Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Three

Poised Thunder exploit Clippers defense down stretch, take 2-1 series lead


LOS ANGELES — This was playoff basketball at its most intense (certainly the most intense we’ve seen this second round, anyway). The Clippers and Thunder were battling and it was emotional, chippy, loud, and foul filled. It was a roller coaster.

It didn’t have much defense, but it was fun.

Through that storm the Thunder kept their heads about them. It’s a cliche to say the most poised team wins a close game, but it’s a cliche for a reason.

While the Clippers got frustrated with each other and chirped at officials in the fourth —all of which seemed to impact their defensive rotations and offensive shot selection, their minds elsewhere — the Thunder kept executing. OKC kept trusting players like Caron Butler to make plays (he nailed three threes in the fourth), kept trusting they would win going small, and they played with the confidence they would make the big shots when they needed to. The Clippers were the team pressing, the team still learning to win on this big a stage.

Oklahoma City won the fourth quarter 32-22 and with that become the first team to trail the Clippers after three quarters and come back to win this season, 118-112.

With the win the Thunder take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference semi-finals. Game 4 is Sunday at Staples Center and it is all but a must win for the Clippers.

When asked about the late game poise Kevin Durant talked about the journey and said this year they are way ahead of where they were in years past.

“Just from experience,” Durant said. “You grow from experience. Having been here before, it’s helped us all out. Reggie (Jackson) when Russell (Westbrook) was out, Serge playing in big games, Russell playing in big games, myself. All the way down the line.”

The other thing the Thunder were able to do is play through the physicality better.

As Doc Rivers had said pregame he wanted his team to do, the Clippers came out attacking the rim — they were not going to settle for jumpers. That’s good basketball. But with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins hanging back, the Thunder are long and physical in the paint — and that physicality threw the Clippers off. The Clippers hit just 4-of-12 at the rim to start the game and finished 24-of-47 in the paint (51 percent).

“We didn’t finish a lot at the basket,” Rivers said. “I think they hurt us…. we’re getting to the basket. That’s what you want to do. We missed a lot of shots at the rim, wide open threes.”

Meanwhile the Thunder offense showed balance — when it’s more than just Kevin Durant (36 points) and Russell Westbrook (23 points and 13 assists, 8 rebounds) it means trouble for whomever is in the other jerseys. Friday night Serge Ibaka had 20, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler each had 14 (Butler nailing threes in the fourth quarter to make the Clippers pay for not matching OKC’s small lineup). As a team the Thunder had an offensive rating of 123.8 and a true shooting percentage of 64.6 percent.

“Listen they played well today. They really did,” Rivers said. “I thought offensively we played good, but defensively we didn’t”

“Early I thought we allowed too many easy baskets, you know, dunks, layups” Blake Griffin said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job on the boards.”

After what has been a lackluster start to the second round of the playoffs with a lot of blowouts — and a slog of a first game Friday night between Indiana and Washington — the Clippers and Thunder put on a show. It was entertaining. It was a back and forth game with both teams surviving the run of the other — the lead never got more than 8 either way util the final minute.

The Clippers had their chances. This game was 102-101 Thunder with Chris Paul at the free throw line and five minutes left. But then CP3 missed the free throw, and then Serge Ibaka scored the next four points and quickely the Thunder seemed comfortable again. Then the Clipper made another push and it was 108-107 with two minutes left Thunder when Westbrook it a three, then on the next trip down Durant hit a ridiculous turn-around, 18-foot fade-away three over the wrong shoulder. That was the dagger.

The Clippers got 34 points out of Griffin, 21 points and 16 assists from Chris Paul, and 20 points from Jamal Crawford off the bench.

But they couldn’t just outscore the other team — that other team that has two elite scorers. The Clippers were not the defensive team they know they need to be to contend.

“We’ve been a team that regardless of how we plead the first three quarts, the first part of the fourth quarter, we relied on stops down the stretch,” Paul said. “Tonight we didn’t do that.”

They have until Sunday to figure out how to get those stops or they will be free to set golf tee times very soon.

Report: Rockets will try to sign Alessandro Gentile next summer

Alessandro Gentile, Paulius Jankunas
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The Rockets tried signing Sergio Llull this summer, but he opted for a long-term extension with Real Madrid.

So, they’ll just turn to another player in their large chest of stashed draft picks – Alessandro Gentile.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Gentile, who was selected No. 53 in the 2014, is a 22-year-old wing for Armani Milano. He’s a good scorer, but he primarily works from mid-range – an area the Rockets eschew. He can get to the rim in Europe, but his subpar athleticism might hinder him in the NBA.

If Gentile comes stateside, he’ll face a steep learning curve. But he’s young enough and talented enough that he could develop into a rotation player.

Report: Hawks co-owner made more money by exposing Danny Ferry’s Luol Deng comments

Michael Gearon, Bruce Levenson
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A terribly kept secret: Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. wanted to get rid of general manager Danny Ferry.

Many believe that’s why Gearon made such a big deal about Ferry’s pejorative “African” comment about Luol Deng – that Gearon was more concerned about ousting Ferry than showing real concern over racism.

Gearon had another, no less sinister, reason to raise concern over Ferry’s remarks.

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

While Gearon felt that Ferry, as he wrote in the June 2014 email to Levenson, “put the entire franchise in jeopardy,” Gearon also figured to benefit financially from a Sterling-esque fallout.

In the spring of 2014, Gearon was in the process of selling more of his interest in the team to Levenson and the partners he had sold to in September. The agreed-upon price for roughly a third of Gearon’s remaining shares valued the Hawks at approximately $450 million, according to reports from sources.

“We accept your offer to buy the remaining 31 million,” Gearon wrote in an email to Levenson on April 17, 2014. “Let me know next steps so we can keep this simple as you suggested without a bunch of lawyers and bankers.”

Approximately five weeks later — just a little more than a week before the fateful conference call — Steve Ballmer agreed to pay $2 billion for the Clippers, a record-smashing price that completely changed the assessed value of NBA franchises. Gearon firmly maintains he was acting out of the sincerity of his convictions to safeguard the franchise from the Sterling stench, but such a spectacle also allowed him to wiggle out of selling his shares at far below market value.

Gearon and his legal team later challenged the notion that the sell-down was bound by any sort of contractual obligation and that any papers were signed. Once the organization became involved in the investigation, the sale of the shares was postponed.

Arnovitz and Windhorst did an incredible amount of reporting here. I suggest you read the full piece, which includes much more background on the Gearon-Ferry rift.

Considering the Hawks sold for $850 million, Gearon definitely made more money than if he’d sold his shares at a $450 million valuation.

Did that motivate him? Probably, though it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Most likely, his actions were derived from at least three desires – making more money, ousting Ferry and combating racism. Parsing how much each contributed is much more difficult.

What Ferry said was racist, whether or not he was looking at more racism on the sheet of paper in front of him. His comments deserved punishment.

But if Gearon didn’t have incentive to use them for his own benefit, would we even know about them? How many other teams, with more functional front offices, would have kept similar remarks under wraps or just ignored them?