In Sketches, we’ll be taking you on a quick trip through the NBA blogosphere to get our finger on the pulse of all of the key happenings and storylines in the L each day.
DAILY THUNDER: I really like how everyone is praising Westbrook today saying things like, “See, that’s what I’m talking about!” If you really watch this tape closely and compare, I don’t think you’ll see a whole lot different Westbrook than other games. He took fewer shots, but it was a product of not having to. He actually had open men to pass to. If you give Westbrook a strong cut or a good screen and an open man, he’ll find him. Yes, sometimes he can call his own number a bit too much, but him being a so-called “true” point guard is more of a product of the entire Thunder offense running well. He’s at the head of that, but as people that watched him all year, this sort of game isn’t a shocker really. He’s put up a number of these games this season where he controlled pace, tempo and the game well.
WELCOME TO LOUD CITY: The second half is where the Thunder took complete control of the game. There were so many great plays. As the seconds dwindled down in the third quarter, James Harden has the ball at the top of the key with O.J. Mayo all up in his face but through a series of crossovers James Harden was able to create just enough space to throw up a contested three as the shot clock expired which really brought the house down. At that point, I believe the Grizzlies were defeated. Keep OKC off the scoreboard in that third quarter and head into the fourth down only three positions. Being down double-digits in front of a crazy crowd really deflated Memphis, especially after such great defense shown by Mayo on that play.
EYE ON BASKETBALL: Hollins had no advantages outside of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and that was slim. He faced an uphill battle these entire playoffs and took the 8th seed to a seventh game against a star studded young team after a grueling first round series against the best team in the West record-wise. He had the Grizzlies respond to a Game 5 beatdown to force Game 7 despite every reason to quit. Hollins made mistakes trusting Sam Young too much and not reigning in Tony Allen’s offense. But he did a phenomenal job getting the team this far.
3 SHADES OF BLUE: As the old saying goes, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.’ For the first time in franchise history the Grizzlies played like champions. They played with heart. They weren’t the most talented collection of players, especially with Rudy Gay unable to perform, but their heart, grit and grind turned the nation’s eyes on Memphis in a very positive way. So while the scoreboard said the Grizzlies were losers, the emotions the team raised in the city makes them winners. Thanks Mike Heisley, Chris Wallace, Lionel Hollins and everyone on the team. You gave Memphis a breath of fresh air at a time the city needed it most.
BLOG-A-BULL: Outside of the first few minutes when the aggressive Heat traps forced Rose into a couple turnovers, the Bulls played a nearly perfect game. Even the turnovers stopped as they finished with 9. With that diminishing the Heat’s ability to run, the Bulls defense showed how it can control any team, even those with great shotmakers. Luol Deng did a fantastic job on LeBron James, forcing James into a startlingly quiet performance (seeing the 15 attempts alone is a bizarre line). Bogans and Brewer shared the load on Dwayne Wade, and both he and LeBron only went to the line 4 times each. When they can’t get to the line, or create open 3-point opportunities for teammates (as a team they were 3-8 from behind the line), it’s a much less scary proposition facing two all-league players. They’ll have better days, and Chris Bosh’s 30-point night can remind all of us he can play a bit as well (while still being easily rip-able). However, if the Bulls defense can play like this, James and Wade are not going to have outstanding games, which they need to have their team win.
ESPN CHICAGO: As he has so often during this postseason run, Gibson gave his teammates plenty to cheer about on Sunday, scoring nine points, grabbing seven rebounds and playing solid defense. Gibson also provided the play of the night early in the second quarter when he threw down a monster dunk on Dwyane Wade. A play that still had his teammates buzzing after the game. “It was unbelievable,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “The one on Wade was crazy and the one at the end of the game was crazy, too. I’ve been calling him ‘Light Feet’ for a long time. That’s his nickname around here… he’s got a few nicknames, but ‘Light Feet’ is one of them.”
HOT HOT HOOPS: Who was the lone bright spot for the Heat? The man derided as part of the “Two and a Half Men.” The emotions didn’t get to Chris Bosh in his first game in a conference final series, as he finished with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting from the foul line. Bosh also had nine rebounds, but only two of them came in the second half. The 6-foot-11 power forward played very well offensively, getting into the paint as opposed to settling for jumpers, which he did in his miserable 1-for-18 shooting night against the Bulls earlier this season.
HEAT INDEX: The Bulls didn’t do anything special in their 103-82 victory — they did exactly what the scouting report said they would. They rebounded and played defense. The Heat reacted to it not like the surging favorites they had been tagged following their five-game takedown of the Celtics in the last round, but instead like the junior varsity. “We took it on the chin,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before using words like “sideways” and “surrendered.”
NEW YORK TIMES: Last month, in a Midtown office adorned with sports memorabilia, two longtime friends met for a private talk. David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, sipped his morning coffee, expecting to be asked for career advice. Across from him sat Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, who had come to New York not to discuss careers, but to say, finally, I am gay………………By this point, Mr. Welts had already traveled to Seattle to share his news with another friend, Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players ever and the recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He had also met with Val Ackerman, the founding president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, in New York, and would soon be lunching in Phoenix with Steve Nash, the point guard and leader of the Suns and twice the N.B.A.’s most valuable player. In these meetings and in interviews with The New York Times, Mr. Welts explained that he wants to pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports. He wants to be a mentor to gay people who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office. Most of all, he wants to feel whole, authentic.