Spurs dominate the paint in Ibaka’s absence, cruise to blowout Game 1 win over Thunder

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We knew the absence of Serge Ibaka would be tough to overcome for the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, thanks to the lineup data that showed just how easily San Antonio was able to score when he was off the floor during their regular season matchups.

What we weren’t certain of is just how quickly and forcefully the Spurs would be able to take advantage.

Without a rim protector on the floor and with the Thunder opting for small lineups to try to keep up offensively for most of the night, San Antonio scored a ridiculous 66 points in the paint, on the way to shooting better than 57 percent from the field while cruising to an easy 122-105 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Spurs took nearly half of their 87 shots right at the rim, and went 31-of-43 from the restricted area, good for 72.1 percent. By contrast, the Thunder only made a total of 37 shots, and instead were forced to try to keep pace with a high number of free throw attempts, and above average shooting from three-point distance.

Nick Collison got the start for Oklahoma City in place of Ibaka, but proved to be ineffective almost immediately. He badly missed a couple of the open looks Ibaka normally knocks down at a high percentage, and did nothing in the early going defensively to earn an extended stay on the floor. Scott Brooks decided to go with incredibly small lineups to try to match San Antonio’s offensive output, but it didn’t solve the problem of slowing the Spurs down.

Oklahoma City was able to make a run in the third quarter, thanks to more traditional lineups forcing the Spurs into longer possessions offensively, along with some firepower of their own, courtesy of Russell Westbrook. The explosive guard attacked the rim time and again in the period, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the third while bringing his team back.

But a 10-0 run from the Spurs to close the third had the lead back up to nine before the period was finished, and with the Thunder out of answers, San Antonio ran away with it in the fourth, pushing the lead to as many as 23 points before the game was finished.

Kevin Durant made some momentum-killing shots to keep his team close, and finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. But he was just 5-of-12 in the second half, and it seems as though his team will need transcendent performances from the reigning MVP just to have a shot against these Spurs.

After the Pacers took Game 1 in the East from the Heat at home, it felt like caution was warranted before jumping to conclusions — it’s just one game, and it’s likely to be a long series. But after watching the way the Spurs offense rolled over a Thunder team missing its key interior defender, Game 1 in the West feels like we could see three more just like it.

Draymond Green says idea that Warriors don’t need Kevin Durant is ‘bulls—t’

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The Golden State Warriors are headed to the NBA Finals for the fifth season in a row. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson beat Damian Lillard in the Portland Trail Blazers in a series sweep on Monday night, ending a fairytale run to the Western Conference playoffs for the Blazers.

But there’s some real concern about the Warriors moving forward, particularly because they still don’t have Kevin Durant. The superstar wing did not play against Portland thanks to a calf injury, and the team is hoping he will be back in time for the start of the 2019 NBA Finals.

To that end, Green said that it’s ridiculous that anybody could think the Warriors are a better team without Durant. Speaking to ESPN, Green said that he thinks Durant makes what’s already an incredible team absolutely unbeatable.

Via ESPN:

“There’s been so much talk about how, ‘Oh, they’re the Warriors. Before Kevin got there they were great.’ Bulls—,” Green told ESPN. “We was damn good. I think we were a very good team who was tough to beat. I think when Kevin came here, he made us unbeatable. When DeMarcus [Cousins] came here, it made people scratch their head even more. And so we need those guys. The next series is going to be tough, and I hope and pray that we can get him back.”

I’m not sure if Green actually thinks this or not. There seems to be some debate around the NBA about whether Golden State is better off without Durant. At its core, this argument is more about whether people even want to watch the Warriors with Durant on their roster. The team is obviously better with Durant on it, but it’s more fun to watch Golden State without him. Their offense flows better. Plus, it’s hard to root against a team that drafted all its superstars. Durant joining the best team in the NBA was, at its core, completely wack.

This is, at the very least, some kind of posturing by Green to try and assuage Durant’s oft-injured ego. Durant has the ability to leave in free agency this summer, and rumors have him headed elsewhere.

Green was absolutely incredible in the Western Conference finals against the Blazers, and he and Durant have had their spats over the course of the season. But he is probably right in that Durant makes the Warriors completely unbeatable, even for whoever comes out of the East.

