Getty Images

Thunder defense shuts down Spurs one more time, Oklahoma City wins to advance


There is a moment in nearly every NBA playoff series when a coach knows he’s in real trouble and starts throwing crazy lineups at the board trying to find anything that works.

That was Gregg Popovich by the end of the first quarter Thursday night. After the Spurs team got off to an early lead — and Tim Duncan was 3-of-3 from the floor — Popovich went to his bench and the wheels came off. To put it kindly. This was more like a 14-car pileup. Desperately searching for anything that worked, Popovich played a lineup that hadn’t seen a minute all season: Kevin Martin, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, David West, and LaMarcus Aldridge.

It didn’t work. The Thunder went on a 42-12 run across the quarters, and that was the ballgame.

After a season where pundits — myself included — said OKC was a step behind the Spurs and Warriors, the Thunder passed the test against San Antonio, beating the Spurs 113-99 Thursday to win the series 4-2.

The Thunder will travel to the Bay Area to take on the Warriors starting Monday night.

The fourth quarter of the game felt nostalgic for fans because this may have been Tim Duncan’s final NBA game. While he’s made no announcement (and he may well not even know what he wants to do yet), there was a sense around the league that he could, and Manu Ginobili would, walk away after this season. Whenever he does retire, Duncan will go down as the greatest power forward ever to play the game — a five-time NBA champion with unquestioned Hall of Fame credentials. We just got done celebrating Kobe Bryant‘s amazing career, but Tim Duncan’s resume can stand next to Kobe’s with pride (Duncan was far more consistent).

“Timmy, he was playing really well so we played him as much as we could because he earned the minutes,” Gregg Popovich said postgame.

But Duncan and the Spurs exited this season on a rough note.

The kind of game and series win that might have Kevin Durant thinking “there’s no place like my current home.”

After a blowout loss in Game 1, the Thunder defense tightened up each game, cutting off passing angles and using their length and athleticism to challenge seemingly everything. The Spurs could not get comfortable, the Thunder defense got smarter and more aggressive each game, and that reached new heights in the first half of Game 6. Look at the Spurs shot chart from the first 24 minutes.


The Thunder, meanwhile, were getting the buckets they wanted against the less-athletic Spurs. Kevin Durant had 37 points on 24 shots, Westbrook 28 points, and once again the role players chipped in led by Andre Roberson with 14 points including hitting 3-of-5 from three (that’s a season’s worth of threes for him).

The Thunder led by 28 at one point and 26 early in the fourth, but the Spurs would not die. They went on a 20-6 run and got the lead down to 11 at one point, forcing Billy Donovan to put Westbrook and Durant back in to make sure this game didn’t get away from them.

The Thunder earned this series — they played their best, smartest defense of the season against the Spurs. They will need all of that and more against the Warriors.

That’s for Friday and the weekend. Thursday is for celebrating an impressive and important win for the franchise.

Cavaliers still look to trade, waive J.R. Smith before Sunday; He may ultimately be a Laker

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The math is simple: J.R. Smith is set to make $15.7 million next season, however, if he is waived before Sunday, the Cavaliers team — or whatever team he is a member of — only has to pay $3.9 million of that. For a team looking for salary cap savings in this fiscal year, that’s about as good a deal as can be found.

Which is why the Cavaliers listened to trade offers for Smith on draft night, but they didn’t jump at anything reports Chris Fodor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night hoping to trade JR Smith, but turned down a few offers that would have returned a first-round pick, league sources tell…

As of now, the Cavs are still trying to make a deal, according to sources familiar with those conversations, but it’s complicated and it has to be the right move, as general manager Koby Altman laid out when recapping the NBA Draft late Thursday night.

“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there,” Altman said. “There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax.”

Those savings are why the Cavaliers may choose to just waive Smith themselves (in a trade they need to bring back $15 million or so in salary, so to pay the tax they need to get a player they really want). Cleveland understandably built a team on expensive, shorter contracts for veteran players around LeBron James — it helped bring them the 2016 title. Now they are still paying a price for that as they want to rebuild around youth, and Dan Gilbert doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax for a team that won 19 games last season.

One way or another, J.R. Smith is going to be a free agent.

Expect him to land with his old friend LeBron James and the Lakers, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo sports.

That makes sense. However they go about filling out the roster, the Lakers are going to have a number of minimum contract players on the bench and they will want veterans who can play with LeBron. J.R. Smith may be in decline (he shot 30.8 percent from three last season), but he fits that bill and can still make a few plays. Kyle Korver is in that same mold, someone Haynes points to as a fit with the Lakers.

Still, the guys taking the minimum are doing it for a reason, which means the Lakers can’t miss on other players they spend real money on this July. GM Rob Pelinka doesn’t have a

Masai Ujiri: DeMar DeRozan and I put aside differences and embraced in February

1 Comment

Still bitter about being traded (to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard), DeMar DeRozan said in January he had no reason to speak to Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

DeRozan’s stance apparently softened when San Antonio played in Toronto in February.


When San Antonio came here, I’ve never said this to anybody, but something unbelievable happened. DeMar came into our locker room, and to show you the class human being he is, he came up to me, and he hugged me, and he asked me how my family was doing.

It meant a lot for him to come and give me a hug. At the end of the day, this is life. Time heals things. And one day – I know I’m confident that one day, we’ll both sit down and talk about this.

Time heals nearly all wounds. Winning heals most wounds.

Ujiri has both on his side, and he didn’t even need the Raptors’ championship to get embraced by DeRozan. Ditto with Kyle Lowry, who rebelled in solidarity with his friend DeRozan but ultimately reconnected with Ujiri.

I always thought those days would come, and I share Ujiri’s optimism he and DeRozan will eventually have lengthier conversations. They’ve been through much together. Toronto’s title makes it even more difficult for DeRozan to hold a grudge. At some point, he will get on an even-better page with Ujiri.

As expected, Dallas reportedly set to offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension

Associated Press

At his introductory press conference in Dallas, Kristaps Porzingis was asked if he planned to stay with the team as a free agent (there had been rumors he would take the one year, $4.5 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent, a rumor met with eye rolls around the NBA). Mark Cuban jumped in before Porzingis could answer the question:

“I can answer that for you. Yeah, he does.”

Dallas is about to put its money where Cuban’s mouth is and offer Porzingis a five-year max contract, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This was expected the day they traded for him. Dallas is betting big that Porzingis, coming off a torn ACL that cost him a season, can return to the form of an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. The hope is in Porzingis and Luka Doncic the Mavs have their core for the future, their next Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Expect Dallas to be aggressive chasing free agents this summer as well, they have been linked to Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant, although as long shots. Patrick Beverley and some other mid-level role players could be in Dallas future, and turn them into a dangerous team.

Report: Celtics to pursue Kemba Walker in free agency

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Celtics appear set to lose Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency.

That’ll open a lot of cap space and create needs at point guard and center.

A possibility at starting point guard: Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Celtics project to have about $34 million in cap space. That’s enough to offer Walker a max contract that projects to be worth $141 million over four years.

But the Hornets can offer Walker a super-max contract that projects to be worth $221 million over five years. Charlotte and Walker have described each other as the priority.

The Lakers and Mavericks are also reportedly interested in the point guard.

Boston will face plenty of competition. Walker’s stellar player has earned him multiple good options.

The Celtics – with talented young wings like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and plenty of draft capital – look like one. They still have a reasonably bright future, and Walker would elevate their present.

But the same could be said of the Mavericks with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Lakers look even better immediately with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And the Hornets can offer all that money and the comfort of home.

There will be plenty for Walker to consider this summer.