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.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?