a team from behind the arc. Andrea Bargnani is probably not the savior.
—D.J. Foster

Nets 93, Pistons 90: Coming off a tough loss to the Lakers the night before, the Nets bounced back in this one and held on to beat a game Pistons team.
The first half saw the Pistons mostly control the action and actually lead after 24 minutes. The Nets struggled to hit shots (35.6% shooting in the first half) while the Pistons executed their offense and were able to get out in the open court and turn turnovers into easy baskets. Led by Greg Monroe (8 points in the first half, 23 for the game) and Jose Calderon (8 points, 9 assists for the game) it looked like the Pistons were going to give the Nets their second loss in as many nights.
In the 2nd half, however, the Nets found their stride on both sides of the ball. Defensively they were able to contain everyone but Monroe and held the Pistons to 40.5% shooting as a group. And offensively, Brooklyn controlled the action by going to Brook Lopez whose 11 points (17 for the game) on 5-6 shooting set the tone. Also chipping in was Gerald Wallace who scored 9 of his 14 points in the second half while Deron Williams controlled the action handing out 7 of his 9 assists in the final two periods. Overall, the Nets simply had too much for the Pistons down the stretch and were able to hold on by hitting key shots in the closing minutes that clinched the game.
—Darius Soriano

Spurs 104, Timberwolves 94: It was a vintage Spurs-style win to kick off their annual rodeo road trip — Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are out injured, so Danny Green steps up and scores 14 in the fourth quarter and he finishes the game with 8 three pointers and 28 points. As a team the Spurs shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter and that’s how they pulled away. Tony Parker had 31 points to lead the Spurs, because he is really good.

On the bright side for Minnesota, Ricky Rubio seems to be finding his form again and had 11 assists.

Mavericks 105, Trail Blazers 99: If Dallas entertains any shot at making up the five games they are back and squeaking into the playoffs, their current homestand has to be a springboard. And a win against the Trail Blazers is a good start.

In the first half it was the O.J. Mayo show as he scored 20 of his 28 points on the night before the break. But the Mavericks got other key contributions as the game wore on — it was Vince Carter moving the ball to score 17 (the offense is better when he is in), Dirk Nowitzki with 16 and looking good in the pick-and-roll, and Shawn Marion with 13 points and 10 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge always seems to play well back in his home town of Dallas and had 27 points and 10 boards. But it wasn’t enough.

Congratulations to Rick Carlisle, who gets his 500th win as a coach in this one.

Hawks 103, Grizzlies 92: The Memphis front office turned over the roster midseason and coach Lionel Hollins is struggling to find a rotation that works for him. And he is throwing everything against the wall to see if it sticks — it feels like a preseason game with the Grizzlies as everyone tries to find their way. On the other side the Hawks know who they are and with the once-stout Memphis defense still trying to find it’s footing some Hawks had big nights: Jeff Teague had 22 points and 13 assists; Josh Smith 19 points, 11 rebounds; and Al Horford finished with 17 points, and11 rebounds. Atlanta shot 51.4 percent and took control of the game with an 11-3 run in the second.

Jazz 100, Bucks 86: The Bucks got off to a fast start behind 10 first quarter points from Brandon Jennings. But as the Bucks depleted bench came on the court the Jazz took control of the game, with a 21-4 second quarter run being the big moment. The Bucks looked like a team playing the second night of a back-to-back at altitude and the Jazz took advantage by pounding Milwaukee inside to the tune of 56 points in the paint. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap each had 19 points on the night, Enes Kanter had 17 off the bench.

