Too much Kevin Durant, MVP leads Thunder past Clippers to Conference Finals

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It was a game about poise.

The Clippers showed a lot of it to start the game. Two days after a devastating loss the Clippers showed the growth and maturity Doc Rivers has been trying to instill since he walked in the door — they moved the ball on offense, they defended well (Russell Westbrook started 0-of-4, Kevin Durant 1-of-7) and the Clippers were up 14 in the first quarter. OKC’s offense was stagnant, the Clippers were the ones attacking.

Then Kevin Durant woke up.

Midway through the second quarter, after the Clippers took a mental vacation on defense. Three times in a couple of minutes they left Durant wide open for a three point shot. He hit them, scoring 9 straight. Then it was on

From that point on Durant had 36 points on 11-of-16 shooting, looking every bit the MVP. He even had 16 rebounds. He and the Thunder were the more mature team, looking more like a veteran, battle-tested team.

He carried the Thunder all the way to a 104-98 win over the Clippers.

Oklahoma City takes the series 4-2, moving on to face the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals starting Monday night in San Antonio.

The only question for Oklahoma City is will Serge Ibaka be ready to go for that game — he left the game less than five minutes into the second half with a strained calf and did not return. After the game coach Scott Brooks said he did not know the severity and if Ibaka would be able to go on Monday.

If Durant plays like this, it may not matter. Once the Clippers let him get his rhythm there was no stopping his offense. He rained down jumpers, made moves to the rim, drew a charge on Blake Griffin (who eventually fouled out after a spectacular game) and generally was impressive every time he touched the ball.

Russell Westbrook looked like himself and had 17 of his 19 points on the night after the break, and more importantly he added 12 assists as he shared the rock.

With Ibaka down Scott Brooks played the Steven Adams/Nick Collison combination together more and it worked well — they defended with strength, both are good passers and both ran the floor. Adams played continued his great run scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds — more of him and less of Kendrick Perkins is good for the Thunder. We’ll see if Brooks plays more Adams and less Perkins in the next round. Thunder fans hope so.

The Clippers got more and more desperate and for a second straight game made too many mistakes down the stretch. Players said that was less about the Donald Sterling drama (although the weight of that certainly didn’t help them) as much as it was about them not making plays. Doc Rivers signed off on that in his press conference.

“We’re a team in process,” Rivers said.

That process saw 57 wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs, one where they showed themselves to be on the cusp of being a championship team. In the NBA teams often have to learn how to win and the Clippers look like a team that took big steps down that road this season and in these playoffs.

Those were steps the Thunder had already taken.

When they were down early then again late in the game the Thunder showed more poise, more maturity. They dealt with both adversity and success well in this series.

Those are things they will need a lot of next round against the Spurs.

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win “Kobe’s with me every day”

Devin Booker Kobe
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?