Tag:WC Playoffs
Posted on: May 10, 2011 3:12 am
Edited on: May 10, 2011 3:34 am
 

Westbrook and Durant get it done for OKC

Posted by Royce Young



Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went from a superduo to a chemistry question mark this postseason. The transition was amazing. Because of a couple questionable shots from Westbrook while Durant didn't get the ball in key stretches, there was speculation on whether the two could could co-exist. People wondered if they were fighting in the locker room, or if there was an alpha dog battle taking place.

Some have nicknamed Westbrook's erratic, seemingly selfish play "hero mode" in Oklahoma City, and that's kind of what it is. He tries to take over and ignores the other four guys on his team. That's fine sometimes when Kobe, Wade or LeBron does it. But since Westbrook has the two words "point guard" attached to his name, and Durant on his wing, he gets punished for it. Sometimes rightfully so, sometimes unfairly.

But in this game where the Thunder outlasted the Grizzlies 133-123 in a triple-overtime classic, it took Durant and Westbrook co-existing near perfectly for the Thunder to pull themselves out of an 18-point hole and even the series at 2-2.

Westbrook finished with 40 on 15-33 shooting and Durant checked in with 35 on 9-20. Westbrook was 10-11 from the line and Durant 16-18.

Some might look at those attempts from Westbrook and assume it was more of the same from him. They might assume he hogged the ball and froze Durant out. He sort of did, but he had to in this game. The Grizzlies weren't going to let Durant beat them. Memphis was putting it all on the already heavy-weighted shoulders of Westbrook, and daring him to answer.

The Thunder just looked awful the first 16 minutes. It was like the last 20 minutes of Game 3 somehow were transplanted into Game 4. The offense was pathetic, the defense was meh, and the team just wasn’t doing anything right. The Thunder turned it over seven times in the first quarter, shot 6-16 and then started the second quarter 0-7. It was looking like a disaster was brewing for the Thunder and that this series was inching closer to a conclusion.

As I watched it, I could only think one thing: OKC needs Russell Westbrook to go hero here. For all the criticism he’s endured, for all the discussion he’s generated and for all the negative stuff that’s been said about him, the Thunder desperately needed Westbrook to bail them out. It started when Daequan Cook hit two big 3s — which seem meaningless now, but at the time were HUGE — and then Westbrook started attacking. And attacking. And attacking. He scored nine points the last five minutes of the second and the Thunder got the message. They fell in step behind Westbrook and finally woke up.

That’s the thing: The Thunder has to have that Westbrook. He’s crucial. The challenge for him is realizing when and where to turn it on and off. Tonight, he turned it on just in time. Without that second quarter spark, we’re not all staying up until who knows when watching the craziest playoff game this year.

Now, some of the negative side to the argument started creeping back in late in the fourth when Westbrook took a questionable long jumper, turned it over and then was blocked by Marc Gasol with a few seconds left. Durant took only one shot the entire fourth, but it seemed excusable to a degree because Westbrook was coming up big. Like I said, though, finding that “off” switch was tough for him because he had carried the Thunder to that point, and to hand it off was difficult.

Same story in the overtimes. Westbrook was the offensive focus for the Thunder and Durant played second banana. I’d have to re-watch but on first look, it just seemed like the Grizzlies intended to take away Durant and force Westbrook’s hand. If Westbrook wasn’t up to the challenge, OKC loses this game in the first OT. But he stepped up and didn’t settle for bad shots. He attacked and, in some cases, created. He did almost everything right and the result was a major Thunder win.

The Grizzlies know how to play Durant. Again, they want it to be on Westbrook. But you can only hold a player of Durant's caliber down so long. Eventually he's going to shake loose. And he did, scoring six straight points to ice Memphis in the third overtime.

OKC has to have Durant and Westbrook working together, feeding off each other. Durant is a pretty remarkable star in that he's fine slinking back while Westbrook takes over. He may not love it on the inside, but nothing on his exterior says he has a problem with it. The Thunder's tandem came up big for them in Game 4. They had to. They learned a little from Game 3's transgressions and did a bit better. Or, at least, just enough.

Posted on: May 10, 2011 3:00 am
 

NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies, Thunder go the distance

Memphis, OKC have a classic on the Mississippi. 
Posted by Matt Moore

These playoffs could be better. We just don't know how. 

