Archive for Net Proceeds

Down on the hardwood plantation

Bruce Levenson, majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, has decided to give up his stake in the team, presumably in atonement for revealing, in a 2012 email to GM Danny Ferry, some insensitive-sounding sentiments about the fan base’s demographics:

for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:

— it’s 70 pct black

— the cheerleaders are black

— the music is hip hop

— at the bars it’s 90 pct black

— there are few fathers and sons at the games

— we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Levenson, it should be noted, works out of Washington.

Anyway, he found the situation intolerable:

I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pct to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black.

This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low.

And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).

The Atlanta Thrashers, a National Hockey League team, were sold in 2011, and the new owners relocated them to Winnipeg, giving Atlanta the dubious distinction of having lost two NHL teams to Canadian ownership. (The Calgary Flames were the Atlanta Flames through 1980.)

Oh, and you may be certain that Levenson officially took a dim view of the racist leanings of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling: in April he said that he would support Sterling’s ouster. So give the man credit for consistency, for volunteering for his own. But could this simply be that Levenson hopes for a Sterling-sized payoff? The Hawks, up to now, have been worth maybe one-fifth the $2 billion Steve Ballmer put up to own the Clips.

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Dropping Thabeet

Hasheem the Dream heads northeast:

The Thunder have traded Hasheem Thabeet, along with cash considerations, to the 76ers who absorb his contract into their cap space, creating a $1.25 million trade exception.

Why did the Thunder do this? With the emergence of Steven Adams, plus the addition of Mitch McGary, Thabeet [was] firmly the Thunder’s third center and nothing more than an insurance policy. His contract for next season was non-guaranteed ($1.2 million) and was likely to be waived in training camp anyway.

On the upside, if the Sixers keep him, he’s likely to see more time on the floor, if only because there’s likely to be a whole lot of garbage time, especially if Philly isn’t substantially improved from last season, “one of the most dismal in franchise history.”

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Quote of the week

From a New York Times profile of Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the NBA Players Association, which includes this report from her appearance before actual players:

She said she was all too aware that if she was selected, she would represent several hundred male athletes in the N.B.A.; she would deal with league officials and agents who were nearly all men; she would negotiate with team owners who were almost all men; and she would stand before reporters who were predominantly men.

She did not flinch. “My past,” she told the room, “is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

Billy Hunter, her predecessor, never said anything that forceful — and he used to be an NFL wide receiver, fercrissake.

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From shooting brakes to shooting guards

Kobe Bryant’s company is setting up in his hometown in Orange County:

Kobe Bryant’s new company is setting up shop in the famed basketball player’s hometown.

Council members authorized the sale Tuesday of a city-owned property in West Newport Beach to Kobe Inc. for use as a global headquarters.

Ordinarily I would give this the MEGO treatment, but:

The roughly 1-acre site, at 1499 Monrovia Ave., includes a 16,550 square foot office building, where Road & Track Magazine used to operate. It was sold for $5.8 million.

Which is probably more than Hearst Magazines could get for R&T itself, now having to bunk with Car and Driver in Ann Arbor.

Somehow I get the feeling the late John R. Bond is doing 2000 rpm or so right about now. (Think of it as a fast idle.)

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Lost our lease, everyone must go

The 66ers will move farther down Route 66:

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA Development League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, will be moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder announced today.

The 66ers have played home games the last two seasons at the SpiritBank Event Center in Bixby, Okla., but team officials were notified recently that the facility will no longer offer arena space for lease. The move will take place prior to the start of the D-League regular season, which begins in mid-November and extends through early April.

In Tulsa, the 66ers drew about 2400 per game, slightly below midpack among D-League teams. (This past season, the team finished 24-26, which is also, um, slightly below midpack, though fifth in the six-team Central Division.)

I’m just surprised no one offered to move them to Seattle.

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Return of the prodigal

Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right and you can’t go home again, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

To some skeptical residents, LeBron’s return to Cleveland is less that of the prodigal son’s triumphant return home than the straying husband who abandoned his longtime partner to chase a younger, hotter, firmer slice having second thoughts. Having realized he traded a deep love for a sweaty romp, he’s coming home with a bouquet of roses in one hand and a diamond bracelet in the other, begging forgiveness for his foolish mistake of lustful youth.

All that doesn’t make LeBron’s desire to return any less sincere. Who hasn’t at some time or other hurt those we loved? And it takes a lot of courage to return to what many Clevelanders might consider “the scene of the crime.” LeBron is one of the best players in the world. He could have gone anywhere, but he chose Cleveland, knowing he would have to endure a firestorm of criticism. Had he stayed in Miami or gone elsewhere, he would have been hoisted on shoulders and paraded through the streets. That testifies to his sincerity.

I’m not one of the best anything in the world, but I’ve left this town twice, and come back twice. So I tend to sympathize with King James: home is more than a location Google Maps has stored as a default. And if he pulls off in Cleveland, even once, what he did twice in Miami — well, let’s wait and see.

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The new kids

Mitch McGary, the Thunder’s draft pick at #21, is as close as we have to a Known Factor in this year’s round of Prestidigitation: he’s basically Nick Collison, Jr. (He even wore #4 at Michigan, though he’s wearing #33 for Oklahoma City.) With Collison, Sr. now, um, 33 years old, the need for a new glue guy may have seemed pressing.

This may also explain Josh Huestis, taken at #29: NBA.com’s draft-prospect analysis considers him to be the second coming of Thabo Sefolosha, what with the original version now a free agent.

And I have to figure that they wanted Semaj Christon pretty badly: Miami picked him at #55, traded him to Charlotte, and the Bobcats Hornets dealt him to the Thunder for a wad of cash of unknown size. Is Christon destined to be the third-string point guard? All I know about him, other than the fact that he played two years for Xavier, is that his first name is “James” spelled backwards.

What everyone really wants to know, of course, is whether Sam Presti has trades on his mind. I was thinking he’d go after the Cavs’ C. J. Miles again. (The Thunder signed Miles to an offer sheet when he was a restricted free agent at Utah; the Jazz, however, matched the offer and kept him.) Miles, however, has been embraced by the Pacers.

