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.

Former Cavaliers president candidate Chauncey Billups: Kyrie Irving’s trade request unsurprising, ‘alarming’

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Chauncey Billups declined an offer to run the Cavaliers’ front office. A few weeks later, word emerged Kyrie Irving requested a trade. LeBron James can become an unrestricted free agent and leave next summer.

If Billups dodged a bullet, it wasn’t by luck.

Billups on Altitude Sports Radio:

No, it didn’t really surprise me. Obviously, I knew as they were doing their due diligence on me, I was doing the same thing on them. So, obviously I knew so much about the situation that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

But that’s unfortunate, man, because he’s a special talent. And, in my opinion, so much of what he’s been able to accomplish on and off the floor has been – he’s been a beneficiary of having LeBron James, man.

That would be alarming to me if I was a team looking to get him, because if it’s all about winning, man you’ve got a chance to win every single year, man. Every single year, you’ve got a chance to win.

And not only that, you’re getting the ball still. You’re getting everything you want. You get all the shots you want. You’re playing for a great coach who’s letting you go to work. The game is on the line, they’re coming to you. You’re playing on TV every week.

To me, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. But everybody has their own desires.

I mean, he’s won a championship already. Maybe he’s saying, “I won a championship. I did this. I did that.” Maybe he wants to be Russell Westbrook, man, and go try to win the MVP and get all the shots.

That’s the only sense I can make of it. And, to me, that doesn’t make sense, because all I cared about was winning. That’s not anything. That’s the only sense I can make out of it.

I didn’t talk to LeBron until after. And I deliberately did that, because I go into a situation, and I’m going into it because of how I feel. And the whole LeBron leaving the next year – I’ll be honest with you: That didn’t bother me that much, and here’s why.

When you have an opportunity to really put something together and put your imprint on it, rebuilding is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing if they’re going to have the patience with you. That really didn’t bother me. What bothered me a little more than if LeBron left or not was that I just didn’t think they had great assets if you have to do a rebuild.

So, it was more that than Bron. So, I didn’t speak to Bron until afterwards, even though Bron and I have always had an amazing relationship.

This adds new insight to a few existing storylines:

  • When did the Cavaliers know Irving wanted to leave, and what did they do about it? If Billups knew weeks ago, acting Cavaliers general manager and eventual long-term general manager Koby Altman should have known, too.
  • Maybe LeBron didn’t leak Irving’s trade request. That’s not to say Billups – who works for ESPN, whose Brian Windhorst broke the story – did. But numerous people clearly knew about Irving’s discontent and could’ve provided Windhorst with information.
  • Perhaps, the Cavaliers’ inability to lure Billups was about more than salary.

Moving ahead, I’m curious how many front-office leaders share Billups’ view that Irving wanting a trade is “alarming” about Irving’s priorities. I think teams positioned to land him will be more enthralled with nabbing a young star than anything else, but the trade request could give them pause.

It would have been very interesting to see Billups handle this challenge if he were in charge. Would he have tried to get Irving back on the same page, as former general manager David Griffin repeatedly did? Or would Billups have seen Irving’s mindset as troublesome and wanted him gone?

Billups’ point about rebuilding, both in Cleveland and generally, is a worthy one. The Cavaliers’ lack long-term assets, because they pushed in to contend for a title with LeBron. They won one, making the payoff well worth the cost. But the bill is already coming due, and coming years could be rough. If ownership realizes that and approves a rebuild, that could lead to tremendous job security and freedom to craft a roster for the front-office leader. But most owners, including Dan Gilbert, aren’t that patient.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk: ‘We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row’

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The Hawks let their best player (Paul Millsap) leave without offering him a contract. They traded their second-best player (Dwight Howard) in a salary dump that reduced the payroll only slightly. They also watched other key contributors (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha) depart in free agency.

At least Atlanta could rebuild around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins and what appeared increasingly likely to be a high first-round pick.

Except the Hawks signed veterans Dewayne Dedmon (1+1) and Ersan Ilyasova (one-year) to contract that help the team this year without providing long-term value.

What is Atlanta doing?

New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, via Shaun Powell of NBA.com:

“We want to continue the success we’ve had, but realize we might have to take a step back,” Schlenk said. “We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row. We realize that young players in this league take their lumps but we don’t want to send the message that we’re (fine) with losing.”

Competitive people involved in running NBA teams and casual fans don’t want to tank. But it seems the Hawks are missing an opportunity.

Their young core is fine, but hardly inspiring. An additional high first-round pick could bring everything together, but Dedmon and Ilyasova just make it less likely Atlanta bottoms out – without significantly increasing the odds of gratifying short-term success. Even in this Eastern Conference, it’s unlikely the Hawks sneak into the playoffs. Picking in the middle of the lottery could doom Atlanta onto the treadmill of mediocrity.

To be fair, the Hawks aren’t reliant on only their own first-round pick. They’re also owed protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves and Cavaliers. But only the Houston pick can ever land in the top 10, and it’s just top-three protected for 2018. Most likely, the Rockets win a lot next season and convey a pick in the mid-to-high 20s in the upcoming draft.

Atlanta’s own pick is, by far, the team’s most valuable mechanism for adding premier young talent. But the Hawks have downgraded the value of that pick in the name of not wanting to sink too low in the short term. That’s not a tradeoff I would have made.

Otto Porter says he’s not bothered by John Wall’s Paul George comments

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John Wall said he wanted the Wizards to acquire Paul George, explaining:

“Look at our team. We are one piece away,” Wall said. “We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our 3-man, [Porter], did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But, [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. …

You got to add another star. You got to add another piece. You got to have three guys. And that’s what it’s looking like.”

That’s kind of a slight to Otto Porter, no?

Wall said his words created no problems, but that’s not really for him to say. How did Porter feel about it?

Porter, via Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“We’re talking about Paul George here. If we could get him on our squad? We could definitely contend for a championship,” Porter said after the press conference to announce his new four-year contract worth $106.5 million on Wednesday.

“It’s just motivation. I will continue to get back into the gym. I didn’t take anything personal. I’m just going to continue to go out there and work and play my game,” Porter said.

George is better than Porter. That’s just a fact. So, I have no problem with anyone saying so or proceeding based on that truth.

But I’m also not Porter.

I would completely understand Porter chafing at Wall recruiting George to replace Porter. I’d definitely understand Porter chafing at Wall talking publicly about recruiting George to replace Porter.

Porter so easily moving past this just speaks to his way of quietly contributing. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wizards will pay him about $107 million over the next four years. That buys some willingness to fall in line.

LeBron James denies wanting to fight Kyrie Irving, eagerness for Cavaliers to trade guard

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According to one report, LeBron James wants to fight Kyrie Irving. According to another, LeBron is eager for the Cavaliers to trade Irving.

According to LeBron…

So, maybe there’s a chance LeBron and Irving can reconcile. It’s not too late until a deal is completed.

But it seems Cleveland is moving toward trading Irving, so the clock is ticking.

LeBron might not be inclined to persuade Irving to drop his trade request, anyway. It really seems LeBron wants to stay out of this – or at least give the impression he’s staying out of this. LeBron denying bitterness toward Irving is one thing. LeBron connecting with a teammate who has cited problems with him as a reason for leaving is another.