I don’t know if Golden State needs Durant, but they sure would like to have him — in June and beyond.

Frank Vogel not worried Jason Kidd will undermine him as coach

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What else was he going to say?

In a “welcome to the Lakers” press conference that was hijacked by the sideshow of Magic Johnson torching the organization — is there better prep for what a Laker coach deals with than that? — Frank Vogel was relentlessly optimistic. He had nothing but praise for the organization, the people, the players, heck he probably would have said he loved the Game of Thrones ending.

And when asked about having Jason Kidd pushed on him as an assistant coach — one of the reasons Tyronn Lue walked away from the table, he didn’t want a guy who could replace him and had lobbied for the Lakers job before in the seat next to him — Vogel said he was not worried about that, either. Via Ohm Youngmisuk and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I have been around this business a long time. I really don’t give that a second thought. You can say that about every coach in the league about their assistant coaches. It happens from time to time. I believe if you treat people with the right respect and do the job at the highest level, build an environment of positivity and collaboration, you can’t worry about that stuff.

“You can’t worry about looking over your shoulder. You got to worry about getting good damn coaches, and that is how I feel about this hire.”

Vogel also said he sat down with Kidd and they are on the same page in terms of coaching philosophy.

“I had a great, lengthy interview process with Jason where we talked about every topic you can imagine, and came away thinking he’s going to be an incredible asset to our program.”

Again, what else was he going to say?

Kidd has a history of angling for the Lakers job, even when it was filled, and Vogel knows it. But Vogel accepted the terms of a three-year contract (lining up with LeBron James‘ deal) and Kidd as his assistant, things that a coach with options would not have taken. Lue didn’t. Vogel has to make the best of the situation, and whatever he may think privately, he has to be optimistic and positive in public. Especially on his first day.

Vogel may have been the Lakers third or fourth option as a coach, but they backed into a good one — if they give him the talent to win and don’t undercut him. Vogel has coached the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals, where he always lost to LeBron (there are a lot of coaches in the East who had that problem). He’s a strong defensive coach. Vogel has a lot of fans in the coaching ranks, and a lot of those people think the Lakers have set Vogel up to fail. We’ll see, that’s more about the Lakers’ offseason.

But at the start, Vogel is saying all the right things. Even if that was the only thing to say.

John Beilein ready to undertake “renaissance” with Cavaliers

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — John Beilein has coached at every level in college but says the Cleveland Cavaliers are his dream job.

The 66-year-old Beilein, who turned Michigan into a perennial power during a 12-year run, was introduced Tuesday by the Cavaliers. Even before taking the podium, Beilein got to work with one of his new players, peeling off his suit jacket to rebound shots for forward Larry Nance Jr.

Beilein doesn’t view Cleveland’s situation as a rebuild but rather a renaissance. At one point during his remarks, Beilein pointed to the 2016 NBA championship banner and others hanging along one wall at the Cavs’ facility and said, “it’s been done before, it can be done again.”

Beilein drew a large laugh when he was reminded he has never been fired by saying, “That’s right.”

Beilein knows he has work to do with the Cavaliers, who went 19-63 last season.

 

Coach Terry Stotts signs multi-year extension to stay with Portland

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The buzz around the league had been that Terry Stotts was unhappy he had not gotten a contract extension last summer for GM Neil Olshey and the Portland Trail Blazers. Stotts still had two seasons on his contract at that time, but after this season — with a run to the conference finals that just ended — he was about to head into a lame duck year. Chris Haynes reported at Yahoo Sports that if Stotts didn’t get an extension this summer he might not be back.

The extension is done, Olshey announced on Tuesday.

This is well deserved.

The Trail Blazers won 53 games this season and for the second year in a row were the No. 3 seed in the West. This season they advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen were leading the team back in 2000. This year’s Blazers found a third option in Jusuf Nurkic (who was injured for the playoffs and the team made the run without him).

Stotts tied all that together with smart play designs that fit the personnel.

“It’s a disappointing loss, but for me it was an outstanding season,” Stotts said after his team was eliminated Monday. “The guys in the locker room are special. It’s been a special season. Always tough to lose the last game of the year, but I couldn’t be more proud of the group that we’ve had.”

It’s a season they can build upon, locking up the coach was part of that.