Tag:Serge Ibaka
Posted on: May 20, 2011 12:54 am
Edited on: May 20, 2011 1:13 am

NBA Playoffs: James Harden, Thunder hero

James Harden was the difference in the Thunder's Game 2 win to tie the Western Conference Finals. 

Posted by Matt Moore

James Harden did not have a great first half of his season. He was passive, and struggled to find an identity in the Thunder's offense. But after nearly being traded at the deadline, Harden went on a tear. Then, in the playoffs, he hit another gear all together. That gear hit the absolute limit on Thursday night as Harden dropped an elite performance in the Thunder's Game 2 win over the Mavericks

Harden scored 23 points on nine field goals, and added 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals with no turnovers in Game 2. Pull-up three-pointer and-one? Yeah, he got that. Driving layup in transition off a rebound coast-to-coast and-one? Indeed. 

James Harden played above his ceiling Wednesday night. But it's only the ceiling for where he's at right now, as a 21-year-old role player on a young roster. It's probably closer to his career ceiling, as a potential No. 2 option on a championship-caliber squad. And it should be noted that, when give time this season, he's produced 20-points-plus games. But with all the rest of the production, you have to be a little concerned this was an outlier, just for where he's at right now.  Harden may crash back to the earth, but if he doesn't, he's in position to be the difference between for the Thunder between a championship and a disappointing finish. If he produces even 75 percent of this production consistently, the Thunder will be nearly unstoppable. You can contain the Thunder when it's just Westbrook and Durant. But if they can counter with this kind of all-around brilliance from Harden, it's too much.

Harden's advantage in this series isn't just tricks and fireworks, though. The loss of Caron Butler for the Mavs rears its ugly head again as Dallas has no player to check Harden. DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry... no one matches up well on Harden, and he's exploiting it. Overplay him and he draws the foul. Give him space but cover the jumper, and he makes the perfect pass. There's not a combination of players or schemes Rick Carlisle can afford to throw at Harden, not with Kevin Durant and, most often, Russell Westbrook on the floor. 

Harden's in his second year. This development shouldn't be accelerating as quickly as it is. But that's what teams need to make championship runs: for good players to play great. And that's what Harden's done in the face of a matchup advantage. If he keeps producing like this, Harden will get to see if he can duplicate his production in the Finals. 
Posted on: May 19, 2011 9:48 pm

Kevin Durant dunks on Brendan Haywood video

Kevin Durant dunks all over Brendan Haywood in this video during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. Posted by Ben Golliver.

During the first quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant made his case for best dunk of the 2010-2011 NBA playoffs.

Wiht the Mavericks leading 28-19, the Thunder inbounded the ball to Durant, who sized up his defender, Mavericks reserve center forward Peja Stojakovic. Durant drove hard to the right and Stojakovic couldn't stay with him. As Durant neared the paint, Mavericks reserve center Brendan Haywood rotated over to contest Durant's drive. 

Durant rose off the court and extended up and over Haywood, his right hand with the ball well above the rim. He then thrust the ball down at the rim, completing the dunk before crashing to the ground. Slow motion replay showed Durant well, well above the rim as he let go of the ball and drew the contact in his chest, earning a free throw as well.

Following the dunk, Durant was assessed a technical foul for celebrating the dunk.

Here's video of Kevin Durant's poster of Brendan Haywood with all of the replays and slow motion.

Posted on: May 19, 2011 7:45 pm

LiveChat: Thunder-Mavericks Game 2

Join us at 9 p.m. EST for a livechat during Thunder-Mavericks Game 2. Topics of discussion include: 
  • Will the perfect blend of man and machine known as Dirk Nowitzki pave the way for future innovation?
  • Combined free throws under/over 80? Sound about right?
  • Kevin Durant's backpack: manly or kindly boyish?
  • True or False: Nate Robinson is actually just a dance team member they let wear a jersey. 
Fun starts at 9 p.m. EST.

Posted on: May 19, 2011 12:51 am
Edited on: May 19, 2011 1:11 am

Playoff Fix: What does OKC have ready for Dirk?

Posted by Royce Young

One Big Thing: What every Thunder fan has been saying the past two days is, "Dirk can't score 48 with just three missed shots again, can he? Right? RIGHT!?!" I think there's some refuge to take in that, but while he might not set NBA records and break efficiency marks, Dirk is entirely capable of once again dominating.

What was lost in that Game 1 is that Dallas revealed it had no plan for Kevin Durant. Depending on perspective, it just appeared that the Mavericks may have caught a break in that Russell Westbrook couldn't finish anything at the rim. Westbrook went just 3-15, but had he shot a normal percentage, the Thunder may have come out the victors and Durant the hero. Funny how it works like that.

The X-Factor: The officiating crew. Here's a funny thing: Two of the officials in Game 1 (Joey Crawford and Zach Zarba) reffed the Thunder's Game 1 against the Grizzlies in which they lost. In that game, OKC was whistled at most any moment it tried to get physical with Zach Randolph. Things changed as that series went on and the play got a lot rougher. Will that happen again? If it does, that plays into the Thunder's favor since OKC's defense is largely built around its physicality.

