Thunder-Spurs Game 3: The best defense is… well, a good defense for OKC

9 Comments

You have to fight the Spurs with defense.

OK, I get that sounds remarkably stupid in its obviousness. Please try and hear me out. In Games 1 and 2, Scott Brooks, for reason beyond understanding, chose to go with offensive lineups. Particularly in the fourth quarter of both losses, he went with lineups featuring Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Derek Fisher. The focus on trying to score with San Antonio was a critical mistake, and one he wouldn’t replicate in Game 3, and it resulted in not needing fourth quarter lineups at all as the Thunder blew out the Spurs 102-82.

It was a critical adjustment for Brooks, who went to extended minutes for Thabo Sefolosha, using him to switch onto Tony Parker to contain the All-Star point guard. The Spurs starters scored just .77 points per possession Thursday night, and the more the Spurs’ offense unraveled, the more the Thunder got out and ran for scores, which allowed their defense to reset.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The Thunder decided to pick another poison Thursday night, instead of letting Tony Parker loose, they packed the paint to prevent perimeter penetration, surrendering fifteen shots to Tim Duncan. But on a night where Duncan became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots, the future Hall-of-Famer only hit five for eleven points. With Manu Ginobili and Parker held to just 17 shots total, the Thunder let the supporting cast try and shot their way back into it. They could not.

It’s a considerable adjustment and reflects a development that began in Game 1. The Thunder defended well until the fourth quarter of Game 1, where the Spurs shot a blistering 75 percent effective field goal percentage. In Game 3, their game-long eFG% was just 46.7.

The Spurs won’t be affected by the loss much, even if they know that it wasn’t just an off shooting night but a legitimate counter punch from their Conference Final foe. They’ll have time to make adjustments before Game 4. But the inherent advantages that OKC has in terms of length and athleticism are not easily solved. All this sets up a monster Game 4, with the series on the line. A Spurs counter-attack ends the series, effectively, while a Thunder win resets everything. The big question will be if the Spurs’ offense can get that edge back in front of a hostile crowd. This is the first time they’ve really faced a team with confidence on the road, and a team that can defend.

Because the Spurs aren’t doing it this series. After holding both the Clippers and Jazz to less than one point per possession, the Spurs are now surrendering 108.6 points per 100 possessions in this series. It’s a tiny sample size, but it’s a trend that’s held. Their defense is not good enough to win this series. Their offense is. Which means that it’s the Thunder who have the control here. The Spurs are not going to defend OKC. If OKC can’t keep up this defensive efficiency, they’re going to lose. If they can, they will. It’s in their hands. Granted, the Spurs can counter-adjust offensively, but two things have stabilized. The Thunder can score, the Spurs can’t stop them. It’s all on the Spurs’ offense vs. Thunder D. Last year, this exact situation played out in the conference finals with another team from Texas.

The Thunder tried to outscore the Mavericks last year. Game 3 seems to indicate that they’ve figured out that’s not the approach to take.

In an all-offense series, it’s become about defense.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

Leave a comment

It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

Leave a comment

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

Leave a comment

NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.