Thunder’s long, athletic defense has Spurs’ beautiful offense looking ugly

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When the San Antonio offense is clicking, they play the beautiful game. The extra pass to the open man, the movement off the ball, the trust, the smart cuts, the open shots that fall. We saw that in opening two games of the Western Conference Finals.

However, for the last two games Oklahoma City has blown that up and made the Spurs offense look ugly.

The length, the athleticism, the physicality of Oklahoma City just blows up what the Spurs want to do because of how fast Thunder players can recover.

“When we use our athleticism, use our size, use our strength, we are in a good position,” Russell Westbrook said in his post game press conference.

“We used our length and athleticism to disrupt their flow,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks added.

It was ugly Tuesday night for San Antonio in a blowout Game 4 loss that evened the series.

The Spurs shot 39.8 percent in Game 4, with an offensive rating of 97.2 points per 100 possessions (more than 14 off their playoff average coming into the game). The Thunder’s length led them to contest 47.6 percent of the Spurs shot attempts (well above the Thunder’s season average) and San Antonio shot just 30 percent on those contested. Tim Duncan was 1-of-7 on contested shots. That doesn’t even take into account the turnovers and blocked shots, many of which became fast break points the other way for the Thunder (OKC had 21 fast break points to zero for the Spurs). The Spurs are used to whipping the ball around the perimeter, but the Thunder defenders (knowing Serge Ibaka is behind them to clean up mistakes) can pressure those passes and make them less crisp and accurate (if not outright get a steal).

When the Spurs would conncect on the extra pass but you could see them hesitate as they checked where Ibaka was standing before they shot.

San Antonio actually got off to a quick start in Game 4, an 8-0 lead, Tony Parker looked sharp  and attacking. However then but the Spurs got away from what worked if you ask coach Gregg Popovich (Parker did stop attacking by the middle of the second quarter).

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge (Ibaka) could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench so they’d know who Serge was. Really unwise basketball all of a sudden. Rather than hitting open people we started attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots and turnovers.

“You got to play smarter against such great athletes,” he continued. “They’re talented, obviously, but their athleticism and length gives you a smaller margin for error and you better be smart the way you play. And you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.

“And I think we have to play harder. I think they’re playing more physically than we are, they are getting more 50/50 balls, and playing with more determination than we have the last two games.”

The Spurs likely will do those things once they get home.

But the Oklahoma City won four straight over San Antonio in the 2012 in the Western Conference Finals and six of eight since then because the Spurs ball movement can’t outrun the length and athleticism of the Thunder defense. It has changed completely since Serge Ibaka re-entered the series.

And when the Thunder walk off the plane in San Antonio, they are still going to be long and athletic. That could be real trouble for the Spurs.

Report: Spurs, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves, Knicks, Heat have proposed Kyrie Irving trades

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade – reportedly ideally to the Knicks, Heat, Spurs or Timberwolves.

All those teams – plus the Clippers and Suns – have made offers to the Cavaliers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

So far, these are among the teams who’ve made offers to the Cavaliers for Irving, league sources tell ESPN: The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. There were approximately 20 teams that inquired with Cleveland upon the news of Irving’s trade request, league sources said, but far fewer have registered legitimate proposals.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Denver Nuggets-New York Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks, league sources said. For new general manager Koby Altman, this is a textbook way to open trade discussions. But for now, most Irving suitors are using the Minnesota Timberwolves-Chicago Bulls trade model for Jimmy Butler, a scaled-down model of Melo’s rich return of assets.

The Miami Heat are willing to part with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow as centerpieces for an Irving trade, league sources said.

Altman and the Cavaliers haven’t been overzealous on the phones. They’ve been deliberate in returning calls and canvassing for offers, trying to create the illusion that there’s no urgency, no desperation.

A few important things to keep in mind: This isn’t necessarily a complete list of teams that have proposed a trade for Irving. These offers aren’t necessarily reasonable. The Cavs can make offers themselves.

But if Cleveland is concerned about not looking desperate and therefore not proposing trades itself, which teams have made proposals takes on greater importance. Going through the known offering teams:

  • The Heat are reportedly pessimistic/uninterested. Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow shouldn’t be enough. I’m not sure what else Miami can offer to make up the difference.
  • As long as Carmelo Anthony remains set on the Rockets and the Knicks won’t trade Kristaps Porzingis, New York will have a near-impossible time forming a suitable offer for Irving – unless the Knicks can re-route players acquired for Anthony. That would get complicated.
  • The Spurs lack assets beyond Kawhi Leonard, and their next-best player – LaMarcus Aldridge – would exacerbate a logjam with Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron James in Cleveland.
  • The Timberwolves make a lot of sense on paper, but they’re still negotiating a contract extension with Andrew Wiggins. While that might actually be a precursor to an Irving trade, Wiggins finalizing an extension would signal Minnesota is going another direction. The Timberwolves trading for Irving would almost have to include Wiggins.
  • An Eric Bledsoe-and-Josh Jackson package for Irving seems about fair, but the Suns are reportedly refusing to include Jackson. Phoenix has a wide enough array of other assets that a deal could still be struck, though.
  • The Clippers haven’t been mentioned much, but here’s a theoretical starting point for an Irving trade:

The Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony trade has long been held up as the gold standard for dealing a star. But what an indictment of the Bulls that their Jimmy Butler trade is now viewed as the reference point for teams low-balling teams with stars. Chicago deserves it.

