Breaking down the final couple minutes of Thunder win over Trail Blazers

3 Comments

For much of the season, this is the kind of game the Portland Trail Blazers have won — every close game they seemed to be the team making the big shots, getting the big steals, they had the players who stepped up. That includes the last time Portland and Oklahoma City met — the Thunder shot 20 percent down the stretch and blew a double digit fourth quarter lead to the Trail Blazers.

Tuesday night it was the Thunder with the late 15-0 run to win. Simply put, there was just too much Kevin Durant for Portland to contain. Playing like an MVP Kevin Durant. Forty-six points Kevin Durant, 14 in the final frame.

So lets take a look at how it went down, starting with three minutes remaining.

95-92 Trail Blazers, 3:00 left: LaMarcus Aldridge has a trusty turnaround jumper, but he missed a 12 footer this time and Kevin Durant gets the rebound and brings the ball up the right side. It’s not all out transition but the Thunder have not set their offense yet, and Kendrick Perkins stays out high and sets a screen, which you can see here:

source:

Durant comes around the pick, finds that Aldridge has laid back and given him a little room so Durant just goes up with the three. Splash.

95-95 tie, 2:50 left: Damian Lillard and Aldridge are trying to play a two-man game out top, but Aldridge isn’t holding the picks long and Lillard isn’t taking great angles off it, so the Thunder keep blowing it up. Eventually Lillard comes off a pick and goes right, Aldridge pops out, Lillard tries to hit him with a pass he whips across his body, it goes off Aldridge’s hands out of bounds. That was not pretty.

It’s the Thunder’s ball and they run a play where Reggie Jackson comes off the Serge Ibaka high screen and Lillard tries to fight over the top while Aldridge stays back, which allows Jackson to get into the paint and hit a 10-foot floater.

97-95 Thunder, 2:15 left: Nicolas Batum has the ball out top for Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge cuts to the basket off a Robin Lopez pick on the left wing, and Batum feeds him the ball coming across the lane, a nifty little play. Kendrick Perkins switched on to Aldridge off the aforementioned screen and when he gets the ball Aldridge takes a dribble then stops and does a little up and under going back the way he came move — it burned Perkins. However, Serge Ibaka rotated over and blocked the shot.

source:

That block landed in the hands of Wesley Mathews, and Ibaka blocked his shot, too. Portland wanted a foul call there but this was playoff-style ball and no easy whistles were coming. With 2.1 seconds left on the clock the Blazers ran Damian Lillard off some picks and got him the ball driving to the basket — and Perkins rejected Lillard’s lay-up. With 0.9 left Aldridge tried a desperation three that missed.

Then Thunder come down, Jackson comes off the high Ibaka screen and gets in the paint, draws the defense, kicks it out to Perkins who is wide open 15 feet out on the left baseline and he drains it.

99-95 Thunder, 1:36 left: Portland isolates Aldridge on the left block against Perkins, Aldridge does his thing and gets in tight but just misses a five-foot jump hook. Aldridge went 1-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter. However Portland got the offensive board and in an attempt to make a bounce pass out to reset there is a kicked ball by OKC (at which point the ball bounces to a frustrated Scott Brooks, who bangs the ball down six times in a bit that will end up as fodder for NBA TV’s “The Starters”). On the next inbounds Aldridge gets a clean look at a 19 footer from just to the right of the top of the key, but it rims out.

That’s pretty much how the quarter went — Portland shot 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter, the Thunder 68.8 percent.

The Thunder get the ball and aren’t in a rush to shoot, Jackson probes a little but with six seconds left on the clock he kicks it out to Durant and says “have at it.” Durant shows a little like he’ll drive then pulls up with the straight away 25 footer and buries it.

And with it pretty much buries the Blazers.

102-95 Thunder, :48 seconds left: The Blazers need a quick bucket here, so after a timeout they have a sideline out of bounds and play called yet Nicolas Batum decides to throw a risky pass across the court to Wesley Mathews but instead it finds Perkins, who hauls down the turnover.

OKC comes down and again they are in no rush to shoot, and again they give the ball to Durant. He dribbles it out for a bit at the top of the key, stops and over two defenders drains another three from pretty much the exact same spot as the last one.

Ballgame.

The Thunder go on to win the game 105-97, and they keep winning without Westbrook. Thanks to Durant.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

1 Comment

One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

Getty Images
2 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

Getty Images
1 Comment

We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.