Kurt Helin

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Three things to watch in Thunder vs. Spurs Game 5


It’s a best of three, and both teams have one on the other’s home floor. You don’t need me to tell you this game is critical, but here are three things to watch for tonight:

1) Will the Spurs get back to moving the ball? The book on the Thunder defenders are that they are long and athletic, but if you can get them scrambling around with ball movement they get out of position, make mistakes, and that can be exploited for easy buckets (or at least easier buckets). Think back to Game 1 of this series, when the Spurs moved the ball and won handily.

But that has not been the case as the series has gone on — the Thunder defense has gotten better, and the Spurs have responded with more LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard in isolation (two players that like to work one-on-one). This chart sums up the Spurs ball movement through this series.

Put simply, the Spurs need to get back to making the extra pass, and with it get the Thunder defense rotating and on its heels a little. A one-on-one isolation matchup favors Oklahoma City and their ridiculous scorers.

2) The Spurs need to deal better with the Steven Adams/Enes Kanter Thunder front line.
With Tim Duncan sitting on the sidelines a lot due to foul trouble, the Spurs “big” lineup of Adams and Kanter were +16 on the night, including playing the entire fourth quarter together when the Thunder pulled away and got the win. David West played that entire fourth for the Spurs and was exposed — when Adams started scoring by rolling to the rim after setting a pin-down screen for Kevin Durant, the Spurs countered that by switching on that pick. The problem was that left West on Durant too often, and KD can either shoot over or blow by West at his discretion. By the time the Spurs were adjusting Durant was in the zone and it was moot how they covered him. San Antonio has to do better against this lineup, and one way is to make sure they use Kanter’s man to set picks on offense — he’s improved a little as a defender, but he can still be exposed and the Spurs haven’t gone at him consistently enough this series.

3) Billy Donovan is not getting outcoached by Popovich this series.
There are still adjustments to be made and tweaks to come, but about this point in a series there are no more real secrets. Billy Donovan and the Thunder have tilted this series so far more toward their style of play — up-tempo and isolation — than Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. That’s not a knock on Pop (who I would have had at the top of my Coach of the Year ballot) but rather a statement that Donovan is figuring it out and has his team defending as well as they have all season. Give the man his due.

Stephen Curry is first ever unanimous NBA MVP


There was no drama in if Stephen Curry would be named NBA MVP for the second year in a row.

The only question was whether he would be the first unanimous MVP in league history. Getting 131 NBA media members to agree on something is about as easy as getting Congress to agree on anything.

But it happened: Stephen Curry was the unanimous choice as NBA MVP, the league announced Tuesday. (You have to wonder how the names of the voters and how they voted being made public impacted this. In another era would someone have voted for LeBron James just to make sure it wasn’t unanimous, knowing there were no repercussions? Now they would have to defend that vote.)

Curry is the 11th back-to-back winner of the award.

It was fitting the award came a night after Curry put on a show in Portland that shows why he won the award. This season Curry averaged 30.1 points per game, shot 45.4 percent from three and hit a record 402 of them, dished out 6.7 assists per night, shot 90.7 percent from the free throw line, played solid defense, led the league in PER (31.5) and true shooting percentage (66.9 percent), and this list could go on and on. Just his presence on the court fuels the Warriors offense because at least one defender can’t help off him regardless of where he is on the court, and when he gets the ball he quickly draws the entire defense to his side.

Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs came in second, followed by LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant.

Here is the full finishing order, with first place votes in parenthesis:

Stephen Curry, Golden State (131)
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
LeBron James, Cleveland
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
Draymond Green, Golden State
Damian Lillard, Portland
James Harden, Houston
Kyle Lowry, Toronto

Before Game 4, Damian Lillard answered critic Skip Bayless on Twitter

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Skip Bayless, along with Stephen A. Smith, are the blowhard core of the popular ESPN show First Take.

Apparently Bayless has ripped Damian Lillard on air. I say apparently because I would have to watch that show or care what Bayless says to know for sure, and neither of those things apply to me. I say apparently because Damian Lillard fired back at Bayless on Twitter before Game 4, responding to something he said:

For the record, Lillard had 12 points in the fourth and seven points in overtime for the Blazers. He’s been asked to carry a huge load offensively for the Blazers these playoffs and has done so at an All-Star level. He has attacked through double teams, made the right pass, and been the catalyst for an impressive Blazers offense. Because the Blazers are on the West Coast, and not one of the glamour teams on the West Coast at that, casual fans don’t get to see Lillard on a national stage often enough. He is one of the best scorers and most entertaining players in the league. He has won a lot of fans over this series, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

And if you want a real Twitter beef to follow, check out the Frank Isola vs. McLovin from Superbad one from yesterday.

Watch it one more time: Stephen Curry drops 40 on Blazers in OT win

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The NBA playoffs are just more fun with Stephen Curry in them.

He returned from a sprained knee and came off the bench for the Warriors Monday night. As you would expect, he looked rusty for three quarters, 6-of-18 shooting and 0-of-9 from three. But forced into extra playing time with Shaun Livingston ejected, Curry woke up and dropped 27 in the fourth quarter in overtime, playing like the vintage Curry.

It was too much for Portland to handle, and the Warriors now lead the series 3-1.

Stephen Curry is all the way back. Which is good for fans and bad for the rest of the league.

Blazers’ owner Paul Allen’s face sums up Stephen Curry’s night

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Stephen Curry put on a show Monday night, scoring 17 points in overtime alone while dropping 40 on the Trail Blazers.

How impressive was Curry?

The face of Blazers’ owner Paul Allen summed it up perfectly:

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)