Memphis and Oklahoma City went to triple-overtime Monday night/Tuesday morning in the Thunder's desperation victory to tie the series. Here's where it lands in history:


Neither team had any quit in them, and the only reason it didn't go to a fourth overtime was foul trouble, when Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo fouled out in the second overtime, leaving Memphis physically exhausted. Russell Westbrook managed to play through two overtimes with five fouls. Otherwise, we'd still be waiting for the two teamt to finish. It was one of the wildest games in a wild playoffs that have been anything but predictable. As Shane Battier said postgame:
"If Elvis had risen from halfcourt and hit the game-winner, I wouldn't have been surprised."

OKC won because of superior play, athletes, and a few more drawn fouls thanks to terrible perimeter defense from the Grizzlies. But the eighth seed in the playoffs forced what many consider a title favorite to triple overtime without their highest paid player, down their best two guards, after blowing a huge first half lead and coming back from a sizeable second-half deficit. 

Not bad for an 8th seed.
Posted on: May 10, 2011 1:43 am
Edited on: May 10, 2011 2:05 am
 

NBA Playoffs: Heat finally close one out

The Heat haven't closed all year. They closed out Boston in Game 4 to take a 3-1 advantage. 
Posted by Matt Moore




After a season of clutch failures, of questions about Chris Bosh, of being plagued by the talk that they are simply not mentally focused enough to win the title, Miami simply shut everyone up. 
LeBron James closed. His last shot was a miss, rebounded and tipped in by Chris Bosh. Other than that? James nailed a huge three in Paul Pierce's grill, got inside for a runner, and then made a key pass to get Bosh a dunk. He was a monster down the stretch, despite a key turnover that opened the door for a Pierce game winner which he missed. 

The Heat closed. And they may have closed out another NBA superpower. The Celtics had seemed like the superior mental team right up until the last regular season meeting between the two. And, after the Game 3 meltdown, there was a sense that maybe the Heat of the regular season had returned. But the Heat washed all that away and the Celtics once again looked like a team that was simply too old to run with the Triad. 

Mental focus and intensity were the biggest weaknesses for the Heat in the regular season. But they finally stepped up when they needed to, much like the Celtics were known to. With a 3-1 series advantage, the Heat clearly look like the better team.

Public sentiment means LeBron can't count on anyone providing credit. But it should be noted that he and Paul Pierce had yet another epic game in a career-long battle. They went back and forth at each other all night, and in the end, Pierce missed an elbow jumper from the left instead of his favorite spot, the right. There was miscommunication on the play, and the screen for Pierce never came. James stuck with Pierce and the game winner missed. Meanwhile, for James it was all speed, all aggression.

The Heat have always had the talent. That's obvious. But they never looked like a mentally tough team. But on Monday night, they may have gone through the baptism of fire they needed. They closed. 

And they are finally in a position to put the Celtics ghosts that have haunted them to bed. 
Posted on: May 9, 2011 2:16 pm
 

Lakers backing gently off "blow up" talk

Mitch Kupchak says not to worry too much about Magic's "blow it up" comments. But if not a complete self-destruction, is a major remodeling on the way,and how does a new coach fit into this?
Posted by Matt Moore




Sure, you were just swept out of the playoffs in what should have been the culmination of so much work, effort, and money spent in order to achieve a three-peat and send your expensive Hall of Fame coach out in style. Sure, your roster was relatively exposed as lackadaisical, lacking in focus, determination, heart, and eventually class. And yes, the idea has always been to reload when the shots don't quite hit their target, which is always championship gold. 

But the Lakers? They're not looking to follow Magic Johnson's advice and blow it up. Not yet, anyway. And not completely. 

From Sports Illustrated: 
(Lakers GM Mitch) Kupchak cautioned against the idea that Johnson's recent comments on ABC were an early indication of things to come. The Lakers' legend had all but written his favorite team off during his television analysis, then recommended Kupchak "blow it up" by trading one of his frontcourt players for Orlando's Dwight Howard as a means to keeping the dynasty intact.

Jackson called the comment "unnecessary" before tip-off, while Kupchak largely dismissed the notion raised by some fans that it was an in-house sentiment being shared publicly. Howard is believed to be eyeing the Lakers as a possible landing spot when he becomes a free agent in 2012, however, meaning this storyline won't be going away anytime soon.

