Like the have not before these playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder asserted themselves in Game 5. They dominated the Memphis Grizzlies. Controlled the game from the middle of the second quarter on. Held Zach Randolph to 9 points. Thumped the tired Grizzlies good.
Was that a one game fluke, or have the Thunder arrived?
If Memphis wants to see a Game 7, two key things have to happen.
The first is Zach Randolph has to get going again. In Game 1 he was dominant, in Game 2 Serge Ibaka started taking away his space to operate when he caught the ball. Between Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at times, the Thunder have held Randolph to 32 percent shooting in the last four games.
The Grizzlies got 24 points out of Randolph and Marc Gasol last game. If they Grizzlies are going to get back in this series, they will need closer to double that, and they need it to come efficiently.
The other thing Memphis needs is a better game from Mike Conley. The point guard who has played so well through the playoffs is 6-for-28 shooting his last two games. He has to knock down shots and he has to get the ball to Randolph and Gasol in positions they can be effective.
The Grizzles have to go back to what got them here — great play inside and some good pressure defense to create some turnovers.
The Thunder? Just more of the same will be just fine. Their defense has been key the last few games and when their offense clicked, well, blowout. Russell Westbrook 25 minutes last game, Kevin Durant just 31, they are rested. They will come out and try to put this game away early.
Memphis has to play in the paint. They have to get Tony Allen disrupting Durant. They have to have their best game of the season.
If they do, Sunday could be very interesting.
Is Kevin Durant leaving the Golden State Warriors? That has been the question on the minds of many NBA fans for some time now, and the big dust-up between Durant and teammate Draymond Green on Monday night has continued to fuel the speculation that the superstar wing might be headed elsewhere.
That was before any of us saw the following video, where Durant appears to mouth the words, “That’s why I’m out” after he and Green had to be separated during their OT loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Take a look for yourself and tell me that’s not what it appears Durant is saying in this clip.
I’m no professional lip-reader, I just play one here on the internet. But it does seem that Durant said to himself, “That’s why I’m out. God damn, man.”
Meanwhile, Green will serve a one-game suspension and new doubt has been cast on the inevitability of the Warriors sweeping through the rest of this season.
I don’t know where Durant will end up next year, but the journey we’re going to be on until he decides is going to be a bumpy one.
The Washington Wizards have been an absolute train wreck this season, a team where the players’ clearly do not like each other.
The Minnesota Timberwolves started the season as a train wreck, with Jimmy Butler doing his best to burn the franchise down in an effort to get traded.
That led to Minnesota reaching out to Washington with a “want to swap problems” proposal, which was shot down by Washington, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times in his latest newsletter.
Word is the Wolves did try to engage Washington — another team falling well short of expectations — in trade talks for the sharpshooting guard Bradley Beal.
But the Wizards have kept Beal off limits amid their 4-9 start. They would naturally prefer to trade the struggling Otto Porter, or perhaps even John Wall, but both possess hard-to-move contracts.
This follows the buzz around the league — Washington is open to a change, but teams are calling about Bradley Beal but the Wizards know he’s their best player and are not interested in moving him.
John Wall is almost impossible to trade (read ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s primer for details) because his designated veteran max extension kicks in NEXT season, and if he is traded before then there is a 15 percent trade kicker. Otto Porter has been a pretty average player on a max contract, the kind of deal every team is trying to avoid.
Minnesota made it’s move, trading Butler to Philadelphia. The Timberwolves didn’t get better talent-wise with the trade, but they did start to restructure the team around Karl-Anthony Towns (as it should have been for a while now). They made a move, even if it started with a step back.
Washington may be stuck with this roster until at least next summer. Just add it to the list of dysfunctional things in our nation’s capital.
Trading for Jimmy Butler was the right move for Philadelphia, an all-in kind of play that ends the slow-play “process” and pushes championship dreams to the forefront.
It’s also risky — Butler has some Thibodeau-miles on his body, making the need to win sooner rather than later more urgent. It also comes with the problem that while the core three are elite, this team doesn’t have the depth and shooting to compete with Boston or Toronto (or maybe Milwaukee) right now, especially after having to trade Robert Covington and Dario Saric to get Butler.
Everyone around the league expects Philadelphia GM Elton Brand to be aggressive from here on out, looking for trades that bring in veterans who can help right now. One target: Cleveland’s Kyle Korver, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter.
The desperate-for-shooters Sixers remain highly interested in acquiring Cleveland’s Kyle Korver.
But that will be harder for Philadelphia to make happen without Jerryd Bayless‘ handy $8.6 million expiring contract to help facilitate a trade.
Korver is in the second season of a three-year, $22 million deal he signed with the Cavaliers in 2017. The Sixers instead plugged Bayless into the Butler trade to help make that salary cap math work.
There are options to get this deal done. Korver for Markelle Fultz straight up works, but that likely doesn’t work personnel wise for either side (the Sixers probably will want more for the former No. 1 pick, while the Cavs may want a pick as a sweetener to take on a “broken” player, the trade value of Fultz is an interesting question but it’s not high around the league). Korver for Mike Muscala and Zhaire Smith also works financially. Future picks also can be part of any package, which may interest Cleveland now that they figured out they’re supposed to rebuild after losing the best player of a generation.
However it gets done, what Stein reports follows the buzz around the league — expect the Sixers to be aggressive going after guys who can help them win right now, and Korver is at the top of the list. He’s been available since this summer, the Cavaliers have just been holding out for more than the market will offer.
Korver, at age 37, has not looked as sharp this season, he’s not moved as crisply and his three-point shooting percentage has dropped to 38.7 — which is still better than any of the regular three-point shooters on the Sixers right now (J.J. Redick is a better shooter overall but is hitting 34.9 percent this season so far). Korver has been in and out of the Cavaliers rotation as the franchise tries to figure out what it’s doing.
The play itself that sparked everything was ugly.
With :06 seconds left in a tie game against the Clippers Monday night, watch Draymond Green grab the rebound and try to go the length of the court for the game-winner himself — only to fumble the ball away without a shot — while Kevin Durant, who should take that shot (or the hot Klay Thompson at that point), claps his hands and calls for the ball.
On the bench after that play got uglier with an argument between Green and Durant where Green allegedly even called KD his “b****” before Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins stepped in as peacemakers. In the locker room later the argument continued and was nasty as there has been in this era of the Warriors. It wasn’t just Durant, a lot of players questioned and called out Green’s decision, while Green defended himself angrily, and questioning KD on his free agency next summer.
All of it crossed a line, and Green has been suspended for a night and will sit against Atlanta, without pay.
From Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports:
Green repeatedly called Durant “a bitch” after he was called out by the two-time NBA Finals MVP in the huddle for not passing him the ball, sources said. The organization is of the belief that Green cut too deep in his disagreement with Durant, sources said.
Klay Thompson, who is typically reserved, spoke up in the locker room to the surprise of his teammates about the altercation and stressed the importance of sticking together, sources said.
Durant is not making his free agency decision — he is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract before July — based on this one incident. But it seems to point to an overall tension around the team as it knows it could be the last year of this specific Warriors team.
Long term, Durant and Green will get over it — they had public arguments before then were hanging out at a baseball game together the next night. They will put it behind them.
But it’s just something to remember come next July.