NBA Playoffs: Mavs and Spurs deliver as promised, but Dallas draws first blood

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Butler_Dunk.jpgDallas and San Antonio both played well but not perfectly. That said, the most important word in that sentence is both, as every terrific performance was countered and every sloppy play met with another by the opposition. It was a game of brilliant, beautiful, and flawed (but balanced in its flaws) basketball, and we shouldn’t want it any other way.

The Mavs and Spurs played a tight game throughout, until the Mavs’ late-game execution allowed them to pull away to a safe, decisive margin. Dallas overcame some decent shooting from San Antonio thanks to taking slightly better care of the ball, parading to the free throw line (in part due to favorable officiating), and limiting the Spurs’ effectiveness in the pick-and-roll in the second half.

Front and center was Dirk Nowitzki, whose shooting was otherworldly. Nowitzki finished with 36 points on just 14 shots, but the most impressive part of Dirk’s evening was his 85.7% shooting from the field. Nowitzki simply refused to miss, as he supplemented his usual array of turnarounds and fadeaways with a few lucky bank shots and a series of makes after contact. There are nights where Dirk is dialed in, and then there are nights like this. If anyone ever questions just how special an offensive talent that Nowitzki is, I would simply pull up this game on the non-existent video monitor, cue a highlight reel of improbable shot after improbable shot, and rest my case.

Dirk was hardly alone, though, as Gregg Popovich made perfectly clear. ” There aren’t many nights where Dirk is not special. He was special tonight, but he had a lot of help,” Pop said. “A lot of other guys played really well; Butler killed us and both big guys were really good on the boads defensively. Jason [Kidd] was a gnat. He was a focused, driven individual, as usual. They had a lot of people well. They played sharper than we did.”

Pop is right: Butler’s 22 points, Kidd’s 11 assists, and Dampier’s 12 rebounds were all essential components of the Dallas’ victory. In a game so close, the importance of every contribution is magnified, and the Mavericks not wearing #41 were still incredibly valuable elements of a winning cause.

Naturally though, the Spurs wouldn’t have been competitive if not for superior performances from Tim Duncan (27 points, eight rebounds, six turnovers) and Manu Ginobili (26 points, six assists, four rebounds, five turnovers), the two stars whose success is absolutely fundamental to what San Antonio looks to accomplish. Their turnovers — some forced and some unforced — were a huge detriment to the tandem’s efficiency. That combined with the Mavs’ tightened defense on the screen-and-roll and Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood’s defense on Duncan in the post was just enough to surrender the momentum that Dallas needed to secure a victory.

Game one felt like a lifetime. Dirk was brilliant, Duncan persevered, Kidd’s was masterful in the half-court, Tony Parker (18 points, four assists) was moderately effective coming off the bench, Jason Terry had a mostly empty night (five points, three assists), George Hill departed early (just 18 minutes), Rick Carlisle altered his rotation (no minutes for Eduardo Najera, just 18 minutes for Brendan Haywood), and Gregg Popovich engaged in what can only be called shenanigans (three straight possessions of Hack-a-Damp in the third quarter). These two teams are just getting started, and if game one was any indication of what the rest of the series will be like, we’re in for a treat.  

NBA’s Basketball Without Borders to host first event in Australia

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21:  A general view is seen of the city skyline over Melbourne Park during day three of the 2015 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Andrew Bogut. Dante Exum. Matthew Dellavedova. Patty Mills. Joe Ingles. Technically Kyrie Irving (he was born there but plays internationally for the USA).

Australia has brought a fair amount of talent — and scrappy players — to the NBA, and now the NBA is taking one of its outreach programs there.

Yesterday the NBA, FIBA, and Australia’s National Basketball League announced a Basketball without Borders event June 23-26 at Dandenong Basketball Stadium in Melbourne. It’s the first time the community outreach program will come to the island nation of Australia.

“We are pleased to partner with FIBA and the NBL to bring the first Basketball without Borders camp to Australia,” NBA Asia Managing Director Scott Levy said in a statement. “The league has seen a surge of Australian talent in recent years, and we look forward to supporting the next generation by giving them a platform to showcase their skills alongside their peers from throughout the region.”

