NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder implode in the fourth quarter

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In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Thunder and the Grizzlies, Oklahoma City was powerless against Memphis’ big men. In the early parts of Game 3, it was the Thunder’s speed that made the difference, particularly the speed of Russell Westbrook. However, the Thunder ended up falling on their own sword late in the game, and are now facing a 2-1 deficit after a heartbreaking overtime loss.

After a breakout regular season, Westbrook has had an up-and-down playoffs, mixing brilliant performances with games where he strangled the Oklahoma City offense by dribbling the air out of the ball and forcing outside jump shots. On Saturday, Westbrook had a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance that served as a microcosm of just how dangerous Westbrook can be to both is opponents and his own team.

For the first three quarters, Westbrook was masterful. He didn’t have a particularly efficient scoring performance, but he set the pace of the game. He attacked the rim constantly, pushed the pace to keep the Grizzlies from setting up their half-court defense, and did a fantastic job of setting up his teammates. Westbrook finished with 12 assists, and seven of Kevin Durant’s field goals were set up by a Westbrook assist.

When the Thunder played the Lakers in last year’s playoffs, Durant struggled to find space against Ron Artest in isolation situations, and only shot 35% for the series. With Westbrook commanding the defense’s attention and allowing Durant to either catch and shoot or roll to the rim for a dunk, Durant has been exponentially more effective. When Westbrook balances efficiency with aggression, the Thunder are a completely different kind of offensive animal than they were in last year’s playoffs.

In the fourth quarter, however, the bad Westbrook showed up, and the Thunder offense went completely stagnant. The team only scored two points between the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter and the 0:52 mark of the game, and the Grizzlies were able to tie the game by outscoring the Thunder 15-4 during that stretch. Although the entire Thunder team deserves a share of the blame for Oklahoma City’s miserable offensive display, Westbrook was the primary culprit for the Thunder’s offensive struggles — he dribbled the ball aimlessly, didn’t look to make aggressive moves to the rim, was far too eager to settle for jump shots, and made little effort to get his teammates involved. When Durant did get the ball, he usually got the ball 25 feet away from the basket with the shot clock running down and a defender in his face, and not even Durant is able to turn those situations into high-percentage opportunities.

While the Thunder imploded offensively, the Grizzlies were slowly but surely able to claw their way into the game, and the game went into overtime with the score tied at 86.

In overtime, the Grizzlies continued to attack the basket aggressively; the Grizzlies scored 80 points from the paint and the free throw line on Saturday, and all of their overtime points came at the rim or the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Thunder continued to look confused — a beautiful James Harden feed to set up Nick Collison for a dunk only served as a reminder of just how broken the Thunder’s late-game offense was. When it was all over, the Thunder had been outscored by 20 points over the last 17 minutes of play, and they now find themselves in a 2-1 series deficit.

This was a horrible loss for the Thunder, and it could easily have been the difference between a conference finals berth and an early playoff exit. The Thunder did everything right. Westbrook and Durant were working well together, the offense was rolling, and Perkins and Co. were actually winning the battle in the trenches against Memphis’ twin towers, holding them to 12-36 shooting from the field . They were doing absolutely everything they needed to do to beat the Grizzlies and regain home-court advantage.

Then they imploded, and they now have to face the fact that they beat themselves in a game they needed to win. Winning four out of seven games against the Grizzlies is no easy task; in order to advance after this performance, the Thunder will essentially have to beat Memphis five times in seven games.

If the Thunder play the way they did in the first three quarters for a full 48 minutes, they can absolutely tie up the series before it comes back to Oklahoma City. But on Saturday, the Thunder’s inexperience was their undoing, and they may not be ready to contend for a championship until Westbrook and company can stop putting on these types of performances.

Judge sounds skeptical of accuser’s arguments in appeal of Derrick Rose case

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Derrick Rose was found not liable during a civil rape trial in 2016.

The plaintiff appealed, and her argument was heard today. It doesn’t sound like it was well-received.

One of the appellate-court judges, Hon. Barrington D. Parker Jr., via Kyle Bonagura of ESPN:

“The main issue in this case is what happened that night between Doe and the three defendants,” Parker told Anand. “And you did a good job of presenting your case that what happened on that evening was nonconsensual, that she was raped.

“The defendants, as I look at the record, had powerful defenses to that presentation, which at the end of the day, the jury bought. You had a nine-day trial and this jury was out in what, 15 minutes? And you lose on every single claim. The jury just didn’t buy your case. No trial is perfect, but your evidence concerning the night in question came in and the jury had an opportunity to hear that.”

Following the trial as it unfolded, it seems the jury made the correct decision. Doe’s case was presented and considered. There wasn’t nearly enough evidence against Rose to find him liable.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t rape Doe. Her accusation counts for something. But at a certain point, if her claims can’t be credibly substantiated, Rose deserves a chance to move on. Police also investigated Rose and didn’t charge him.

The Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on Doe’s appeal, but it sounds like Rose is one step closer to putting this behind him legally.

Mark Cuban on Mavericks’ sexual-harassment scandal: ‘It’s behind us now’

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he erred by not being involved enough in the franchise’s business side, allowing a predatory work environment to fester.

But he also didn’t appear at the press conference after the investigation’s results were released, leaving new CEO Cynthia Marshall to face the public.

Why?

Cuban on 1310 The Ticket, via Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News:

Because it’s Cynthia’s company now to run on the business side.

I’m the owner of a lot of different companies and I have CEO’s who run them. And it’s her’s to run and she’s good. And when you find someone that’s great at what they do, you let them do their job. Now, did I learn and I’ll communicate more with it? Yeah. But I’m not going to go into any of the details other than do say she is phenomenal at what she does and she deserves the respect that she’s earned and the Mavs are a much better organization and will be. And the NBA will be better because other teams and the NBA itself also are using her as a resource.

all the people that were involved are gone. . . The reality is, it’s behind us now. We did what we had to do. We’ve moved immediately. We brought in Cynt. Cynt’s a superstar. She’s changed the culture completely. That’s all you can do.

No organization is perfect. I’ve made my mistakes. The organization made its mistakes and we fixed them. There’s really no reason to suspend me or do a lot of the things people speculated about.

The difference between now and before is I talk to Cynt almost every day. Whereas the previous leadership . . . I talked to Cynt more the first month than I did per year, or five years, than I did in the past, because I was focused on basketball. And I don’t care what anybody writes. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I don’t care what anybody says. Anybody who watched and was there, recognized it.

Cuban clearly trusts Marshall to run the organization well. But he also trusted the previous regime to run the organization well, and look how that turned out.

I hope Cuban talking to Marshall daily creates the appropriate level of accountability. I hope Cuban is correct that the Mavericks’ problems are behind them.

But a new problem – the continued employment of a team photographer accused by multiple women of sexual harassment – arose under Marshall’s watch. The photographer, Danny Bollinger, was still travelling with the team and fired only after his accusers – felt unheard by the Mavericks – went public.

That creates plenty of questions about whether the appropriate mechanisms are in place to protect employees.

Cuban and the Mavericks must prove much more before deserving the benefit of the doubt this is behind them.

Nuggets hire WNBA legend Sue Bird to front office

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Sue Bird is the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists, and she just helped the Seattle Storm win the WNBA championship.

What’s next for her?

Nuggets release:

The Denver Nuggets have added current WNBA Champion Sue Bird to their front office staff as Basketball Operation Associate, President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly announced today.

“We are very excited to have Sue join our organization,” said Connelly. “Her resume certainly speaks for itself and as a still active player she will offer an extremely unique perspective.”

NBA teams have hired from too narrow of pools for too long. Teams that consider candidates who wouldn’t usually draw consideration – including women – will be rewarded with better employees.

Bird has long been considered one of the WNBA’s smartest players. She appears to have the aptitude for a job like this. There’s no guarantee anyone successfully transitions from playing to executive work, especially with the added complication of crossing leagues, but an NBA front office is a big place. There’s plenty of room for Bird and evaluating her from here.

This is a good hire, both for what Bird can seemingly bring now and her potential to grow into a bigger role.

Report: Heat offered Kelly Olynyk with Josh Richardson, first-rounder for Jimmy Butler

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Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said they “wasted some time” trying to convince Jimmy Butler to stay.

Not only did they fail to persuade Butler… not only did they lose while dealing with the turmoil… they also passed on probably their best trade offer for the disgruntled star.

Before the season, the Heat offered Josh Richardson and protected first-round pick. But to satisfy the NBA’s salary-cap rules, Miami also had to include another player. Reportedly, that was Dion Waiters, who has a negative-value contract and would have dented Minnesota’s return.

But apparently the Timberwolves could have gotten Kelly Olynyk instead.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I’m told that Minnesota’s talks with the Heat largely collapsed when Thibodeau asked for a $5 million cash infusion from Miami as part of a deal that would have sent Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and a future first-rounder to the Wolves for Butler.

I’m not sure why this framed as Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau asking for $5 million. That money would have gone to Taylor. Why would Thibodeau care other than to appease his boss? However the money indirectly affected Thibodeau was only commensurate with how much it directly affected Taylor.

I’m also not sure why Minnesota pressed for the cash. This deal appears excellent without it, considering the circumstances.

Richardson looks like a breakout star, and he’s locked into a team-friendly contract for for more seasons. Olynyk – due $39,203,655 over the next three years – isn’t cheap, but he’s a good player. I picked him second for Sixth Man of the Year last season, and he’s still producing well this season. He’s far more valuable than Waiters, at least.

Perhaps, unreported elements of the Heat offer would have tilted it. We don’t know the protections on the first-round pick, for example. Maybe other players were included.

But this sure seems better than the package – headlined by Robert Covington and Dario Saric – the Timberwolves got from the 76ers for Butler.