Los Angeles Clippers: Carmelo Anthony
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsKevin Durant started slow, but came alive to record his 9th 30-point game of this postseason.
Kevin Durant did it again. The NBA's 2013-14 MVP stepped up when his team needed its go-to guy. Durant netted his ninth 30-point game of the postseason. No other player has more than four this postseason.
With Durant and the Thunder advancing to the Western Conference Finals, here's how Durant (and the Thunder) got there and what to expect against the Spurs.
Joins some exclusive lists
With his 39 points Thursday night, Durant joined a nice list. Durant trails only Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson for the most points per game averaged in potential series-clinching games.
Another impressive list? The last five players to record a 35-15-5 playoff game. Durant (twice), LeBron James (twice) and Carmelo Anthony. Durant finished Game 6 with 39 points, 16 rebounds and five assists.
And one more. Since 1990, only three players have posted 35-15-5 in series-clinching wins. Durant, Hakeem Olajuwon (twice) and Michael Jordan.
Overcomes slow start
Durant was held to only three points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first quarter. In the final three quarters, Durant dropped 36 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
Durant found his success by figuring out Matt Barnes. Barnes shut down Durant in Game 5 (Durant shot 2-of-14 against Barnes, including 0-of-11 on jump shots). And Barnes was on his way to doing it again.
In the first quarter, Durant was defended by Barnes the entire time, extending his shooting slump to 3-of-21 in the last five quarters against the Clipper stopper. But in the last three quarters, Durant scored 19 points against Barnes (7-of-10 shooting).
On to San Antonio
Durant and the Thunder move on to the Western Conference Finals to face the San Antonio Spurs. Durant and his teammates should be up to the challenge.
The Spurs "held" Durant to 26.3 points per game (his fewest against any opponent he faced more than twice) in their four meetings during the regular season.
However, the Thunder swept all four meetings against the Spurs, winning all four by at least six points.
It has become a normal postgame image for the 40-year-old Hill this season but on Sunday his performance was anything but normal.
After sitting on the bench for the first half and not playing at all in Friday’s loss to the Miami Heat, Grant Hill played the final 15 minutes and 21 seconds against the New York Knicks and effectively shut down Carmelo Anthony who had scored 38 points through three quarters on 13 of 24 shooting. After Hill entered the game and started guarding Anthony, the Knicks star had only 4 points on 1 of 2 shooting with two turnovers.
Chris Paul couldn’t stop singing the praises of Hill after the game, saying, “I think the game ball goes to Grant Hill.” Vinny Del Negro added, "I thought Grant was the difference in the game."
“Grant guarded me for the five or six years whenever I played against Phoenix,” Paul said. “Steve Nash never guarded me. Chauncey (Billups) was talking about when he was in Denver, Grant used to do a great job on him too. He’s just smart. He never rests. He’s always bothering you and messing with you. He does a great job. He understands you can’t give a guy, especially the best scorer in the league, a steady diet of the same defense.”
Anthony said that the Clippers’ defensive adjustments and having Hill guarding him did at the end of the game did affect his performance. Hill simply smiled when he was asked his secret to defending Anthony. He wouldn’t tip his hand but admitted there are certain tricks of the trade you gain when you’ve been playing in the league for 19 years.
“I’ve battled against him. He’s a great player,” Hill said. “I have as much respect for him. He’s one of my favorite players to watch. You just try to do things to make it difficult. And you have to have selective memory because when he hits a shot, you’ve just got to be able to move on to the next play. He’s a great player and I enjoy the challenge.”
This was the reason Hill was signed in the off-season by the Clippers. They viewed him as a veteran defender who could make life hard on the likes of Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. No one is going to shut those players down but if you can frustrate them and make it hard for them, you’ve done your job and on Sunday Hill certainly did his job.
"He came in and provided a great presence on there on Melo," Jamal Crawford said. "I don't think we win that game without him."
Hill was sidelined for the first 36 games of the season with a bone bruise in his right knee and is just now getting comfortable again on the court. If the Clippers can add a healthy Hill to the mix as a defender that can at least get under the skin of the oppositin's top scorer, their already deep bench suddenly will add another demention they've been sorely missing.
“That’s what he does for us,” Blake Griffin said. “He and Matt (Barnes) are our two utility guys and do whatever we ask of them. (On Sunday) it was to slow down Melo and he did an unbelievable job. To sit over there for three quarters and do that is huge.”
Paul was still marveling at the way Hill is able to play at 40 years old after the game, shaking his head at the prospect of him doing the same later in his career.
“I tell him all the time, I will not be 40 years old and playing in this league” Paul said. “I wish I could but I can’t. It’s tremendous for Grant. He has great heart and determination and he’s always staying ready.”
Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been named the Kia NBA Western Conference Player of the Month for April on Friday after leading the team to its first playoff berth in six years.
In the month of April, Paul averaged 20.7 points, 9.9 assists and 3 steals per game, sitting out one of the Clippers' 14 contests due to a strained left groin. He had seven 20-point performances and three 30-point outbursts, including 31 in a road win at Oklahoma City and 33 points at home against New Orleans this week.
The Clippers went 9-5 in April to finish as the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They open up their first-round series Sunday in Memphis.
Paul beat out Memphis’ Rudy Gay, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Utah’s Al Jefferson to win the award. It is his first player of the month honor since January 2010 and the sixth of his seven-year NBA career.
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony was the Eastern Conference award-winner.
But the new Los Angeles Clipper was still thrown for a loop at the trade deadline last year when he was included in the blockbuster deal that sent him and Carmelo Anthony, among others, to New York from his hometown Denver Nuggets.
He has recovered some since but has not forgotten about the ordeal, which makes the Clippers' Sunday road matchup against the Nuggets particularly interesting -- although Billups emphasized Saturday that he doesn't hold anything against Denver for the deal.
"I don’t have (any) ill feelings toward the organization," Billups said after the Clippers' practice Saturday. "Obviously I’m disappointed about what happened and when it happened, but it is what it is and you move on.
“I’ve been in these kinds of situations so many times, it’s really no big deal. Other than it just being a good matchup, there’s nothing else there really.”
Billups grew up in Denver, went to college just outside the city at Colorado-Boulder and spent two season early in his career playing for the Nuggets. After being traded to the Nuggets in November 2008, he made it known how happy he was to be back.
Then Denver included him in the Anthony deal at the last second, prompting team president Josh Kroenke to issue a public apology to Billups and his family.
"They mean the world to me, personally, and I know that Chauncey means everything to Denver," Kroenke told reporters. "He is Denver basketball."
Billups, 35, also grew close to Nuggets coach George Karl and other Denver decision-makers during the parts of three seasons he spent there in his second tenure.
“I was very, very disappointed to leave in the fashion that I had to leave, just being thrown into the deal," Billups said. "That’s my hometown – I am from Denver and that’ll never change. I’m going to live there when I’m done playing, and my family’s there.
"I just got kinda caught up in the business of the game."