Thunder on verge of completing hardest-ever run to Finals

16 Comments

Ten teams in NBA history outscored opponents by at least 10 points per game in the regular season.

Seven won the championship.

One was eliminated by another (Bucks by Lakers in 1972).

And the Thunder are one win from knocking out their second of the 2016 playoffs.

After beating the Spurs (+10.6) in the second round, Oklahoma City has built a 3-1 led on the Warriors (+10.8) in the Western Conference finals. If the Thunder advance, they will have faced the toughest competition en route to the Finals since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff in 1984.

Oklahoma City’s three opponents – Mavericks (42-40), Spurs (67-15) and Warriors (73-9) – collectively won 74.0% of their games. That’d top the 1995 Rockets, who beat the 60-22 Jazz, 59-23 Suns and 62-20 Spurs – a group that went a combined 73.6%.

Houston faced such tough competition, in part, because it entered the playoffs as a No. 6 seed. The third-seeded Thunder are just excelling at the right time in a year that featured two all-time great teams in Golden State and San Antonio.

No other finalist comes within five percentage points of Oklahoma City. The 2009 Magic currently rank second at 68.7%.

Here’s every finalist since 1984 – plus the 2016 Thunder – sorted by the combined winning percentage of their playoff opponents:

Sheet 2

Finalist First round Second round Conference finals Opponents’ combined win percentage
2016 OKC DAL 42-40 SAS 67-15 GSW 73-9 74.0%
1995 HOU UTA 60-22 PHO 59-23 SAS 62-20 73.6%
2009 ORL PHI 41-41 BOS 62-20 CLE 66-16 68.7%
2002 LAL POR 49-33 SAS 58-24 SAC 61-21 68.3%
2010 BOS MIA 47-35 CLE 61-21 ORL 59-23 67.9%
2006 DAL MEM 49-33 SAS 63-19 PHO 54-28 67.5%
2005 SAS DEN 49-33 SEA 52-30 PHO 62-20 66.3%
2001 LAL POR 50-32 SAC 55-27 SAS 58-24 66.3%
2014 SAS DAL 49-33 POR 54-28 OKC 59-23 65.9%
1997 CHI WSB 44-38 ATL 56-26 MIA 61-21 65.4%
2011 DAL POR 48-34 LAL 57-25 OKC 55-27 65.0%
2008 LAL DEN 50-32 UTA 54-28 SAS 56-26 65.0%
2004 LAL HOU 45-37 SAS 57-25 MIN 58-24 65.0%
1999 NYK MIA 33-17 ATL 31-19 IND 33-17 64.7%
2011 MIA PHI 41-41 BOS 56-26 CHI 62-20 64.6%
1991 LAL HOU 52-30 GSW 44-38 POR 63-19 64.6%
1998 UTA HOU 41-41 SAS 56-26 LAL 61-21 64.2%
2012 OKC DAL 36-30 LAL 41-25 SAS 50-16 64.1%
2010 LAL OKC 50-32 UTA 53-29 PHO 54-28 63.8%
2007 SAS DEN 45-37 PHO 61-21 UTA 51-31 63.8%
1993 CHI ATL 43-39 CLE 54-28 NYK 60-22 63.8%
1990 POR DAL 47-35 SAS 56-26 PHO 54-28 63.8%
2015 GSW NOP 45-37 MEM 55-27 HOU 56-26 63.4%
2000 LAL SAC 44-38 PHO 53-29 POR 59-23 63.4%
1994 HOU POR 47-35 PHO 56-26 UTA 53-29 63.4%
2009 LAL UTA 48-34 HOU 53-29 DEN 54-28 63.0%
2006 MIA CHI 41-41 NJN 49-33 DET 64-18 62.6%
2003 SAS PHO 44-38 LAL 50-32 DAL 60-22 62.6%
1998 CHI NJN 43-39 CHA 51-31 IND 58-24 61.8%
1992 POR LAL 43-39 PHO 53-29 UTA 55-27 61.4%
2015 CLE BOS 40-42 CHI 50-32 ATL 60-22 61.0%
1999 SAS MIN 25-25 LAL 31-19 POR 35-15 60.7%
2004 DET MIL 41-41 NJN 47-35 IND 61-21 60.6%
1997 UTA LAC 36-46 LAL 56-26 HOU 57-25 60.6%
1996 CHI MIA 42-40 NYK 47-35 ORL 60-22 60.6%
2013 SAS LAL 45-37 GSW 47-35 MEM 56-26 60.2%
1994 NYK NJN 45-37 CHI 55-27 IND 47-35 59.8%
2005 DET PHI 43-39 IND 44-38 MIA 59-23 59.3%
1992 CHI MIA 38-44 NYK 51-31 CLE 57-25 59.3%
1986 HOU SAC 37-45 DEN 47-35 LAL 62-20 59.3%
2012 MIA NYK 36-30 IND 42-24 BOS 39-27 59.1%
1988 DET WSB 38-44 CHI 50-32 BOS 57-25 58.9%
2014 MIA CHA 43-39 BRK 44-38 IND 56-26 58.1%
1993 PHO LAL 39-43 SAS 49-33 SEA 55-27 58.1%
1996 SEA SAC 39-43 HOU 48-34 UTA 55-27 57.7%
1990 DET IND 42-40 NYK 45-37 CHI 55-27 57.7%
1987 BOS CHI 40-42 MIL 50-32 DET 52-30 57.7%
2008 BOS ATL 37-45 CLE 45-37 DET 59-23 57.3%
2000 IND MIL 42-40 PHI 49-33 NYK 50-32 57.3%
1989 LAL POR 39-43 SEA 47-35 PHO 55-27 57.3%
2001 PHI IND 41-41 TOR 47-35 MIL 52-30 56.9%
1985 BOS CLE 36-46 DET 46-36 PHI 58-24 56.9%
1989 DET BOS 42-40 MIL 49-33 CHI 47-35 56.1%
1986 BOS CHI 30-52 ATL 50-32 MIL 57-25 55.7%
2003 NJN MIL 42-40 BOS 44-38 DET 50-32 55.3%
2007 CLE WAS 41-41 NJN 41-41 DET 53-29 54.9%
2002 NJN IND 42-40 CHA 44-38 BOS 49-33 54.9%
1995 ORL BOS 35-47 CHI 47-35 IND 52-30 54.5%
1991 CHI NYK 39-43 PHI 44-38 DET 50-32 54.1%
2013 MIA MIL 38-44 CHI 45-37 IND 49-32 53.9%
1984 BOS WSB 35-47 NYK 47-35 MIL 50-32 53.7%
1988 LAL SAS 31-51 UTA 47-35 DAL 53-29 53.3%
1985 LAL PHO 36-46 POR 42-40 DEN 52-30 52.8%
1984 LAL KCK 38-44 DAL 43-39 PHO 41-41 49.6%
1987 LAL DEN 37-45 GSW 42-40 SEA 39-43 48.0%

