7 min read

Tuesday Bolts – 6.12.12

Tuesday Bolts – 6.12.12

Matt Moore of CBSSports.com on Russell Westbrook: “There’s been a subtle shift this year from Westbrook. The aggressiveness is there, the mistakes have been tempered. He has, time and again, made it clear he understands Durant needs the ball late in the game. At the same time, he’s passing less (his assist rate is down 12.8 percent), scoring more. The criticism has actually fueled him to be an even better scorer. He’s taken over games to get them back into it or to take the lead in the late third and early fourth quarters. (His work in the third quarter of the Spurs series was nothing short of masterful.) He has his role, important and prominent and often brilliant on this team. But he no longer is so fired up that he’s sacrificing the team at the altar of aggression.”

Rick Reilly of ESPN.com on the LeBron-KD matchup: “It feels like a watershed moment, like there is just enough rocket fuel to launch one to greatness, not the other. If James doesn’t win this one, if Durant gets a ring first, Durant may have such confidence James will never beat him, the window will have closed, the student will snatch the pebble and never return. As ever, all the pressure is on James. Lose and it’s another offseason of unkempt beards and unanswered questions. But win and he blows some of that blast furnace onto Durant, redirects the hounds, leaves him simmering in all those insomnia worries about unfulfilled promise. Stuff like, “What good is owning scoring titles but no real ones?” Me, I like James. Durant’s day will come soon enough. Followed by so many more. But my Lord, this could be good. And to think they almost canceled this season.”

Zach Lowe of SI.com: “Importantly, Harden has taken seven of those 29 shots, which is more than he took in the entire regular season among 120 field-goal attempts in that same time/score category. The Thunder have trusted him late in the pick-and-roll, and they’ve smartly had him run those plays with both Durant and Westbrook on the same wing, opening off-the-ball opportunities for either one if their defenders sag in to contain the pick-and-roll action. Westbrook, by the way, must make himself an active off-ball cutter in this series. The player guarding him on the perimeter will absolutely help off him in order to crowd Durant or Harden, and Westbrook has to punish the Heat by cutting to the hoop or the mid-range area rather than settling for threes.”

Scott Carefoot of TBJ on why your team isn’t the Thunder: “Only an elite General Manager could pull off all these moves and have them work out so clearly in his favor, and there’s no question at this point that Presti is a top three NBA executive. But beyond the cunning required in all these transactions, Presti also needed the fortune of being able to draft a true franchise player in Durant, followed by two more players in Westbrook and Harden who have developed into top-five players at their positions. What if Grizzlies’ GM Chris Wallace hadn’t inspired facepalms across the NBA landscape when he made the highly questionable decision to draft Hasheem Thabeet with the second overall pick in 2009, thus leaving Harden on the table for OKC?”

James Harden is clutch too.

Jerry Brewer for SI.com hammering home on the tired Seattle topic: “In the meantime, there’s this nightmare from which Seattle can’t wake up. Oklahoma City is legit and should remain so for at least the next five years. Kevin Durant, who played his rookie season as a Sonic, has become the superstar everyone knew he would be. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who were in the last draft class in Sonics history, have become stars. Nick Collison, who still lives in Seattle during the offseason, is a valuable reserve. The Thunder are nothing like the team that left here four years ago, but in some ways, they’re hauntingly familiar.”

Call Me KD.

Lee Jenkins of SI.com: “Before the playoffs, I picked the Thunder to win it all. A few days ago, I would have picked them without thinking twice. Every ounce of rationale favors them. They have more scorers, a better bench, a stronger front line, a louder home court, and they’ve been tested by tougher opponents throughout the playoffs. But when James is right, he can wipe out a lot of mismatches, and he has been right all season. Durant is making his first trip to the Finals and he will win soon enough. James is making his third and he has waited long enough. A year ago, I didn’t think Dallas could win the championship, but it was Dirk Nowitzki’s time and he made the unlikely possible. It’s LeBron’s time.”

