Durant dealing with a multitude of defenders

In Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Clippers and Thunder, Doc Rivers has used four different defenders to try to slow down Kevin Durant. The idea being that Durant will have to use his entire skillset throughout the game in order to score. The Thunder have used a number of different sets to try to take advantage of the matchup, defending on the strengths of the defenders. The Clippers were able to shut down Durant down the stretch Sunday, but still gave up 40 points to the league MVP.

Phase 1: Isolating Blake Griffin

Durant got catches early in Game 4 mainly on the outside, because of the Clippers decision to use Blake Griffin to guard him. Griffin can matchup in terms of size and physicality, but was uncomfortable during situations in space. He had touches coming off simply bringing the ball up, off of flare screens, and using dummy pick and roll plays into isolation. Durant was effective using his body and length to create separation over the top of Griffin , and he scored 10 first quarter points on three of four shooting.

Play Breakdown: Dummy screen into isolation


In this set, Durant gets the ball just after half court from Reggie Jackson. The Thunder then spring one of their big guys loose (Steven Adams in this case) from a Reggie Jackson screen. Adams has the option to set the screen, or simply to fake and clear out. This turns into a 1-4 flat in which Durant often shoots over Griffin.

Phase 2: Running Matt Barnes

Durant cooled off in the second quarter, missing his first three shots, and the Clippers crept back into the game. The Clippers outscored the Thunder 20 to 5 over the first six minutes of the second quarter, bringing them back into the game. For much of that time, Durant had no looks from inside the three point line and no drives to the basket. Late in the second and into the third quarter the Clips put Matt Barnes on Durant. The Thunder countered by pummeling Barnes in pick and roll. Durant got a wide open alley-oop (which he missed) and open jumpers off screens. Barnes simply did not have the quickness to stay with KD.

Play Breakdown: KD isolation on Barnes


In this set Serge Ibaka brushes Durant to get a catch at the top of the key, which sets up space for KD to go to the high post at the left elbow extended. At this point Durant likes to get into the body and take fadeaway runners over the shorter Barnes, or simply drive to the basket left. Durant scored 16 points against Barnes in the second and third quarters alone.

Phase 3: Durant against Chris Paul (crunch time)

In the last five minutes the Clips put their best defender Chris Paul on Durant for the first time in the series. Paul was an absolute pest for Durant, taking it away from him on crossovers and mugging him into jump balls. Paul turns on his aggression on defense down the stretch, and his size disadvantage turns into an advantage in terms of physicality. He was able to get into Durant’s grill and hack him without fouling. Durant was able to catch Paul off guard a few times and got to the basket, but Durant turned the ball over three times down the stretch. Durant has never liked physicality, and even the mere six-foot tall Paul showed that.

Play Breakdown: Posting up Paul


This set has been run for Durant against a number of defenders, but was a key down the stretch against Paul. Like their other sets, they free up a screener–in this case Reggie Jackson– to help get Durant a touch on the high post. He either has the option to drive right or to back down the smaller Paul. One of Durant’s turnovers was because of the difficulty of the inital pass to KD, Griffin was able to cheat off of Serge Ibaka and double him, causing a weak pass that was stolen.

Keys going into Game 5:

1. The Thunder need to be more creative in how Durant gets touches. He can’t simply post up 15 feet away and draw double teams–he isn’t a capable enough passer. 2. Continue to have Durant bring the ball up to create space for him, as long as it doesn’t lead to contested 25-footers. 3. They need weakside action for post ups for Ibaka. Durant draws so much attention that the weakside is wide open on most Durant shots. This play below allows for Durant to get a catch in the similar elbow-extended area, but swings the ball to the other side to get Ibaka on a post up. This set is similar to the previous play in that Jackson will still use a screen off of Ibaka, but will go back and screen Ibaka to get a catch in the high post.