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

Boston Miami
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.

Watch Rajon Rondo hit ridiculous behind-the-backboard floater

Leave a comment

Everything was going right for the Lakers Friday night. They made it look too easy.

On their way to a 1-0 series lead, some may have tuned out before the shot of the game — a Rajon Rondo floater from the baseline, over the backboard and in.

Incredible. You can end a HORSE game with that shot.

Rondo had seven points on 3-of-7 shooting but also dished out nine assists. Maybe not vintage playoff Rondo, but he fit in with a Lakers team that dominated the Nuggets in Game 1.

Game 2 is Sunday evening.

Report: Mutual interest between Jazz, Derrick Favors in a reunion

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Utah Jazz could use another big man on the roster who could play the four or the five. That is to say, someone who could play with or as a backup to Rudy Gobert. It’s not the team’s top offseason priority — defenders on the wing win that category — but it’s an area the Jazz would like to address.

How about a Derrick Favors reunion? After a season in New Orleans, would he return to Utah?

Yes. But that doesn’t make it likely, notes Tony Jones of The Athletic.

Here’s the deal. There is mutual interest. Favors would not mind a return to Utah, even if it means coming off the bench as Gobert’s primary backup. But, at this point, that’s all it is … interest. The Jazz have to decide whether Favors would be the right place to spend their most significant chunk of offseason money, especially considering finding a 3-and-D wing is of greater priority. Favors will have multiple suitors on the market, including his incumbent team, the New Orleans Pelicans.

Favors will have multiple offers, although maybe not at the money or number of years he hopes. It’s a tough time to be a center in the NBA looking for a payday. The Jazz have their mid-level exception but will need to use all of that to get the wing defender they need.

After that, Utah is going to be looking for a center on the cheap. Favors — who averaged 9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game playing quality basketball last season — is going to get decent offers. It’s hard to see how that matches up.

But stranger things have happened. This is going to be an upside-down NBA offseason anyway.