This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta: ‘Our time is going to come’
This past summer (and during the season), Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s front office made some money-saving moves that kept the team from paying the luxury tax. The most prominent of those was not bringing back Trevor Ariza and replacing him with James Ennis (who didn’t fit for Houston but has blossomed these playoffs in Philly), plus taking a flier on Carmelo Anthony. Fertitta himself said the team needed to be careful with the league’s luxury tax, which he called a horrible hindrance. The moves worked, the Rockets shed payroll and will not be taxpayers this year.
“I’m upset right now. They kicked our ass on our home court. They beat us by 10 points in the fourth quarter. It’s unacceptable, OK? We just have to be better. I know that we’re going to rise to the occasion and our time is going to come. You know James [Harden] is 30 years old [Note: He will be in August]. Michael [Jordan] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [Note: Actually, 28]. Hakeem [Olajuwon] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [actually 31]. I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here. We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”
“I’m a fighter,” said Fertitta, who has owned the franchise for two seasons. “That’s my culture, and I think the longer that I own this team, they’re going to pick up more of my culture. We had [the Warriors]. We should have stepped on their throat the other night and cut their throat. It’s not, ‘Let’s make a few shots and win.’ It’s step on their throat and let’s take it back to Houston and end it in six. We’ll pick up a few Tilman-isms along the way in the next few years.”
That sounds good, it’s what Rockets fans wanted to hear, but actions will speak louder than words.
The Rockets don’t have much cap space to work with this summer, basically just the mid-level exception. The reason is Harden and Chris Paul are maxed out, while Clint Capela will make $16.4 million and Eric Gordon will make $14 million. Rockets GM Daryl Morey will need to get creative, and he is one of the best in the league at that. But can he spend into the tax?
There have been some Rockets fans calling for the team to move Chris Paul, who at age 34 seemed half a step slower this season. The problem is CP3 is owed about $124 million over the next three seasons (the last season a player option at $44 million you can bet now he will pick up), and not many teams would be willing to take on that salary. The Rockets might have to throw in a sweetener.
Stephen Curry scores 33 in second half as Warriors eliminate Rockets
For the second year in a row, the Golden State ended Houston’s playoff dreams on the Rockets’ home court.
Except this one is going to hurt the Rockets more, this is the year where the breaks went their way. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson limped into Game 1, Kevin Durant could not play Game 6, DeMarcus Cousins was in a suit the entire series. The Rockets were at full strength and had their chances.
Yet for the fourth time in five years, Golden State eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs.
“This one is going to leave a mark. This one hurts,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.
This time the Warriors did it despite Stephen Curry scoring zero first-half points.
Yet the game was tied at the half anyway, and in the second half Curry dropped 33 as the Warriors pick-and-rolled the Rockets to death — the Warriors ran the Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll 10 times in the fourth quarter and scored 19 points on the play. Houston had no answers. The Rockets would trap Curry, he would find a rolling Green, and it was all downhill from there for the Warriors. Golden State made plays down the stretch as champions do, including Klay Thompson who finished with 27 points and hit 7 threes.
Golden State won Game 6 118-113 to take the series 4-2.
The Warriors will face the winner of Denver and Portland — they play in a Game 7 Sunday — starting Tuesday night in Oakland.
That is series the Warriors should get Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back during.
The Rockets had their chance in the first half, when Curry was scoreless. Yet it was the strong play of the Golden State bench that kept the Warriors close, combined with 21 points from Klay Thompson in the half (he finished with 27 including 7 threes).
Curry came alive in the second half and was 9-of-15 including 4-of-9 from three.
Down the stretch, the Rockets did what they could defensively to keep Curry from beating them, but that just opened the door for everyone else.
Also for the Warriors, Andre Iguodala once again turned back the hands of time and played a strong game, especially defending James Harden, who still had 35 points on the night.
James Harden played well, scored 35 (he led the last three games in scoring), but could not take over the game and his teammates did not respond the way Curry’s did. The Rockets have some off-season soul searching to do about their roster and style of play, and what it will take to win a title in future years. It’s a difficult question that could lead to difficult choices.
The Warriors will have a difficult summer, too, but theirs will not start for a while longer.
NBA says it’s inconclusive if Klay Thompson stepped out of bounds late in Game 5
Of course there was an officiating controversy, it’s Houston vs. Golden State. There has to be some.
