Saying Our Goodbyes
Let’s take a second to thank the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Clippers for participating in the 2015-2016 playoffs. Except for the Houston Rockets, everyone played hard. No one was surprised that these teams got bounced. Hey sometimes you’re the champs and sometimes you’re the chum.
I gotta say tho, I have more respect for the Clippers (especially Austin Rivers) for not conceding game 6 on the road in Portland. It was enough of a performance to make me consider downgrading them from complete busters to simply busterish.
I have talked a lot of junk about Austin Rivers, but I think he passed some sort of threshold last night in that loss to the Blazers. I wonder if this will be the impetus for him crawling out of that bottom tier of players, and actually being a viable part of a winning team.
Even though both are Eastern Conference games, tomorrow’s Pacers-Raptors and Heat-Hornets contests are can’t miss. I’m not foolish enough to think a Raptors elimination will mean I won’t have to see Drake sitting court side at basketball games, rolling lint off his jeans. Homie will be anywhere there is a camera and some NBA. I’m still rooting for the Pacers to knock off Toronto. Indiana has some interesting layers on their squad, and a Heat-Pacers 2nd round would be intense.
Speaking of playoff intensity, last night’s 4th quarter of the Heat-Hornets game was one of the few legit highlights in this first round. Kemba and Dwyane Wade put their “teams on they back” and went to work. Wade had 10 4th quarter points, while Walker couldn’t be stopped (except for a last possession foul by Wade that didn’t get called), getting 11 of his 34 points in crunch time.
I for one am not looking forward to this Hawks-Cavs series starting this week. If I watch any of that series, it will be during the 4th quarter of each game. Bleh. With all the contact, whistles and play stoppage, that series will be as much fun as watching college wrestling. No thank you. I’ll watch as much as necessary to stay informed. I don’t know if the Hawks will even win one game this round.
The Warriors open up the second round against the “stop listening to they” Blazers. The steel and determination in Damien Lillard’s face makes me a believer in Portland…….but not this year. If the Blazers management can actually make s series of sustainable decisions, I think they can bring a title to Rip City.
They really aren’t that far away. We’ll have plenty of time to dissect their off-season after the Dubs knock them out. Portland fans are playing with house money, and they’ll be happy if their Blazers Boyz get 2 wins (not all that unrealistic). I’m just excited to see Dame go to his hometown and put in some work in front of his people. This will be a fun series.
The real deal Holyfield will be the Thunder-Spurs series starting tonight at 7:30 (CST). I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this potential matchup. This reminds me too much of the 2012 standoff, where KD unleashed the beast four times in a row. The only thing keeping me from a full-blown panic attack is that the Thunder don’t have a James Harden to bring off the bench.
For the Spurs to win
Their vaunted defense will need to live up to its reputation. Kawhi Leonard is light years better than he was in 2012, when he first had to handle KD. Leonard’s offensive game is almost enough to make the matchup at small forward a wash.
The bigger problem will be guarding Russell Westbrook. Danny Green and (ahem) Tony Parker can’t do it alone. It will take some team defending and help coming into the lane and forcing Westbrook to make last second decisions. There is no stopping Russ at this point–he’s Kobe 2.0 (except a less reluctant passer), and even though Tony Allen was credited with making Kobe work in the ’08 NBA Finals, that Celtics defense was on a string. The Spurs will have to be in constant communication, in order to keep the Thunder role players from getting involved offensively.
One way to do this will be to take care of the ball when they are on the other end of the court. The more the Spurs can keep OKC from getting easy baskets from fast breaks, the better.
Lastly, the Spurs bench will have to prove itself superior to Oklahoma City’s role players. Besides Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter, the Thunder will have trouble getting their own shots. Ibaka may have a 7/9 game with 16 points, 5 blocks, and 12 rebounds, one game, and then completely disappear behind the 3 point line the next. The Spurs have the better support group, and they can make OKC pay dearly every time Durant and Westbrook aren’t on the floor.
I think the Spurs can survive a game or two if KD and Russ both go nuclear (60-70 combined points),as long as no one else goes crazy. But a night where Kanter gets 18, Ibaka is getting 15, and Waiters is getting 14, means they are probably taking an L.
For the Thunder to win
They will need to resurrect the RUN OKC days. The Spurs are undoubtedly the oldest team in the playoffs. After every long rebound I would have the wings pushing up the court to see if any fast break opportunities can shake out. The Spurs are phenomenal at getting back on D, but you figure that somewhere down the line it may add to their wear and tear to the Spurs’ old legs. The biggest problem with this strategy though is that OKC’s bench is pretty thin. An uptempo game means more minutes for Cameron Payne and Kyle Singler. I don’t think that is a good thing, but they’ll need as many easy points as they can get.
The Thunder bigs will need to dominate the boards in order for them to have a chance in this series. There won’t be a ton of easy buckets on either end, which make Steven Adams, Ene Kanter, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison’s roles extremely important. One way to keep the Spurs from scoring is to outrebound them–especially on the offensive end.
Someone is going to have to help KD and Russ get buckets. The easiest way to spot someone who doesn’t get basketball is to hear them speak as if winning hinges on their superstar player(s). The locals (and the media) here in Oklahoma think that just because they have 2 of the best players in the world on their team that a win is pretty much guaranteed.
They actually think the Thunder were “struggling” this season. It is laughable. What they don’t understand, is that the reason the Warriors and Spurs have been thumping teams at a historic rate, is because they have two of the best benches in NBA history. Having Westbrook and Durant keeps a team in any game, but having dependable role players in a tightly contested, playoff game, is invaluable.
Someone (Waiters, Kanter, Ibaka) has to chip in at a consistent rate for the Thunder to even have a chance at upending the Spurs. Those Heat teams had great role players (Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Udonis Hasleem), that ’08 Celts team had James Posey, Leon Powe, Tony Allen, and Sam Cassell.
The Thunder no longer haven’t had a big 3 since Harden moved to Houston, and their role players have been okay at best. I think we’ll have to see something extraordinary for them to beat the Spurs, but if they can somehow stretch it to 7 games, then the odds might be in their favor. I think the Thunder will give San Antonio all they can handle, but Spurs will win in six games.