In the final minutes of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, Billy Donovan elected to go with his small lineup. The Oklahoma City Thunder, which led and trailed by double digits in the first and second half, respectively, were unable to close the gap against the Golden State Warriors and lost, 96-88.
You can criticize Donovan’s lineup choice if you want, but Ric Bucher isn’t going there.
“Ultimately, I can’t fault anything that Billy did,” the Bleacher Report NBA insider said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We can look at it in hindsight and say, ‘Maybe he should have done this, maybe he should have done that.’ He pressed way too many buttons in his first run as a rookie coach to get this Thunder team to knock out the San Antonio Spurs and take the Warriors to Game 7. For me to now second-guess his going away from the big lineup (wouldn’t be right). He made a lot of dramatic moves that ultimately worked for him. I just can’t see one particular move, ultimately, that was the difference. The difference, to me, is the Warriors have a system. Steve Kerr is not guessing. Steve Kerr knows what works. Steve Kerr can go to Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa for two minutes and not only have them protect a six-point lead, (but also) expand it. Billy Donovan doesn’t have the understanding of his roster to the level that Steve Kerr does, nor should we expect that he would.”
Looking ahead to the NBA Finals, Bucher expects the Warriors to stick Draymond Green on Kevin Love, let him read and rove as he did with Andre Roberson, and, if need be, help Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala against LeBron James.
Of course, if James plays power forward or center, all bets are off.
“I understand that Kevin Love is a better three-point shooter (than Roberson), but it really depends on how they operate,” Bucher said. “Is LeBron James going to operate in the paint the entire time? If he does, I think Draymond Green on LeBron James below the free-throw line – I give that advantage to Draymond Green. LeBron James, his ability to operate in tight space against Draymond, I’m completely comfortable with that matchup. As much as anything, (it’s a) psychological matchup. Draymond Green will love that matchup and he will get into LeBron’s head – to the point where LeBron will be waiting, looking to invite a double team and see if somebody else is coming. Let’s face it: LeBron James had Kyle Lowry on the post (in the Eastern Conference Finals), and he was waiting for the double team. you’re telling me that he’s going to attack Draymond Green with abandon in the post? I’m not buying it.”
As for Oklahoma City, Bucher puts the odds of Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder at five percent.
“That may even be high,” he said. “The prevailing notion – and it makes all the sense in the world – is that he (will sign) a two-year contract with an out after next season. He takes another good run with this Oklahoma City team, who, you would expect (will) only be better from this experience. Then he’s able to sign a longer, richer deal. Who knows? If he wins a title next year with Oklahoma City, maybe he doesn’t go anywhere. But the feeling is that he spends one more year there and then he heads elsewhere. I keep hearing that L.A. is one of his favorite places. It makes no sense for him – financially or competitively – to go to L.A. now. Wait a year, see what they do with that No. 2 pick, see what other free agent they’re able to acquire and then next year the Lakers look far more interesting, maybe far more appealing, and they should still have enough room to sign him to a max deal.”