Kurt Helin

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Thunder defense shuts down Spurs one more time, Oklahoma City wins to advance

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There is a moment in nearly every NBA playoff series when a coach knows he’s in real trouble and starts throwing crazy lineups at the board trying to find anything that works.

That was Gregg Popovich by the end of the first quarter Thursday night. After the Spurs team got off to an early lead — and Tim Duncan was 3-of-3 from the floor — Popovich went to his bench and the wheels came off. To put it kindly. This was more like a 14-car pileup. Desperately searching for anything that worked, Popovich played a lineup that hadn’t seen a minute all season: Kevin Martin, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, David West, and LaMarcus Aldridge.

It didn’t work. The Thunder went on a 42-12 run across the quarters, and that was the ballgame.

After a season where pundits — myself included — said OKC was a step behind the Spurs and Warriors, the Thunder passed the test against San Antonio, beating the Spurs 113-99 Thursday to win the series 4-2.

The Thunder will travel to the Bay Area to take on the Warriors starting Monday night.

The fourth quarter of the game felt nostalgic for fans because this may have been Tim Duncan’s final NBA game. While he’s made no announcement (and he may well not even know what he wants to do yet), there was a sense around the league that he could, and Manu Ginobili would, walk away after this season. Whenever he does retire, Duncan will go down as the greatest power forward ever to play the game — a five-time NBA champion with unquestioned Hall of Fame credentials. We just got done celebrating Kobe Bryant‘s amazing career, but Tim Duncan’s resume can stand next to Kobe’s with pride (Duncan was far more consistent).

“Timmy, he was playing really well so we played him as much as we could because he earned the minutes,” Gregg Popovich said postgame.

But Duncan and the Spurs exited this season on a rough note.

The kind of game and series win that might have Kevin Durant thinking “there’s no place like my current home.”

After a blowout loss in Game 1, the Thunder defense tightened up each game, cutting off passing angles and using their length and athleticism to challenge seemingly everything. The Spurs could not get comfortable, the Thunder defense got smarter and more aggressive each game, and that reached new heights in the first half of Game 6. Look at the Spurs shot chart from the first 24 minutes.

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The Thunder, meanwhile, were getting the buckets they wanted against the less-athletic Spurs. Kevin Durant had 37 points on 24 shots, Westbrook 28 points, and once again the role players chipped in led by Andre Roberson with 14 points including hitting 3-of-5 from three (that’s a season’s worth of threes for him).

The Thunder led by 28 at one point and 26 early in the fourth, but the Spurs would not die. They went on a 20-6 run and got the lead down to 11 at one point, forcing Billy Donovan to put Westbrook and Durant back in to make sure this game didn’t get away from them.

The Thunder earned this series — they played their best, smartest defense of the season against the Spurs. They will need all of that and more against the Warriors.

That’s for Friday and the weekend. Thursday is for celebrating an impressive and important win for the franchise.

Russell Westbrook with alley-oop to Steven Adams, sums up Thunder’s night

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Oklahoma City came out ready to close the series out — up 3-2 at home they took over the game starting midway through the first quarter and have run away and hit from the Spurs (barring a miracle comeback).

The Thunder defense has been impressive and won them this series, but the offense is clicking now, too. This play sums up the game: Russell Westbrook got the ball out high, came off the pick and blew right past Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge, then as Boban Marjanovic came over to help he threw the soft alley-oop to Steven Adams for the finish.

It was just that kind of night for the Thunder. Or, if you want a Kevin Durant highlight, that sort of night.

Report: Lakers D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle invited to USA Select Team

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Here’s who is reported to be on the USA Select Team (the team of young NBA stars that scrimmages against Team USA at its pre-Olympics camp in Las Vegas):

C.J. McCollum
Myles Turner
• Brice Johnson
Devin Booker
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Stanley Johnson
Zach LaVine

This led some Lakers fans to ask today on Twitter “hey, what abut our guys?” Lakers fans are not known for their patience. But by the end of Thursday Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had broken the news:

Good news for D'Angelo Russell: Byron Scott is not the Team USA coach.

Russell has some real potential as a future Team USA player, because of his court vision, but he’s got a ways to go on his outside shooting (particularly from three) and on defense. Julius Randle has farther to go — he needs an outside shot and any kind of right hand, but his hustle and effort will be welcome in the scrimmages.