Dirk drew 16 fouls on seven different Thunder defenders in Game 1. That's got to be fixed and it might simply come down to how the officials see things.

The Adjustment: Not just Dirk, but the Mavs' pick-and-roll offense with J.J. Barea really hurt the Thunder. One reason for it was that OKC's best shotblocker, Serge Ibaka, was pulled out from the basket because he had to guard Dirk. One adjustment the Thunder could make would be to either A) go small with Ibaka at center and Durant at power forward or B) play Nick Collison and Ibaka together and sit Kendrick Perkins.

Perkins isn't a shotblocker and doesn't really rotate well to stop someone at the rim. But if Collison were on Dirk (and Collison is one of the league's best pick-and-roll defenders), Ibaka could hang back and be there to protect the rim. Ibaka is averaging almost five blocks a game in the playoffs and didn't have any in Game 1.

The Sticking Point: Oklahoma City really needs to refocus and steal this game. It's not completely over if the Thunder don't, but a split is always key in winning a series where you don't have home court.

The Mavs though had an offensive rating of 130.1 in Game 1 and an astonishing 139.0 with Dirk on the floor. While it's hard to see Dirk putting up similar numbers in Game 2, you've also got to believe Rick Carlisle and Dallas will have something new for Durant. Game 1 was a lot closer than it felt and looked, but Game 2 could be a total battle.
Posted on: May 18, 2011 5:17 pm

Perkins: I don't like Tyson Chandler

Posted by Royce Young

Prepare yourself for some shocking news: Kendrick Perkins does not like Tyson Chandler.

It only took a couple minutes for Perkins to scuffle with his new adversary Chandler. The two tangled in the first quarter just 70 seconds into the game, both picking up technical fouls.

Perkins has always said he preps himself mentally by thinking of reasons to hate his opponent. Evidently he hasn’t had to do much thinking with Chandler. Because Perk flat out doesn’t like him. Via ESPN Dallas:

“Me and Tyson never got along. I’m serious,” said Perkins. “He don’t like me, I don’t like him and that’s pretty much how it’s been. Everybody always looks at me as kind of like a dirty player if you’re on the opposite team, but he’s just as dirty as anybody else.”

Chandler said he has no issue with Perkins.

“I have nothing against him,” Chandler said of Perkins. “He won a championship with the Boston Celtics, and that’s where I’m trying to take my team. I mean, I’ve got respect for him, what he was able to accomplish. But all the chippy stuff, the after-the-ball stuff, that’s all nonsense and I’m not going to get involved with it.”

As Russ Bengtson tweeted, the bigger news would probably be if Perk DID like Chandler.

Perkins does need to keep it in check though. He has four technical fouls this postseason and three more and he has to serve a one-game suspension. With each game this Dallas series goes, the more chances Perk with scuffle with Chandler. Because if Perk don’t like you, he’s going to let you know about it.

Posted on: May 18, 2011 2:19 am

Dirk Nowitzki and the power of efficiency

Sometimes efficiency really is the difference. In Game of Mavericks vs. Thunder, Dirk Nowitzki and his dominating efficiency was the difference. 

Posted by Matt Moore

This wasn't a crazy fast game. There were 91 estimated possessions, which just isn't a lot. It's not an abysmal amount, it's just below the season average for NBA teams. In short, in a game where every possession was crucial, Dirk Nowitzki made the most of his. Every single one, just about.

48 points on 15 shots and 24 free throws. Three misses, combined. Dirk Nowitzki shot a basketball 39 times and missed thrice. It was an other-wordly performance. It was the stuff of legend. And Dallas needed every single bit of net Nowitzki earned. The Thunder will have to focus on how Dirk Nowitzki can't possibly duplicate that performance. The Mavericks will counter how the Thunder can't rely on Kevin Durant scoring 40 each game. The Thunder will reply that Jose Juan Barea isn't likely to continue to play at that level, and the Mavericks will suggest the Thunder ask the Lakers about that. The Thunder have Russell Westbrook's struggles. The Mavericks have Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd going 2-9 combined. The list goes on.

But through it all is this. When the Mavericks needed him, Dirk Nowitzki gave the Mavericks exactly what was called for: A nearly flawless game. The Thunder want to continue going one-on-one with Nowitzki, putting players like Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden on him? There's no reason he can't amass 24 free throws per game, or score 50. The Thunder made a decision not to double. It was a not a winning strategy, because Nowitzki is not any other player. He is one of the best offensive players this league has ever known. 

So much of the playoffs depend on matchups. I chose Oklahoma City in six for my prediction, based largely on those matchups, and I feel largely the same about them a game later. But there are players that transcend matchups, who are their own universe of inequality in terms of capability against their opponent. Durant is such a player, when he's truly in his finest form. But Nowitzki was just a little bit better Tuesday night. And that was because of his efficiency. Durant was good in that area, too, scoring 40 on 18 shots, missing only eight. His three turnovers were just one worse than Nowitzki's two. But that difference was very much the game. Nowitzki responded to what his team needed.  

