Tag:Russell Westbrook
Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:42 pm
 

Shawn Marion: Leave Russell alone

Posted by Royce Young



Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Russell Westbrook apologist. While the barn was burning down and everyone seemed to be piling on with more gasoline, I always felt like the incredible criticism of Westbrook was mostly unfair.

Some were calling him a ballhog, a selfish player or an egotistical maniac, but I saw a guy that was forced into trying to make plays from his point guard position. People are even asking if OKC should trade Westbrook. I mean, uh, I mean, that's stupid.

He maybe called his own number a little too much and his usage went up from the regular season, but for the most part, he was the same old Westbrook that was an All-Star in his third year and second-team All-NBA.

Kevin Durant defended him valiantly after Game 5′s elimination last night saying, “It’s kind of frustrating to see the kind of criticism he’s been getting because he led us by playing the way he’s been playing now the whole season. That’s what made him an All-Star, second team All-NBA. And it kind of baffles me that people just start to criticize because he’s playing like that now.”

Naturally though, you’d expect Durant to always say the right thing no matter what. Because he's Kevin Durant and that's what he always does.

That’s why I thought this quote from Shawn Marion last night was maybe even a little better.

“He didn’t have any choice but to shoot some of those shots, because we were denying everybody else the ball,” he said. “When you deny everybody else from catching the ball, he ain’t got no choice but to go one-on-one.

“Don’t talk bad about that man, because he’s competing out there and he’s playing hard on both ends of the floor. When you deny people from catching the ball, he’s got no choice but to shoot it. Don’t kill him. I don’t like that. He is out there playing hard and competing.”

That’s perfectly put. Westbrook’s choices truly were limited. He was out of options a lot of times because of horrible, stagnant offense, great ball denial defense and double-teaming on Durant. It was either have Westbrook do something or hoist a terrible shot from 20 feet every possession.

Was it a perfect postseason for Westbrook? Hardly. He could’ve been better. The Thunder needed him to be better. If he had performed a bit more under control and taken a few smarter shots, maybe there’s a Game 6 Friday night in OKC. Maybe there's no need because the Thunder already advanced on. But any team can say that about a young player. What if Darren Collison handled the Bulls pressure defense better? What if Ty Lawson were better in the opening round? They weren't and now they'll learn from it. 

People got a little too caught up in staring at the box score instead of actually watching Westbrook play. Yeah, he took 28 shots in Game 5. But that's what the Dallas defense was giving him. You really want a guy that averaged 22 a game this year to turn down good looks so that he can force it to his teammate that's double-teamed? What sense does that make?

Westbrook is 22. He just finished his third year. This was his first foray this deep into the playoffs. The fact that he was able to hear every bit of that criticism and shake it off says a lot about his mental fortitude. The guy’s a winner. He plays his butt off every single night.

He’s got to progress a little more, learn from these mistakes and take his team a little deeper. Which I think he can do.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 3:14 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 12:21 pm
 

Mavs-Thunder series grades

Posted by Royce Young



The Mavericks moved on to the NBA Finals with a five-game series win over the Thunder, topping OKC in the clincher 100-96. Let's grade.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Dirk Nowitzki: What can you possibly say about Dirk? The whole time I watched him drop jumpers and impossible leaners I thought, "This is just Dirk's time." His close to Game 4 was heroic and the clutch 3 he drilled in Game 5 won his team the series. He could not have been more fantastic and this was with defense from Nick Collison that almost everyone could agree was outstanding. Dirk was on another level in the Western Finals. And it's going to have to continue for him to reach his goal. Grade: A++

Jason Kidd: His numbers won't blow you away (9.6 ppg, 8.6 apg) but he managed the Mavs offense masterfully and played pretty solid defense on both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Kidd, at 38, was ready for every challenge thrown his way and stepped up in big moments for Dallas. He hit big shots, made extra passes, drove to the basket, created looks -- he was wonderful. And not to mention his all-world hands that knocked away countless passes and stripped the Thunder a number of times. He steal of Westbrook in Game 4 really might've been the playof the series. Grade: A

