NBA Playoffs: Close wins are good enough for the Spurs, who are finding new and exciting ways to best the Mavs

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When they entered the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were not considered a championship contender. Their late season success was chalked up as something of an aberration, and though many picked them to ‘upset’ the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, that’s not exactly the same as declaring the Spurs fit to battle the Lakers, Cavs, and Magic for NBA supremacy.

That time is not yet upon us, but based on how impressively they’ve handled their first round matchup with the Mavs, it could be quite soon.

San Antonio came back from a 15-point first half deficit to take a 3-1 series lead and push Dallas one step closer to the season’s edge. It was hardly easy, and the reason the Spurs may soon be considered contenders for the conference title is not because their wins over the Mavs have been particularly demonstrative. Rather, San Antonio’s three straight wins were in very competitive games, and the Spurs’ ability to close out their opponents remains a crowning achievement.

Dallas had been successful all season in besting their opponents in close games, but that success hasn’t translated well to the playoffs. Instead of Dirk Nowitzki hitting game-winners or Shawn Marion getting crucial stops, it’s been Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili hitting daggers and Antonio McDyess playing clutch defense. A few shots here and there or a few bounces of the ball and this series is quite different, but for the most part the Spurs are making their own luck.

It’s not as if San Antonio is relying simply on their opponents’ failings to determine the outcomes of these games; the Spurs’ defense has reached new heights over the last three contests, and their ability to play Nowitzki aggressively without giving up open shots to the Mavs’ shooters has been crucial.

“They ran at me from the get-go,” Dirk Nowitzki said, “on the block and on the dribble they came after me. When I was isolated on the free throw line, they came at me as well. After the game I had two days ago they weren’t just going to watch me shoot. They were aggressive tonight and got the ball out of my hands.”

That said, the Spurs don’t win Game 4 without a phenomenal night from George Hill, who was able to make up for the offensive shortcomings of San Antonio’s Big Three. Tim Duncan (1-for-9 shooting), Manu Ginobili (4-for-16), and Tony Parker (4-for-9) combined for just 31 points. Hill had 29 (11-of-16 shooting) on his own, and his jumper was almost eerily smooth.

He was hardly alone, though. Even though the stars didn’t come out in San Antonio, Richard Jefferson (15 points), DeJuan Blair (seven points, seven rebounds), and Antonio McDyess (10 points, eight rebounds), had hugely productive nights, with the impact of the latter two in particular hardly captured by their final stat lines. If not for Blair creating possessions on the offensive glass or McDyess’ physical, effective defense on Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs could very well be rallying behind a 2-2 mark and the series headed back to Dallas. Instead, an inscription above each American Airlines Center entryway reading “Abandon hope, all ye who entere here,” will greet Mavs fans in Game 5.

Dallas not only had a chance to win Game 3, but to see their 15-point lead evaporate in Game 5 is flat-out painful. The Spurs honestly are not that much better than the Mavs, but its impossible to refute San Antonio’s ability to execute. This game was incredibly physical, particularly in the second half, and though the Mavericks were rattled by the physical play and their sputtering offense, the Spurs were not. As a result, San Antonio outscored Dallas 29-11 in the third quarter, and the Mavs surrendered a prime opportunity to seize the series’ momentum.

“Because this team has been there so many times and in this position, when it gets so close and tight like that I don’t think we panic,” Antonio McDyess said. “I think this is a team that always stays on one pace and never gets panicky. We always pull it out when we do that.” 

For Dallas, that third quarter should hurt, and it will. San Antonio just has an edge right now in terms of their energy and execution, and while the probability of the Mavs winning three straight games isn’t impossible given the makeup of their three straight losses, it’s an uphill climb that the no. 2 seed never hoped to face.

