NBA Playoffs: Ron Artest was too strong, too smart for Durant, Thunder

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artest_durant.jpgIn a year, maybe two, teams are not going to be able to do this to Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant. Then he will be stronger; the team will be more experienced. But right now they can, and Ron Artest and the Lakers did.

Los Angeles simply out-muscled, out-hustled and out-thought the best player Oklahoma City has got. With Ron Artest on him, Kevin Durant was just 4 of 18 shooting on the night (7-24 overall). Durant usually still makes some of those well-covered shots, he will as the series goes on, but Scott Brooks and his team need to come up with other actions to get Durant open, or things will not get a lot better.

After rewatching the game and focusing on the Artest/Durant battle, it was clear the Lakers did several things to shut him down.

The first was keeping the game in the half-court. In an uptempo game, the young and athletic Thunder would steamroll the Lakers, and Durant would get easy points filling a lane on the break. His confidence would grow. The Lakers held the game to 87 possessions, six fewer than the Thunder averaged this season  — and about six less than the Lakers, it’s just that LA is better able to adjust their game.

Part two of the plan was what everybody is talking about — Ron Artest.

Artest is a pit bull of a defender. First off, he is relentless, he never quits, never gives up. Second, he is physical and strong, and knows how to use it. The Oklahoma City team — not just Durant but also the team — were not prepared for this.

Artest tried to deny Durant the ball in any spot on the floor he likes. That’s always his modus operandi. And he is too strong for Durant to hold his position on his own. Artest tries to do the same things to players like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony but has less success because they are strong enough to hold him off and get some angles they want. Durant needs more muscle on the frame to do that.

To help Durant out, the Thunder ran some simple plays right out of every NBA playbook — some cross screens, some pindowns — trying to free Durant up on the strong side. Artest just blew those up and was in Durant’s grill the whole time. Two reasons for that. First, Artest has been seeing those since he entered the league. Artest is a smart player, a savvy one. If he knows it’s coming, you’re not going to succeed with it very often. You have to do better than the basics to catch him off guard.

Second, there isn’t a player strong enough on the Thunder to set a pick Artest can’t run through, especially on the screen-and-roll. Much like Durant himself, this is a young and lanky team. That serves them well in transition, not as well in a game of physical half-court sets.

The Lakers bigs also defended the picks well, they showed out on Durant enough until Artest arrived, which was not long. The Lakers were well prepared for this part of the Thunder playbook.

Brooks and his staff have to figure out ways to get Durant free. That may be better putting Durant on the weakside then using quick ball rotation to get him the ball in isolation. They can’t keep running basic sets and keep Durant on the strong side.

They have to do something different. The Thunder need Durant to win in this series, and Artest and his somewhat creepy blond hair are not going away.

Draymond Green addresses argument with Kevin Durant: ‘I’m not going to change who I am’

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Warriors forward Draymond Green knows the perceived significance of his argument with teammate Kevin Durant.

“I’ve read a lot about how, is this the end of the run? Or is it over? Or did I ruin it? Or did I force Kevin to leave?” Green said.

But don’t expect Green to bend amid those high stakes.

“I’m not going to change who I am,” Green said.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Green is correct: His emotional, stubborn, feisty style has led to more good than bad both for himself and Golden State. Reigning that in could have adverse effects.

But there’s still room for personal growth. Green can handle some situations, including this one, better without losing his edge. Every level of the organization agreed.

Blake Griffin calls out Raptors president Masai Ujiri while praising Dwane Casey

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Dwane Casey reportedly holds a grudge toward Raptors president Masai Ujiri for firing him.

Casey got revenge last night, coaching the Pistons to a win at Toronto. Casey called two quality plays in the final seconds, the latter producing Reggie Bullock‘s game-winner.

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

A Toronto reporter asked Blake Griffin if it gives Pistons players a degree of confidence in their coach when he gives them those tools to win games.

“We know that. This isn’t like we just discovered this for the first time today,” he said. “We’ve put in plays like that all the time in practice. He demands execution and we executed. Maybe to Toronto fans – or certainly their GM, maybe – it was a surprise. But not to us.”

The win had to be gratifying for Casey. Having his star player take up his greater cause must even more satisfying.

Jazz have one of worst offensive showings ever, score 68 in 50-point loss to Mavericks

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NBA scoring is exploding. Defenses are getting less leeway for physicality. Offenses are more efficient than ever. Pace is at its highest mark in decades.

Except for the Jazz last night.

Utah scored just 68 points in a 50-point loss to the Mavericks. And even that undersells the Jazz’s offensive woes. They played reasonably fast, getting 101 possessions. Their offensive rating – 67.3 – shows just how inept they truly were.

In all, Utah shot 42% on 2-pointers, 17% on 3-pointers and 63% on free throws and committed 22 turnovers.

The Jazz set several milestones for offensive futility:

  • Fewest points in a game (68) in nearly two years (68 by Hawks vs. Jazz on Nov. 25, 2016)
  • Lowest Basketball-Reference estimated offensive rating in a game (68.8) in more than three years (68.2 by Grizzlies vs. Warriors on Nov. 2, 2015)
  • Fewest points in a second half (22) in nearly five years (19 by Rockets vs. Thunder on Jan. 16, 2014)

Comparing across eras can be difficult, but here’s one measure: The Jazz scored 68 points in a season teams are averaging 110.4 points per game.

That output relative to average – -42.4 – is one of the lowest of all-time:

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Kevin Durant’s brother posts: ‘just follow along before the greatness is done rubbing off on you and people see you for what you really are’

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Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are feuding, the possibility of Durant leaving the Warriors in free agency next summer hanging over everything.

Now comes Durant’s brother, Tony – intentionally or not – throwing gasoline on the fire. Again.

Tony posted and deleted these comments on Instagram, via Bleacher Report:

Read too much into vague social-media content at your own peril.

But, man, that sure looks like Tony advising Green just to enjoy Durant masking Green’s problems until Durant leaves the Warriors and leaves Green exposed.