Photo bounties from The Lost Ogle.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com on what he’s looking for: “How OKC handles the big stage in Game 1. If there’s a doubt that persists about the Thunder kiddies, it’s that for all they’ve achieved, running through the three teams that won four out of the last five championships, there is still nothing like actually stepping onto a Finals floor for the first time and dealing with a new level of pressure and expectation. We still have to see how smoothly OKC makes that step. Sometimes getting used to the Finals surroundings takes a game.”

Britt Robson of SI.com: “But the odds favor Oklahoma City. The Thunder enjoy a home-court advantage that is magnified by the 2-3-2 setup of the Finals, giving Miami only Games 3, 4 and 5 in its building. Miami will also have to expose a relative weakness in the Thunder’s game. Where is it? Before the playoffs, one could criticize this team for its emphasis on isolation plays and turnover frequency, along with its lack of interior scoring and inconsistent defense, especially against the pick-and-roll. Those flaws have been sealed so far as the Thunder dismantled three teams responsible for 10 of the last 13 championships — with a lineup that often has four players age 23 or younger. If the Heat lose, it won’t be James’ fault. He’ll simply have been beaten by the better team.”

Picks from The Oklahoman.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com on Scott Brooks: “For some, the verdict on Brooks’ tactical ingenuity may be pending — let’s see how his team responds in the Finals. For others, the mere fact that, under his direction, Brooks helped deliver a team that was 23-59 three seasons ago to the NBA Finals is testimony enough to his strengths, whether those strengths reside on a whiteboard or in his intuitive understanding of his players. And on that late morning in January, talking about the delicate process of easing along a superstar, Brooks conveyed the most valuable gift a head coach can have: Knowing, caring and understanding his talent.”

Awesome shot charts for the Heat and Thunder.

Neil Paine for ESPN.com on OKC defending LeBron: “With Durant guarding him, James takes about 5 percent fewer shots from within a 5-foot radius of the basket. Moreover, James shoots less and passes more, which sounds like just about every criticism of James’ crunch-time playing style since 2010. The overall stats are still superhuman, but they’re less so than usual, and that’s all the Thunder are asking of Durant on defense. With Wade occupying all of Sefolosha’s attention, Oklahoma City will need Durant to at least slow down James, to tug on Superman’s cape while matching his output at the offensive end.”

Free James Harden beards for all.

Darren Rovell of CNBC: “StubHub reports that tickets to Game 1 and Game 2 on Tuesday and Thursday in Oklahoma City are selling for an average of $708 and $827 a ticket, respectively. Compare that to Miami, whose Game 3 and 4 on Saturday and Tuesday are selling for an average of $617 and $472 a ticket.”

What do The Finals mean for KD?

Ken Berger of CBSSports says this matchup isn’t all good: “Sorry, Oklahoma City. You might have a loud, rollicking college-like atmosphere that is the envy of most NBA teams — notwithstanding the pregame benediction, which I find more than a little weird. But your city … I’m sorry, but your city is a mess. Virtually every thoroughfare into, out of and around downtown is a festering crater of incomplete construction. (This coming from someone who lives in New York, which has been and will be under construction for the duration of my natural life.) Who spearheaded the long-term planning for Oklahoma City? Isiah Thomas? It certainly wasn’t Sam Presti. It’s called “Project 180,” which means, in effect, that the construction will be completed in approximately 180 years. They are literally picking up and moving a section of interstate highway. If I lived anywhere near there, I’d pick up and move myself. The stories I heard from colleagues about the disarray around the arena during the conference finals were fairly epic, including a warning from one who said, “Beware of cement!” That colleague got cement in his shoes when he stepped in what he thought was a puddle, but actually was, um, cement. Wanting to be proactive, I called Avis and asked to have my compact rental car upgraded … to a backhoe. Apparently, Howard Beck of the Times got the last one.”

A wager between mayors.

Ian Thompson of SI.com: “Now it’s up to James to explore the real difference between them. He must try to make the games uncomfortable. James’ team will attempt to knock Durant’s team back on its heels, and the Thunder will be looking to do the same to the Heat. Something unexpected is going to happen in this series. It has the makings of an entirely unpredictable environment, and that’s exactly the kind of gym in which LeBron James has learned to thrive.”