Derrick Rose calls Knicks’ triangle offense “complicated,” said Phil Jackson was grumpy

New York Knicks' Derrick Rose, left, talks with head coach Jeff Hornacek during NBA basketball training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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The list of traditional ball-handling point guards who liked and thrived in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense is a short one. While guys who could initiate the offense then play off the ball did well (Derek Fisher, for example), traditional points used to controlling the flow of the game chaffed in the system. Ask Gary Payton about it.

So how are things going with Derrick Rose as he adjusts to the triangle in New York?

If Phil Jackson were going to be any of the seven dwarfs, it would be Grumpy.

The Knicks are going to run a hybrid version of the triangle that will incorporate coach Jeff Hornacek’s preferred up-tempo style and the offense Jackson wants in the halfcourt.

Slotting in a number of new players — Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, etc. — with a new system likely means some early-season struggles on offense for the Knicks. The team’s offense should smooth out as the season stretches out — so long as they can stay healthy. But that’s a different discussion.

Tyronn Lue trying to talk Kevin Garnett into becoming Cavaliers assistant coach

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 22:  NBA player Kevin Garnett (M) looks over at NBA player Tyronn Lue (L) during the singles final of the Countrywide Classic on July 22, 2007 in Straus Stadium at the Los Angeles Tennis Center-UCLA in Westwood, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Three all-time greats retired from the NBA this year.

What’s next for Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett?

Kobe is making movies and babies. Duncan is hanging around Spurs practice and is expected to join the franchise full-time.

Garnett? Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, who was an assistant coach for the Celtics when Garnett played in Boston, wants him to join his staff.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“I talked to him about it,” Lue said Thursday, following the Cavs’ practice. “I know his wife is pushing for it a lot. Brandi is pushing for it, trying to get him to come and coach. He says he’s not ready yet. He goes back, ‘I might do it,’ but he’s back and forth. We’ll see.

“But I’d definitely make a spot for him if he wanted to come back and coach.”

Lue said Garnett would be in Cleveland for the Cavs’ opening night ceremonies, which will include the raising of the franchise’s first championship banner.

I’d be surprised if Garnett joins Cleveland’s staff, but I’m also surprised Garnett is joining the Cavs to celebrate a title he played no part in winning. So, maybe ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

More importantly, has Lue checked with LeBron James about this idea? LeBron might not like it.

PBT Podcast: Lakers, Pacific Division preview with Mark Medina of L.A. Daily News

Los Angeles Lakers' D'Angelo Russell, left, poses with with Jordan Clarkson (6) during the team's NBA basketball media day in El Segundo, Calif., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
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We’re baaaaaack!

The ProBasketballTalk Podcast at NBC Sports is done with its summer hiatus, and there will be a couple of podcasts a week now running through the NBA season, trade deadline, playoffs, and eventually free agency. We’ll talk about it all.

We start with NBA season previews, going division by division, and we start that tour on the West Coast. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News joins Kurt Helin of NBC to talk about the Lakers and their rebuild. From there the conversation goes to questions such as can anyone beat the Warriors? Are the Clippers contenders? Plus we talk about the building processes going on in Sacramento and Phoenix.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets signing P.J. Hairston

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and P.J. Hairston #19 of the Charlotte Hornets watch a shot during their game at Toyota Center on December 21, 2015 in Houston, 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets created a little roster confusion by giving Gary Payton II a fully guaranteed deal, bringing Houston to 15 players (the regular-season roster limit) with guaranteed salaries plus restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas.

This won’t clarify the situation, but P.J. Hairston will give the Rockets another intriguing piece.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Hairston was a first-round pick just two years ago, and at age 23, he still presents upside. He has at least stopped producing negative headline after negative headline after negative

Now, we can focus on just Hairston’s major on-court flaws. He misses a lot of shots and does little else. But he has some raw tools, even if they barely showed with the Hornets and Grizzlies.

If the Rockets make a roster-clearing move, they could take a chance on keeping the talented/troubled wing around. More likely, he heads to the D-League, where Houston can develop him in its system.