Spurs take 3-2 series lead with blowout Game 5 win over Thunder

37 Comments

The story of the first two games of the Western Conference Finals was the precision of the Spurs, and for the next two, it was the return of Serge Ibaka and the athleticism of the Thunder becoming a deadly combination.

In the pivotal Game 5, San Antonio found its offensive execution once again, and by running away with a 117-89 victory, took a 3-2 lead in a series that feels destined to go the full seven games.

In the early going, it appeared as though the Thunder would continue to go about their business the way they had at home, getting out to a seven-point lead with just under three minutes remaining in the first period by scoring seemingly at will on almost every possession. Russell Westbrook was active as he was in his 40-point performance in Game 4, OKC was getting whatever they wanted at the rim thanks to Matt Bonner replacing Tiago Splitter in the San Antonio starting lineup, and the Spurs had yet to find their way.

But after taking that first punch, San Antonio began to roll in the way that they would for the rest of the night. Three-pointers from Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Patty Mills all splashed home, and all of a sudden the game was tied at 32 apiece by the time the quarter came to its conclusion.

It was a sign of things to come, as San Antonio couldn’t be stopped offensively the rest of the way. The spacing was a bit better and the ball movement was much crisper than it had been on the road, and every player on the roster seemed to be able to knock down shots when the ball landed in his hands.

Ginobili turned in a masterful performance with 19 points on just nine shots, to go along with four rebounds and six assists in just 21 minutes off the bench. Tony Parker got going a bit in the second quarter, and helped push the lead to double digits. And Diaw played great on both ends of the floor, especially during a sequence that saw him reject a dunk attempt from Kevin Durant at the rim, before hustling down the floor to make a key pass to the corner for a three from Green on the ensuing possession.

Ibaka’s impact was minimized, thanks to the Spurs abandoning their insistence on going inside on most possessions, and instead moving the ball and using smart decisions to take the best available shot. Three-pointers were falling at a 50 percent clip due to how open they were, and overall the Spurs finished the night shooting better than 51 percent. Ibaka finished with just six points and two rebounds in over 27 minutes of action.

The Spurs delivered a sustained punishment that resulted in a knockout early in the fourth quarter, when Scott Brooks conceded by having his starters on the bench a little more than three minutes in. It was important for San Antonio to win by a large margin after the way the team dropped the previous two, in order to regain a bit of confidence while putting some doubt into the minds of a Thunder team that was beginning to believe in its dominance at the same time.

But most would expect Oklahoma City to return the favor when the series shifts back there for Game 6.

Kevin Durant’s brother says Instagram comment wasn’t about star leaving Warriors this summer

AP Photo/Ben Margot
Leave a comment

Rumors about Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors are intensifying. Even people within the Golden State organization are bracing themselves for him to depart in free agency next summer.

Not even the Warriors collecting their championship rings could stop the momentum.

In fact, last night’s celebration contributed to the noise.

Kevin’s brother, Tony, commented on Kevin’s Instagram post featuring the rings, “Filling the hand up before we get outta here!”

Rob Perez of The Action Network:

My best guess was “here” meant the Warriors’ arena in Oakland. This is their last season there before moving to a new arena in San Francisco Francisco.

Or maybe “here” meant in the NBA. Careers in the NBA are finite.

Another thought that crossed my mind: “Here” could have meant in this world. Lives, too, are finite.

The only clear part: Tony wants Kevin to win a handful of rings. The deadline is nebulous.

Of course, the loudest speculation was “here” meant playing for the Warriors and this being the last run. But Tony sharply denied that.

Perez:

If you want to be a conspiracy theorist, perhaps Tony meant leaving Golden State after this season but Kevin just instructed him to downplay it to quiet chatter. I suppose that’s possible, though it wouldn’t jibe with Kevin’s tell-the-truth-about-free-agency approach.

Occam’s Razor suggests taking Tony at his word, and that’s what I’ll do.

Report: Tom Thibodeau raised asking price for Jimmy Butler after infamous practice

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
3 Comments

After sitting out while awaiting a trade rehabbing after injuring his wrist, Jimmy Butler practiced with the Timberwolves for the first time last week. He reportedly showed up late, talked a ton of trash and led third-stringers to a win over the starters then left early.

Amidst widespread speculation they had to trade Butler after that, the Tom Thibodeau-run Timberwolves put out word they considered it their best practice of the year.

Maybe Thibodeau is that insanely competitive. Maybe he was just trying to preserve leverage.

If it were the latter, he sure stuck to his story.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

Teams who talked to Minnesota after his first practice, literally the day after his practice, Minnesota was asking for more then than they were before the day. Which tells you this: Minnesota is not trading him. They’re asking for packages that know teams aren’t going to agree to.

The Timberwolves are in a though spot. Butler is an excellent player, but everyone knows he wants out. I don’t blame them for trying to maximize their limited leverage.

How will Butler react to this revelation, though? Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said he told Butler the team would seek a trade. Butler pledged to play hard in the meantime.

But if Butler playing hard just makes it less likely Minnesota will trade him, will he feel as if the team isn’t holding up its end of the bargain? Then what?

It has long seemed Taylor and Thibodeau are on different pages on several issues. Though Taylor just backed Thibodeau, Butler could drive a wedge even deeper between the owner and president-coach.

Russell Westbrook sneak-snacking steals show on NBA’s opening night

1 Comment

NBA’s opening night was quite tame. The Celtics and Warriors won as expected, neither the 76ers nor Thunder mounting much of a challenge.

That allowed Russell Westbrookout with an injury — to have the most fun moment when he looked around deviously, turned to his side and ate something.

What did did Westbrook eat? Was he not supposed to be eating? Did he not want to share? Big questions remain unanswered surrounding this important incident.

Joel Embiid on 76ers-Celtics: ‘This is not a rivalry … They always kick our ass’

2 Comments

The 76ers-Celtics rivalry is being renewed.

But it’s not there yet, according to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

The 76ers are 3-19 against Boston since drafting Embiid, and though that includes multiple tanking years, Philadelphia hasn’t fared much better since getting good. The 76ers went 2-7 against the Celtics last season, including 1-4 in their second-round playoff series. Philadephia followed that with a season-opening loss to the Celtics last night.

Embiid, via Matt Haughton of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“JJ (Redick) mentioned it earlier, this is not a rivalry,” Embiid said to reporters after the Sixers’ 105-87 season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics (see observations). “I don’t know our record against them but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.”

I appreciate Embiid’s directness. We can all see the problem. There’s no point denying it.

The subtext is Embiid’s motivation to change this status quo, and a lot of it does fall in Embiid. Al Horford has given him fits. Even Aron Baynes worked him at times last night. Embiid is talented and far younger than those two. He’ll eventually get there.

In the meantime, he’s not mincing words.