Rick Carlisle: I don't think anyone can necessarily cite any big move Carlisle made or any brilliant adjustment. But that's the thing -- he let his team be his team. He knew their strengths, their weaknesses. And he made sure they played their game. He did make a tweak in the way the Mavs defended Durant sending some doubles at him high, but really, Carlisle managed his rotations well, matched up against the Thunder and made Scott Brooks really rack his brain to make a move. Grade: A-

Crunch time execution: In the fourth quarter in this series, the Thunder actually outscored the Mavs 133-130. I find that very interesting. But in those last six minutes of the game, things changed. In Game 4, Dallas outscored the Thunder 17-2. In Game 5, 17-6. The Mavs knew how to finish, the Thunder didn't. Grade: A+

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Kevin Durant: I don't think anyone would say that Durant had an impressive series. He struggled at times getting looks, making shots and staying involved. But he was the entire focus of the Dallas defense as the Mavs doubled and locked down on him the entire series. He averaged 28.0 ppg on 43 percent shooting which is pretty impressive considering what the Mavs threw at him. He lacked a bit in the biggest moments in Games 4 and 5 though, which is something he'll be thinking about the next six months. Grade: B+

Russell Westbrook: Another series, another Russell Westbrook debate. Whether you like his style of point guard play or not, Westbrook was completely vital to OKC's success. His relentless attacking in Game 5 nearly was enough to push the Thunder to a sixth game. He averaged 23.6 ppg and 4.8 apg, but his turnovers (4.8 per game) were an issue. Grade: B

James Harden: I think the best player on the floor in Game 5 -- Dirk included -- was James Harden. The way he ran the pick-and-roll, created shots, made shots and basically dominated the game was something that should have Thunder fans giddy about next season. He was a bit inconsistent though as he only had two truly great games and three average ones. Consistency is the key for the bearded one. Grade: B-

Nick Collison: His numbers never impress you and his plus-minus wasn't even all that stellar in this series. But the work he put in against Dirk was outstanding. And that's even with Dirk having a series for the ages. That should just tell you how good Dirk was. But Collison worked like crazy, never gave an inch and challenged Dirk the entire way. He was OKC's most valuable player against the Grizzlies and really may deserve my made up one for the Thunder in this postseason. Grade: A+

Scott Brooks: A bumpy series for the Thunder's young coach. He was praised for his bold move to sit Westbrook in the fourth quarter of Game 2. He made another slick decision going super small in Game 5, which OKC almost rode to victory. But the little things seemed to sneak up on Brooks. He missed a couple good opportunities to go offense-for-defense at times. The team failed to execute plays out of timeouts. Of course the late-game execution was bad. He was stubborn with his starting five which may or may not have cost the Thunder this series. Brooks is a good coach. He fits this Thunder team well. But like the young team, he was brilliant at times and didn't quite cut it at other moments. Grade: C+
Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:35 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 5:07 am
 

Durant 'not happy at all' that Dirk advances

Dirk Nowitzki is getting a second chance at the NBA Finals, but Kevin Durant isn't happy about that. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The Western Conference finals was set up as a battle between two of the league's most unguardable forwards: Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Long, coordinated, multi-talented and efficient, both players present nightmare matchups every time they step on the court. Nowitzki, 32, may very well be getting his last crack at an NBA title. Durant, 22, was taking his first real swing at a deep playoff run.

After just five games, the old head overcame the young gun.

Following Thursday's 100-96 Dallas win, Durant was asked what his feelings were about Nowitzki getting a second chance at the NBA Finals. Nowitzki's Mavericks lost a controversial 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat and that was the only time in Nowitzki's 13-year career, prior to this year, that he had made the Finals. The Mavericks had been bounced in the first round in three of the last four seasons.

When faced with that question, most players would mumble some generic show of support for their competitor. Durant is not most players.

"I'm not happy at all," Durant said, shrugging and smiling. "I'm a competitor, man, I really didn't care about what he went through the last three or four years. I know that's been tough for him, you know. He lost three of the last four years in the first round. I'm sure he's happy now that he's going back to the Finals but I'm not happy for him at all because I wanted to be there. But it happens like that."