Play Breakdown: Ibaka Weakside Postup



Mike’s 2013-14 predictions

Anddddd we’re backkkkkk!!! Welcome to the 2013-14 NBA season! Where something called Neon Jesus and the Dunking Ninja will usher in their dominance!

But seriously, how can this off-season have gone any better? KG and Pierce eat their words, LeBron is more hated than ever, and what we like to call Diesel-12 is about to ruin a third franchise in three years

If that’s not enough to get you all tingly inside, this guy is gone forever! I think every NBA team should have a championship parade now that Stern is gone. Can’t we just give fans in Toronto, Minnesota, and Charlotte the opportunity to celebrate once? Who is hurt by this? I know for a fact the Target Center would be filled more than when the Lynx won the title

Okay, it wasn’t that empty during the celebration. But still. Every good NBA discussion these days has a WNBA shot. (See Jim Rome)

Now that that is out of the way, let’s make some predictions for this year:

1. The Heat DON’T win the title

No, this isn’t most shocking prediction of 2013, but there are a ton of factors that will probably prevent the Heat from doing what only four teams have done ever–win three in a row. 

The biggest being the fact that they won’t have the no. 1 seed this season. This guy will. The last season that D-Rose was healthy, the Bulls won 76 percent of their games in the shortened season and were four games better than the Heat. Now you might be saying why is that a big deal? They still won the title as the two seed in 2011-12, can’t they do the same this year?

Nope. If they don’t get the one seed, that means they will have to (probably) go on a run of beating Detroit/Milwaukee/Cleveland, Indiana, the Bulls, then San Antonio or the Clippers. They had the legs and the talent to do that very thing the last two years, but to do it three times would be asking too much. 

2. Memphis will be AS good as 2012-13

Everyone has been down on the Grizz since their performance in last spring’s Western Conference Finals. Okay, it was pretty bad that they lost the first ever series to Tracy McGrady in 17 seasons of NBA play. That’s right. A team with an all-star power forward and All-NBA second team center lost the first series EVER to T-Mac!

Anyway, if you remember back to the last three games of that series against the Spurs, Memphis should have won at least two of those games. They had the lead the entire game until the fourth quarter in game three and should have stolen game two. 

Keeping that in mind, they still have the best front court in the game in Gasol and Z-Bo, the re-signed elite defender Tony Allen, and they added wild-card Mike Miller for some much needed shooting. 

They still have a glaring problem on the perimeter, but if you look at the landscape of the West, do you really think Denver/Houston/Portland can hop them? I’ll give you the Warriors just because the entire world thinks they are the 2013 sexy team. (Good luck with the whole Klay Thompson shooting 30 percent in big games thing, by the way) 

The bottom line is that Houston will still be a year away with their rotation, and it is hard to imagine anyone in the 6th-8th seed range to challenge them. 

3. Detroit has no chance to win a playoff series (or game for that matter)

There has been a huge shift in the middle of the Eastern Conference, as Boston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia all took HUGE steps back (ask these guys). So that means that teams like Detroit, Cleveland, and Washington are all feeling really good about their chances to make the playoffs.

Here is the problem. Even if they ALL made the playoffs this season, they would almost assuredly be facing the Bulls, Heat, and Indiana, respectively. Those are rosters seemingly without any holes and would dominate teams lacking depth. The Heat and Bulls especially have punished low seeds (omitting games without D-Rose) recently, and it will continue this season. 

Yes, Detroit added some nice pieces in Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, but haven’t we figured out that if your second best guard is Chauncey Billups you probably aren’t in good shape to make a run? And don’t forget that we aren’t 100 percent sure Drummond can be a 30-35 minutes per night guy (he barely played 20 MPG last year). 

So yes, get excited about these new teams and look for them to contend for playoff berths, but please don’t kid yourself by saying they can compete with the Big 3. 