Note: Several edits as events got ahead of text.

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You can’t make me eat this

Nobody, and I mean nobody, makes a face like an eleven-year-old girl:

Laney in a hospital bed

Poor Laney. It apparently was several hours after her appendix went south, late Sunday or early Monday, that she actually noticed it. (High threshold of pain, or at least of admitting pain, runs in the family.) And by then, of course, the miserable little worm had already spewed garbage all over her insides, turning a simple surgical procedure into a potential Major Sepsis Emergency.

Painkillers and antibiotics have been brought to bear. Her dad (who is, you may remember, my son) quoted the surgeon as saying she was doing “inappropriately well,” given how bad she looked when she got there. And she was apparently well enough Thursday to stick something up on Pinterest. Friday brought solid food and, as you can see, grimaces. Barring catastrophe, she’ll survive quite nicely, but she won’t get out until today or tomorrow.

Update: As of now, she’s out.

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At least it’s steady work

Back in February, the Knicks bought out the contract of Metta World Peace and put him on waivers. He’s still looking for a gig, but in the meantime you can call him “Coach.” An assistant coach, anyway:

Metta World Peace is an NBA free agent, but he has found a home for next season: The Palisades High girls basketball team.

The former Lakers forward will be an assistant coach for the Dolphins, Palisades coach Torino Johnson confirmed Thursday. Johnson has been friends with World Peace since coaching his daughter Sadie in the Palisades program four years ago.

Admittedly, this sounds like looking for a faculty advisor for your debate team and hiring Donald Rumsfeld. But who knows? This may be just what the Dolphins need:

“No one else that I know of in high school basketball has this opportunity, where they have a current NBA veteran on their coaching staff who can divulge that expertise,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of all hands on deck for us and we’re very fortunate and excited about him wanting to be a presence in our program.”

And this is hardly the first time The Artist Formerly Known As Artest did something odd. Before his rookie season at Chicago, he applied for a part-time job at Circuit City, allegedly hoping to get an employee discount. (As the #16 draft pick in 1999, his salary was $1,079,760.)

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Boroughing further

Retired Thunder point guard Derek Fisher, we learned this week, is the new head coach of the New York Knicks; not only does he get paid four times as much as he did as a veteran role player, but he gets to wear a natty suit. (I mean, seriously, can you imagine Fish dressing like, oh, let’s say, Men’s Wearhouse escapee Scott Brooks?)

The Knicks, as I may have mentioned before, are in New York; they play at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan, which basically kills Jenni Carlson’s attempt to be funny here:

So, now that Fisher is taking his talents to Manhattan Beach, it’s safe to assume the Thunder is on the lookout for someone to take over that role.

Yes, there’s a Manhattan Beach up that way, but it’s in Brooklyn, which has its own NBA team, also coached by a former point guard (Jason Kidd). There’s also a Manhattan Beach in California, but maybe we shouldn’t bring up California in the presence of someone who works for Phil Jackson, as Fish now does.

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Temporarily America’s Team

We open, because it fits, with a quote from Roger:

I GOT to root for the Spurs, especially against the HEAT.

He is not alone in his sentiments:

See what I mean?

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And it’s spiked

Early in the fourth quarter, Sports Illustrated jumped the gun just a hair:

With four minutes remaining, the Thunder had closed the gap to two points — 93-91 — but didn’t get any closer until the last minute, when Serge Ibaka blocked a Tim Duncan layup, Kevin Durant dropped in a pair of free throws to tie it at 97, Ibaka then blocked a Manu Ginobili layup, and Durant knocked one down from just off the rim to put OKC up 99-97. Ginobili then sank a trey to give the Spurs a 100-99 lead; the Thunder turned it over; Manu got one of two free throws; Russell Westbrook hit two of them to tie it at 101; Ginobili went for the last shot and didn’t get it. Five blowouts in this series, and finally a game went overtime.

And then, of course, it all went to pieces. Halfway through the overtime, Westbrook slammed down a layup for a one-point Thunder lead; sphinxlike Tim Duncan got the next four points to put the Spurs up three with 19 seconds left, and Boris Diaw added two more to ice the deal. San Antonio 112, Oklahoma City 107, and that’s it: Spurs in six, and the dubious privilege of facing the Miami Heat (again!) in the Finals.

There are several Telltale Statistics to choose from, but I’m going for the most obvious one: the Spurs bench scored 51 points, the Thunder bench five — all from Derek Fisher, no less. To some extent, this was to be expected: when the chips are down, OKC relies on the superstars to carry the load, and Fisher took only four shots in 33 minutes, hitting two. Still, we saw only 12 minutes of Steven Adams (two rebounds, no blocks) and six of Jeremy Lamb (one assist, one steal). Even the absence of Tony Parker, who left the game in the second quarter due to an ankle injury, should have provided at least some kind of opening for these guys. The heroes did what they could: Westbrook punched in 34 points (some of them literally, it looked like), Durant 31, Reggie Jackson 21, Ibaka 16.

And despite all that, the Thunder actually outshot the Spurs, 42 percent to 40, and went 29-33 from the line. (The Spurs were 25-34 on freebies.) Neither side was particularly proficient from outside: 62 treys were put up, and only 19 made. San Antonio had a small edge on the boards — 49-45 — until you look a little closer and see that the Spurs scraped 16 of them off the offensive glass. And that’s what they did best tonight: wangle second chances, while the Thunder were too often one-and-done. Diaw, expected by no one to be a major factor in this series, continued to be a major factor in this series, leading the Spurs with 26; Duncan had 19, Kawhi Leonard 17, Ginobili 15.

So it’s “Wait ’til next year” time once again. And Dr. Pants says it best:

Yep.