Rockets fans (and players) claimed that with :11 seconds to go in the game, with the Rockets down three, Chris Paul and James Harden trapped Klay Thompson on the sideline, and as Thompson leaned back to find room to throw a pass he stepped out of bounds with the ball in his hands. You can see the play in the video above, and screenshots from it make it look like Thompson steps out of bounds with the ball in his hand. The call would have given the Rockets a chance to tie the game.
Paul (HOU) and Harden (HOU) trap Thompson (GSW) against the sideline and Thompson jumps backwards to find an opening for the pass. After reviewing the play from multiple angles and frame-by-frame, there is no conclusive angle that shows the ball touching Thompson’s (GSW) fingertips as he lands before releasing the ball on his pass attempt.
The league did say Eric Gordon should have been called for a loose ball foul in the scramble after Thompson’s errant pass because of how Gordon ran into Shaun Livingston.
The L2M report also said Thompson should have been called for a reach-in foul on Gordon with 1:26 left in the game (Gordon regained control of the ball after it was knocked away).
Two quick thoughts.
First, while the official was standing right next to Thompson as he tries to make that pass that referee is really not in a good position to make that call — there’s no way he can see the release of the ball and the foot at the same time from his vantage point. He was too close.
Second, this call is not why the Rockets lost. Houston gave up 32 points to a Golden State team without Kevin Durant in the fourth, that is why it lost. It’s never one play, one thing, or one call.
Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Without Durant for Game 6 Warriors face biggest test
The NBA playoffs are in crunch time and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Warriors three-peat dreams now depend on how Warriors respond to Kevin Durant injury. Golden State came into these playoffs with the most feared starting lineup in the league. Now, 40 percent of it is out injured. DeMarcus Cousins tore his left quadriceps muscle in the second game of the playoffs, then late in a critical Game 5 Wednesday night Kevin Durant pulled up with a non-contact injury that looked ominous.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game it was not Durant’s Achilles but that KD would not play in Game 6. An MRI on Thursday will give us more details (for the sake of watching the best player in the game today, let’s hope it’s not as serious as it looked).
How the Warriors respond to this will determine their 2019 title hopes.
The Warriors hung on to win Game 5 at home, in part because Stephen Curry stepped up. Once again Houston went at him when it had the ball and that seemed to transfer over and wear on Curry, slowing him on offense. He was 4-of-14 overall and 1-of-8 from three before Durant’s injury. After Durant went to the locker room, Curry shot 5-of-9 for 16 points including going 2-of-3 from deep. He answered the call.
The Warriors got the 104-99 victory that gives them a 3-2 series lead — meaning two cracks to eliminate the Rockets, at least one of those without Durant. Game 6 is Friday night in Houston.
Game 5 was not without its controversial ending — did Klay Thompson step out of bounds with the ball with about 11 seconds left and the Warriors up three?
A frozen screenshot makes it look like Thompson stepped out with the ball, before making a poor pass that the Warriors were fortunate to ultimately recover. I would argue Chris Paul or James Harden could or should have been called for bumping Thompson out of bounds on that sequence, but we’d need better camera angles than the ones we got to see to be definitive. The Last Two Minute Report for this ending will be interesting.
That report is ultimately moot. The bigger question is Game 6.
Steve Kerr said postgame Durant will not play, I’d be shocked if he’s even on the plane to Houston (whatever the injury is he suffered, better to stay and get treatment). Harden — who had 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting in Game 5 — and company will come out with an appropriate level of desperation on their home court. This is a prideful Rockets team that believes it would win the series, Durant or no Durant playing.
The question is how the Warriors respond. Golden State needs MVP-level Stephen Curry and big nights from Klay Thompson on offense and Draymond Green on defense. Can Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and the rest of the role players step up for a night. Do the Warriors have one 2015-style, pre-Durant night in them?
The team has leaned heavily on KD these playoffs, how they respond without him will define their 2019 title chances.
2) Boston’s disappointing season ends appropriately at hands of improving, impressive Milwaukee. Too much of the aftermath of Game 5 in Milwaukee has focused on the Celtics — their poor play, their sad effort, their obvious lack of cohesion and trust as teammates that has gone on all season, and what the future now hold for Kyrie Irving and that Boston roster. With good reason, it’s compelling.
However, let’s stop a minute to praise the Milwaukee Bucks.