"I thought Earvin was trying to motivate our players," Kupchak said. "He's great at cheering for us, and a lot of times saying stuff like he said can motivate a player to play harder. That's how I took it.

"I talk to Earvin from time to time, and I think Dr. Buss [owner Jerry Buss] does from time to time, and this moves too quickly for him to be intimately involved in what's going on day to day, so I would hesitate to think that was the case."
via Lakers fall apart against Mavericks in Phil Jackson's farewell - Sam Amick - SI.com.

Not surprising that Magic isn't plugged into the day to day ops, especially having sold his stake, despite retaining a front office position. But the question is whether the Lakers are correct in this train of thought. One issue that isn't being talked about here is pretty obvious. This roster was constructed to play for Phil Jackson. 

And that definitely won't be the case next season. 

From ESPN:
Jackson might've played coy in what was likely his final postgame press conference, joking "I haven't answered that, have I?" when pressed for a definitive statement on whether he'd coached his final NBA game Sunday. But Kupchack says he believes Jackson's decision to retire is final this time.

"I think this is it," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles after the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks 122-86 on Sunday. "We'll sit down and talk, but I've gotten no indication that he won't retire.

"We just talked briefly and I thanked him for what he's done for the organization. It was a pleasure to work with him. Everybody who is a coach in this league works endless hours. I'm not going to say he works harder than any other coach in this league. He certainly works as hard as any of them.

"But he's different. He's got a feel that I think a lot of coaches don't have."
via Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak senses Phil Jackson set to retire - ESPN Los Angeles.

With Jackson gone, Brian Shaw is the favorite to get the Lakers' head coaching job. But after the abject meltdown that occured on a chemistry level, the job will probably be open to several applicants. ESPN also reports the job is "wide open" and with candidates like Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, and Larry Brown on the market, you have to think ownership will take a long look at its options. And if there is a change in the coaching line, the new coach will want players to fit his personnel. 

The question of Dwight Howard will come back around again and again this summer once the CBA is resolved (if it's resolved). In case you missed it in the fall of Rome, here's Ken Berger of CBSSports.com on Howard and the Lakers: 
Everybody knows that Dwight Howard wants to be a Laker," said a person familiar with the All-Star centers plans. "Theyre going to lose Dwight Howard for nothing. Hes not staying there. Dwight Howard is going to be in the same mode as LeBron James."

So would the Magic, facing the reality of losing their franchise cornerstone and getting nothing in return, accept Gasol and Odom, Bynum and Odom, or even Bynum and Gasol as the centerpiece of a Howard trade?"Probably," said a high-profile agent with a hand in past maneuverings for both teams.
via Fast-approaching offseason critical for Lakers - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball.

Landing Howard would automatically put the Lakers back at the top of the contenders list, though they may be there anyway, even with the Dallas Meltdown. But it comes with its own set of issues, including giving the reins of a veteran club to a younger player. How's Kobe Bryant going to react to being the No.2 for the first time since the first W. Bush term in his final ride into the sunset? Will the Magic really want Andrew Bynum after he embarrassed himself, his family, and his organization with (another) needless foul that could have resulted in injury and will definitely result in his suspension for multiple games next year, along with his injury issues on a long contract? 

There's time for all this, and the Lakers will take it. They are unlikely to "blow it up" and more likely to simply try and pick their favorite from the NBA's buffet as in year's past. But deals like the Pau Gasol trade don't come along twice in a four-year span, and with the franchise tag a possibility to come out of the CBA, life may be significantly different for L.A. after the seconds ticked off the Phil Jackson era in Dallas. 

Things aren't as simple as pushing the "self-destruct" button and starting over. Even Athens fell, and an immediate return to glory isn't always guaranteed for those blessed by the Gods for so long. 

But I wouldn't bet against them.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 1:42 pm
Edited on: May 9, 2011 1:48 pm
 

Pau Gasol had a bad week

Pau Gasol loses fiance, has tension with Lakers, is swept from playoffs. Other than that, things aren't bad for the 7-foot Spaniard. 
Posted by Matt Moore




Let's take a look at Pau Gasol's week: 

  • Dumped by his long-time girlfriend: check. 
  • Challenged and pushed physically by Phil Jackson, who notoriously does not get up in player's faces or ever touch them during games: check.
  • Dominated against Euro 7-footer, exposing him as an inferior to Dirk Nowitzki: check.
  • Swept from playoffs in attempt for three-peat, and failed to send arguably the greatest coach in NBA history out on a high note: check.