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And it all goes south

Very little went right for the Thunder tonight, and the most visible sign of that might have been just inside the 2:00 mark in the third quarter, with San Antonio up 17, when Kevin Durant drew a foul from Manu Ginobili, and missed both free throws. If desperation hadn’t set in before that, it certainly did afterwards: at the end of the third the Spurs were up 20, and things would only get worse. Pop, always experimenting, had started Matt Bonner in the middle in place of Tiago Splitter, and sent Kawhi Leonard out to pester Russell Westbrook. After a 32-32 first quarter, Pop decided none of this was working, posted Boris Diaw at center, and the Spurs could seemingly do no wrong thereafter: five minutes into the fourth quarter, San Antonio was up 30, the Thunder having scored a big two points in those five minutes. The final was 117-89, and the Spurs are within one game of the Finals.

All sorts of anomalies bedeviled the Thunder. Reggie Jackson, who scored 11 in the first quarter, went scoreless thereafter. OKC couldn’t rebound worth a flip: the Spurs owned the boards, 48-35. The Thunder couldn’t hit the long ball, going 6-24. (San Antonio was 13-26.) But take out those failed treys and Oklahoma City is shooting 51 percent, half a percentage point behind the Spurs. Perhaps worst of all, OKC was 13-20 from the stripe. (San Antonio made twice as many: 26 out of 30.) Still, Durant scored 25 and Westbrook 21, though no one else but Jackson hit double figures.) If there’s a moral victory here — hint: there isn’t — it’s that Bonner, vanishing after the first quarter but returning in the fourth, missed all four of his shots.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan proved that he’s not too old to put up a double-double, scoring 22 and gathering 12 rebounds. Ginobili led the bench with 19; Leonard and Danny Green each had 14, Diaw 13 and Tony Parker 12. And if Pop didn’t get everything he wanted, he got the most important thing.

Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City. Will the Spurs wrap it up there? How many times have they won there recently? Exactly.

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Something resembling even

Gregg Popovich, we may assume, was not a happy man tonight. Just before the first half ended, he drew a technical; halfway through the third quarter, with the Spurs down twenty, he pulled his starters and turned the bench loose. If the Thunder read this as a white flag, they were sadly mistaken: over the next couple of minutes, OKC ran their lead to 27, but San Antonio cut that to 13 before the quarter was over, and attempts by the Thunder to leave the Spurs in the dust were at best marginally successful. Pop didn’t bring back any starters until halfway through the fourth. Was this a strategic move, or just an effort to “glare at some starters on the bench for a moment”? Pop isn’t talking. The Spurs pulled within twelve several times, but never got any closer: the Thunder won it 105-92, and it’s a 2-2 series.

Reggie Jackson, again starting at the two, sprained his ankle after three and a half minutes and was seen only sporadically the rest of the night. Russell Westbrook took up the slack. In fact, Westbrook took up just about everything, playing 45 minutes, scoring 40 points (12-24, 14-14 at the stripe), serving up 10 assists and executing five steals. And where he wasn’t, Kevin Durant usually was; KD knocked down 31 points in 41 minutes and collected five boards. (OKC had a narrow rebounding edge, 42-41; Kendrick Perkins snagged ten of ‘em.) The reserves didn’t score much, but they kept up the defensive pressure, and that was probably enough.

With the starting Spurs on the pine, Boris Diaw ended up with 30 minutes and 14 points, tied with Tony Parker for team-high, plus ten rebounds. Kawhi Leonard, assigned to hit the midrange jumpers and keep Durant at bay, wound up with 10 points (3-9) and Westbrook more or less constantly on his tail, freeing up KD. Tim Duncan finished with nine. But it may not be so much what the Spurs didn’t do but what the Thunder didn’t do: OKC turned the ball over a mere seven times, versus 22 assists. (SA had 17 dimes and 13 turnovers.) And Pop, as noted, was not happy.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Alamoland. It will be loud and boisterous. And loud.

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Ibakalypse now

Earlier this weekend, as reported by the Spurs guy from the San Antonio Express-News:

Well, he didn’t say when. Number 9 was out there for the tip, and while he got shuttled in and out of the game for occasional calf maintenance, Serge had a very Serge-like line: 6-7 for 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes. Halfway through the fourth quarter with the Thunder up 17, the Spurs conceded the matter, and the reserves, eventually including (yes!) Hasheem Thabeet, mopped up, giving Oklahoma City its first win in the series, 106-97.

Brooks, who never screws with his starting lineup, screwed with his starting lineup, installing Reggie Jackson on the other wing in lieu of Thabo Sefolosha. Jackson, who got more minutes (37) than anyone, tossed up a few too many errant treys (1-6), but he turned in a solid performance otherwise, with 15 points and five assists. The KD and Russ Show was worth watching, with Westbrook knocking down 26 points and Durant 25, and 18 rebounds between them. The Thunder dominance of the boards was total: 52-36, with Steven Adams grabbing nine of them. Both Sefolosha and Nick Collison, who had been fairly well throttled by San Antonio in the first two games, drew DNP-CD, suggesting that Brooks is trying to make a point.

Certainly the Spurs got the point. Manu Ginobili was his usual seemingly unstoppable self, six of nine from beyond Boerne to lead San Antonio with 23, and Tim Duncan plucked 16 from wherever it is he keeps them, but Kawhi Leonard (10 points), Tony Parker (nine) and Danny Green (eight) were all below par, knocking the Spurs’ shooting percentage below 40. And while the Spurs still have the advantage in ball movement, it’s shrunk a bit: 22 assists and 16 turnovers versus 17 and 18.

Game 4 picks up Tuesday night in OKC. The crowd will want a repeat of what they saw tonight, and I suspect they don’t care what Scott Brooks wears.

(Title by Spencer Ackerman.)

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And the earth swallowed them whole

If nothing else, we learned tonight that the one starter the Thunder cannot do without is not Kevin Durant, not Russell Westbrook, but the wounded-in-action Serge Ibaka. Royce Young called it correctly: “[T]he Thunder have developed bad habits in their on-ball defense because of the safety blanket Ibaka provides.” Scott Brooks, long before the end, saw it coming; he pulled both Westbrook and Durant with 1:47 left in the third. At the time, it was 87-58 Spurs; the planet shuddered in response. (Maybe a 3.6 earthquake is more than just a shudder. This time, you make the call.) On the upside, something this horrendous to behold tends to end quickly, and losing 112-77 to the Spurs is pretty horrendous.