But more than that is the fact that the Mavericks could count on points when Nowitzki touched the ball. It wasn't an opportunity or a good chance, it was a near certainty. "Give this guy the ball, he'll get points." At the most basic level of basketball, it was the very definition of success. When Nowitzki touched the ball, he failed only twice, missed only three times. There are a lot of questions about whether efficiency is really as valuable as some make it out to be.

In Game 1, it was very much the difference between a win and a loss for the Mavericks.

Game 2 is Thursday.  
Posted on: May 18, 2011 1:24 am
Edited on: May 18, 2011 2:05 am

The Thunder gets Dirk'd but it's not all bad

Posted by Royce Young

After Dirk Nowitzki started the game 6-6 from the floor, you knew it was a bad sign for the Thunder. The main objective and main fear for Thunder fans was the impossible matchup Dirk presented.

Oklahoma City tried a little bit of everything. Serge Ibaka. Nick Collison. Kevin Durant. Even 6-7 shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha took a spin on Dirk for a few possessions. When Nate Robinson came to the scorer's table to check in to start the fourth, I thought, "Man, Scott Brooks is really desperate. He's willing to try anything on Dirk."

But it was just that type of night. And by "that type of night" I mean a historic playoff night for Dirk. He finished with 48 on only 15 shots (that's 3.2 per attempt) and went 24-24 from the free throw line, which is an NBA record. The Mavs had an offensive efficiency of 130.1, shot 54 percent and got 53 points from their bench. By almost every indication, they whipped the Thunder in Game 1, right?


Oklahoma City was never entirely in the game, but with four minutes left, the Thunder were down just five. A single stop and a basket and OKC would've been right in the game.

The Thunder stayed close because Kevin Durant was terrific (40 points on 10-18 shooting) and the team went to the free throw line a ton (37-43). But despite the Mavs playing what felt like a near perfect game, OKC was right there. And this is without Russell Westbrook -- the Thunder's second best player -- playing a good game at all. Westbrook was just 3-15 from the floor, but did score 20 points thanks to a 14-18 effort at the line.

“I could bet my whole house that Russell Westbrook won’t go 3-15 again,” Durant said after the game. “You can quote me on that.”

Tyson Chandler had a lot to do with that the way he patrolled the rim, but Westbrook is normally better at finishing there. He struggled in Game 1 against Memphis much the same way, but I never thought Westbrook was doing anything to shoot the Thunder out of it or anything. So if you want a reason to be encouraged, I’d say the Thunder’s second best scorer went 3-15 from the floor, Dirk had a historic night and OKC was a stop or two away from having a shot.

Not completely bad, right?

If you're a Thunder fan, you have reason to feel a slight tinge of encouragment after the Game 1 loss. OKC outscored the Mavs in two quarters and held a 27-20 lead after the first. Really what doomed the Thunder was a poor second quarter in which Dallas outscored the Thunder 35-21. Take that away and OKC is completely in the game every step of the way.

It doesn't seem like Dirk will be able to duplicate this sort of game again. The Thunder should do better on him. Maybe he doesn't get to the line 24 times again. Whatever the case, percentages say the Mavs will come back to Earth a bit.

The Thunder just have to regroup a bit and readjust. Come up with a bit better plan for Dirk and try and limit some of the open jumpshooting the Mavs had. I actually am mildly encouraged despite the loss. Being down 0-1 isn’t good and isn’t ideal and it means there’s more pressure for Game 2. But if there’s anything this Thunder team does very well, it’s bounce back.
Posted on: May 18, 2011 1:13 am

Andrew Bynum congratulates J.J. Barea for Game 1

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum congratulated Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea on his performance in Game 1 of the Western Conferencebarea-fist finals. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The most memorable moment of the 2011 NBA playoffs so far has been either Miami Heat forward LeBron James kneeling to stop and celebrate a second round series victory or Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum absolutely decking J.J. Barea in the dirtiest play in recent memory.  

Bynum finally apologized and then was fined and suspended. We all thought that was the end of it. Not so.

On Tuesday night, the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-112 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals thanks in part to 21 points off the bench from Barea.

Following the game, Bynum took to Twitter to shout out some congratulations to his hit victim: "JJ Barea has a great story, worked his butt off and now killing on the big stage! Congrats you deserve it!"

Barea was once again masterful off the dribble, breaking down Oklahoma City's defense and living in the paint. 

It's funny how perspective can so radically alter someone's opinion. When Barea is bearing down on you, twisting and turning towards the hoop, he's one of the most annoying and frustrating things in the entire world. But when he's doing it to someone else? Hey, it's a "great story" that we can all sit back and enjoy.

Here's video of Bynum's hit again in case you missed it. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com