Yeah, that's a pretty bad week. 

Gasol was reported to be upset with Kobe Bryant over his wife's involvement in Gasol's girlfriend's decision to break up with him earlier in the week. Gasol admitted there was some tension in the locker room, but also denied Bryant's involvement. It's not really worth pursuing, since it's none of our business and it doesn't change the result. It's understandable that Gasol would be upset about something in his personal life like that, but in the biggest series of the year for the Lakers, they needed their big man, and he wasn't there. It's a rough patch of luck, but you have to fight through it if you want to be a champion, as cliche as that sounds. 

Perhaps more important, though, is this point. Regardless of what was going on with Gasol, he still could have dominated had the Mavericks not played him so well. They sent effective doubles, brought help when he got to the corner, challenged his turnarounds enough to drive him too deep baseline, and stayed aggressive on the defensive boards to not allow those tip-ins.  Pau Gasol has a terrible week, one that has changed Laker fans' perception of him despite his pivotal role in the Lakers' two championships, but it should be noted that it was a two way street. Gasol fell apart when the Lakers needed him most, and the Mavericks did what they had to in order to take away the Lakers' second best player. 

If the last few weeks have been interesting for Gasol, the next few months could be even moreso. 
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:36 am
 

Playoff Fix: Bears smell fear

Questions abound for the Thunder going into Game 4, but one thing's for certain: It's a must-win. 
Posted by Matt Moore




One Big Thing: What did Game 3 really tell us? The Oklahoma City Thunder played really well for about 42 minutes. The Memphis Grizzlies played terribly for about 42 minutes. Grizzlies won, Thunder lost. So the questions we have to ask are: 
  1. If OKC simply held its composure for another five minutes, they win. So are they doing the right things, and just had a bad spell, or is this a warning that playing well but not great (as they played great in a Game 2 victory) will not be enough against a Memphis team that has zero quit?
  2. Memphis nearly let the game get out of hand, then stormed back to win. Can the Grizzlies afford to play subpar for long stretches and hope to create another epic collapse as they have several times in these playoffs?
  3. The Thunder have lost when role players like Eric Maynor, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison haven't stepped up. Does Kevin Durant need more of the offense to compensate, or can OKC trust its supporting cast?
  4. Memphis has won once with a terrific game from Zach Randolph, and once with a high-usage, low-efficiency performance that was deceptively poor. Do they have to get a masterful game from Randolph, or just make sure he gets his 20+ points by hook or by crook? 

Game 3 feels like it may have revealed the identity of this series. We're just not sure yet what that identity is. We'll know more after Game 4. A win for OKC makes Game 3 seem like a fluke, while a loss? That calls into doubt just how much the Thunder really are in this series. 

The X-Factor: Turnovers. Memphis creates so many, but the Thunder have done well in containing theirs in this series... until that last five minutes of Game 4. Then things completely fell apart. If the Thunder don't contain their turnovers, Memphis gets out in transition. Easy buckets negates the advantage the Thunder have defensively. It's in some ways a Catch-22 for the Thunder. They're supposed to have more ball movement from Russell Westbrook, but more ball movement increases the chances of the Grizzlies' hyper-aggressive play of the passing lanes leading to turnovers. Crisp, smart offense is a must for the Thunder. They did so well for most of Game 3. But if that was an outlier and the end is the pattern for this series, the Grizzlies will be playing their game on their floor. 

The Adjustment: O.J. Mayo has had a bounce-back series. He's playing well enough to start Game 4, but Lionel Hollins will stick with his rotation. The issue is that Sam Young had advantages in size versus the Spurs, but the Spurs never exploited him in terms of perimeter speed. The Thunder are very intent on doing so. Mayo did a shockingly good job vs. Russell Westbrook in Game 3, and his speed on the perimeter allows Conley to play the off-guard which is also helpful. Even though Mayo won't start, expect more lineups and time for Mayo. If he gets his shot to where it needs to be and makes plays like he can, the Grizzlies are going to neutralize a big advantage the Thunder thought they'd have coming into the series. 