We also learned this: Jeremy Lamb apparently didn’t get enough minutes in recent weeks to develop those bad habits. In the fourth quarter, he hit six of eight shots, none of them from farther than two feet from the rim. With 13, Lamb was the leading scorer on either bench. To emphasize the point: take out those 20 three-point shots, 18 of which the Thunder missed, and they’re shooting 33-69, a reasonable 48 percent. (The Spurs hit exactly 50 percent.) Look at these lines. Durant was 6-16 for 15 points. Westbrook was 7-24 for 15 points. The rest of the starters contributed four points. If nothing else, this is an argument for playing Hasheem Thabeet: he makes few buckets, but few get past him either.

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 22; Danny Green chunked in 21 on seven treys; the Old Man of the Mountain, Tim Duncan, collected 14 points, 12 rebounds, and one technical foul. The Spurs had a 53-38 advantage on the boards, and missed only two free throws out of 23. (OKC missed five — out of ten.)

Game 3 isn’t until Sunday. At that time, we should see if the Thunder are completely, or only partially, demoralized. If I’m Scott Brooks, and you should probably be grateful I’m not, all previous rotation schemes are null and void.

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Geezers rule

A scribe for Sports Illustrated was ready to predict the Thunder in seven, until the word came down that Serge Ibaka wouldn’t be available for the series; he then amended his prediction to the Spurs in six. In vain will you point out that the Thunder are younger and, Ibaka aside, healthier: Tim Duncan, who once drew a DNP-OLD, calmly knocked down 27 points in 29 minutes, and Tony Parker, playing through a hamstring strain, turned in a double-double (14 points, 12 assists). The Spurs treated the paint like it was their own, and the Thunder led only twice: at the very beginning, and with 4:44 left in the third quarter, after which it would be more than four minutes before they made another shot. At 2:13, with the Spurs up by 21, Scott Brooks waved the white flag, and San Antonio claimed Game 1, 122-105. Sixty-six of those 122 points, you should know, were scored in the paint.

This is the pair of numbers that jumped hardest from the box score: the Spurs had 28 assists and 9 turnovers, the Thunder 19 and 16. Clearly OKC was moving the ball, but not moving it particularly well. And while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook accounted for just over half the Thunder scoring (28 and 25 points respectively), the only other starter to score was Kendrick Perkins with 5. Derek Fisher, who is probably almost old enough to have dated Tim Duncan’s babysitter, led the bench with 16. Nick Collison, who started in place of Ibaka, missed three shots, snagged two steals, and bled from two different locations. Reggie Jackson, usually viewed as the Mighty Spur-Killer, turned in a decent, if hardly lethal, 13 points.

“How did the Spurs do?” is usually easily answerable just from two lines, those of Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili. (You already know what the Senior Citizens can do.) Both turned in solid work, Leonard knocking down 16 points and collecting two steals, and Manu going 7-12 in his capacity as Sixth Man of Your Dreams. The Spurs shot 50-87 for 57 percent, more than ten percent percent better than the Thunder.

Game 2 is Wednesday in San Antonio. The guy who said “Spurs in six” might have been off by one.

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A lobless relationship

I’m not quite sure which was less expected: Serge Ibaka’s departure to the locker room in the third quarter — isn’t this guy supposed to be, like, indestructible? — or Nick Collison’s trey with 01.4 left in that quarter to tie the game at 72 after the Thunder had trailed by as many as 16 for 35 of the preceding 36 minutes. That Collison jumper, however, set Oklahoma City firmly on the path of righteousness; over the next 5:15 they outscored the Clippers 15-8, and with 3:11 left, still up seven, Blake Griffin drew his fifth foul, motivating a fan to lob a water bottle onto the court. Forty-five seconds later, Russell Westbrook made his standard mad dash to the rim, and Griffin bit. Goodbye, Blake. OKC ran the lead to eleven before the Clips pushed back with a 7-0 run; a pair of Westbrook free throws made it 99-93 with :32 left. J. J. Redick missed a scoop, Kevin Durant snatched the rebound, drew a foul, made two more freebies. Chris Paul, not going for the obvious trey, came up with a layup; Derek Fisher drew the foul, made two more freebies, and CP3, not going for the obvious layup, knocked down a trey; Reggie Jackson drew the foul, hit one of two, and goodbye, Clippers: 104-98, Thunder in six, and OKC will face — who else? — the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference final.

Three double-doubles contributed to this happy state: Durant, of course (39 points, 16 boards); Westbrook, of course (19 points, 12 assists); and, mirabile dictu, Steven Adams (10 points, 11 boards). Jackson’s last free throw gave him 14 to lead the bench. What is perhaps most remarkable, I think, is that neither Durant nor Westbrook accomplished a great deal in the first half; Westbrook ended up 4-15 for the night, collecting 11 out of 12 from the line, and KD finished with a +6, Westbrook +12. (Both of them will happily point out that Adams was +17 and Collison +16.)

No double-doubles from Los Angeles, though Griffin, his time cut short, came close to a triple: 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists. CP3 led the Clips with 25. Somehow Jamal Crawford, who’s always a threat, wasn’t a threat; he played 14 minutes and made more fouls than shots. DeAndre Jordan pulled down a rollicking 15 boards to go with 9 points. The Clips left eight points at the charity stripe, which can’t have helped their cause. (They were 12-20, OKC 29-33.) And in the end, the Clips were as good as their third seed said they were. It just didn’t happen to be enough.

Monday night in San Antonio. It doesn’t get any better than this — not right away, anyway.

