Thunder’s long, athletic defense has Spurs’ beautiful offense looking ugly

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When the San Antonio offense is clicking, they play the beautiful game. The extra pass to the open man, the movement off the ball, the trust, the smart cuts, the open shots that fall. We saw that in opening two games of the Western Conference Finals.

However, for the last two games Oklahoma City has blown that up and made the Spurs offense look ugly.

The length, the athleticism, the physicality of Oklahoma City just blows up what the Spurs want to do because of how fast Thunder players can recover.

“When we use our athleticism, use our size, use our strength, we are in a good position,” Russell Westbrook said in his post game press conference.

“We used our length and athleticism to disrupt their flow,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks added.

It was ugly Tuesday night for San Antonio in a blowout Game 4 loss that evened the series.

The Spurs shot 39.8 percent in Game 4, with an offensive rating of 97.2 points per 100 possessions (more than 14 off their playoff average coming into the game). The Thunder’s length led them to contest 47.6 percent of the Spurs shot attempts (well above the Thunder’s season average) and San Antonio shot just 30 percent on those contested. Tim Duncan was 1-of-7 on contested shots. That doesn’t even take into account the turnovers and blocked shots, many of which became fast break points the other way for the Thunder (OKC had 21 fast break points to zero for the Spurs). The Spurs are used to whipping the ball around the perimeter, but the Thunder defenders (knowing Serge Ibaka is behind them to clean up mistakes) can pressure those passes and make them less crisp and accurate (if not outright get a steal).

When the Spurs would conncect on the extra pass but you could see them hesitate as they checked where Ibaka was standing before they shot.

San Antonio actually got off to a quick start in Game 4, an 8-0 lead, Tony Parker looked sharp  and attacking. However then but the Spurs got away from what worked if you ask coach Gregg Popovich (Parker did stop attacking by the middle of the second quarter).

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge (Ibaka) could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench so they’d know who Serge was. Really unwise basketball all of a sudden. Rather than hitting open people we started attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots and turnovers.

“You got to play smarter against such great athletes,” he continued. “They’re talented, obviously, but their athleticism and length gives you a smaller margin for error and you better be smart the way you play. And you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.

“And I think we have to play harder. I think they’re playing more physically than we are, they are getting more 50/50 balls, and playing with more determination than we have the last two games.”

The Spurs likely will do those things once they get home.

But the Oklahoma City won four straight over San Antonio in the 2012 in the Western Conference Finals and six of eight since then because the Spurs ball movement can’t outrun the length and athleticism of the Thunder defense. It has changed completely since Serge Ibaka re-entered the series.

And when the Thunder walk off the plane in San Antonio, they are still going to be long and athletic. That could be real trouble for the Spurs.

Suns select Deandre Ayton with No. 1 overall pick in 2018 draft

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First in alphabetical introductions, DeAndre Ayton took center stage at a new pre-NBA draft ceremony with his parents. As he walked right down the middle of two rows of adoring children, Ayton extended his 7-foot-5 wingspan to high-five them on both sides. Then, he took his mother’s hand and helped her down the stairs.

Length and touch.

That – plus strength, shooting touch and hops – is why the Suns made him their first No. 1 overall pick in their 51-year history a few minutes later.

Ayton is the right pick, but hardly a surefire star. With his physical package and shooting ability, it’d be hard for him to fail completely in the NBA. But he is terrifyingly unprepared as a rim protector – a nearly essential skill for centers.

He’ll join a Phoenix team trying to end a franchise-high eight-year playoff drought, though Ayton won’t be starting from scratch. Devin Booker, implicitly and explicitly, screamed out for help. Ayton delivers it in a big way.

The Suns also have Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. It’d be nice if any of them pan out. But Phoenix also has all its own future first-round picks plus two extra first-rounders from the Heat.

This is a team on the rise, and the Suns will have other chances to add to their young talent base.

But they’ll probably never have a better opportunity than this.

2018 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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It’s been a long time since there was this much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick is a lock, and even No. 2 may have fallen into place, things are wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery. The NBA rumor mill has been in high gear.

Now the floodgates of wild are about to be thrown open.

Right here is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the evening — every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings. We’ll be on top of news, rumors, and anything else happening around the NBA tonight. Enough with the preamble…

It’s time to put the Phoenix Suns on the clock.

 
Suns small icon 1. The Phoenix Suns: Deandre Aytnon, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to be put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.

 
Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). One of the best athletes in the draft and a natural scorer, he’s going to be able to get buckets in the NBA. He’s got a great bounce (an amazing second jump), attacks the glass, can finish at the rim and shot 40 percent from three for the Blue Devils. The question is can he defend — he showed poor defensive instincts and Mike Krzyzewski had to play zone at Duke last season because Bagley (and Carter) could not handle pick-and-roll coverages. He’s got to get better on that end to reach his NBA potential.

 
Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks:

Last pre-draft rumor: Michael Porter Jr. is falling, how far will that be

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Michael Porter Jr. has long been the biggest gamble in the 2018 NBA Draft.

A year ago he was considered a lock top three pick in this draft. Now? Concerns about his back injury — a microdiscectomy that forced him to miss almost all of the college season — have given teams pause.

Those medical reports out of last week’s evaluation for teams in Chicago has Porter falling in the draft, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (while on Sportscenter). How far? Maybe all the way to the end of the lottery — the Clippers with picks 12 and 13, or even the Nuggets at 14.

People who saw the original medical reports told NBC Sports they were “fine.”

It’s a far cry from Sacramento legitimately considering him at No. 2 a couple of weeks ago.

When things get tight, GMs can become risk-averse (they like to keep their jobs). Taking Porter in the upper reaches of the lottery and missing is the kind of thing that could have a GM on the hot seat.

Also factoring into this, rumors of an insular, “diva” attitude from Porter who has always had things focused on him. How will he handle not being the man?

That said, Porter’s physical tools and potential has teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete.

Some team is going to reach the point in the process where the risk is worth the reward. That may be Cleveland at No. 8, but if not it’s going to be interesting to see which team rolls the dice.

Austin Rivers opting in for $12.65 million with Clippers

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Austin Rivers‘ three-year, $35,475,000 contract caused resentment within the Clippers when his father – Clippers coach and then-president Doc Rivers – gave it to the guard in 2016.

But don’t think for a moment that will bother Austin into bypassing $12.65 million next season.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

That high salary will put a target even more squarely on Rivers’ back, but he’s used to it.

He’ll be overpaid, but he can still help the Clippers. Maybe that’s as an expiring contract used to facilitate a larger trade. Maybe that’s on the court. L.A. will reportedly drop guard Milos Teodosic. The Clippers, with the Nos. 12 and 13 picks in tonight’s draft, could select another guard, but few rookie point guards are reliable.