Author: Kurt Helin

LeBron James, Tyler Zeller

PBT Extra: Celtics playing hard, smart, but can’t close talent gap with Cavaliers

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Give Boston credit, they have fought hard in their first-round playoff series against the heavily favorite Cavaliers. They have intentionally gotten physical with LeBron James. They have made Cleveland work for it.

But in the end, talent wins, and the Cavaliers have more of it. A lot more.

Celtics’ fans in the Boston area, if you are a Comcast subscriber you can watch a free live stream of Thursday night’s Game 3 between the Cavaliers and Celtics, just follow this link.

That’s what Jenna Corrado and I discuss in this latest PBT Extra, looking at the Cavaliers/Celtics series as it shifts to Boston for Game 3, with the Cavaliers up 2-0. We know how this movie is going to end. It’s inevitable. But the experience for this young Celtics team of what it takes and the effort they have given, that will help build the foundation in Boston for years to come.

PBT Extra: Bulls more than just Derrick Rose show, too much for Bucks

Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler
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This Bulls team is not like the last few Bulls teams.

For years, the Bulls have been a defense-first team that ground their opponents down and found just enough offense to get the wins. For a while, that offense was the Derrick Rose show until his injuries changed that.

This year’s Bulls have much more offense — Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, and others. That’s what Jenna Corrado and I talk about as we look at how the Bucks vs. Bulls series moves forward with the Bulls up 2-0.

Bulls’ fans in the Chicago area, if you are a Comcast subscriber you can watch a free live stream of Thursday night’s Game 3 between the Bulls and Bucks, just follow this link.

This has been a physical series, but the Bucks don’t have the firepower to challenge Chicago. That lack of firepower makes me suspicious of how the Bulls’ defense looks this series. Cleveland will be a better test.

Too much Tim Duncan, too much classic Spurs when it matters evens series with Clippers 1-1

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LOS ANGELES — It has been like this for nearly two decades now: The Spurs needed something and Tim Duncan was there to give it to them.

They needed better shooting than Game 1, they needed points, and he had 28 points on 23 shots. Duncan was going right at DeAndre Jordan early, he hit a key shot in the paint in overtime, he had 11 rebounds. In a game the Spurs said they were desperate to win, they turned to Tim Duncan early and often.

“He was probably our best player in Game 1, too,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “This is nothing new for Timmy… He was spectacular. He continues to amaze me with the things that he is able to do.”

The Spurs needed all of it on a night where Blake Griffin dropped a triple-double — 29 points, 12 points, 11 assists. Game 2 was a game the Clippers thought they had — to the point that Chris Paul stomped up and down in frustration at one point in overtime. It was the Clippers stars who seemed worn down and made mistakes late — it was a Griffin turnover that led to the free throws that allowed the Spurs to force overtime.

Then in the OT it was vintage Spurs: Duncan hits a leaner in the paint, Patty Mills scores on a leak out when the Clippers fall asleep, then Kawhi Leonard got a layup after Matt Barnes loses him. The Spurs executed the way they always do. The Clippers would not die in front of another raucous home crowd, but a J.J. Redick three rimmed out, and the Spurs hung on to win 111-107 in overtime. It was certainly not always pretty, but it was entertaining in what has been the best first round series of the playoffs so far.

The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to San Antonio for Game 3 Friday night.

Thanks to Duncan.

And Patty Mills.

Tony Parker left the game midway through the fourth quarter and did not return due to what was described as a tight right Achilles (there are no other details yet). Mills stepped up — he drove and was fouled, then hit the two free throws that forced OT. Then the Austrailian had six points to lead the Spurs in OT, and 18 total on the night off the bench.

“That was a game of grit, and grind, and competitiveness,” Mills said. “We showed competitiveness at the toughest times, which is good. We lacked that in the first game so we knew that before any Xs and Os in this game we needed to show we could come out and compete for 48 minutes — and even more so tonight.”

It was clear from the opening tip the Spurs were playing with a little more desperation. The Spurs came out much sharper and more focused defensively. They doubled the pick-and-roll out high, they rotated more sharply, and they got back in transition defense. Offensively they went to Duncan inside, and he hit 8-of-9 for 16 first half points. The Spurs moved the ball much better and that led to better looks, for the game 46 percent of their shots were uncontested. Still, the Spurs missed their threes (3-of-12 in the first half). The Clippers were no better from three (2-of-9 in the first half) but got 19 points on 13 shots from Griffin in the first half, he was hitting from everywhere. Chris Paul was sharp as usual, but the Spurs led 52-47 at the half.

Clippers came out in the second half with better ball movement, better defense, but they missed shots early. Spurs offense was not clicking either; Parker has not been sharp (or fully healthy) and it was just a lot of Duncan and Leonard vs. Paul and Griffin.

At times the Clippers started to look tired — they lack depth, and this was a hard-fought, up-tempo game. Yet they would not quit and they had their chances late. Jordan blocked a Duncan shot in the lane, Matt Barnes had a key late steal. It seemed like the Clippers would win.

The Spurs were the Spurs. They executed relentlessly. And while the polished veterans tried to sell this as just another win, the looks in their eyes and their comments in the locker room postgame when the cameras and recorders were not on let you know they thought this win was a massive one.

