Breaking down the final couple minutes of Thunder win over Trail Blazers

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For much of the season, this is the kind of game the Portland Trail Blazers have won — every close game they seemed to be the team making the big shots, getting the big steals, they had the players who stepped up. That includes the last time Portland and Oklahoma City met — the Thunder shot 20 percent down the stretch and blew a double digit fourth quarter lead to the Trail Blazers.

Tuesday night it was the Thunder with the late 15-0 run to win. Simply put, there was just too much Kevin Durant for Portland to contain. Playing like an MVP Kevin Durant. Forty-six points Kevin Durant, 14 in the final frame.

So lets take a look at how it went down, starting with three minutes remaining.

95-92 Trail Blazers, 3:00 left: LaMarcus Aldridge has a trusty turnaround jumper, but he missed a 12 footer this time and Kevin Durant gets the rebound and brings the ball up the right side. It’s not all out transition but the Thunder have not set their offense yet, and Kendrick Perkins stays out high and sets a screen, which you can see here:

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Durant comes around the pick, finds that Aldridge has laid back and given him a little room so Durant just goes up with the three. Splash.

95-95 tie, 2:50 left: Damian Lillard and Aldridge are trying to play a two-man game out top, but Aldridge isn’t holding the picks long and Lillard isn’t taking great angles off it, so the Thunder keep blowing it up. Eventually Lillard comes off a pick and goes right, Aldridge pops out, Lillard tries to hit him with a pass he whips across his body, it goes off Aldridge’s hands out of bounds. That was not pretty.

It’s the Thunder’s ball and they run a play where Reggie Jackson comes off the Serge Ibaka high screen and Lillard tries to fight over the top while Aldridge stays back, which allows Jackson to get into the paint and hit a 10-foot floater.

97-95 Thunder, 2:15 left: Nicolas Batum has the ball out top for Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge cuts to the basket off a Robin Lopez pick on the left wing, and Batum feeds him the ball coming across the lane, a nifty little play. Kendrick Perkins switched on to Aldridge off the aforementioned screen and when he gets the ball Aldridge takes a dribble then stops and does a little up and under going back the way he came move — it burned Perkins. However, Serge Ibaka rotated over and blocked the shot.

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That block landed in the hands of Wesley Mathews, and Ibaka blocked his shot, too. Portland wanted a foul call there but this was playoff-style ball and no easy whistles were coming. With 2.1 seconds left on the clock the Blazers ran Damian Lillard off some picks and got him the ball driving to the basket — and Perkins rejected Lillard’s lay-up. With 0.9 left Aldridge tried a desperation three that missed.

Then Thunder come down, Jackson comes off the high Ibaka screen and gets in the paint, draws the defense, kicks it out to Perkins who is wide open 15 feet out on the left baseline and he drains it.

99-95 Thunder, 1:36 left: Portland isolates Aldridge on the left block against Perkins, Aldridge does his thing and gets in tight but just misses a five-foot jump hook. Aldridge went 1-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter. However Portland got the offensive board and in an attempt to make a bounce pass out to reset there is a kicked ball by OKC (at which point the ball bounces to a frustrated Scott Brooks, who bangs the ball down six times in a bit that will end up as fodder for NBA TV’s “The Starters”). On the next inbounds Aldridge gets a clean look at a 19 footer from just to the right of the top of the key, but it rims out.

That’s pretty much how the quarter went — Portland shot 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter, the Thunder 68.8 percent.

The Thunder get the ball and aren’t in a rush to shoot, Jackson probes a little but with six seconds left on the clock he kicks it out to Durant and says “have at it.” Durant shows a little like he’ll drive then pulls up with the straight away 25 footer and buries it.

And with it pretty much buries the Blazers.

102-95 Thunder, :48 seconds left: The Blazers need a quick bucket here, so after a timeout they have a sideline out of bounds and play called yet Nicolas Batum decides to throw a risky pass across the court to Wesley Mathews but instead it finds Perkins, who hauls down the turnover.

OKC comes down and again they are in no rush to shoot, and again they give the ball to Durant. He dribbles it out for a bit at the top of the key, stops and over two defenders drains another three from pretty much the exact same spot as the last one.

Ballgame.

The Thunder go on to win the game 105-97, and they keep winning without Westbrook. Thanks to Durant.

Report: Lakers have no plans to replace Magic Johnson, who’ll still help team recruit FAs

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Magic Johnson’s stunning resignation as Lakers president caused a commotion.

It didn’t create a power vacuum.

Rob Pelinka is clearly in charge. He’s the highest-ranking member of the front office. His title – general manager – is the one many teams give to the leader of their basketball operations. He’s running the Lakers’ coaching search.

Though they’ve been linked to big-name candidates for president, the Lakers could easily keep the status quo with Pelinka running the show. And it sounds as if that’s what Lakers owner Jeanie Buss will do.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Buss has no plans to hire someone to replace Johnson, who is still expected to be part of the Lakers’ free-agent recruiting this summer.

Allowing Pelinka to hire a head coach – which, again, he’s in the process of doing – then supplanting him would be absurd. At least it seems the Lakers aren’t doing that.

But Pelinka was part of the organization while it made a comedy of errors. The former agent also had front-office experience until getting hired with Johnson a couple years ago. It’s hard to believe he’s the right choice to lead the team as it enters this critical stage.