These events bring in youth basketball players and work with them, both giving young players highest quality instruction and raising the profile of the sport in the nation with a little star power. Basketball Without Borders will celebrate 15 years this summer and has been all over the globe with similar events.

Now they can check Australia off the list.

Free agent Nicolas Batum sounds like a guy who wants to return to Charlotte

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 17: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets  looks on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs  at American Airlines Arena on April 17, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Let’s not pretend it’s about anything else — it’s about the money.

Nicolas Batum is a free agent this summer, right after the best season of his career averaging 14.9 points a game and shooting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc. The last couple years quality “3&D” guys such as DeMarre Carroll have gotten paid bit money, and Batum is next on that list.

But all things being equal, he sounds like a player who would love to stay with Charlotte. Look at what he said the day of exit interviews to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:

“We should be playing tomorrow (in the Eastern Conference semifinals) and we’re pretty mad about that,” Batum said of Sunday’s Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat.

“So this is unfinished business.”

“It was a pretty cool year. First time I got to play like I want to in eight years in the NBA.”

Batum went on to say the Hornets will be the first team he speaks with July 1. If the Hornets want to keep him, they will get their chance.

The Hornets have some difficult decisions to make this summer. In addition to Batum, their most coveted free agent around the league, the Hornets also have Jeremy Lin (who will opt out), Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and Courtney Lee. Keeping all of them may not be possible in a market where teams are flush with cap space thanks to the new television deal and overspending.

It may take a max or at least near max deal to keep Batum — GMs across the league saw what he could do this season and want him. That fifth year that only Charlotte can offer may be key for a guy who will be on the other side of 30 when he tries to get his next contract. Which is overpaying some, but that’s what the market will be like this summer. The Hornets have to decide their priorities on bringing their current core of free agents back, and what price tag they are willing to pay for each guy.

But if they are willing to pay, Batum would like to be back.

Kevin Love says he’s fine after leg, shoulder injuries in Game 1 vs. Hawks

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Kevin Love was hobbling off the court more like he just played a football game than a basketball game. He took a few hits during the game.

The most notable was to his surgically repaired shoulder left when the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore bought a pump fake and ended up landing on that shoulder (video above). Love came off the court holding his shoulder after that one, which was a little too reminiscent of last year for Cavs fans. Then there was the leg injury when he landed awkwardly trying to tip out a rebound.

So how is Love doing? He said after the game he’s just fine, as reported by Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.

“I’m fine,” Love said. “It was just one of those plays. You’ve always got to watch those plays when you pump fake on the 3-point line or on a jump shot and you’re leaning in and get hit, but I feel good.”

Love also came up limping later in the quarter when he landed awkwardly on his toe. He was weight-bearing in a vulnerable position for his knee momentarily, but appeared to catch himself before coming out of the game. A team source said it was more of a precaution than a necessity, as the game was well in hand by that point.

Love will be on the court for Game 2 Wednesday night. He had 17 points (but on 4-of-17 shooting) and 11 rebounds in Game 1, finishing a +15 on a night when the Cavaliers starters did their jobs, and the bench showed its flaws. I thought this could be a breakout big playoff series for Love, and his shooting certainly did not live up to that billing, but he did draw Kent Bazemore on him (keeping him off LeBron), which is a good thing. Also, he did a solid job defensively matched up on Al Horford (4-of-13 shooting) and if he can continue that the Cavs path to the next round is easier.

Spurs fan grabbed Steven Adams arm during final, wild play of Game 2

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 2: Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder grabs a rebound against the San Antonio Spurs during game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 2, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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We went over a lot of the wild, freewheeling final 13 seconds of Oklahoma City’s Game 2 win over San Antonio — there were a host of missed calls both ways, the most egregious being Dion Waiters shoving Manu Ginobili from out of bounds.

Or was it? How about a fan grabbing a player, trying to keep him from returning to the court? That happened to Steven Adams of the Thunder after his brilliant — very possibly game saving — close out on Patty Mills corner three.

That’s just wrong. And you can add it to the list of things the referees just did not see.

The only silver lining here is it didn’t impact the play, with just two seconds left Adams was not going to get back into rugby scrum that was happening on the ground under the basket. A scrum the Thunder won (after fouling LaMarcus Aldridge) along with the game.

If the league can find out who that fan was, he or she should be banned from the front row of future games.