Here's video of Durant's answer to the question. 



In this Western Conference finals, the battle of the superstars was a clear win for Nowitzki. He averaged 33.8 points and 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists to Durant's 27.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. More importantly, though, Nowitzki shot 56.2% from the field while Durant shot just 43.4% and a measly 23.3% from deep. Nowitzki also got to the free throw line more and was huge late in Dallas' wins, particularly in the remarkable Game 4 comeback.

Nowitzki was the better of the superstars, but he also had the better, more tested team. Durant seems to understand that fact intimately. Will some people misinterpret his comments about Nowitzki as a sign of disrespect? It's possible. But they shouldn't. True competitors respect each other by respecting the game first, and that means focusing on the ultimate prize at all times, even in the midst of a disappointing defeat. 

After all these years -- more than a decade -- of heartbreak and frustration, Nowitzki surely knows where Durant is coming from.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 1:38 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 2:34 am
 

Mavs close out Thunder with another late push

The Dallas Mavericks close out the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals thanks to some fourth quarter heroics. Posted by Ben Golliver.

dirk-happy

Watching the Dallas Mavericks -- who polished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 on Wednesday night to advance to the NBA Finals --  cruise through the 2011 playoffs, you would expect their fourth quarter scoring numbers to be out of this world good.

The Mavericks are now 12-3 in the postseason, after outlasting the Portland Trail Blazers, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers and out-executing the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks have done it with clutch plays on both ends, knocking down dagger three-pointers, forcing critical turnovers and getting to the free throw line with regularity.

Despite all that, the Mavericks have actually only won the fourth quarter scoring differential (including an overtime game against the Thunder) by an average of less than two points per game: 26.4 to 24.5. Their average scoring differential during the playoffs has been +7.9. The first glance at the numbers would suggest Dallas played only as well in the fourth quarter as it did in other quarters.

Sure, Portland's monstrous Game 4 fourth-quarter comeback is a major outlier here. Thanks to Brandon Roy's heroics, the fourth quarter differential numbers are skewed a bit. But even if you take that game out of the equation, Dallas wins the fourth quarter scoring by 3.5 points per game: 27.2 to 23.7. Almost all of that difference can be accounted for by the lopsided numbers in the Lakers series. Get this: The Blazers actually outscored the Mavericks in the fourth quarter over their six game series and the Thunder were outscored in the fourth quarter (and overtime) by just four points total in their five game series.

The numbers seem to suggest that Dallas wasn't any more extraordinary late in games than they were at other points. And yet the numbers feel so wrong. Time and again through this playoff run, the Mavericks have come up biggest at the most opportune times, often late in the fourth quarter, by owning the late-game play and launching comebacks of their own when necessary. It's somewhat expected from a veteran, focused group but still amazing how steady that late-game success has been.

The turning point of the Blazers series was the end of Game 2, when Dirk Nowitzki closed the game with 11 straight points, on an array of baskets and free throws that served as the announcement of his postseason dominance.

The Lakers series tipped in Game 1, when the Mavericks launched a massive comeback from a double-digit deficit, outscoring the Lakers 9-2 in the final 3:31 to steal the first game and set the tone for the series.

The Thunder series, of course, would never be the same after the Mavericks dug themselves all the way out of a 15 point hole on the road in Game 4 to force overtime, where they didn't hesitate to slam the door. 

The Mavericks were similarly ruthless on Wednesday, peeling off a 14-4 run in the final 4:18 to send the Thunder into their summer. As was the case against the Blazers and Lakers, it was a combination of timely offense, a bit of luck, some timely rebounds and steady defense that made the difference. The Thunder didn't roll over.

"This is as hard a game I've ever been involved with," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. 