4. Kyrie Irving will make a run at the MVP

This kid is for real. He has ball handling that is rivaling the CP3’s and Rondo’s of the world, and he shot 45/39/86 last season when he was literally the Cavs’ only scoring threat. His play did seriously deteriorate as the they moved into April, shooting just 36 percent from the floor, but with the additions of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, and a healthy Anderson Varejao, look for him to create more assist opportunities and open jump-shots. 

He has a young and hungry roster around him that clearly looks to him as their leader, and with more wins will come more buzz and YouTube videos of him doing things like this

I think it would be unfair to say that he is a favorite or even has a realistic shot at winning the crown, but with the league being tired of LeBron, no wing-man for Kevin Durant, and James Harden sharing touches with Dwight, he could be an early-season surprise. 

That’s all for now folks! If you hoped I would talk about the rise of the Clippers, the Knicks adding Bargnani, or when Kobe will play, stop it. I don’t cover boring teams that don’t win.

Although I do regret not talking more about the Dunking Ninja. More to come. 

Latest example of Stern’s dictatorship

“I see how things are going, I watch very closely… We’re not going to get calls, that’s reality.”

This is what Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Miami on Friday, after a number of scuffles and ejections continue to plague the series. 

Thibodeau was referring to the ejection of Nazr Mohammed, after he shoved LeBron James in the second quarter of Game 3. Mohammed was upset after being thrown to the floor by James after a hard foul. Thibodeau argued that James flopped and there should have been no ejection. 

“I don’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand a flagrant foul, I understand that, but ejection, no, nope,” Thibodeau said. 

The NBA, of course, was not okay with those comments on the officials. They fined him $35,000 on Sunday, just another case of the league managing things they can’t control. Yes, it was clear the Bulls are frustrated with the officiating, but isn’t that okay? Can’t we accept that in physical series sometimes one team feels like they get snubbed? Do we really need to go out of our way to say, “You can be frustrated, just don’t tell anyone.”

Stern is overly-concerned with the league’s brand to a fault in these scenarios. The fact is that these comments do not hurt the league and the fines don’t stop them from happening. It makes for a great story when a player or coach goes off on officials after the game. It stirs conversation and drama. So why are we stopping something that really has no effect on the game?

Officals are big boys and they can handle criticism. They know that not everyone is going to agree with how they manage games. It’s part of the job. Let’s make these comments a part of the game. 

Oklahoma City is in trouble

Last night the historically feared Chesapeake Arena was anything but. Memphis went into game two with a business-like attitude and worked the Thunder to steal home court advantage. Why were they able to do this? It’s simple–the Thunder have no number 2. 

Russell Westbrook hurt his knee in game two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, and the Thunder offense has been exposed since. What was once a scary athletic two-headed monster has now become a one-man show, with Durant responsible for the entire offensive burden.

The spotlight immediately turned to Serge Ibaka after Westbrook went out, and quite simply he hasn’t responded. In the two games Westbrook played, Ibaka went 12-17 from the field, grabbed 18 boards and scored 29 points. Since? He is shooting just 38 percent, scoring under 11 points, and seven rebounds. 

Those numbers would suffice if you had number 0 shooting 25 plus times a game and scoring just as many. How the roster stands today? 11 and seven won’t cut it. 

Part of the reason that Ibaka has been ineffective is Scott Brooks’ insistence on using him in screen-and-roll situations. Ibaka has typically spent a large amount of time on the perimeter in his career, but this strategy will cost the Thunder because of the size of the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have controlled the paint in both games, and quite frankly the Thunder have no inside presence outside of Ibaka. 

Putting Ibaka in offensive rebounding situations will give Oklahoma City chances at put-backs and open 3-pointers, which they desperately need because of their lack of structured ball movement. The ball sticks to whoever has it on the perimeter, and if you don’t get the long rebounds as an outside shooting team, you can’t expect to score enough points to win. 

Memphis will win this series in spite of a huge effort from Durant (he is in alpha dog mode this year. Too bad he doesn’t have enough help.) and have as good of a chance as any to reach the Finals. 

