Mike Conley outshines Kevin Durant as Grizzlies take Game 2 from the Thunder

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There were multiple areas that the Grizzlies needed to focus on in terms of adjustments heading into Game 2 against the Thunder. The one they needed the most was made, in the form of point guard Mike Conley returning to, and then exceeding the stellar form he displayed for much of the second half of the season.

Conley put in a dominant all-around performance, and finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in leading the Grizzlies to a 99-93 victory to steal the home court advantage in this series.

Game 3 is in Memphis on Saturday.

One of the keys for the Grizzlies in their surge into the playoffs and then through their first round takedown of the Clippers has been the play of Conley, who elevated his averages in every major statistical category once the postseason began. He was largely absent in Game 1, and in addition to his 13 point, three assist, two turnover performance on 5-of-15 shooting in that one doing his team no favors, the floor presence he normally brings in leading his team’s offense simply wasn’t there.

Things changed dramatically for Conley in Game 2, as he attacked with dribble penetration to force the action. Instead of taking what the Thunder were willing to give, he took what his team needed from them in order to distribute the ball and get a balanced scoring attack from his teammates.

Conley’s game was so special that we haven’t even mentioned Kevin Durant yet, who controlled the game offensively for his team and did everything he could to drag them to victory. Durant finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists, and was essentially unstoppable for long stretches of this game.

But without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are going to need multiple players step up when facing a Grizzlies team that’s as focused and engaged as they were in this one. Derek Fisher provided an offensive spark off the bench with 19 points in a strong outing, but the Game 1 scoring boost of Kevin Martin disappeared almost entirely. Martin finished just 2-of-11 from the field for six points, after pouring in 25 points in the first game of the series.

Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka chipped in 10 and 11 points respectively, but the points came sporadically, and neither was considered a consistent threat by the Grizzlies’ defense.

Memphis killed the Thunder in some important statistical categories, outrebounding them by eight total, with the difference coming entirely on the offensive glass. It helped the Grizzlies outscore their opponent by 17 in second chance points, and by 20 in points in the paint.

The Grizzlies played their game for most of the night, and while Conley hit two huge shots with under two minutes to play to help his team pull away, Memphis swarmed on Durant defensively late to ensure they wouldn’t see a replay of the way things ended for them in Game 1.

As great as Durant was all game long, he was 0-for-3 with a turnover in the game’s final 3:10, thanks to the Grizzlies’ team effort on him defensively with the game on the line.

The good news for the Thunder is that this was anybody’s game with under three minutes to play, despite the Grizzlies’ statistical edge. The bad news, however, is that Durant can’t really be expected to do much more than he did in this one. If the Thunder can’t find a way to get consistent production out of a couple of other guys to aid Durant’s effort, or, at the very least, make sure to limit the Grizzlies’ efforts on the boards, they could be in serious trouble heading back to Memphis.

Report: Dante Cunningham re-signing with Pelicans

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An intriguing battle emerged late in free agency over Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans and Timberwolves were desperate at small forward, and Cunningham rare contributor at the position still available. New Orleans even traded a second-rounder and cash to dump Quincy Pondexter and get far enough below the hard cap to take advantage of Cunningham’s Bird Rights.

That’ll pay off.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

It’s not the $3,106,500 Cunningham opted out of, but a $2.3 million salary beats his minimum ($2,106,470), which is all Minnesota could’ve offered.

That’s a great rate on someone who might be the Pelicans’ starting small forward, considering Solomon Hill‘s injury. Even if he plays behind Tony Allen on a team that starts small on the perimeter, Cunningham will reduce the time New Orleans must rely on also-rans.

Cunningham is probably better at power forward, but he can defend either position. He also has become a good enough 3-point shooter to credibly play small forward.

For the Pelicans, he’s a huge upgrade at a bargain price.

Kevin Durant cops to tweets, calls elements of them ‘childish’ and ‘idiotic’

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Kevin Durant – tweeting in the third person, suggesting he forget to switch to a secret Twitter account – said he left the Thunder because he didn’t like the organization or playing for Billy Donovan and that Oklahoma City’s surrounding cast around himself and Russell Westbrook was lacking. Durant also appeared to have a second Instagram account he has used to insult critics.