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Zero hour

“They came to play,” goes the cliché. I don’t think there’s any question that the Clippers came to play. Certainly they led most of the night; only briefly did they surrender the lead. And by now, they seem to have Kevin Durant thoroughly cowed. Seriously. At the five-minute mark, KD had the same 17 points he’d had halfway through the third quarter, having made exactly three of 17 shots. (At least he made the free throws, right?) But it wasn’t just Durant. In the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder had scored a mere eight points. Slowly, the Thunder crawled back to the land of the living, cutting a 13-point Clipper lead to four while enjoying the spectacle of DeAndre Jordan’s sixth foul. (Jordan didn’t make a shot all night, but he put up some serious defense.) Blake Griffin broke the string with a free throw; a miss on the second freebie was retrieved by Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and a Chris Paul jumper put the Clips up 104-97 inside the 50-second mark. Then followed two Durant specials for five points, and it was 104-102 with :11 left. Russell Westbrook’s trey fell short, but CP3 was all over him, and Number Zero knocked down all three freebies. OKC 105, Los Angeles 104, with 6.4 left, and then Serge Ibaka took the ball away from Paul. The least-winnable game in this series somehow was won.

And in the end, KD redeemed himself, bagging ten points in those last five minutes, to finish with 27. Westbrook, who made it his business to take up the slack, finished with a game-high 38. Nobody else made double figures, but Steven Adams created nine points for himself, and Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka all kicked in eight. Still: one point.

The Clippers, nonetheless, had three starters with double-doubles: Griffin (24/17 rebounds), Paul (17/14 assists), and Matt Barnes (16/10 rebounds). Jamal Crawford reeled in 19 from the bench. Your Telltale Statistic: the Thunder were called for 21 fouls, giving Los Angeles 20 free throws, of which they made 16, while the Clippers, amazingly, drew 28 fouls, from which OKC went 32-36 from the stripe. Otherwise, the numbers were very close: 44 rebounds for each; L. A. shot 43 percent/44 from outside, OKC 42/41; nine steals for the Thunder, seven for the Clips; five blocks for the Thunder, four for the Clips. If it could have been closer than one point, I suggest, it would have been.

Game 6 is Thursday night at Staples. The Clippers can be expected to bring their A-game. It may take an A-plus to beat them. Then again, it didn’t tonight.

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The ship continues to sail

Thunder fans were wanting to signal a Blowout Alert in the first quarter after OKC went up an implausible 29-7. Obviously this wasn’t going to go on forever: the Clippers tacked their way back to 32-15 before the quarter ended, pulled to within four in the second, and stayed two or three possessions behind throughout the third. Came the fourth quarter, and a Doc Rivers gamble: put Chris Paul on Kevin Durant. A picture of this accompanies the entry for the word “mismatch” in the dictionary, but it worked: the Thunder offense was thoroughly discombobulated, and the Clippers, who had been down 16 early in the quarter, fought back to a modest lead. And in a scene we’ve seen before, a Russell Westbrook buzzer-beater did not go, and a Serge Ibaka stickback was just a fraction of a second late. Los Angeles 101, Oklahoma City 99, and Doc Rivers is going “Whew!”

This was also the first time in the series that the Clippers outrebounded the Thunder, 45-43. And if the starters didn’t shoot so well, and they didn’t, well, this is where Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison came in, each contributing 18 points to the cause. Blake Griffin, despite playing with five fouls late in the quarter — “I swear to God, Blake Griffin could pull out a gun and shoot somebody on the court, and they’d call a foul on the guy he shot” — had a team-high 25, CP3 finishing with 23 and 10 assists. The number you want to know, though, is seven: Los Angeles had nine turnovers, seven fewer than the Thunder.

Even being hounded by Paul, Durant finished with 40 points, one short of his playoff high, and Westbrook kicked in 27, though he was decidedly hindered by five fouls of his own, as was Ibaka, who finished with a modest eight points, though Serge did come up with four blocks. Too Many Treys Syndrome once again infected the Thunder, who went 7-24 from outside, though it’s hard to cite that as an issue when the Clippers were 3-21. (Both Paul and Matt Barnes missed four each; Barnes, in fact, didn’t connect on a shot all day.) You might consider this, though: the Thunder got off 18 fewer shots than the Clippers. At that level, a lousy percentage (41 for the Clips) doesn’t matter so much.

So there will be a Game 6 in Los Angeles. But first, there will be a Game 5, in OKC late Tuesday, and as radio guy Matt Pinto is wont to say, “we’re back where we started.”

Addendum: Royce Young, very astutely, at Daily Thunder:

I think Doc Rivers used some subversive mindgame voodoo stuff on Scott Brooks by going with CP3 on Durant. The Thunder have this horrible habit of seeing a mismatch and trying to expose it simply by isolation. They did it earlier with Caron Butler on Jamal Crawford. So when the Clippers threw Paul on Durant, it was like a light bulb went off and the Thunder said, “We gotta give it to Durant! He has a small person on him!” The Thunder lost all their spacing and movement.

And, ultimately, the game. I suspect, though, that this is one of those tricks you can only pull off once.

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The Battle of Figueroa Street

This one figured to be close, and it was: first quarter, Clippers by four. Halftime, Clippers by two. Third quarter, Clippers by four. This is Blake Griffin’s theater, and he did a pretty fair job of staying center stage, especially with Serge Ibaka rolling up five fouls. But the Thunder, who weren’t hitting any treys, somehow hit four of them in the fourth quarter, three of them by Caron Butler. With 72 seconds to go, OKC was up six, 113-107; a couple of Reggie Jackson free throws fifty seconds later ran the margin to eight; Griffin dunked, as Griffin will, and Jackson managed to miss the next two freebies. J. J. Redick went after the quick bucket; Russell Westbrook took it away and dropped in a free throw; Redick finally made a trey, pulling Los Angeles to within four; Jackson went back to the foul line, and this time he didn’t miss. Oklahoma City 118, Los Angeles 112, and the Thunder go up 2-1. And no, Serge never did foul out.

The Clips might be wondering just what hit them. As usual, they trailed in rebounds, though they executed five steals while the Thunder managed only one, and they had only six turnovers all night. Griffin ended up with a sterling (sorry about that) 34 points on 14-22 shooting; Chris Paul knocked down 21 points and served up 16 assists; DeAndre Jordan also checked in with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds. But their prowess from down the street failed them: only seven of 26 treys made. (You have to figure that when Danny Granger hits a trey, it’s an omen, and not necessarily a good one. And that was Granger’s only make for the night.)

