Author: Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs-Game Six

Blake Griffin’s 26 points, strong fourth quarter help keep Clippers alive (VIDEO)

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It had been one of the key stats from Games 1-5 of the first round slugfest between the Clippers and Spurs: Blake Griffin was 4-of-21 in the fourth quarter of games. He had been wearing down, his legs weren’t there, and he was 1-of-9 on jumpers because of it.

Thursday night in Game 6, he was 3-of-3 in the fourth quarter and had a monster second half with 18 points. It’s one of the principal reasons there will be a Game 7 Saturday at Staples.

If he has another game like that, the odds the Clippers move on go way up.

PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Blazers missed a lot of good looks

Portland Trail Blazers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Five
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It’s one of the perks of being a good defensive team: You get in the head of your opponents. Even when guys have room to get off a shot, they are so worried about someone closing out they rush just a little bit and miss.

That was part of Portland’s trouble in its five-game first-round loss to Memphis.

PBT has partnered with the fantastic NBASavant.com to break down the Sports VU Camera data and look more closely at the advanced stats of the NBA playoffs and what decided a series.

In this case, Portland shot just 34.1 percent on shots where there was no defender within four feet (an open look by NBA standards). They knocked down 42 percent of those in the regular season. It mattered.

Big second half from Chris Paul powers Clippers to win, forces Game 7 vs. Spurs

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game Six
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This series had to have a Game 7.

It’s been too good not to — two of the three best teams in the NBA right now (sorry Cleveland, Houston) forced to face off in the first round when this could have been a conference finals.

Game 6 lived up to the hype. In a series where Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had often struggled late in games, they flipped the script Thursday night. Paul had 15 points and seven assists in the second half, while Griffin added 18 and had a key block on Tim Duncan with 5:50 left in the game.

“I thought Chris and Blake took the game over. We didn’t stop them, and they were tremendous,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Those two did enough to power the Clippers to a 102-96 win in San Antonio Thursday night. This forces a Game 7 back in Los Angeles Saturday night (8 p.m. Eastern on TNT).

The way this series has gone, that game may be more entertaining than the Mayweather-Pacquiao that follows.

“I’ve been saying this all year, this team is mentally tough,” Doc Rivers said after the win.

“We lost because the Clippers were determined, physical, focused, played harder than we did,” a smoldering Popovich said postgame. “We were soft on loose balls, we’d get a rebound they’d knock it out of our hands, hard time getting open — I thought their physicality in that regard was great. We were just soft. I’m not sure how we stayed in the game to be honest with you.

As you would expect in a closeout game, the Clippers came out with a sense of urgency. Their pressure defense looked quicker than it had all series and forced eight first-quarter Spurs turnovers, which led to easy buckets in transition. Those points plus DeAndre Jordan altering shots inside, and J.J. Redick starting 4-of-5 shooting, made this what should have been a perfect start for the Clippers, who led by as many as seven in the first. But, as it has been all series, the Clipper bench came in and things instantly tightened up. By the end of the first it was 26-26. The Clippers could not create separation.

The second quarter became the Marco Belinelli show for the Spurs as he came in and went 4-of-4 from three, part of a 9-0 run. Then the Spurs went to hack-a-DJ, and it helped open the lead up to 10, although that was more about the Clippers missing 19 three pointers in a row (across two games). However, with the intentional fouling Tim Duncan and Tony Parker picked up their third fouls and went to the bench, the Clippers brought their starters back in, and the Clippers went on an 11-4 run.

The score was 51-51 at the half. Yet the Clippers had to feel fairly good about that considering CP3 was 0-of-7 while as a team they were 1-of-9 from three.

The Clippers came out hitting their shots in the third quarter to take a 10-point lead. Doc Rivers went with his shooters and had his small lineup doing damage, led by CP3 making plays — six games into the series and the Spurs have not come close to solving the Clips double high screen play. Paul had help from  Griffin, who had struggled in the fourth quarter throughout the series was 3-of-3 in the final frame plus had some big defensive plays down the stretch.

Of course, there were close calls late. Jamal Crawford got away with a walk late. Boris Diaw got caught on an offensive shot interference call tipping in a missed shot while it was over the cylinder. A lot of things could have gone another way, befitting this series.

The Spurs got 23 points off the bench from Belinelli — he was 7-of-11 from three on the night and hit a shot in the final minute to keep the Clippers on edge. Borris Diaw added 17 points. Kawhi Leonard had a rough night, shooting 3-of-15 and not being his usual self on defense.

J.J. Redick had 19 points for Los Angeles; Paul had 19 points and 15 assists, Griffin had 26 points.