Durant at TechCrunch:

Durant:

I do have other another Instagram account, but that’s just for my friends and family. So, I wouldn’t say I was using that to clap back at anybody.

But I use Twitter to engage with the fans. I think it’s a great way to engage with basketball fans.

But I happened to take it a little too far, and that’s what happens sometimes when I get into these basketball debates. Or what I really love is just to play basketball. I went a little too far.

And I don’t regret clapping back at anybody or talking to my fans on Twitter. I do regret using my former coach’s name and the former organization that I played for. That was childish. That was idiotic. All those type of words. I regret doing that, and I apologize to him for doing that.

But I don’t think I’ll ever stop engaging with my fans. I think they really enjoy it, and I think it’s a good way to connect us all. But I will scale back a little bit right now and just focus on playing basketball. So, I want to move on from that. It was tough to deal with yesterday. I was really upset with myself. But definitely want to move on and keep playing basketball. But I still want to interact with my fans, as well.

Durant can defend himself all he wants on social media. Fans, even those who detest him, do enjoy the interaction.

But an anonymous-looking account defending Durant provides no joy to those fans. They don’t – or at least didn’t – know they were interacting with the famous basketball star. This is something else entirely.

And it sure looks like Durant used his secret Instagram account to clap back at fans. Via SB Nation:

Durant denying that really makes it hard to accept this as him coming clean.

Mostly, Durant just opened himself to numerous follow-up questions:

Did he really dislike the Thunder organization? Did he really dislike playing for Donovan? If yes to either question, why? If no to either question, why say that? How does lying serve the fans he’s claiming he wants to engage?

Dwight Howard changes story, blames Magic front office for bringing up firing Stan Van Gundy

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While sipping from a can of Pepsi, Stan Van Gundy calmly explained to the assembled media that Magic management told him Dwight Howard wanted the coach fired. Then, an unsuspecting Howard walked up and put his arm around Van Gundy. Van Gundy slinked away, leaving Howard to answer questions.

That 2012 press conference was an all-time great NBA moment.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

To hear Howard tell it, he has been the victim of more subtle misunderstandings than Larry David. The excruciatingly awkward press conference, when Stan Van Gundy confirmed that Howard was lobbying the Magic front office to fire him, only for an unsuspecting Howard to join Van Gundy and deny what the coach claimed? “That previous summer, the front office asked me about Stan, and I told them I thought he was losing his voice with the team. But they were the ones who said they should start looking for other coaches.”

Howard already admitted in 2014 he told the Magic he thought Van Gundy should have been fired after the 2011 playoffs. Howard even griped that Orlando didn’t listen to him!

I get that Howard is (again) trying to rehabilitate his image, but he has to do a better job of keeping his story straight.

Bulls hire Doug Collins as senior advisor

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Doug Collins burns out. Burns out his players, burns out himself. That was his reputation through 11 seasons coaching the Bulls, Pistons, Wizards and 76ers.

When Collins left Philadelphia in 2013, he declared he was done coaching. There was just too much pressure, he said.

Perhaps, Collins has found a role that better suits him.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

In a surprise announcement, the Chicago Bulls have brought former coach Doug Collins back into the fold, naming him a senior advisor to Executive Vice President John Paxson.

Even among NBA personnel, Collins was a basketball expert in his time. Whether he has kept up in a rapidly evolving league is an open question.

It won’t hurt having his voice in the room. It might hurt if the Bulls lean too heavily on it.

Hopefully, everyone entered this arrangement for the right reasons. Paxson played for Collins in Chicago. Collins’ son – Chris Collins – coaches nearby Northwestern. An overreliance on comfort won’t yield positive results. The Bulls need forward-thinkers, not just familiar faces. Successful executives put in a lot of work and aren’t just hanging around to be close with family.

This hire probably won’t move the needle much, but there’s certainly a chance it could – in either direction.