Pacers 88, 76ers 69: In what was an ugly display of basketball for most of the night, the Pacers were able to dispatch the short handed 76ers who were down Thadeus Young and Jason Richardson (who will miss the rest of the season).
Philadelphia could have used both players in  this one as their offense struggled to get anything going all night against a rugged Pacer defense. The Sixers shot just 34.4% from the field on the night with LaVoy Allen (12 points, 6-13 shooting) the only player scoring with any sort of efficiency. The other Sixers, however, could only hope to shoot as well with Evan Turner (1-10), Spencer Hawes (3-13), and Nick Young (4-13) having particularly rough nights.
Meanwhile the Pacers — who also shot a poor 39% from the field — ground out points they needed to win. Led by Roy Hibbert’s double-double (18 points, 14 rebounds) and solid efforts from George Hill and David West (15 points a piece), Indiana found more than enough effective offense to pair with their stifling defense to cruise to the win.
—Darius Soriano

Clippers 86, Magic 76: This was bad. Really bad. 16 minutes into the game, the Magic and the Clippers both had as many turnovers as they did made field goals. The Clippers barely shot over 40 percent from the field on the game, and the Magic checked in at a cool 34.5 percent. It’s not like shots just weren’t falling — this game had a month’s supply of airballs.

You can blame the poor offensive performances on the Clippers being without Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford and the Magic being without Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick, but there was almost nothing redeemable on either end for either team. Jameer Nelson started hot with 18 points in the first off and had the Magic in good shape, but when he fell off in the second half, so did the Magic

For the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe enjoyed the extra possessions and scored a career-high 27 points on some nice perimeter shooting to seal the 86-76 victory. But outside of him? Clippers backup center Ryan Hollins may have been the third best player in the entire game with 13 points and 8 rebounds, which kind of tells you all you need to know.
—D.J. Foster

Cavaliers 122, Bobcats 95: Kyrie Irving had 22 points, Dion Waiters 19 and this was a thrashing. Marreese Speights had 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench and the Cavaliers are 5-2 since getting him from the Grizzlies. Not much else to say about this one.

Hornets 93, Suns 84: This was a two-point game midway through the fourth quarter when the Hornets put together a 13-2 run to seal it. They got a lot of help from Phoenix who missed shots and turned the ball over during that stretch. It wasn’t pretty, but the Hornets snap a four-game losing streak so they will take it, especially since they have to hit the road for a few days with Mardis Gras coming to town. Greivis Vasquez’s led the Hornets with 19 points and 12 assists.

Five things Thunder did to go from good to brink of reaching NBA Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder high fives Serge Ibaka #9 and Kevin Durant #35 during game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma City was a 55-win team — most season’s that win total would have them entering the playoffs considered a contender. They have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two top five players in the league. But with the 73-win Warriors and 67-win Spurs ahead of them, the Thunder felt more like a good but flawed team doomed to an early exit and a summer of speculation.

Now the Thunder are one win away from knocking off the Spurs and Warriors back-to-back.

What changed? Here are five things the Thunder are doing better now than they did all season, the things propelling them to new heights.

1) Defense. The Thunder were an okay defensive team this season, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions they ranked 12th in the league. That got worse after the All-Star break when the Thunder allowed 105.7 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the league. Over the final month, they would show flashes of how they could play lock down defense, but they could not sustain it.

Now, this is a team that has held the feared Warriors offense to 88.9 points per 100 possessions Tuesday, 98.1 in Game 3. What changed was they have become fluid at switching on picks — both on and off the ball — and they are communicating. More importantly, they are smart in doing it, knowing when to go under or when to ignore the pick whatsoever. Their athleticism lets them make up ground, and their length allows them to get into passing lanes and create turnovers. Mostly the Thunder are playing with a sustained focus and energy on that end of the floor we haven’t seen ever. It has flummoxed the Warriors, who are rushing shots or trying to do things in isolation more than moving the ball.

“I think you have to build up stamina for that,” Warriors coach Billy Donovan said of the improved defensive energy and attention. “I think you have to have stamina to concentrate and focus and do what these guys do.”

2) Dion Waiters. Dion Waiters, in his entire career, has played as well as he has the past couple weeks. He’s like a new player. This is a guy who had a PER of 9.4 this season, the kind of number associated with being sent to the D-League. Credit to Billy Donovan and the Thunder coaching staff, Waiters gets it. Too often before he wanted to shoot like he was Russell Westbrook, now he has accepted the third (or fourth) man role. His shot selection has improved, and with that he is knocking down his jumpers. Like the entire team from item No. 1, his usually unfocused defense has suddenly become good almost every time down. He has become the third perimeter player the Thunder have needed for years.  With Waiters making plays, and more importantly accepting his role, the Thunder become that much harder to stop. The Warriors have not been able to.