The Cavaliers just have to sort through these offers – and maybe eventually propose a few of their own – to ensure they emerge looking more like Denver than Chicago.

Report: Kyrie Irving’s has tampered down partying, boosting trade stock

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Chauncey Billups – who thinks like an NBA executive in that the Cavaliers offered him a job running their front office – called Kyrie Irving‘s trade request “alarming.” Billups found it incomprehensible a player would want to leave LeBron James and Cleveland, which has reached three straight NBA Finals and won a title.

Maybe Irving’s trade request reflects poorly on the Cavs. After all, Billups declined their offer.

But Billups also clearly took issue with Irving. What kind of player wants to leaving all that winning?

Any team considering trading for him is investigating that question and many others.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Truth be told, the Cavaliers trade talks have been buoyed with teams getting back better, if not perfect, reports on Irving’s growth, league sources said. Among the consensus: Irving has a history of late nights and partying, but there’s no trail of missed practices, bloodshot eyes or hungover shootarounds. Most intel has come back that he has curbed those tendencies into his mid-20s, picking his spots more wisely. As a teammate, Irving can be moody, but most agree he’s ultimately invested. He hasn’t always loved deferring to James on the Cavaliers, or Kevin Durant in USA Basketball. This is the Kobe Bryant inside of him, and that’s part of the DNA that can be a blessing and a curse. Teams believe he’s smart, savvy and, above all, they believe he’s a winner.

“Go back through every team he’s played on, talked to people involved — or just study the results — and it doesn’t matter whether it was high school, college, USA development and national teams, and in the NBA — and you see a pattern of him impacting winning,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “There are questions about those first couple years before LeBron came back, but I think there were a lot of issues around there that were out of his control. That said, he didn’t always help himself then either.”

Before LeBron returned, the Cavaliers went 21-45, 24-58 and 33-49 with Irving. He’s a winner? Yes, maybe.

There’s a difference between a player “impacting winning” and winning. A single player can control whether he impacts winning – making individual plays that help his team and limiting errors that hurt. He can’t control whether he wins. That requires enough of his teammates to impact winning, and many of Irving’s in Cleveland didn’t. It can be difficult to separate a player’s individual contributions from overall team success, but that’s the job of an NBA executive. Teams are trading for Irving, not the 2013-14 Cavs. It seems the verdict is in: Irving is not being blamed for those losing seasons.

Irving is smart and driven. He parties late into the night? Many players do, especially when they’re younger. There apparently isn’t reason to be particularly concerned about Irving.

He has learned what it takes to succeed on the biggest stages. Though he has clearly disliked deferring to LeBron, Irving did it anyway – at a championship level. That’s a sign of maturity.

Irving clearly isn’t the same player or person he was a few years ago, and though that’s the only timeframe he led a team, his growth demands viewing a bigger picture.

It seems potential trade partners are doing that and mostly liking what they’ve found.

Retired from the NBA or not, Tim Duncan would kick your a** in an MMA fight

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Tim Duncan has retired from the NBA.

But if you think that means he’s not still wearing Punisher T-shirts and is not still working out and staying in shape, you should watch the video above.

San Antonio-based kickboxing trainer Jason Echols posted a Facebook video of him and Duncan sparing, and the 41-year-old five-time NBA champ is still kicking a**. Sure, this sparring is at half speed, but if Duncan were going all out he could do some real damage.

He’s probably even got a move called the bank shot in his repertoire.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

Watch LeBron James walk over to scorer’s table at son’s AAU game to correct score

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I feel LeBron on this one. I have two daughters who play on club soccer teams and I get more frustrated, angrier at referees, and generally am far more emotionally invested their youth games than any NBA game. Over the years I have learned a lot, both from and saw it echoed in Coach David Thorpe’s book, about how to be supportive to them and their experiences, not make it about my feelings and wishes.

But sometimes you need to step in.

LeBron James is in Las Vegas and so far all the stories have been about how he is working out with Derrick Rose, Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul, and what does that all mean (nothing, NBA guys often work out together all summer, especially teammates and guys who share an agent). But he’s also there for the AAU Adidas Uprising tournament where his son is playing.

And when LeBron saw the score was wrong, he went over to the scorer’s table at a time out to tell them.

I love the way the scorer’s wave him off, like they would any parent who walks up and complains.

Then they corrected the score, because LeBron was right. You knew he would be, the man has an eidetic memory about basketball.