NBA Playoffs: The Spurs take another close game against the Mavs, heap all the pressure onto Dallas

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The last two games have represented a phenomenal opportunity for the Dallas Mavericks: rather than the 1-2 deficit they now face, the Mavs could very well have been blocking off travel dates for the second round as the proud owners of a 3-0 series lead. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs showed in both games what makes them such a formidable foe — not only to the Mavs, but to any team in the league — and their late-game performance last night made Game 3 an excellent companion piece to their Game 2 showing.

Tim Duncan (25 points on 18 shots, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers), Tony Parker (23 points on 10-of-16 shooting), and Manu Ginobili (15 points, seven assists, five rebounds) were resolved and effective, as each provided fantastic contributions made even more impressive by the game’s snail-like pace (84 possessions). Opposite them were Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds) and J.J. Barea (17 points, four assists, four rebounds), who improbably kept Dallas competitive despite seeming completely outmatched.

This was just a fantastic performance by the Spurs’ team defense, and their ability to make the Mavs think twice about every shot attempt was a huge factor. Dallas, on the other hand, gave up too much ground to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker when matched up man-to-man, and their switch to the zone in the third quarter wasn’t enough to counter their lack of offensive balance.

Part of the reason the Mavs’ offense was so Dirk-heavy was due to an impromptu benching of Shawn Marion and Caron Butler; Marion played just three and a half minutes to start the third quarter and Butler didn’t play in the entire second half.

Caron’s benching was understandable, as he was completely invisible (save his three turnovers) in his 15 first half minutes. Shawn on the other hand, was the primary defender on Manu Ginobili and had limited Manu to a scoreless first half. The three-guard lineup of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barea (playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier) keyed the Mavs’ third quarter surge, but one can’t help but wonder if Dallas could have been more effective on defense in the fourth with Marion on the floor.

Instead, Ginobili drove through the heart of the zone for several key scoring possessions in the fourth, and while Dallas kept the game close, they were unable to respond. That difference highlights a key theme throughout the game: the Spurs were willing to get the ball inside, even if they were stopped at the rim, and the only Mavs determined to do the same were J.J. Barea and to a lesser extent, Dirk Nowitzki.

Dallas is going to need to get to the line more against San Antonio’s impressive defense, and while they showed they were capable of doing that very thing in Game 1, the whistles weren’t quite so friendly at the AT&T Center tonight. Woe are they, and regardless of any issues the Mavs had with the officiating, they’ve now magnified the importance of the almighty Game 4: a win rights the ship and presumably removes any doubt as to the Mavs’ ability to perform (not that any such doubt exists in the locker room, as the players themselves remain convinced of their own ability to win the series), while a loss on Sunday would force Dallas to win three straight elimination games.

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.