In the closing minutes, Dallas turned to Nowitzki, who got to the line, and to an unlikely candidate in Shawn Marion. Marion had seven points in the game's final four minutes, including a huge run-out dunk that he finished emphatically while being fouled from behind by Kevin Durant. Marion ran out off of a broken play caused by a Nick Collison turnover to get that dunk. His steal was one of three the Mavericks came up with in the final 1:15 of the game, as a frenetic Russell Westbrook made two critical turnovers.  Marion also secured a loose ball late that he threw ahead to Jason Terry, who threw down a buzzer-beating dunk that set the American Airlines Center into a celebratory tizzy.

Those plays summarized this playoff run: excellent energy, perfect focus, right place, right time, back-breaking results.

"We went back big, the finishing group that has been our closing team for most of the years," Carlisle said. "Those guys delivered stops and were resourceful finding ways to get the ball in the basket."

"Resourceful" might be the perfect word, as the Mavericks' spectacular comebacks over the last month were obviously the result of some inconsistent play earlier in the game. And that's the huge elephant in the room here heading into the Finals: The Mavericks will likely face the Miami Heat, who have been closing games with ferocity throughout their playoff run as well. The Heat boast two scorers in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who can create their own shots and are adept at getting to the free throw line late. James and Wade also aren't liable to wilt under pressure like the mismatched Blazers, lost Lakers and young Thunder each did. 

It's much easier to be resourceful when you're hungrier and better balanced team than your opponent. But will the Mavericks be able to enjoy a similar level of execution against the Heat? That could be the question that decides this year's NBA Finals.
Posted on: May 26, 2011 12:35 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 5:33 am
 

Westbrook storms off without shake after loss



Posted by Matt Moore

In 2009, LeBron James left the floor without shaking his opponent's hand after losing to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a humongous upset. For the MVP, it was a disappointing  act of classlessness in the eyes of many. Some felt that as a competitor, you never want to accept losing. Most, though, felt that sportsmanship dictated that you owe it to your opponent and say "Congratulations, good luck." James was killed for it in the press. Looking back, it may really have been the start of James' P.R. fall from grace. It is considered classless to just walk off the floor. 

Russell Westbrook just walked off the floor. Thirty-four second mark here:


 


Now, first of all, Jason Terry, I know you're excited. It's the Finals. Pull up once you see the clock. It's done. No need for the extra dunk. 

Moving on, Westbrook also declined to go to the podium after the game, with James Harden at the presser instead. Westbrook might have simply been too upset to make the presser. After a game where he scored 31 points (on 28 shots) and had eight rebounds, five assists with only three turnovers, he was obviously disappointed. Westbrook constantly soared for rebounds and pushed the ball to get buckets in transition. With Kevin Durant off for most of the game, Westbrook again tried to lead, with successes and failures. Westbrook also lost his emotional cool with a technical in the second half by shoving Jason Terry.

It's going to be a pivotal summer for Westbrook. He's shown tremendous ability and became an All-Star. But his immaturity and decision-making led people to question his role on the Thunder. A stellar performance by James Harden at the point guard position only complicates matters. Westbrook's going to have to decide what role his career is going to be defined by for the next several years, and he's going to have to grow up a bit to learn to control his emotion and harness it in a positive way.

And he's going to get killed in the press for not shaking his opponents' hand after another late-game collapse.
Posted on: May 25, 2011 6:49 pm
 

LiveChat: Thunder-Mavericks WCF Game 5

What: Livechat for Mavericks-Thunder Game 5 as the Thunder try and stave off elimination on the road in a must-win, and the Mavericks try and advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history. 

Where: You're looking at it.

When: 9 p.m. EST. 

Why: Because where else are you going to debate how ridiculous Russell Westbrook's decision making is, or how Jose Barea is a denial of logic in terms of basketball ability. Also we debate if this is really a must-win for the Thunder since all it means is the Mavericks are up 4-1.


Posted on: May 25, 2011 2:33 am
Edited on: May 25, 2011 11:54 am
 

Playoff Fix: Can the Thunder get over Game 4?

Posted by Royce Young



One Big Thing: It definitely feels like this series is over. That's probably because it sort of is. The way the Thunder fell on their face in Game 4 and gave away a win basically sealed their fate. Now not only do they have to try and recover from that but they have to do it on the road. Chances aren't good for them.