Oklahoma City got screwed over by the Westbrook injury. It’s too bad they didn’t have a quality scorer off the bench to make up for his absence. Oh wait…

The Warriors will take down the Spurs if…

Golden State surprised many last weekend by taking down Denver in six games, but let’s go a step further. Here’s why Golden State will beat San Antonio and move on to face Memphis (yes Memphis!!!!) in the Western Conference Finals.

1. Steph Curry

Yes, this is the obligatory Steph Curry ball-washing following his electric performance against the Nuggets. The guy CAN get unconscious at any given moment and that means he can carry a team in the playoffs. My only question was can he carry a team through a series, and he proved it last week. Not to mention the fact that San Antonio doesn’t have a great defender to guard him. Parker is fine but takes plays off and no one from the Spurs bench can deny him the ball. The key here is if Curry will stay patient enough to catch fire. 

2. Bogut will force Duncan into jump shots

Yes, David Lee is hurt (although a cameo appearance in every home game probably couldn’t hurt), but Andrew Bogut is a biggggg dudeeeee. Trying to move him in the paint is like trying to get Kanye to marry Kim. Duncan won’t be able to back him down consistently, which will make the Parker/Duncan pick n’ pop ever more important. That also means that Duncan won’t be double teamed, which is a huge part of Ginobli/Neal/Bonner getting open 3’s. Bottom line–it’s one less scoring option for SAS.

3. Golden State’s bench is better than the Spurs

Yes, we love Ginobli, Bonner, Neal, etc. but have you seen Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, or Draymond Green?? I mean, these guys can flat out play and the best part? They defend. Er… Green and Landry defend. Jack more makes sure he touches all five offensive players somehow without guarding any of them. But still. 

The Warriors are one of those teams where you just wait for the beginning of the second quarter so you can watch their backups. It’s kind of like in Friends when Ross and Rachel are banging some new distraction and all you want is Joey and Chandler sitting in the barcaloungers. We don’t care about Reese Witherspoon Ross!! 

Anyway, I think Landry is going to get 14 plus per game, Jack will bury one game, and Green will make hundreds of fans go, “Who the f$&% is this guy?!” 

Yes, I could be totally wrong and Manu could go 25 and 9 the whole series and Parker could dominate Steph Curry, but I don’t think I am. As Jay Bilas says, “It’s all about matchups,” and I like the Warriors.

Utah death keeps focus on youth sports

If you didn’t hear already, last month a 17 year-old soccer player punched an official following a yellow card, causing him to go into a coma. 46 year-old Richard Portillo died earlier this week, bringing the flaws of youth sports back into the forefront of the country.

Of course this was an extreme case where a number of factors went into this act by the player. We can agree violence towards officials is rare and many people act with respect when around young athletes. 

Just as we can all agree that we have serious, deep-rooted issues with our youth sports in this country. Why does violence happen around youth sports? Who is to blame? Is it getting better or worse? 

Sports has become yet another arena in which people are judged and ranked based on their ability to succeed. The scary part is that we feel we need to compare, organize, and critique our young athletes. We feel as a society that in order have a chance to be successful in sports, you have to develop habits at a young age. This means more practice, higher intensity, and a lopsided view of winning and losing. 

Think again to all of the things that must have happened for that 17 year-old boy to actually be violent towards an official. We value respect, development, and positivity in our youth sports. I can’t imagine ANY of those values were occurring on that field last month. 

So what do we do about it? We understand. 

We put into context how scary and sad it is that someone lost their life doing something that can be seen as selfless, admirable, and even possibly philanthropic. Think about how horrible and surreal that day must have been for all of those who saw a young athlete bring down an official. 

This is an extreme example, but it happened. Be a part of the solution around youth sports. Be someone who is an advocate for the game. Be someone that sees Sports Syndrome and stops it. Be someone who makes sports something to be proud of again.