The Sticking Point: Oklahoma City has looked like a better team in this series for seven of twelve quarters, but are down 2-1. If the Grizzlies have a good game vs. a good fourth quarter like they had in Game 3, the Thunder could be down 3-1, going back to OKC and in a huge hole. They have matchup advantages, no one can stop Kevin Durant, their defense has been superb, their role players have stepped up, Serge Ibaka is hitting jumpers, Zach Randolph is no longer dominating, the Thunder are controlling the paint, and James Harden looks like a sixth man of the year candidate. And the Thunder are down 2-1. Game 4 is the one where either the seemingly superior team asserts itself and gets back on track, or we start wondering just how much lightning this Thunder has. 
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:48 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2011 7:21 pm
 

The Mavs shoot the Lakers down from deep

Posted by Royce Young



One way to close out the two-time defending champions and leave no doubt of a historic collapse? Make everything.

That's pretty much what the Mavericks did to complete an unexpected sweep of the Lakers with a 122-86 destruction in Game 4. The story is, of course, the Lakers, along with Phil Jackson and the team's embarrassing, classless finish. Which is a shame because the Mavs shooting was something else. I still can't decide what was dirtier: Andrew Bynum's foul or Jason Terry's 3-point shooting. Because both were pretty sick.

Terry went 9-10 from deep, which tied an NBA playoff record (shared by Vince Carter, Ray Allen and Rex Chapman). Peja Stojakovic went 6-6 from 3 and, as a team, the Mavs tied an NBA playoff record with 20 makes from beyond the arc. In all, they shot 62.5 percent from 3 (20-32), with seven guys hitting at least one.

After the game, Terry was asked when he knew it was going to be a good day for him. Here's what he said: "When I woke up this morning. Mom's cooking. It's Mother's Day. I know she's here and I love and I thank God for her."

Here's how good it was for the Mavs on this day: Even Brian Cardinal was 1-1 from 3.

Now you've got to wonder... Were the Mavs just hot, or was the Lakers' perimeter defense that bad? It was both. Those two things worked hand-in-hand. The Lakers presented the Mavs' shooters a number of good looks, but the Dallas marksmen did the hard part -- they knocked them down.

Some days, it just gets rolling for you. Terry had it working, and tied the NBA record in just three quarters. Stojakovic was disciplined, taking only the wide open looks the Laker defense presented. And the entire team had a great offensive pace and look about it for four quarters. Cool, calm confidence and smooth execution. The drive-and-kick worked like clockwork as Mavs shooters -- Terry and Stojakovic specifically -- basically just waited for their next open shot.

But in a game that held quite a bit of pressure and anxiety, the fact the Mavs kept their heads clear and hands steady, and knocked down such a ridiculous rate from outside, says a lot about them. They weren't about to let any doubt creep in about a Laker comeback. They were going to snuff that out entirely. And they did it from outside.
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2011 6:49 pm
 

Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom ejected for dirty hits

Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Lakers were ejected for dirty plays late in Game 4 against the Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver.

If you thought Ron Artest's clothesline of J.J. Barea in Game 2 was the definition of disgracing yourself in defeat, think again.

The Los Angeles Lakers sank to a new low, as two starters were ejected as the team was swept out of the Western Conference semifinals in four games by the Dallas Mavericks.

First, it was forward Lamar Odom, who shoved Mavericks All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki near the three-point line. With the Mavericks leading 94-68 with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Odom leaned hard into Nowitzki as he looked to establish position near the arc. Nowitzki fell immediately to the ground and Odom was whistled for a flagrant foul and immediately ejected.

Here's a look at Odom's hit on Nowitzki.


That wasn't nearly the worst of it, though. The worst came less than a minute later. 

The cheapest play of the playoffs distinction goes to Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who delivered a forearm shiver to the chest of Barea, who was exposed in mid-air as he was attempting a runner. Bynum made no play whatsoever on the ball and was issued a flagrant foul and immediately ejected. He took his jersey off and stomped off the court, with Artest serving as his escort underneath a cascade of boos.

Here's a look at Bynum's dirty hit on Barea. 

For more on the Lakers disgrace, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger has you covered.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com