However, the other humiliating loss the team suffered, they bounced back from. After a Game 3 loss to Memphis where the Thunder blew a 10-point lead late, OKC bounced back and won a crucial Game 4. Their backs are to the wall even more and they're even more heartbroken now. Do they have anything left? That's the question.

The X-Factor: Mental fortitude. How do you shake the feeling this series is over? How do you stop replaying those final five minutes in your head over and over again? That's what the Thunder have to do. They're going to show people what they're made of in this game. They have every reason to just pack it up and quit. Will they? Or are they going to play with that same resiliency that got them this far?

The Adjustment: The Thunder have to figure out how to score the ball in clutch situations. This has been gone over a million times but whatever the solution is, the Thunder haven't found it. Russell Westbrook can't create everything and score on his own. Kevin Durant can't get away from Shawn Marion for open looks. When James Harden isn't on the floor, the Thunder don't know where to go for points. The Mavs defense has been really good in those circumstances but if the Thunder are close in Game 5, the question is, can they score?

The Sticking Point: I just keep coming back to whether or not this young Thunder team is ready to say they've had enough. Durant is a player that has a ton of pride. Same with Westbrook. The Mavs have a serious chokehold on the series and it's just a matter of closing out a young, rattled team at home. No problem, right?

Thing is, these Thunder aren't quitters. And the temptation for the Mavericks could be to relax and try and coast out of the Western Finals. But mess around and give this one away at home and the series will return to Oklahoma City where you can be sure the Thunder don't want to embarrass themselves again in front of their home crowd. The Mavs could play with some fire here if they don't take care of business.
Posted on: May 24, 2011 3:04 am
 

NBA Playoffs Mavs-Thunder: Marion vs.Durant

Shawn Marion shut down Durant and the scoring champ made things worse with his decision making.

Posted by Matt Moore



Shawn Marion finished Game 4 with four rebounds, 4 steals, and a block on the defensive end. In the final six minutes of play counting overtime, Marion had 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block. Nearly half of his impact came during the Mavericks' furious comeback to win Game 4 and take a 3-1 series lead. Lost in the Thunder collapse, Dirk Nowitzki's brilliance, Jason Kidd's ice-cold dagger and did we mention Dirk was awesome? Those two steals and that block?

They were all on Kevin Durant.

Everything was set for Durant to step up and be the hero for the Thunder. He'd been aggressive since the start, complimenting his perimeter game with slashes to the rim and no-regard dunks. The Thunder needed him with the offense completely unraveling, and all he had to do was get by a 33-year-old player best known for his time on a no-defense high-octane offense in the mid-00's but who had been a pest in these Western Conference Finals.

But Marion attacked. He attacked his dribble, forcing Durant to pull up, then reaching in and ripping the ball away from Durant, and he attacked his shot, constantly contesting Durant's three-pointers and blocking his would-be game winner.  Marion challenged the young scoring champ and in the biggest moment of his career... Durant failed. 

This isn't to pile on Durant, who was clearly devastated, is a phenomenal player, and has the brightest future imaginable ahead of him. It's to maintain consistency. Were this LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose, we would be obligated to point out the obvious: Durant failed at being the go-to player when his team needed him most.  It's one thing for your shot to be off, that's going to happen. All you can do is focus on the fact you got the best look possible and move on. But Durant didn't do that. He opted for off-balance fadeaways 3-pointers, including a 40-foot pull-up with three more seconds left on the clock. 

There's no Russell Westbrook to blame here. Kevin Durant wanted the ball, he got it. He didn't deliver.

Meanwhile, it was the veteran Marion, once again getting none of the credit, doing nearly all of the work, and shutting down the heir apparent. Nothing will be given Kevin Durant. If he wants to be the next NBA legend, he's going to have to take his legacy in his own hands. On Monday night, he fumbled it into the gutter along with the rest of the Thunder team.

Game 5 is Wednesday.
 
 
 
 
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