Meanwhile, the MVP was doing some MVPing: KD played all but two minutes, and collected 36 points. Ibaka got only one block, but he scored 20 on 9-10 shooting. Westbrook served up 13 dimes and scored 23. And the Thunder bench, inconsistent of late, was decidedly less so, with Jackson and Butler each scoring 14 and Steven Adams grabbing nine rebounds in 18 minutes. It was not a high-scoring night for anyone named Collison, though: Nick hit one shot, Darren missed all four of his.

The next Battle will be Sunday afternoon. There were five technicals called tonight, and I have to figure that nobody’s going to be on anyone’s idea of best Sunday behavior.

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Checking the Clippings

No, I did not attend this game: almost exactly at tipoff, there was a power failure, not addressed for several hours, and while I did listen to the radio coverage, I was in too poor a condition to make any notes, even if I could see well enough to write them, which I couldn’t.

That said, Kevin Durant’s comment about Russell Westbrook — “An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me” — evidently was taken seriously. Westbrook ran through just about everything last night, posting a triple-double (31 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds) as the Thunder thrashed the Clippers, 112-101, to even up the series at one apiece.

The newly-minted MVP didn’t have a bad night either, collecting a game-high 32 points and 12 boards. Thabo Sefolosha came to life in the third quarter; he wound up shooting 6-9 for 14 points. Serge Ibaka went 6-10 for 14; Kendrick Perkins, sticking around for 25 minutes, hauled in nine boards and scored eight. The weakness in the OKC offensive machine, once again, was the bench, led by Steven Adams with, um, six. Still, the reserves did show up on defense, making for some interesting anomalies, like Chris Paul getting five fouls. (DeAndre Jordan also had five, but you expect that of Jordan; CP3’s spurned-debutante mien played well enough to earn him a tech.)

Clipper scoring was pretty balanced, with J. J. Redick pounding out 18, Paul with 17, Blake Griffin with 15, and Darren Collison leading the reserves with 13. Their ball movement was good as ever $151; 23 assists, 11 by Paul, and 11 steals divided up among seven players. Apart from being outclassed on the backboard 52-36, they were competitive all the way — all the way into the fourth quarter, when the Thunder had a 17-point lead going in.

This is a travel day; the series resumes in Los Angeles Friday night.

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Grudge borne

Although persistence, I suspect, is futile:

KIRO-TV Seattle still complaining

I mean, even Bill Simmons gave it up after a while.

(Snagged by Brad Neese.)

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In which Donald Sterling will not be mentioned

Two-thirds of the way through this game, with the Clippers leading by 25, it occurred to me: the Thunder think they’re still playing the Grizzlies. Their pace, if not Memphis-lugubrious, was downright stolid; their defense was almost adequate to deal with the likes of Courtney Lee; they gathered roughly 60 percent of the available rebounds; their shooting was not too far short of 50 percent. None of these characteristics were worth a hoot against a Los Angeles team that shot well over 50 percent all night, with Chris Paul, supposedly a touch below optimum due to a frayed hamstring, pretty much able to enforce his will. Paul, in fact, sat with :38 left in the third quarter, having knocked down 32 points — 8-9 from across the street — in less than 29 minutes; he was getting ready to come back in when the reserves obligingly dropped in six points on two shots and Doc Rivers decided that matters were not so urgent after all. It got bad enough that the Thunder fouled DeAndre Jordan on four possessions, three of them consecutive, in a desperate attempt to get stops; it got bad enough that a Caron Butler trey early in the fourth drew no “Thunder money ball” call from radio guy Matt Pinto. OKC lost it by seventeen, 122-105, but by no means did it seem anywhere near that close.

Oh, you think we need a Telltale Statistic? How about this? Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford contributed 17 points; Thunder sixth man Reggie Jackson got his first bucket with 2:28 left in the fourth. Neither Russell Westbrook nor Kevin Durant had a bad night — between them, 18-33 for 54 points; but that means that the other nine guys got only 51. (See Jackson, R., supra.) That Butler trey? Only shot he made all night. Does that justify giving the starting shooting-guard position back to Thabo Sefolosha? Maybe. Thabo at least had five points, in two-thirds the playing time.

There were other unfavorable stats. Assists? L.A. 26, OKC 17. Turnovers? OKC 17, L.A. 8. Steals? L.A. 8, OKC 5. Players in double figures? L.A. five (CP3, Crawford, Barnes, J. J. Redick, and Blake Griffin with 23), OKC three (KD, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka with 12). The Oklahoman sport staff were unanimous: Thunder in seven. At this rate, it will take more like nine or ten.

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Out, damned Griz

Admiral Ackbar’s attention would have been drawn early this afternoon: Zach Randolph drew a one-game suspension for trying to punch out Steven Adams in Game 6, Mike Conley was still hurting a bit after a hamstring issue dating to late in Game 5, and Tony Allen had eye issues. This is, of course, precisely the sort of disadvantage that tends to lure the Thunder into a false sense of security. At tip-off, Z-Bo was indeed gone, and Dave Joerger decided to shuffle his rotation even further, starting Allen instead of Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller in place of Randolph. The Thunder made no adjustments beyond starting Caron Butler again; there were the usual distressing defensive lapses, enabling the Griz to take a double-digit lead early on, but the answer this time was to crank up offense far beyond Memphis’ ability to foil. Oklahoma City 120, Memphis 109, and the Thunder go on to the semifinals against some West Coast team.

How cranked, you ask, was this offense? OKC hit 42-69, 61 percent. Even less likely: 11-19 from the Twilight Zone, 58 percent. Old unreliable Kevin Durant was 12-18 from the floor, 5-5 from outside, for 33 points. Erratic Russell Westbrook had a triple-double: 27 points on 10-16 from the floor, 10 rebounds, 16 assists. (The TNT audience was informed that no, they don’t have quadruple-doubles.) Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and, yes, Caron Butler all ended up in double figures, Jackson leading the bench with 16.