“The mindset was like a Game 7,” Mills said. “That’s the way we treated it. Like I said the competitiveness of that game that really got us the win in the end.”

Five Coaches who may replace Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City

Billy Donovan
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Scott Brooks has been fired as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Rule No. 1 for an NBA GM is “keep your talent” — firing Brooks was all about keeping Kevin Durant in OKC. Durant is a free agent in 2016. (Then Russell Westbrook becomes a free agent the following summer.) It is imperative the Thunder win next season to make it much harder for Durant to leave.

Thunder GM Sam Presti gambled making this move without consulting Durant, but Durant backs it. Now the pressure is on Presti — he wants a more modern offense, not the conventional and predictable one Brooks ran. He wants a coach who can elevate the team. Like Phil Jackson taking over for Doug Collins in Toronto. Like Steve Kerr taking over for Mark Jackson in Golden State.

So who will be the next coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Who will be trusted to upgrade their offense to take better advantage of all that talent? Here are the top five names out there.

1) Billy Donovan. The early buzz around the league is if the Florida coach wants the gig he can have it. He has a relationship with OKC’s Presti. You can add to that rumors floating around Donovan will jump to the NBA for the “right” opportunity — even Donovan’s former Gator star Bradley Beal said he thinks he is destined for the NBA. There are not many opportunities that are more “right” than OKC. Front offices around the NBA like Donovan. He is believed to have the Xs and Os chops to make the jump, plus he is a strong motivator.

I’m not sure this makes a ton of sense. My question for OKC: Are you sure a first-year coach out of the college ranks is your guy who can elevate this team to the highest levels of the NBA? That is a massive gamble. On the other side, if you’re Donovan you have to ask Durant his intentions — if you make the jump to Oklahoma City and Durant leaves in a year (which likely is followed by Westbrook leaving the year after) you’ve left a quality, secure college gig for a tough rebuild in the NBA. Will he take that risk?

2) Kevin Ollie. The UConn coach is another college guy a number of NBA teams have had their eye on, a high IQ guy who comes with 13 years of NBA background as a player. Why he becomes interesting to the Thunder is Ollie’s final NBA season was in Oklahoma City with Durant and KD has gushed about how much he learned from and looked up to Ollie. This is a hiring that would get the Kevin Durant seal of approval, and reportedly Ollie is interested. For me, the two questions that apply to Donovan apply to Ollie: Is OKC sure a young college coach is the guy to take an NBA team from good to great? And does Ollie really want to give up one of the best gigs in college hoops for this risk if Durant might well bolt?

3) Tom Thibodeau. He is currently still a little busy, what with coaching the Chicago Bulls and all (who likely advance to the second round of the playoffs). That said, rumors continue to swirl around the NBA out of Chicago that after this season the friction between Thibodeau and Gar Forman will finally be enough for the Bulls to send Thibs packing. If so, the Thunder have to consider him — this is a guy who has proven he can elevate a team. The Thunder defense will get better instantly. Tell him he has to hire an offensive guru as an assistant if you must, but you’re not going to find a better, harder-working coach. And one that has a relationship with Durant and Westbrook through USA Basketball. That said, he costs bank to hire. Would the Thunder be willing to give up a future first rounder to get him out of Chicago?

4) Alvin Gentry. Last season he was Doc Rivers’ lead assistant in charge of the offense, and the Clippers had the best offense in the NBA. This season he’s Steve Kerr’s lead assistant and the guy behind the innovative offense in Golden State offense Presti covets. If you want a modern offense, he’s your guy. He didn’t elevate teams he was coached before (the 2010 Suns got to the conference Finals but lost to Lakers), but is he ready now? The Thunder would have to be patient until the Warriors’ playoff run is over (that’s likely at least a month away, maybe six weeks). Maybe make him bring in a defensive guru as an assistant, but while some would say this is a retread hire it might be the perfect fit.

5) Mark Jackson. His name will come up, as it does for virtually every vacancy. His players in Golden State loved him, ran through walls for him, and they won. He built the foundation that the Warriors grew off of this season. That said, two problems here. First, he’s not the guy who did the elevating with the Warriors. If you thought Brooks ran conventional, predictable sets you should go watch film of Jackson’s Warriors. Second, he created an “us vs. the world” mentality in the locker room where the world included team management. There was a lot of friction. Not sure the Thunder invite that into their house.

PBT Extra: Injuries to stars not reason Scott Brooks is out in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Three
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Scott Brooks is out as the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There will people wondering how he could get fired after a season where both Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were injured. It’s not Brooks’ fault the Thunder didn’t make the playoffs.

That’s not why he was fired, and that’s what I discuss in this PBT Extra. This is all about keeping Durant, who is a free agent in 2016. There were many around the league who questioned if the Thunder could win the big games with Brooks’ simplistic offensive sets (which too often devolved into Durant or Westbrook isolations). OKC is looking for an upgrade. Sort of a Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr kind of move.

We’ll see if Billy Donovan (or Kevin Ollie or Fred Hoiberg) can be that guy, or if OKC decides to try the route of a more trusted current NBA assistant. But they are rolling the dice with a big bet on the line.