The officiating has overshadowed some bad basketball and some really great finishes to start the second round of the playoffs.
I’ve never seen a finish like the last 13 seconds of Game 2 with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where there were so many violations and missed calls, the league almost issued an apology for it.
Manu Ginobili embellished the contact from Dion Waiters on the start of the wild finish, but there shouldn’t have been contact in the first place. His reputation could’ve hurt him...
Or it was truly possible the official wasn’t looking at Waiters’ upper body, only counting off the five-seconds.
I talked to numerous officials in the aftermath, with each in agreement they’d never seen a play like that before, from start to finish.
We as viewers have the benefit of replay. The officials don’t have that luxury in the moment, and therefore it makes us as the public more skeptical about what we see compared to what they call.
By and large, though, the NBA refs do a pretty good job of catching calls, while also understanding nobody wants a whistle-fest for 48 minutes of basketball.
And we say we want the refs to swallow their whistle and not to decide the games, well, they did that in the finish of San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
After all that controversy, it’s hard to remember the Spurs beat the brakes off the Thunder in Game 1...remember?
Russell Westbrook catches a lot of flak that should be aimed in the direction of his coach, teammates and front office. Yes, that includes Kevin Durant.
But I’m not sure you can truly “win” with Westbrook, given his style of play doesn’t lend itself to late-game execution because he can’t slow down.
But being frenetic is what makes him special, right?
Who cares if Draymond Green is a superstar or not, he certainly is extremely valuable to Golden State, which maximizes everything he does so well. Green doesn’t make other players better in the traditional sense, but he enhances what you do well, which is just as important.
Winning Game 2 should buy the MVP, Stephen Curry, an extra few days of recovery before pushing him back to action over the weekend.
Nights like Game 2 between the Warriors and Trailblazers make me rethink my voting on Defensive Player of the Year.
My ballot was Kawhi Leonard, Green, and Atlanta’s Paul Milsap.
But speaking of Atlanta, I can’t see them challenging the Cavs for anything beyond a game in this series.
It looks like the Cavs realize that, too. And it should be a sweep. Why? The Hawks just don’t have enough. On the floor or the sideline.
With Kyle Korver’s struggles, one should know the easiest thing in the NBA to find is perimeter shooting, and no team should be married to it in the form of one player or another (Hint, hint, Chicago Bulls management)
During the season, I talked to a personnel man in Los Angeles, who said the Cavaliers wouldn’t win a title unless LeBron James took a step back from doing everything and allowing others to flourish.
By “others”, he meant Kyrie Irving and made the comparison about Dwyane Wade deferring to James starting in 2012, which lead to the Miami Heat winning two titles.
More on Wade in a moment.
Would James’ ego and game work without being a high-volume, high-usage player, especially ceding a spot in the hierarchy to the likes of Irving? That’s the most interesting development that will come out of the Hawks-Cavs second-round series.
Moving back to Wade. Whenever you think he’s done, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat—and the Heat look poised for a meeting with the Cavs in the conference finals.
If there’s a team to truly challenge Cleveland, Miami’s length on defense and shot blocking could be an interesting antidote to Cleveland’s high pick and rolls.
Not only with Wade but Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson, the Heat has three supreme shot creators down the stretch of games, who can facilitate, get to the rim and make free throws.
That makes them beyond dangerous.
Not as dangerous as Chris Bosh seems to be to his own health. He desperately wants to play, but the Heat won’t give him clearance.
Think about how rare that is, a team that desperately wants to win, but will not put a player in danger to do it. Sounds simple and humane, but think how many franchises in all facets of sports would try to take every precaution but letting a player make his own decision about playing.
I commend Bosh for wanting to play so badly, he’s going to the union so he can risk his life, potentially.
Think about how that sounds.
With his health situation sprouting in two straight years, one wonders if Bosh should even think about playing beyond this playoff run.
That said, the Heat almost gave one away to the Raptors, a team nobody believes in for good reason.
A team led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry seems like it has a very low shelf life—the second round.
Speaking of Lowry, it’s past time to call him a playoff underachiever. He’s played over 30 playoff games and isn’t shooting 40 percent for his career.
That desperation triple that sent game 1 into overtime was three of his seven points.
That desperation triple shouldn’t have counted considering he stepped out of bounds before picking up his dribble.
The officials will get another round of derision after the NBA releases its two-minute report Wednesday.
One wonders how bad the Bulls feel watching the Raptors, a team they’ve dominated the past two years, being in the second round while they’re at home.
Lowry’s probably still shooting in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre after hours.
And it probably won’t help.
There's likely a lot Tom Thibodeau would love to get off his chest.
But the newest head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves continued to take the high road on his tumultous ending with the Bulls when he spoke to David Kaplan Monday morning on ESPN 1000.
Thibodeau, who was hired by the Timberwolves in April as head coach and president of basketball operations, said he was appreciative of his five seasons with the Bulls.
