Here’s what happens when you’re the opposing team’s star in a playoff series against Phil Jackson’s team: The Zen Master responds to a reporter’s question in a way that draws out every amateur psychologists in the media.
The star’s psyche is probed, not by Jackson, but by the media. Reaction and counter-reaction stories can make it a three or four-day story. More if you let it. Just ask Isiah Thomas, Karl Malone or Patrick Ewing.
It’s now Kevin Durant’s turn, and Durant extended the story’s shelf-life — and his time on the couch — with a rough playoff debut Sunday. But Durant did his part to make it a dead issue Tuesday, before and after the game. The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry was there when KD “lost his patience” before the game. NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper transcribed the testy exchange between Durant and two reporters.
Then Durant went out and scored 32 points, hitting 3-of-5 from 3-point range before missing a long, long one that could have won the game with 10 seconds left. If Jackson did indeed see his $35,000 fine for comments about Durant and officiating as the price to pay for renting space in Durant’s head — which frankly I don’t believe — Tuesday’s performance had the look and feel of eviction day.
But before we move on to Game 3 and the next mind game, consider this: Ron Artest bear-hugged Durant most of the night and KD shot six free throws — five fewer than Game 1, four fewer than his season average and just about what he averaged in four regular-season games against the Lakers. And the Lakers are up 2-0.
Other links that make me think:
The Thunder is young. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wonders what’s the Lakers’ excuse. This piece points out that Kobe Bryant’s father, current Japanese league coach and former NBA reserve Joe Bryant, watched his son play in person for the first time in five years. Said the elder Bryant: “I like sitting home because I can curse.” Think Phil Jackson felt the same way?
(As an aside, here’s how old I am: Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant was my camp counselor when I was an 11-year-old attending the University of Maryland basketball camp and he was a Philly hoops legend and La Salle University star. Great guy, winning personality and a fair singer, as I recall. He and Duke postman Terry Chili could sing a mean acappella version of the Seals & Crofts hit “Summer Breeze.” Good times.)
Did the Lakers take the Thunder lightly? Derek Fisher’s pregame urging and a quote from Jackson in this story by the Times’ Mike Bresnahan piece seem to say “yes.”
Maybe Jackson is right. Maybe the Lakers will have to shoot much better win in Oklahoma City, as the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding writes here. There’s also a chance that all 17 of those shots the Thunder blocked were going in before they got swatted.
James Harden seems lost and Eric Maynor looks only slightly more steady. The two rookies we marveled at a month ago are a combined 2-of-11 in 46 minutes in Games 1 and 2. I’ve wondered about the wisdom of having them on the court together, which has happened for at least one stretch in both games. But in this Kobe appreciation, ESPN-Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin takes a shot at Maynor, calling him a “lightweight.”
Did you like Artest’s Game 2 hairdo? The Oklahoman assistant sports editor Scott Munn said it looked like a “bad Easter egg.” Phil Jackson is known to give his players books during the season. Is it possible he gave Artest one of those kids accessory books titled “Your Very Own Dennis Rodman Starter Kit”?
Just heard Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook on ESPN’s First Take. A summary of Westbrook’s conversation with host Jay Crawford.
– On the excitment over playing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, Westbrook said the Thunder is excited to “play our brand of basketball.”
– On whether Phil Jackson’s comments about Kevin Durant and officiating motivated Durant and how dangerous KD is when he’s fired up: “He’s been dangerous all season to me. He’s dangerous as it is.”
– On whether he’s the Thunder’s most significant player not named Durant: “I guess it’s a compliment.”
– On the tired question of whether he’s a point guard or a scorer: “I’ve been playing point all my life. That’s the position I grew up knowning. I’m at the highest level and I’m trying to learn the position even more.”
– On whether he’d pay teammate Nick Collison for jersey No. 4, the number he grew up wearing because there are four members of his family: “I ain’t going to pay for it.”
– On his skills as a bowler: I’m the best on this team, I can say that much.” Westbrook said his high game is 279 “bowling by myself, but I’ve got it on paper.”
Last year at this time, the inhabitants of the NBA in OKC were consumed by lottery what-ifs and playing Blake Griffin roulette on ESPN’s Draft Lottery Machine. I must say I took a spin or two myself, planning draft coverage with visions of what having the concensus collegiate Player of the Year and an Oklahoma City native in a Thunder uniform would do for readership. OK, I may have gone so far as to toss out a trade scenario or 12.
This year, not so much. The Thunder’s big win at Boston Wednesday moved it to within a Memphis loss or an OKC win of clinching a playoff berth. Which leads to different kinds of daydreaming, coverage planning and other Thunder-inspired diversions:
– Quantifying the Thunder’s turnaround: It’s a 24-game turnaround and counting. A win Saturday over Dallas would tie Michael Jordan’s 1996 Chicago Bulls — for a 25-game turnaround, not the NBA victory record, which those Bulls set with 72. You’ll be seeing more on this in coming days on NewsOK and The Oklahoman, but when you start looking at the teams on this list and the catalysts who triggered these turnarounds makes you appreciate the company the Thunder keeps these days.
– Taking a spin on the playoff roulette wheel: ESPN does a great job of creating things for people to do when they’re supposed to be working. The latest is the Playoff Predictor, which allows you to click your way through playoff simulations. Assistant Sports Editor Ryan Sharp’s first pass through, using the current standings to seed the field, had the Thunder reaching the Western Conference finals. I just tried thrice and OKC couldn’t make it past a first-round series with Utah.
– Listening to Kevin Garnett bellyache about how many free throws Kevin Durant shot: Is it just me, or is it a little unbecoming of a (fading) champion to be whining about such things? Beware of Kevin Garnett’s foul language.