One year ago, a Celtics team without its two star players eliminated the Bucks in seven games in the first round. Milwaukee took those lessons and adapted — Jason Kidd was out as coach, Mike Budenholzer was in (note to the Lakers… that’s how you run a coaching search). GM Jon Horst knew Coach Bud’s style and went and got him shooting in the form of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks changed their systems on both ends of the court, evolved and grew up, and became the best regular season team in the league this year.
Plenty of fans and pundits questioned if the Bucks style could translate to the postseason (*meekly raises his own hand*) but they have been dominant. On both ends. It has translated just fine.
In a closeout Game 5 Wednesday, the Bucks held the Celtics to an offensive rating of 82.7 and 31.2 percent shooting for the game. Milwaukee contested shots in the paint — the Celtics shot 6-of-19 in the paint for the first half — and chased Celtics off the arc. Boston played right into Milwaukee’s hands with Irving and his desire to play hero ball. Irving shot 5-of-16 with zero assists in the first half and finished the game 6-of-21 from the floor for 15 points.
Milwaukee had a balanced attack. As expected, Antetokounmpo led the way with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.
However, the Greek Freak had only had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, the Bucks won this game because Milwaukee played team basketball. Khris Middleton had 19 points and 8 rebounds for the game, Eric Bledsoe had 18 points, and George Hill had another impressive night off the bench with 16 points.
Milwaukee looks like contenders, they deserve all the praise for that.
We’ve got all summer to watch what Boston does next.
3) Tyronn Lue moves on from the Lakers, which says all you need to know about the Lakers right now. Coaching LeBron James is hard. It’s not that he does not want to be pushed and coached, but he is as high IQ a player as we have seen in the game, and a coach has to earn his trust. It’s not just given. Tyronn Lue has that trust and respect. He can get in LeBron’s face and call him out — and have LeBron come back at him — and their relationship is not damaged.
Which is why Lue as the Lakers’ coach made sense — the man is one of six coaches alive today who have won an NBA title. He may not have been an ideal choice for Lakers fans, but he can coach LeBron and was eager to do it again — and win again.
Rob Pelinka and the Lakers treated Lue like a first-year coach in negotiations. The Lakers would offer no more than three years on the contract — lining it up with LeBron’s deal — while Lue demanded five years. Also, the Lakers were pushing assistant coaches on him, and every experienced coach wants to pick his assistants. Frank Vogel was not someone Lue knows well, but that fit made some sense. Then Pelinka tried to push Jason Kidd as well — no coach with options is going to let a GM put his potential replacement right next to him on the bench and create a power struggle (and Kidd loves a good power struggle).
Pelinka didn’t think Lue had another option, there were no other offers on the table.
Lue did have an option — walk away. Do another season of NBA TV, spend more time with family and friends. Live his life.
Lue wanted the Lakers job but he didn’t need the Lakers job. Pelinka — and Kurt Rambis, and Jeanie Buss, and the entire Laker management team — misread the room and made a mistake.
Now the Lakers are reportedly looking at Frank Vogel, Lionel Holins, and Mike Woodson. Good luck with that.
All that with Kurt Rambis gaining power within the Laker front office. That would be the Rambis who was 32-132 as a coach in Minnesota, and was equally unimpressive as the interim coach in New York (granted, that was a tough situation, but he talked about playing Kristaps Porzingis at the three). Rambis has his skeletons. However, owner Jeanie Buss trusts him, and his wife Linda and Buss go back a long way and she is a trusted advisor.
Buss has stuck within her comfort zone as owner. She has gone with the people she knows, she trusts, people within the Laker family who do things the “Lakers way.” Except, that way has missed the playoff six years in a row and looked a mess the past couple of years. That way had the Lakers mishandle the very public Anthony Davis trade negotiations where they not only didn’t get their man but also fractured their locker room in the process. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ co-tenant at Staples Center looking like the much better run organization, the one that elite free agents are seriously considering this summer (the Clippers are the first choice before the Lakers for a number of them).
The smart play here is for Buss to realize what is not working, step back, and make a major change to the organization. Go hire a top-flight president of basketball operations, give him the power, let him choose the coach and, more importantly, round out the roster around LeBron and said coach. (Tim Connelly in Denver reportedly is making only $2 million a season in that role, well below market value, and is considering a leap to Washington… and notice the Nuggets are young and still playing.)
The Laker organization needs a shake up. If not, the kind of success that Buss wants — and Lakers fans expect — will remain elusive, the victories fleeting. The Lakers need an organizational identity, right now they are just a brand.