It was not all good news for the Clippers. Glen Davis had to leave the game — and be wheeled back to the locker room — for what was officially called a sprained ankle but looked to be something worse with a foot he had broken a couple years back.

Game 7 could go either way — four of the six wins in this series have come on the road. All the games save one have been decided late because these are two evenly-matched teams. Two title contenders standing toe-to-toe, trading blows.

This series had to have a Game 7.

Billy Donovan’s blueprint to success in Oklahoma City laid out by Steve Kerr in Bay Area

SEC Basketball Tournament - Second Round
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It’s a big gamble: Replace a coach the players like and respect, then tell the new guy to modernize the team’s offense, and turn team into a contender in his first season on an NBA bench.

It’s exactly what is being asked of Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City, where he was hired on Thursday after 19 years as the coach of Florida.

It’s also what was asked of Steve Kerr this past season in Golden State — and he had Jay-Z level success. The Warriors made the leap under Kerr, winning 67 regular season games (in a crazy deep Western Conference) and becoming title favorites.

Kerr has laid out a blueprint that Donovan can follow this summer and into next season to bring the same success to the Midwest. Donovan has been handed the keys to a Ferrari — healthy this team is a serious title contender — but crash the car and Kevin Durant likely bolts next summer in free agency. Then Russell Westbrook follows him a year later.

No pressure.

We need to start here: This hire was not some massive reach by Thunder GM Sam Presti. He was not pulling a coach from obscurity — this is a guy a number of NBA teams have eyed for years (including the Magic, who thought they had him as their coach until Donovan backed out last minute years ago). Donovan’s former players such as Bradley Beal, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Joakim Noah sang his praises and have said they know he can succeed at the next level.

“Billy Donovan is a fantastic coach, and one that probably doesn’t get enough credit for just how good he is,” Rob Dauster, the main man at our sister site CollegeBasketballTalk, told PBT. “Everyone knows about the back-to-back national titles that he won, but I’d argue that the best coaching performance of his collegiate career came back in the 2013-14 season. Florida went 36-3 that season, running roughshod over the SEC and reaching the Final Four with a roster that didn’t feature one NBA player on it.”

The first step in the Steve Kerr blueprint: Hire top-flight NBA assistants.

Get guys with experience, guys whose strengths are Donovan’s weaknesses. Kerr and the Warriors opened the checkbook to poach Alvin Gentry away from Doc Rivers and the Clippers — he was the best offensive mind among the assistant coaches out there. Donovan needs some guys who can show him where the potholes are, who can ease his transition to the next level.

Next step: Meet with the players on the roster during the summer and start to form a relationship.

Donovan may have left college, but he is still recruiting (primarily keeping Durant in OKC). Donovan can’t win his new players all the way over in one meeting, but he can start to build the foundation he will need come the season. Of course, sit down with Durant and Westbrook first. But Kerr flew to Australia to meet with Andrew Bogut and took the time to get to know everyone on the roster. Donovan needs to meet with everyone – and when he does he needs to have a vision and a plan. Kerr was specific, for example he told Harrison Barnes he wanted him to work off the ball more not be the sixth man asked to create for everyone (something Barnes welcomed with open arms). Donovan can’t walk in and make vague promises — he must tell his players exactly how he wants to use them and why this will be good for them and the team.

Third step: modernize the offense.

This is one of the things Presti wanted most of all, what he thought was holding back the Thunder was Brooks’ conventional offense. It was predictable and too often devolved into a Durant or Westbrook isolation (which worked because they are Durant and Westbrook but was not ideal). Presti wants an offense more like we have seen in San Antonio and Golden State.

“The thing that makes him so appealing from an NBA perspective is that his coaching style will fit in well at the professional level,” CollegeBasketballTalk’s Dauster said. “At Florida, he ran a ball-screen motion offense built around floor-spacing, which are offensive concepts that are quite prevalent in the NBA. Not all college coaches will fit in well at the professional level. Donovan will.”

Final step: Keep working toward the big picture.

The finish line is not when the season tips off, even though it’s going to take a lot of work to get there. A hot November is great but can be fool’s gold. Be committed to the process, be open to the suggestions of his assistant coaches and players, tweak things as needed, but always stay focused on the goal of being a team hitting its stride as the playoffs start.

Do all that, and he’ll still need some breaks to go his way — that is life in the NBA. Health is at the top of his wish list.

Do all that and he’ll have a chance to win big — and with that keep Durant in Oklahoma City in 2016.

Which is the real reason he was hired.

PBT Extra: Will LaMarcus Aldridge stay in Portland?

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin joins Jenna Corrado to discuss the chances of Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge signing with a new team this offseason. Helin believes Aldridge will test free agency and have many suitors.