And you have to wonder what Memphis could have done to win this one. They collected 13 steals; they forced 20 Thunder turnovers; they made 30 out of 34 foul shots. Marc Gasol, despite playing with four, then five, fouls, had a solid-gold 24-point outing; Conley, hamstring or no, made 20; Courtney Lee, the Griz’ most effective long-distance shooter, had 16. Then again, 2-5 was as “effective” as Memphis would get tonight: the long ball failed the Griz time and time again, with five makes in 17 tries. Still, on the whole, they did the right things; they just couldn’t do enough of them in 48 minutes.

Meanwhile at the Staples Center, the Warriors and the Clippers are going at it in their Game 7. Whichever one of them survives will show up here Monday night.

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Tighter than Jack Benny’s banker

Page 1 from Thunder Extra in the Oklahoman 5-1-14“That’s what they’re supposed to write,” said Kevin Durant blandly. “I didn’t come through for the team. So they got to write that type of stuff.” Now whether or not this egregious nonsense was intended to motivate KD — the newspaper issued an official apology after, shall we say, largely negative response from the readership — clearly something got into him: Kid Delicious knocked down 36 points and retrieved ten rebounds before the onset of blessed garbage time at 2:46. Nor was this the only Thunder adjustment, either: Scott Brooks, caution apparently thrown to the winds, started Caron Butler in place of Thabo Sefolosha. Forget overtime: OKC 104, Memphis 84, and Game 7, always referred to as “if necessary,” will be necessary.

The Griz had a few problems tonight. For one thing, they couldn’t knock down shots: they shot only 37 percent and missed a third of their free throws. Mike Conley, who’s had moments in this series when he seemingly scored at will, was held to five points (2-10). Marc Gasol had a team-high 17, and often-overlooked reserve forward James Johnson led the reserves with 15. But here’s the Telltale Statistic: the Grizzlies, as physical as any team in the Association, recorded exactly one block, courtesy of Courtney Lee. Serge Ibaka had four all by himself. Steven Adams had five.

And maybe that was the difference tonight: the willingness to mix it up with those brutes from Beale Street. The Thunder owned the boards, to the tune of 47-36. There was that 11-1 block differential. And if OKC was horrible from the three-point circle — it was Durant’s fault for missing six while the rest of the team was 7-15 — the Griz were worse at 3-14. As for Russell Westbrook, he took fewer but marginally better shots, 9-21 for 25 points. Butler, in his unaccustomed role as a starter, played 29 minutes and scored 7; more to the point, he provided defense that was roughly comparable to, but different from, what could be expected from Sefolosha, and that may have befuddled the Griz just a hair.

So we’re back to square one: 48 minutes for all the marbles. Or maybe 53 minutes. Or however long it takes.

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Paint it, black

Some time before the second half, the Fox Sports Oklahoma feed on Cox Cable turned to utter darkness, which was assumed to be a technical problem. After dialing around for a moment, I decided otherwise, and said so:

Me, I rely on radio guy Matt Pinto, so I had no problems keeping up — unlike the Thunder, who trailed from the start and fell behind by 20 late in the third quarter, just about at the moment when FS Oklahoma returned. (This was also just about the moment that the Clippers/Warriors game got underway on the Left Coast, reinforcing my belief.) Those who were watching got to see a 13-0 Thunder run. And with 6:35 left, OKC got its first lead of the night, 79-78 on a Kevin Durant trey. It would be their last in regulation: the Thunder, down 87-82 with 3:39 left, burned their last timeout. Somehow they managed another four-point play, Zach Randolph fouling Caron Butler on a trey; at :04, Russell Westbrook took the ball away from Mike Conley and dunked, tying it up at 90; Z-Bo’s last-second dunk came too late, and, yes, boys and girls, it’s overtime again.

The overtime began ominously: a Mike Miller trey, a Durant two-pointer, another Miller trey, another Durant two-pointer. The Griz were up 100-98 with 39 seconds left; Durant hit one of two free throws to bring the Thunder within one, yet another Miller trey went awry; OKC got the ball back with 2.9 left, Durant missed a fadeaway, and a Serge Ibaka stickback was just a hair too late. Memphis 100, Oklahoma City 99, and the series moves back to Grizville for Game 6.

Somehow I thought Westbrook would pull out another miracle. Despite 10-31 (!) shooting, Russ collected a triple-double for the night: 30 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds. Durant finished with 26 points; Ibaka wound up with 15 points and 12 boards. Reggie Jackson wasn’t a non-factor, exactly, but he wasn’t making any headlines with six points, five rebounds and five turnovers. Caron Butler led the bench with 15, including 4 of 8 from beyond the arc; minus Butler, the Thunder were 8-23 on treys.

The aforementioned Mike Miller led all Memphis scorers with 21; Randolph had 20 with ten boards, Conley 17, Marc Gasol 11 with 15 boards. Here’s the number I noticed: the Griz had 11 steals — Miller and Tony Allen had three each — while the Thunder pulled off only two.

Thursday night in Memphis. About the only thing I’m certain of is that it will go to overtime.

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Yet another 53-minute special

Today Michael Heisley died. Heisley bought the Grizzlies in 2001, and owned them until 2012, when he retired from corporate life. Did this year’s Griz want to win one for their longtime owner? Sure they did. Maybe it was enough to push them, down 12 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, to a 22-9 run over eight minutes and change that erased the Thunder lead and put Memphis up for the first time since early in the second quarter. It was 80-75 Memphis when, once again, the Thunder, and this time I mean Reggie Jackson, put together enough of a run to tie it up with half a minute left: for fans of déjà vu, it was, yet again, overtime. With the Thunder up 88-87, Russell Westbrook missed a shot, retrieved it himself, and then had the ball taken away by Mike Conley; Conley burned up half the 30 seconds remaining, could not get the shot to fall, and Jackson snagged the rebound. Courtney Lee duly fouled Jackson, Jackson sank both free throws to make it 90-87, Conley went for the easy two and got it, Mike Miller duly fouled Jackson, Jackson sank both free throws to make it 92-89, and a Conley trey attempt at the horn fell short. It’s now two games each, with two, maybe three, to go.

