NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 1: Stars for Phoenix are hidden in plain view

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Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire are All-NBA caliber players, and in this series they will perform and be praised. They’re just too talented not to, and their combined 56 points — as well as their respective double-doubles — speaks to their tremendous impact on the Suns’ huge Game 1 victory over the Spurs.

On the other end of the rotation are the Suns reserves, who have rightfully been praised for their superior play over the course of this season. Their ability to relieve Nash and co. is a crucial reason why this Phoenix team is still alive in the playoffs, or playing in the postseason at all. Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson…these guys have been quality players for a team that desperately needed depth, and all the talk over how the bench will be the key to this series is not misguided. They matter that much.

Then, somewhere in between, are the other Suns. Oh, you know, the ones who probably won the game for Phoenix last night with their ability to get out in transition, defend, and hit big shots. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are overshadowed in the starting lineup by their more impressive counterparts, but each was absolutely stellar last night. Jason Richardson’s contributions seem easy to quantify, as he finished with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but even those numbers don’t properly capture what J-Rich was able to add to the mix.

Richardson is something of a Shawn Marion/Joe Johnson (Phoenix era) hybrid, in that his designated role in the offense is to leak out intro transition as quickly as possible. His ability to finish lies somewhere between the two, as he’s athletic enough to finish in the paint over and around defenders, but hardly as explosive as Marion was in his prime. He also shows off Johnson’s three-point range and leans more to his defensive style than he does Marion’s. Richardson is hardly a part-for-part Frankenstein’s monster-ish amalgam of the two former Suns, but the elements of each are there, and the playoff results have been fantastic.

Jason is a central reason why Phoenix was able to push the pace up to 98 possessions, which is about in line with the Suns’ season average. He runs the court so well and gets out into transition so early that many possessions are just a Steve Nash outlet away from completion. On most nights, you’d expect the Spurs’ transition defense to perform better than they did in Game 1. Then again, maybe that’s a testament to how quickly Phoenix was able to trigger the break, and Richardson’s consistently aggressive style in the open court offered an invaluable weapon.

Grant Hill, on the other hand, did most of his damage on defense. Hill guarded Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for a majority of the night, and while the Suns double-teamed Manu to get the ball out of his hands later in the game, Hill did a good job of denying the ball and playing solid one-on-one defense earlier in the game. Grant scored just seven points, but also grabbed six rebounds and notched four assists; it wasn’t exactly Hill’s most impressive statistical performance, but his ability to contain the Spurs’ deadlier threats on the perimeter was particularly notable.

When the Spurs struggled offensively in Game 1, ironically it was because they couldn’t get past the Suns’ defense. Phoenix limited San Antonio’s penetration as much as possible given the personnel on the floor, and the quick rotations of players like Hill and Richardson (and Amar’e Stoudemire, who was quite impressive defensively in the fourth quarter) denied the Spurs the usual advantages of playing against heavy double-teams.

When San Antonio went small in the fourth, they couldn’t manage to find a fifth player for the lineup that could actually contribute offensively. Roger Mason can’t shoot anymore for some reason, Keith Bogans has always been iffy at best on that end, and Richard Jefferson seems to make things so much more difficult than they have to be. The Suns scrambled to cover the Spurs’ four more threatening players while still managing to rotate onto the fifth, weaker offensive player, and their defense supplied just enough of an edge for Jason Richardson and Grant Hill to hit dual daggers in the final minutes.

Hill filled the gaps, and while the stat sheet may not reflect too kindly on his 32 minutes, he still played rather well. I don’t think Alvin Gentry would mind seeing Grant hit more than two of his seven shots, but this is a case where you take the defense (both on and off the ball), you take his passing and his help in establishing an offensive flow, and you take the win that he helped earn. 

PBT Extra: Kobe Bryant understands now is time to walk away

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It was expected Kobe Bryant would retire at the end of this season.