3) Solving the Andre Roberson problem. The Golden State Warriors decided to treat Andre Roberson like they did Tony Allen from Memphis last season — put a big on him (Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green), then have said big ignore him to stay near the basket to protect the rim. If Roberson wanted to shoot from the outside, the Warriors would let the notoriously poor shooter (31.1 percent from three this past season) have all the wide open shots he wanted.

Billy Donovan made a great adjustment — he turned Roberson into a power forward/center, then surrounded him with shooters. This allows the active Roberson to set the pick for Westbrook (or whomever), then roll right down the lane to the basket for a dunk.  That and some backdoor cuts had Roberson scoring a career-high 17 points and giving the Thunder the support they need around their big stars.

“It’s funny because after Game 2 people were saying to me ‘is this guy even going to play anymore?’” Donovan said. “Andre’s a good basketball player, and I think one of the things that go missing with him is he makes winning plays and he’s a winning player. There are a lot of things he can do, offensive rebounds and slashing to the basket, I have confidence in him shooting the basketball.”

4) They are one team that could play small and run with Golden State. The Warriors small-ball lineup was so feared around the league it earned the nickname The Death Lineup. It killed teams. Nobody could keep up the scoring machine that was the Warriors going small.

Until the Thunder went small in Game 3 and ran right past the death lineup (which was -22 for the game). The Thunder are the one team with the depth of athleticism to go small with the Warriors and hang, but this lineup had been destroyed by the Spurs so it was a risk to roll it out again. It worked this time around becuase the Thunder become so much faster. The Thunder defense didn’t suffer —  Serge Ibaka (or Steven Adams), plus guys like Kevin Durant have done a fantastic job protecting the rim.

“It’s not about what is or is not going to work, sometimes you just got to put stuff out there based on teams. You’ve got to be willing to take some risks and do that…” Donovans siad postgame

“Sometimes you’ve got to evaluate things within the series you’re playing against. So, why were the numbers bad? And was there any way with adjustments could we make those numbers better.”

5) Billy Donovan has been fantastic. Donovan went toe-to-toe with Gregg Popovich, and now Steve Kerr, and it is the NBA rookie who is making the right adjustments. Like the small ball lineup, or using Roberson like a center.

But more than that, he has gotten buy-in from the team. The Thunder were never this focused, Durant and Westbrook both fought staggering their minutes in the past, and waiters did whatever it is Waiters wanted to do. Donovan has solved all those problems, but none of it works if the players don’t buy in. After a season where Donovan had to learn on the job the hard way — because Monte Williams (the tragic death of this wife) and Maurice Cheeks (injury) — Donovan has figured it out. He’s getting the kind of buy in Scott Brooks never seemed to have.

And with that, Donovan and the Thunder are within a game of the NBA Finals.

Watch Russell Westbrook drop 36 on Golden State in Oklahoma City win

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Once again, Russell Westbrook was the force of nature the Warriors could not solve.

The athletic point guard forced turnovers, threw it down in transition, and drove right past Stephen Curry or  was guarding him. The result was 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists — Westbrook’s first triple double of these playoffs.

“He’s got such great force and great will,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the Thunder’s Game 4 win. “And he’s really a high IQ basketball player, he sees a lot of things going on out there… As a coach, you have great respect and admiration for a guy who plays the game that hard and gives to our team what he gives.”

He helped give them a win that has the Thunder on the verge of a return to the NBA Finals.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder defense again overwhelm Warriors 118-94, take commanding 3-1 lead

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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One year ago, it was the Warriors’ adjustments, the Warriors’ defense that was propelling the franchise to its first title in 40 years.

This season, the Thunder turned the tables on the champs.