Oh: “Jackson.” Say that several times. The sixth man clearly was primus inter pares tonight, scoring a career-high 32 points on 11-16 shooting and 8-8 from the line. Which was a good thing, since neither Westbrook nor Kevin Durant was having a good night, each with 15 points after ghastly marksmanship (KD 5-21, Westbrook 6-24). Durant did collect 13 rebounds, one fewer than Serge Ibaka, whose 14 boards and five blocks might seem to overshadow his 12 points. And while Derek Fisher’s shooting was off, he did hit a personal milestone: 244 career playoff games, tied with Robert Horry on the all-time list.

Three double-doubles among the Griz: Marc Gasol had a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, Conley finished with 14 points and 10 assists, and perennial pest Tony Allen came off the bench for 14 points and 13 boards. If Memphis did a good job of keeping Durant out of the lane, and they did, the Thunder shut down Zach Randolph pretty well, holding him to 11 points on 5-14. And if the Griz need something to lament, it’s this: 13-23 from the foul line. (Z-Bo accounted for four of those ten bricks.) For fans of plus/minus, no one was plus-er than Beno Udrih, +9 for the 19 minutes he played.

Game 5 will be in Oklahoma City Tuesday; there will now be a Game 6 in Memphis. And oh, just incidentally: when Michael Heisley bought the Grizzlies, they were in Vancouver; at his initial press conference, he vowed to keep them there, which he did — for the rest of that season, anyway. I’ve seen that routine before, too.

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The handle turns further

With 7:43 left in the game, the Thunder were down 17 and apparently dispirited: the bench had been thoroughly outplayed, and nobody really expected much from the starters at this point. Then those starters produced a 10-0 run over three minutes, and suddenly it was a game again, kinda sorta. Within the two-minute mark, the Grizzlies hadn’t scored again, and the Thunder were down only three; within the one-minute mark, it was tied at 81. Tony Allen then knocked down two shots to give Memphis a four-point lead; Russell Westbrook then nailed a trey and drew a foul from Allen, hit the freebie, and it was tied at 85 with :26 left. Mike Conley spent 24 of those seconds looking for a shot, took one, and missed it; Kevin Durant tossed up a brick at the horn, and once again, we had overtime. With Memphis up four with one second left, Westbrook heaved a Hail Mary from beyond center court; somehow Allen fouled him again, and two of three missed free throws later, the last of them presumably deliberate, the Griz pocketed the Game 3 win, 98-95, and went up 2-1 in the series. (Oklahoma City is now 0-3 against Memphis in Game 3s.)

And here’s your Telltale Statistic: the Thunder shot 49 percent from inside the arc — 29-59 — but hit only five of 28 three-point attempts. Both Durant and Westbrook knocked down 30 points, but KD was 10-27 and missed all eight of his treys, and Russell was a comparably bad 9-26, though he did retrieve a game-high 13 rebounds. Did I mention the bench was outplayed? The reserves contributed a total of nine points, or ¾ Beno Udrih. (Allen had 16 to lead all reserves.) The Thunder also managed to miss eight free throws, though they did outrebound the Griz by one.

Five in a row in overtime for Conley, who led the Grizzlies with 20; Zach Randolph had a fairly lousy night shooting (5-20, 16 points) but did collect ten boards. Marc Gasol added fourteen from the middle. The Griz blocked only one shot all night — Kosta Koufos gets credit for that — but arguably, they didn’t need any more than that.

The series continues in Memphis on Saturday night.

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Finely ground

The Grizzlies obviously worked on two concepts between Game 1 and tonight: hit the damn free throws already — they knocked down all of their first twelve — and keep the ball as long as possible. And by “as long as possible,” I’m talking 21-23 seconds into the shot clock. This lugubrious pace is Memphis’ signature style, and the Thunder typically has a great deal of trouble dealing with it. They certainly did tonight, trailing most of the way, finally squeezing out a one-point lead with 1:14 left when Zach Randolph, pestered by Kendrick Perkins, gave up the ball to Thabo Sefolosha, and Kevin Durant was waiting at the door to Dunk City. Mike Miller, brought in for long-ball marksmanship, replanted a Mike Conley miss from 24 feet, burning, yes, 21 seconds. The next two Thunder possessions came up empty, Conley hit three of four free throws, and the crowd nodded off. Then Durant knocked down a trey, accompanied by a body bump by Marc Gasol, and the subsequent foul shot made it 98-97 Griz with 13.8 left. Next Memphis possession, Conley hit one of two free throws; Russell Westbrook missed a trey, Perkins slapped it back in at the horn, and suddenly there was overtime.

Apparently that was all the Department of Miracles had available: the Griz struck first, and also second, in overtime. Perkins, attempting to block a Randolph shot, drew his sixth foul; Z-Bo obligingly missed the free throw. With 1:15 left, a Durant trey pulled OKC to within one; a Sefolosha steal gave the ball back to the Thunder, Gasol, guarding Durant, fouled out, and Durant tied it up on the second free throw. The Griz took over from that point, with a Randolph layup, two freebies by Courtney Lee, two more by Randolph, and that was it: Memphis 111, Oklahoma City 105, and the series — like the last three MEM-OKC playoff series — is tied at 1-1.

Griz ball movement was excellent: 30 assists and only nine turnovers. Z-Bo had lots of points (25), not so many rebounds (six), but Memphis wasn’t hurting for boards, what with Tony Allen collecting 8, Gasol and Conley seven each. (Conley also had 12 assists to go with his 19 points. Why does this man get so little respect as a point guard?) Tayshaun Prince, not ill tonight, was still not a factor; Beno Udrih did most of the bench scoring, with 14.

On the Thunder side, you figure Durant with 36, Westbrook with 29, Ibaka with 15 — and then it rapidly tails off. Shooting 39 percent will do that to you. Both Durant and Ibaka snared 11 rebounds; Serge blocked five shots and bothered a few others. None of the reserves played much, and only Derek Fisher made as many as two shots.

Game 3 is in Memphis Thursday night. Expect things to be boisterous.

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