"I felt I had a great job here and I had great guys to coach," he told Kaplan. "That part, you're disappointed that it's going to end, but you know if you're in pro sports. These things happen. I was disappointed that we weren't able to win the championship, not only for our players, but for the fans here and for Jerry (Reinsdorf). Jerry took a chance on me and I'll always appreciate that he did that. I enjoyed my time here.
"Obviously I loved living here and appreciate all the support we received for our team over the five years I was here," he added. "I know what the Bulls mean to this city and I know how the organization feels about the support that they receive from the fans. This is a great, great sports city and I certainly appreciate all they did for me as well."
Thibodeau's departure coincided with Fred Hoiberg's arrival at the helm. The Bulls struggled in their first year post-Thibodeau, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Thibodeau alluded to myriad injuries the team faced, including the season-ending shoulder injury to emotional leader Joakim Noah.
"Jo (Noah) is a big hit. You can't underestimate that, but along with Jo going down I felt that the East had gotten a lot better," Thibodeau said. "When you combine those things, and sometimes that happens. They're still a really good team. I think Fred is an excellent coach. They have to be healthy. That's a big thing for the organization, and unfortunately that hasn't been the case for the last few years."
The Bulls and Timberwolves will play twice next season.
With the controversy behind him and a future that’s envied by virtually every team not in the playoffs, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau embraced his introduction as Minnesota Timberwolves coach as a new beginning.
Of course, the smile was a little wider considering the title he’s also walking into the door with, as President of basketball operations. He’ll be able to create and establish his own culture as basketball czar, with comrade Scott Layden as general manager.
Layden will do the daily, dirty work, but Thibodeau will have final say in basketball matters—a responsibility he craved in this year away from the sidelines, and also evidenced by his partnership with the popular firm Korn Ferry, the firm that helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.
"For me, personally, this is about alignment," Thibodeau said at his introduction. "It's not about power. It's not about any of that stuff. I've known Scott a long time. We've shared philosophies with each other about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. So I'm glad we had the opportunity to get him."
Like Van Gundy, Thibodeau had a rocky relationship with his previous employer before turning the tables in his next stop to become the all-knowing basketball being.
Scathing comments after his firing last spring from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stung Thibodeau, according to reports, but was offset by Thibodeau thanking Reinsdorf for taking the chance on hiring him, not the ugly, forgettable ending.
“I don’t want to keep going back to Chicago, that’s gone,” he said afterward. “When I look back in totality, there was a lot more good than bad. That’s the way I prefer to view it. The next time you go around, you want to do it better. You analyze different teams, see the synergy between front office and coach and you try to emulate that.”
It’s easy to take the high road when two of the league’s brightest and youngest talents—Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—are in your stead, healthy and ready to bust out.
And it’s easy to take the high road when there’s no barrier between what you want to happen and what will happen inside the building—a tricky proposition, it should be said.
The natural conflict that often exists between a front office and coach—one takes a more immediate view of matters while the other must consider the long-term effects of the franchise as a whole—won’t exist at all with Thibodeau and Layden because the hierarchy is clear.
It’s Thibodeau at the top and everyone and everything must bend to his will, per se. Considering the way he felt about the way things transpired in Chicago, where he reportedly clashed with Gar Forman and John Paxson over myriad issues, no one can be too surprised he followed the model laid out by Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Van Gundy, among others.
And like Van Gundy, Thibodeau has the task of getting the team with the longest conference playoff-less streak back to the land of the living—a feat Van Gundy accomplished this season with the Pistons, his second. The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason since 2004, when Kevin Garnett won MVP.
It was four years before Garnett and Thibodeau connected in Boston in the 2007-08 season, helping the Celtics end a 22-year titleless drought. It’s Garnett, and players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah who helped Thibodeau earn this reputation as a master motivator and defensive wizard.
He thanked those players among others, as well as late Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who drafted the likes of Towns and Wiggins with the long-term view of having them develop at their own pace with the likes of veterans like Garnett and Tayshaun Prince there to guide them.
Thibodeau the coach will be there to prod, poke and push the greatness they’re expected to possess, the same way he did with Rose, Noah and Butler to varying degrees.
Thibodeau the coach won’t have much patience for mistakes, but Thibodeau the executive must resist the “trade everybody” emotions many coaches have when players go through down periods.
Having perspective was never one of his strong points, as he squeezed every ounce of productivity from his teams, but perspective must be his greatest ally in his second act in the spotlight.
Taking a long-term approach in a season when it came to minutes and players’ bodies was something he reportedly bristled at—and even if the narrative was somewhat exaggerated, the rap remains on him, unlikely to shake until proven otherwise.
Now he must take a long-term view in everything, and has to deal with the politics that come with being a top executive in the NBA, a task much easier done in fantasy than application.
Perhaps he gained that perspective in 11 months off after being fired from the Bulls, and using the time to gain insight into other franchises operations while watching the Bulls crumble from the inside.
The Bulls got what they wanted with his ouster, and it was a case of “be careful what you wish for”.
Eleven months from now, one wonders if the same mantra will apply to the coach who wanted it all and got it all.