Thunder make spectacular plays, Grizzlies execute game plan better and take Game 2 on road

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Oklahoma City is simply more entertaining, more aesthetically pleasing to watch than Memphis. Thunder players can do the spectacular.

Like Kevin Durant hitting a ridiculous clutch four-point play late in regulation.

There were huge dunks by Russell Westbrook, high-flying blocks by Serge Ibaka and even a putback by Kendrick Perkins to send the game to overtime.

Through it all Memphis kept grinding. And executing — all night long Memphis was making the extra pass to the man left open on the weakside, all night long they got good looks because of it.

The offensive execution, the controlling of the tempo and strong defense earned Memphis a dramatic 111-105 road win in Game 2 of their playoff series.

This series is tied 1-1 and headed back to Memphis.

Mike Conley has been a favorite of the hard core basketball set for a couple years now and showed why on a national stage Monday — he controlled the tempo which limited the Thunder’s fast break attempts, he got in the lane and broke down the Thunder defense, and when needed he hit buckets. Conley finished with 19 points and 12 assists, plus did a good job defending Russell Westbrook.

Zach Randolph added 25 points, a number of those key buckets late when his man went to help on Conley or another Griz player in the lane. Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol each had 16. Beno Udrih came in to spell Conley and was brilliant on his way to 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

OKC lacked that kind of balance. Durant had 36, Westbrook 29 and Ibaka 15 (Ibaka had the best overall game of any OKC player), and that’s it for Thunder players in double figures. As a team OKC shot 39.8 percent on the night and was 9-of-30 from three.

Memphis shot 49.4 percent and had an offensive rating of 117 on the night because of how they moved the ball. They were methodical, looking for the extra pass and the open look — much of the night the Thunder tried to overload the pick-and-roll to frustrate Conley but Memphis moved the ball to the weak side quickly and made OKC pay the price.

That’s what won the game. That’s not what anybody will talk about, rather they will discuss the wild ending.

There were moments late in regulation where Memphis tried to isolate Randolph on Perkins, and it worked once when Perkins got trapped under basket but made pass out to Gasol for bucket. However on the next one Perkins got a block that became a Westbrook steal then a Durant dunk that put the Thunder up one. If felt like they would run away with it.

But the Grizzlies kept grinding. Soon after Mike Miller hit a three off a kick out on an offensive rebound and with that the Grizzlies were up 95-93. Soon after Tony Allen was hustling over the top of a pick to block a Kevin Durant three, the Grizzlies, and after a couple Conley free throws it was a five point Grizzlies lead. They were in control.

Then Kevin Durant and his four-point play happened.

It was still a one point Memphis lead but when Conley missed a free throw it opened the door for OKC to tie or win at the end of regulation. Kendrick Perkins was put in and we all shook our heads — why sub in a guy that the Grizzlies don’t have to guard? And when Westbrook missed a three, it was Perkins under the basket with the outback to send the game to OT.

A lot of teams would have folded after giving it up late like that. Not Memphis, it just grinds on. The Grizzlies scored the first six points of overtime.

There was plenty more drama to come — Durant got away with a charge, Gasol got away with a kicked ball, and then Gasol fouled out on a ticky-tack call for that late in the game (Durant was off balance and fell).

But then Memphis just kept grinding like they did all night — Conley drove and drew the defense, Tony Allen made a brilliant cut and as he went up to shoot the help came after him, he dumped to the weak side to Randolph and it was a layup.

Ibaka traveled on the next Thunder possession and that was all she wrote.

This series was never going to be easy for OKC, and don’t be surprised if there is a Game 7 down the line. Memphis can grind like this every time out.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.