LeBron James is 34. The Lakers will have max cap space this summer. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are progressing toward establishing clearer value – one way or the other.

To entrust Pelinka in this situation, Buss ought to have a clear explanation for why Pelinka doesn’t deserve a fair share of blame for all the mistakes that occurred the last couple years. There are plenty of people, inside and outside the Lakers, who question him.

The wildest part about this report: Johnson still helping the Lakers recruit this summer. He’s an all-time great player and charismatic. But he also just said while resigning:

What I didn’t like is the backstabbing, the whispering. I don’t like that. I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.

How will he sell that to free agents – especially if Pelinka, suspected to be whom Johnson is referring to, remains in charge?

Russell Westbrook goes from ‘Next question’ to ‘That’s a good question. Not sure’ (video)

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Russell Westbrook can be a pain.

Pain to his opponents. Pain to his teammates. Pain to the media.

Sometimes, it seems Westbrook even takes pride in being a jerk. Which is fine. His cutthroat attitude is part of who he is, and it has gotten him a long way.

Lately, Westbrook has clashed with Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. For months, Westbrook has answered all Tramel’s questions with, “Next question.” Yet, Tramel keeps asking them – as he should. Westbrook has earned control over a lot of things. Tramel shouldn’t cede control of his job to Westbrook.

The back-and-forth has gotten increased prominence during the playoffs, when postgame press conferences are nationally televised. Both sides have found plenty of support. Westbrook’s fans love that his intensity never relents. Many also respect Tramel’s professionalism.

Four years ago, Westbrook infamously told Tramel, “I just don’t like you.” Westbrook got into it with Tramel again two years ago. But Tramel continues to cover the Thunder the best he can.

Likewise, Westbrook is trying to lead Oklahoma City the best he can. That means picking battles, even small ones like this, and pushing himself to win them all.

But after the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Trail Blazers last night, Westbrook finally gave an inch. But just an inch.

Tramel asked how the Thunder’s defense of Damian Lillard changed from the first half to the second half.

“That’s a good question,” Westbrook said. “Not sure.”

Tramel asked about the lessons learned about overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Grizzlies in the 2014 playoffs. (Oklahoma City trailed 2-1 and 3-2 in that series, but never 3-1).

“Really don’t know,” Westbrook said.

For Westbrook, those answers were a huge breakthrough. They surprised everyone, even Tramel. Just a few days ago, the columnist predicted Westbrook wouldn’t change his two-word answers anytime soon: “He’s not going to give in this playoff series.”

Maybe this means the series is over.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse leaves mouth agape a loooong time after odd call (video)

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The Raptors got called for an extremely quick three-second violation during their Game 4 win over the Magic yesterday.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse couldn’t believe it.

Really couldn’t believe it.

Just couldn’t believe it one bit.

Bucks on brink of first playoff series win in 18 years

Associated Press
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Milwaukee Bucks can wipe away 18 years of frustration on Monday night.

They haven’t won a playoff series since the 2000-01 season, when they reached the Eastern Conference finals. That drought can end in Detroit if they complete a sweep of the Pistons.

The top-seeded Milwaukee cruised through the first three games, winning by an average of 24 points. If they lose in Game 4, the Bucks would have three more chances in the best-of-seven series to end their streak of eight straight first-round exits. The earlier the Bucks eliminate eighth-seeded Detroit, the more time they’ll have to prepare for the conference semifinals.

“It’s going to be nice if we can finish it here and get six days of rest,” superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said.

In Game 3 on Saturday, Antetokounmpo had a quiet night and the Bucks still led by double digits most of the way. Antetokounmpo finished with 14 points, three assists and four turnovers and only played 27 minutes due to foul trouble. The Pistons couldn’t take advantage of his off night, though, as Milwaukee had six other players in double figures in its 119-103 victory.

“It’s good to see my team doing really well out there without me,” he said. “It means a lot to me. There’s going to be nights like this. My teammates did a great job of picking me up.”

The Bucks were up 13 points when Antetokounmpo sat early in the third quarter after getting whistled for his fourth foul. When he re-entered late in the quarter, they were leading by 22 points.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to build all year,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re a team that plays together, tries to take what the defense gives us. Guys have a lot of confidence to make plays. It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is. If and when we need more from other people, it’s a credit to Giannis to let his teammates carry him some nights, carry him some stretches.”

The Bucks will try match their regular-season feat against the Pistons. Their four-game sweep was the first by either team in the all-time series. They have met in the postseason four other times, with Detroit winning each time.

“We might be the number one seed and best team in the NBA (record-wise) but at the end of the day, we haven’t won a playoff series in a while,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re hungry, everybody’s hungry.”

The Pistons’ best player, power forward Blake Griffin, made his debut in the series after sitting out the first two games with a sore left knee. Griffin toughed it out for 31 minutes and posted 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. His teammates let him down, as Detroit shot below 40 percent for the third straight game.

“That young man is giving us everything he has,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He said he was feeling good. I was concerned about his conditioning with as much time as he’s missed. You can’t really simulate 5-on-5 basketball when you’re rehabbing. But he came in and gave us what he could. He just has a presence that we can’t replicate.”

The Pistons haven’t shown enough of a defensive presence against a team that averaged a league-high 118.1 points.

“We had some situations where we make a mistake or miss a shot, now we go down to the defensive end and don’t carry out our assignments,” Casey said. “That’s part of growth. That’s a team that makes you pay for mistakes that you make.”