Too much Kevin Durant, MVP leads Thunder past Clippers to Conference Finals

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It was a game about poise.

The Clippers showed a lot of it to start the game. Two days after a devastating loss the Clippers showed the growth and maturity Doc Rivers has been trying to instill since he walked in the door — they moved the ball on offense, they defended well (Russell Westbrook started 0-of-4, Kevin Durant 1-of-7) and the Clippers were up 14 in the first quarter. OKC’s offense was stagnant, the Clippers were the ones attacking.

Then Kevin Durant woke up.

Midway through the second quarter, after the Clippers took a mental vacation on defense. Three times in a couple of minutes they left Durant wide open for a three point shot. He hit them, scoring 9 straight. Then it was on

From that point on Durant had 36 points on 11-of-16 shooting, looking every bit the MVP. He even had 16 rebounds. He and the Thunder were the more mature team, looking more like a veteran, battle-tested team.

He carried the Thunder all the way to a 104-98 win over the Clippers.

Oklahoma City takes the series 4-2, moving on to face the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals starting Monday night in San Antonio.

The only question for Oklahoma City is will Serge Ibaka be ready to go for that game — he left the game less than five minutes into the second half with a strained calf and did not return. After the game coach Scott Brooks said he did not know the severity and if Ibaka would be able to go on Monday.

If Durant plays like this, it may not matter. Once the Clippers let him get his rhythm there was no stopping his offense. He rained down jumpers, made moves to the rim, drew a charge on Blake Griffin (who eventually fouled out after a spectacular game) and generally was impressive every time he touched the ball.

Russell Westbrook looked like himself and had 17 of his 19 points on the night after the break, and more importantly he added 12 assists as he shared the rock.

With Ibaka down Scott Brooks played the Steven Adams/Nick Collison combination together more and it worked well — they defended with strength, both are good passers and both ran the floor. Adams played continued his great run scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds — more of him and less of Kendrick Perkins is good for the Thunder. We’ll see if Brooks plays more Adams and less Perkins in the next round. Thunder fans hope so.

The Clippers got more and more desperate and for a second straight game made too many mistakes down the stretch. Players said that was less about the Donald Sterling drama (although the weight of that certainly didn’t help them) as much as it was about them not making plays. Doc Rivers signed off on that in his press conference.

“We’re a team in process,” Rivers said.

That process saw 57 wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs, one where they showed themselves to be on the cusp of being a championship team. In the NBA teams often have to learn how to win and the Clippers look like a team that took big steps down that road this season and in these playoffs.

Those were steps the Thunder had already taken.

When they were down early then again late in the game the Thunder showed more poise, more maturity. They dealt with both adversity and success well in this series.

Those are things they will need a lot of next round against the Spurs.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.