The length and switching of the Thunder defense resulted in 16 steals Tuesday night — and that means easy transition buckets for OKC. That swarming defense had an off Stephen Curry open the game 1-of-10 shooting, turning the ball over six times on the night, and finishing 6-of-20 shooting, 2-of-10 from three. The Thunder defense has made the Warriors shooters tentative; they are hesitating before making a play rather than just shooting in the flow, something that has seemed impossible to do to Golden State for a couple of seasons now. As a team, the Warriors shot just 30 percent from three and 41.3 percent overall, with Klay Thompson in the second half being the only guy who could knock down shots.

Curry was also asked to guard Russell Westbrook for long stretches of the game and that didn’t go well. Westbrook was the Thunder engine again and finished with a triple-double of 36 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds.

Once again the Thunder played fast, aggressive and beat the Warriors at their own game — a 118-94 Thunder win. Oklahoma City now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out Thursday night in Golden State. If not, it feels like Saturday night will be the end of the Warriors 73-win season.

And maybe just the beginning for a talented Thunder team that is just now coming together.

Right now, everything the Thunder try works.

For example, on offense, Billy Donovan made another smart adjustment — if the Warriors were going to ignore Andre Roberson (allowing bigs like Draymond Green or Andrew Bogut to patrol around the rim), the Thunder would start using Roberson like a power forward who set picks, rolled to the rim, and surrounded by shooters he and his teammates could make plays. Roberson finished with career high 17 points on 12 shots.

“He’s a pretty active player so he got some offensive boards and he snuck behind our defense a couple times and we did not guard him correctly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

It all worked in the first half again, when the Thunder were attacking the rim — leading to 28 first half free throws from the Thunder — and after a tight first quarter OKC stretched the lead out to 20 points behind a 16-point quarter from Westbrook. This is when the Thunder took charge of the game.

“He’s got such great force and great will,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. “And he’s really a high IQ basketball player, he sees a lot of things going on out there… As a coach, you have great respect and admiration for a guy who plays the game that hard and gives to our team what he gives.”

Golden State made a comeback in the third that was all Klay Thompson — he had 19 consecutive points for the Warriors, and the lead got cut down to 6 at one point. Thompson finished the night with 26 points on 17 shots and was clear and away the best Warrior (with Harrison Barnes second).

But then Westbrook led a push back that again stretched the lead out, and he got help from Dion Waiters with a three (Waiters played well again and had 10 points on the night). The Thunder never looked back.

Kevin Durant added 26 points (but on 8-of-24 shooting, not his best night), while Serge Ibaka added 17. The Thunder may be the only team in the NBA with the depth of athletes to run with Golden State, and they are doing it and making it work.

The Warriors defense has no answer for the Thunder attack, and Golden State is getting away from some of their identity. They have always switched nearly every pick with their small lineup, but because of rebounding concerns this series they have gotten away from that. The Thunder have figured out how to exploit that.

The Warriors have just not adjusted to the length of the Thunder defense — Golden State turned the ball over 21 times, 19.9 percent of their possessions. If you give it away one every five times down the court to a good team, you lose.

“I thought we competed again tonight, I just thought we didn’t play very intelligently,” Kerr said postgame. “Too many turnovers, careless passes. This is probably the longest team in the league we are facing and we continue to try and throw passes over the top of their outstretched arms. Probably not a great idea.”

In addition to Curry, Draymond Green had his second poor game in a row — 1-of-7 shooting with six turnovers, and again he was out of position on defense too often. He has played like a guy flustered by the opponent.

A lot of the Warriors have, while the Thunder just gain confidence. The kind of confidence that will carry them back to the NBA Finals.

 

Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant put on first-half show at Warriors’ expense

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I’d say Warriors fans are stunned, but more than that Warriors players look stunned — they are getting steamrolled by Oklahoma City again, giving up 72 first half points and being down by 19.

I guess we tell Warriors’ fans what we have told the fans of teams they have steamrolled the past couple years — enjoy the show, you don’t get to see many like this.

Above was a Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook fastbreak assist and bucket. Now check out the fantastic Steven Adams pass, and a highlight package of Westbrook dropping 16 in the second quarter on the Warriors (21 in the first half).