It was not expected Kobe would make that official on Nov. 29 — it’s caught the media at Staples Center Sunday (of which I was one) and the fans by surprise.

In this PBT Extra, I talk with Jenna Corrado about the mood inside Staples Center Sunday.

More importantly, I discuss the sense I got that Kobe understands it’s time to walk away, and he is at peace with that.

Luke Walton: Warriors concerned about health, not 72 wins

Andre Iguodala, Luke Walton
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Stephen Curry acknowledges the Warriors – who are 18-0 and won four straight to end last season – talk about the NBA record of 33 consecutive wins.

But what about another major record Golden State is chasing, 72 wins in a season?

Shooting guard Klay Thompson called it possible. General manager Bob Myers deemed it impossible.

Interim coach Luke Walton would prefer everyone just keep quiet.

Walton, via CSN Bay Area:

“The 72 thing is far, far away,” Walton said. “We shouldn’t be spending any time thinking about that.

“I’ve also said before that we’re not going to coach this season trying to chase that record,” Walton said

“We’re still going to give players nights off on back-to-backs,” he added. “And we’re going to do our best to limit minutes for some of our players. Our main concern is being healthy come playoff time.”

I don’t think Golden State will win 72 games, but prioritizing health won’t necessary stop the Warriors. They’re so deep.

They outscore opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions when Curry sits, 5.6 when Draymond Green sits. Those marks would rank seventh among all NBA teams.

Golden State has the luxury of resting players and continuing to win. That’s what makes the chase for 72 realistic. This team is less likely than most to wear down late in a season where it’s pushing to win every game.

Health entering the playoffs is important, but a 72-win season would raise these Warriors to legendary status. If they’re in range late in the season, I think they’ll go for it – even if the top seed is already secured.

But for now, Walton is probably taking the right approach. Plenty of teams start fast (though never this fast) then drift back toward the pack. No point risking Golden State’s health yet.

Kevin Durant to media: You treated Kobe Bryant ‘like s—‘

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant once told the media, “You guys really don’t know s—.”

The Thunder star expressed regret, but if he knew how we were going to treat Kobe Bryant, he might have stuck to his guns.

Durant, via Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

I did idolize Kobe Bryant. I studied him, wanted to be like him. He was our Michael Jordan. I watched Michael towards the end of his career when he was with the Wizards, and I seen that’s what Kobe emerged as the guy for us.

I’ve been disappointed this year because you guys treated him like s—. He’s a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he’s playing, how bad he’s shooting. It’s time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like s—, and I didn’t really like it. So hopefully, now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire after this year. It was sad the way he was getting treated, in my opinion.

But he had just an amazing career, a guy who changed the game for me as a player mentally and physically. Means so much to the game of basketball. Somebody I’m always going to look to for advice, for help, for anything. Just a brilliant, brilliant, intelligent man. And it’s sad to see him go.

Kobe is shooting 20% from the floor and 30% on 3-pointers for a 2-14 team. How else should we describe his season?

Why not bash the person most publicly critical of Kobe? Or the many people around the NBA who recognize how far Kobe has fallen? Or Byron Scott, who has repeatedly intensified discussion of Kobe’s demise?

Why is the media, which is not some monolithic entity anyway, the primary target?

There are writers who fawn over Kobe, writers who criticize him and many more who do both. We don’t all think alike.

If we did, Durant would be bound to treat Kobe like s—, too.

Hassan Whiteside thanks Hassan Whiteside in Kobe Bryant tribute


Like many players, Hassan Whiteside posted a tribute to Kobe Bryant upon the Laker star’s retirement announcement.

But Whiteside’s is a bit, um, different.

Whiteside salutes himself for making Kobe smile. (That’s not a smile.) The Heat center also tweeted a screenshot of the Instagram post with the hashtag “#koberetire,” which sounds pretty commanding.

Is Whiteside in on the joke or is he that self-centered? I’m honestly not entirely sure.