Saturday, August 18, 2018
Sports

In the NBA, Billy Donovan adapts and overcomes

It was the morning of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series, and Billy Donovan, coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was taking questions from the media as his team finished its workout.

Two nights earlier, in Game 1, the Thunder had been embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs, losing by 32 points. Midway through the interview, one reporter asked Donovan if there was anything he could learn from watching the way Gregg Popovich, his Spurs counterpart, worked and managed his team. "He's one of the greatest coaches ever," the reporter added.

Donovan hesitated for a moment and then politely deflected the question, saying he was too wrapped up in his own team to pay attention to Popovich's work, although he made sure to add how much he respected Popovich.

The interaction was brief, but it illuminated the way many were viewing the series at the time: Popovich, the guru, going against Donovan, the rookie NBA coach — never mind that Donovan had spent almost two decades becoming one of the top college coaches in the nation.

On Thursday, Donovan and the Thunder vanquished Popovich and the Spurs with a Game 6 victory, making the Game 1 loss a distant memory and earning Donovan another dose of respect in his first NBA season.

"We know that Pop is an unbelievable coach — the ways he draws up plays, the ways he subs, the way he does things — but Billy was pretty much ready for everything the Spurs threw at us," veteran guard Randy Foye said. "He did an unbelievable job of adjusting and growing, game in and game out."

Donovan, 50, was hired one year ago to coach the Thunder, a supremely talented team that nevertheless has repeatedly fallen short of the trophy. He had spent 19 seasons as coach at the University of Florida, posting a 467-186 record and leading the Gators to two national titles.

Donovan used the regular season to adjust to his new environs. The basketball is different. The players are in different points of their lives. He learned how to calibrate his message, and pare it to its essence, amid a grueling schedule.

Whatever growing pains he might have encountered, the team won 55 games and produced 109.9 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, according to NBA.com, a figure second only to the 73-win Golden State Warriors' 112.5.

"First year, everything happens so fast," guard Dion Waiters said last week. "We know that. But coach has adapted. He's got great coaches around him who are helping. You've got to learn on the fly in the NBA."

Game 1 against the Spurs left Donovan and the Thunder chastened. He changed things, little things, to address the team's deficiencies. He took care, at the same time, to stay steady with his players, to reiterate their identity and strengths.

Donovan's rotation management proved crucial. For example, he used centers Steven Adams and Enes Kanter together for long stretches in every game after Game 1 to great effect. The Spurs had no answer to that.

Oklahoma City, which struggled at times in the fourth quarter during the regular season, looked mostly poised in one close finish after another, until it had secured the series win.

"It's all them, man," Adams said of Donovan and his staff. "We just show up and play. All the strategy is down to them. They've done an amazing job, scouting-wise, adjustments, all that. They're on top of everything, which was amazing. That's all credit to him this series."

Donovan has spent recent days preparing for the Warriors, who represent an even loftier challenge than the Spurs. He will match up this time against Steve Kerr, who won 67 games in 2014-15 as a rookie coach. Kerr's team won the championship last year. He was named the coach of the year this season.

After years of playing do-or-die NCAA tournament games, Donovan has embraced the longer, more contemplative process of managing an NBA playoff series. The ability to adjust has been great, as has been the ability to recover mentally from a loss.

Against the Spurs, the Thunder took advantage of that opportunity. When the final game was over, and colored streamers fell from the ceiling to mark Oklahoma City's series win, Donovan and Popovich met at center court. They shook hands, and Popovich did not let go of his grip.

"Good job, man," Popovich said, leaning into Donovan's left ear to be heard over the din. "Good job."

It was another moment of validation for the supposed neophyte.

— New York Times

Comments
Why wait? Time for Bucs fans to start missing Jameis Winston

Why wait? Time for Bucs fans to start missing Jameis Winston

NASHVILLE — Here in the land of love-sick country ballads where the dog dies, the pickup truck tires are slashed and somebody leaves a note on the way out of town, Bucs fans should already start missing Jameis Winston.Oh, he's not gone, gone, g...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tom Jones’ Two Cents: Mixed bag for Bucs’ first teamers vs. Titans

Tom Jones’ Two Cents: Mixed bag for Bucs’ first teamers vs. Titans

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents while tuning in to the WFLA-Ch. 8 broadcast of Saturday night's Bucs-Titans preseason game.It's preseason. And it was just the second preseason game at that, so there's no reason to get too ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs journal: When in doubt, keep throwing to Mike Evans

Bucs journal: When in doubt, keep throwing to Mike Evans

NASHVILLE — Coach Dirk Koetter joked last week that the Bucs' offense consisted mostly of throwing to WR Mike Evans.All kidding aside, it's not a bad plan.Evans is the most reliable weapon among the Bucs' corps of target-rich receivers. He prov...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Sunday, August 19

TODAYAutosIndyCar: ABC Supply 5002 p.m.NBCSNNHRA: Lucas Oil Nationals2 p.m.FS1BaseballRays at Red Sox1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMBlue Jays at Yankees1 p.m.TBSMarlins at Nationals1:30 p.m.FSFMets at Phillies7 p.m.ESPN; 620-AMBaseball, AmateurJunior League fi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Red Sox game

OF Carlos Gomez's overall numbers don't look like much (.215, 8 HRs), but he continues to do so many little things to help on and off the field. Saturday, he made a heads-up play by moving up from second to an uncovered third base on an infield pop-u...
Updated: 2 hours ago
New Rays catcher Michael Perez worth wait

New Rays catcher Michael Perez worth wait

BOSTON — If rookie catcher Michael Perez turns out to be as good as Rays officials think based on their initial reviews, they may thank Steven Souza Jr.Well, not Souza directly.But it was in the process of extensively and intensively scouting A...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays journal: Tyler Glasnow settles down to pitch well in loss

Rays journal: Tyler Glasnow settles down to pitch well in loss

BOSTON — RHP Tyler Glasnow looked so bad as he struggled through a 28-pitch first inning of the Rays' 5-2 loss to Boston that he knew enough to not look out to the bullpen, which was in action.But after allowing four runs — on two doubles...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Live blog: Big-play Bucs beat Titans, 30-14

Live blog: Big-play Bucs beat Titans, 30-14

Game detailsBucs at Titans; 8, Nashville; TV/radio: NBC, 97.9-FMFourth quarterTitans attempt a Hail Mary pass from the Bucs 35 on 4th-and-30, but it falls incomplete.DaVonte Lambert with a sack for the Bucs.Austin Allen replaces Ryan Griffin at quart...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs defensive line had good days against Titans, but not good enough if it aims to be great

Bucs defensive line had good days against Titans, but not good enough if it aims to be great

NASHVILLE — The Bucs' new and improved defensive line has Pro Bowl players, Super Bowl winners and some high draft picks. But right now, they're more famous individually than collectively.For two practices, that's also how they played against t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
For starters: Rays at Red Sox, facing an old friend

For starters: Rays at Red Sox, facing an old friend

UPDATE, 6:14: The tarp is coming off, so they may start on time at 7:10.UPDATE, 6:10: Just a planned day off for Smith, Cash said, unrelated to his collision with the rightfield wall on Friday. … Glasnow should be in the 90-100 pitch range toni...
Updated: 8 hours ago