Lakers fans about to ask about Jordan Clarkson, he has made a verbal commitment to play for the Philippines.

For all of these young players, it’s a chance to see how the game’s elite prepare and work up close, it’s a great potential learning experience. (Plus a few days in Vegas.) Will they take advantage of it is the question.

Gregg Popovich on NBA’s Last Two Minutes referee reports: “it’s sort of an odd practice”

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It’s become a daily ritual during the playoffs: The day after a close game with close or controversial calls down the stretch, the NBA releases its “Last Two Minutes” report and points out the referees mistakes — and correct calls, but who wants to talk about those? For example, from Wednesday night the league said Kyle Lowry should not have been called for the shooting foul on Dwyane Wade that was whistled with 1:54 left.

No series has seen more of these calls than the Thunder and Spurs. First, there was the whistle-free 13 seconds of rugby at the end of Game 2. Then there were two missed calls that went against the Spurs at the end of Game 5.

But the reports themselves have led to controversy: If the league is not changing the outcomes of games based on the reports (and they are not, the reports are simply informational), why undercut the referees by making their most critical mistakes public?

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t sure either, as reported by ESPN’s Michael C. Wright.

“You’d have to ask (the league) exactly why they do it. It doesn’t change anything. For the people involved, it’s very frustrating because there’s nothing you can do about it. So it’s sort of an odd practice in that sense, but I think they just want to have transparency. So from their perspective it’s a good thing so that people know they can admit errors, that’s always a good thing, and people won’t just guess about what’s going on. So from their perspective it’s a good thing and that’s hard to argue with. But it is frustrating when things happen like what happened in game two and the last game at the end. But again, officials aren’t doing that on purpose, They’re going to miss things, it’s a tough deal. I’m absolutely frustrated and angry that the calls weren’t made. But it happens to everybody along the way. I’ve been in the business long enough, you end up on both sides of it, for sure. So you let it go so you can play the next game.”

The NBA is in a Catch-22 here.

Since before the reports were released and to this day there is a healthy NBA referee conspiracy theory alive and well on Twitter. Fans — particularly of losing teams — are convinced of a grand plan to keep their team out of the next round because the NBA wants the bigger market/bigger star/whatever for television ratings. Even though if that were the case the Knicks, Bull, and Lakers would never be bad. But whatever, I’m not here to argue with the tinfoil hat crowd, because there is no logical debate with them.

The point is, new Commissioner Adam Silver tries to combat that perception by making these reports (which have been around for years) public. Silver is a modern-style CEO and a believer in transparency. But the criticism that this just undercuts the referees and makes people more frustrated with officials is a valid one.

There is no good answer with the reports.

Would it be nice if the referees got more calls correct? Of course. But that’s part of the human element of sport, and we don’t want that completely out of the game either. So we live with it — and argue about it, but ultimately live with it.

LeBron says his retirement from NBA is ‘up to my kids’

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James will soon face a triple-team he can’t beat.

The NBA superstar, who is making another run toward a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, said Thursday that he will extend his playing career only as long as his three children will let him.

“It’s kind of up to my kids, really,” said the 31-year-old father, who is in his 13th season as a pro. “I’ve missed so much of my kids’ tournaments and things of that nature when I’m playing. So, it’s kind of up to them. They’ll let me know when they’re tired of seeing me go away.”

James and his wife, Savannah, have two sons and a daughter: 11-year-old LeBron Jr., 8-year-old Bryce and 19-month-old Zhuri. Both boys play basketball.

The Cavs have been in limbo since completing a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland’s second sweep of these playoffs. The team has spent the past two days practicing while waiting to see if it will play the Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. The Raptors lead the Heat – James’ former team – 3-2 in their series, which continues Friday night.

James has never given a firm timetable on how long he intends to play, but the four-time MVP isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He keeps himself in impeccable physical shape and has done more to preserve his body this season by playing fewer minutes.

He’s into yoga and maintains a healthy diet that sometimes gets ruined.

“I like sweets,” he said. “More like dessert, stuff like that. I got to try to stay away from it, but it’s hard when you have an 11-year-old, 8-year-old and 2-year-old running around. Because that’s all they do all day long. So I got to try to stay away from them – which is impossible.”