Thunder-Spurs Game 4: Let’s get serious

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Seriously, this is the most serious of seriousness. This is the business. This game is monstrous. All those games before that were big? No, this one is big. BIG. Like, those commercials big.

Thunder-Spurs Game 4 is going to have dramatic ramifications either way. If the Spurs win, the Thunder’s Game 3 win is meaningless and the series is over. The Thunder could force them back to Oklahoma City for Game 6, maybe even drag it back to the Alamo for Game 7. But if the Spurs go up 3-1, that’s all she wrote. NBA players know the reality. They’ll say they’re not paying attention those things but that’s a lie. They watch NBC Sports Net just like you do. They know the stats about a team going down 3-1. The spirit is crushed if the Spurs prevail in OKC.

Likewise, a Thunder win? Forget those two dominant Spurs wins, forget the streak and the aura of invincibility the Spurs carried with them. Two straight losses and it’s a three-game series, with the Thunder with all the momentum. On a shortened schedule, steal Game 5 in San Antonio where they played decent enough, and the Spurs will be on their heels going back to the Thunder dome. Tying this series up isn’t about getting the Spurs off their back, it’s about wiping the slate clean. Everything changes if they win Game 4.

So how is it done for both sides? Five things to watch in Thunder-Spurs 4.

1. The Ol’ Switcheroo: The Thunder switched extensively in Game 3 instead of trying to recover with their man and it worked wonders. Kendrick Perkins guarded Tony Parker effectively. Thabo Sefolosha defended everyone effectively. It was a switching festivus and the Thunder were partying. To counter this, the Spurs have some options. For starters, Tony Parker can drag the screen to the wing as far as possible, putting the larger player in a tough position to get to the baseline. He can be quicker with the pass, quicker with the drive, and more aggressive. Likewise, running the 3-4 pick and roll with Ginobili and Duncan could do damage. The Thunder aren’t equipped to guard Duncan in space and you have to think he’ll bounce back after a poor shooting performance. How this elements is handled by both sides is a fascinating chess match within a “Risk” game going on.

2. Harden Attack: James Harden got his game together in Game 3. It’s a pivotal matchup with Manu Ginobili and whoever wins the battle wins the game, so far. Harden was more aggressive and not as tentative in Game 3, and he understands better how to get the angle on the Spurs’ defense. I’d expect a lot more of Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard on Harden. They can survive the points from the Big 2, not the Big 3. Speaking of…

3. Inevitable Barrage: Durant or Westbrook are going to shake loose. They’ve gotten points, but neither has had a truly brilliant, efficient game yet. Game 4 provides that opportunity. It’s not that the Spurs can’t defend them well. It’s that those two specifically are stars because of their ability to confound defenses with scoring despite good defense. The Wonder Twins have to activate and have a performance worthy of their brand value for the Thunder to even the series.

4. How Diaw, Brown Cow? Boris Diaw played excellent defense against Blake Griffin. Boris Diaw played excellent defense against Serge Ibaka, for a while. But Game 3 provided some exploitation of the things that made Diaw a bad contract in Charlotte. He couldn’t stay out of foul trouble, he was throwing passes into steal lanes, he was off his element and was outrun. The Spurs may turn to DeJuan Blair in Game 4, after he played well at the end of Game 3 and may be a better matchup. The passing is really crucial. If Diaw isn’t creating perimeter rotations out of the post, his value on the floor becomes limited. How the Spurs react will be interesting given Popovich’s trust in veterans.

5. The Best Offense: Is a good defense for OKC. In Games 1 and 2, Scott Brooks tried to score with the red-hot Spurs. In Game 3, he deployed defensive lineups and got the desired result. Yes, Thabo Sefolosha won’t score that many again, but with Danny Green struggling, he doesn’t really need to. The Thunder’s offense has been very consistent in this series, and compared to last year. The Thunder are going to get points. It’s whether they can slow down the awesome power of the Spurs that will determine who wins the west. You could honestly say a bowl of salad on Sunday could alter players’ careers in this game. The Spurs know they have to stop OKC’s transition attack. The Thunder have to prevent open looks, something no one has been able to do in a long, long while.

Report: NBA referees will live-tweet Warriors, Sixers games next week

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The one rule of Twitter is something that NBA officials are apparently willing to sidestep. That rule?

Never tweet.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, NBA referees will tweet from their official Twitter account during NBA games this season and hold back-and-forth conversations with fans about calls during games.

It seems like something that would immediately go wrong, but officials have done this before. They held Twitter conversations during last season’s Finals and they apparently feel as though they went well enough to do this sort of thing again.

Via ESPN:

This season, the NBA league office has agreed to work in collaboration with the referee union on this project. As part of the deal, the tweeting referees will have access to the league’s replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey, just like the officials who are on duty that evening, so they can have all the angles available to answer questions.

The union and the NBA plan a series of these games over the next few months, including some playoff games.

You will be able to tweet at @OfficialNBARefs or use #RefWatchParty during Monday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, or Wednesday’s matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be interesting to monitor this thing and see where it goes. Even the most inane opinions can be shot down by the twittersphere so watching actual NBA referees try to defend themselves against the hordes could get wild.

Raptors’ Pascal Siakam beats Suns with incredible drive at the buzzer

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Pascal Siakam has been an important part of the Toronto Raptors organization for a couple of seasons now. Siakam has been a target in requested trades with the Raptors, but general manager Masai Ujiri wants to hang on to the burgeoning Cameroonian forward.

That’s probably wise.

As time wound down in Thursday night’s game between the Raptors and Phoenix Suns, Siakam found himself with the ball at the top of the arc and the game on the line. Siakam had Mikal Bridges isolated up top, and wound up going to his left to score the game-winning shot as time expired.

Via Twitter:

Siakam finished the game with just 10 points but grabbed 12 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks.

Raptors are now just a half-game back of the Milwaukee Bucks with a record of 34-13.

Raptors promo Kawhi Leonard for ASG with faux-vintage action figure commercial

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The Toronto Raptors have been pushing Kawhi Leonard for the All-Star Game since 2018. The angle the team has decided to take is with Leonard being a “man of action” as opposed to a man of words.

Teams come up with some pretty good ideas about how to promote their star players for the All-Star Game. The Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum did the Vote for Pedro dance from “Napoleon Dynamite” to ask people to vote for buddy Damian Lillard.

The Raptors took a shot at a viral video of their own this week by releasing a fake 1990s-style action figure commercial for Leonard.

The result was pretty good:

At least with a Kawhi Leonard action figure you wouldn’t need to have a speaker and a button that plays catch phrases on it.

Reports: Mavericks, Dennis Smith Jr. could look to reconcile differences

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Things might not be over between Dennis Smith Jr. and the Dallas Mavericks.

The sophomore guard and the Mavericks have apparently been on the outs with each other as the season approaches the midway point. It was rumored that Smith was on the trading block, and that several teams were interested in his services.

But reports on Thursday surfaced saying Dallas and Smith could be heading for a reconciliation, and that conversations between the two sides have been positive as of late.

Via Twitter and ESPN:

The Mavs have shopped Smith, 21, throughout the season but haven’t received any offers that have tempted them to pull the trigger on trading a player whom the Dallas front office still believes has potential to develop into a star, sources said.

“Plan A is still to fix this,” a team source told ESPN.

Smith has not been that good this season, but his advanced numbers suggest that he is on a slow rise upward. It perhaps isn’t the jump Mavericks fans were looking for in the second season for a Top 10 pick, but if they can salvage their relationship it’s probably best for both sides at this juncture.