NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 2: Ignore the shiny superstars, this one's about the reserves

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dudley.pngTim Duncan had 29 points and 10 boards, the Spurs had an effective field goal percentage of 55.1%, and George Hill and Richard Jefferson combined for 32 points (including a 18-10 double-double). It just wasn’t enough. San Antonio made runs and they pressed Phoenix repeatedly, but every lineup the Suns put on the floor had an answer.

Regardless of which five of the Suns — I’m sorry, Los Suns — were on the floor, they were able to compete. Things were looking bright for the Spurs after they racked up a 10-point lead in the game’s first 12 minutes, but from that point on, the Suns simply outworked and outperformed them. Duncan was brilliant, Parker’s game was lethal at times, and the help from RJ and Hill was much-needed, but the Suns really looked the part of the better team on Wednesday night in beating the Spurs 110-102.

Probably because they were the better team. It was Phoenix that was able to persevere despite poor shooting (the Suns’ eFG% was a full seven percentage points below their regular season average) thanks to effort plays (18 offensive rebounds will do wonders), huge three-pointers (Channing Frye and Jason Richardson were especially prolific), and their frequent trips to the free throw line (37 FTAs to the Spurs’ 22). San Antonio may still be something of a powerhouse, but Phoenix clearly wasn’t ready to play the role of the underdog in this series. They’re playing like the 3-seed that they are, and right now it’s a bit too much for the Spurs.

The Suns remain the most deceptively deep team in the playoffs, and Alvin Gentry’s decision to run with a bench unit at times is not at all misguided. Every player off the Phoenix bench plays with an incredible energy, and the unique combination of shooting, defense, hustle, talent, and rebounding among the Suns’ reserves has a tremendous impact on a frequent basis. Frye and Jared Dudley were the heroes this time around, but on Friday it could just as easily be Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic.

The Suns had two essential 17-8 runs, one to start the second quarter and another to start the fourth. Any guess as to which lineup was on the floor for Phoenix? The reserve unit did serious damage in the second, and reprised their roles as gangbusters to start the fourth quarter with the help of Grant Hill. The first run brought a solid San Antonio lead to a measly two points, and the second run gave Phoenix a seven-point edge that the starters would essentially hold for the rest of the game.

Contrast that success with the limited production from the Spurs bench — Tony Parker aside, San Antonio’s reserves scored four points on 28.5% shooting in almost 29 combined minutes — and it’s no wonder why Duncan, Parker, Jefferson, and Hill weren’t enough. The four productive Suns starters (woe is Jarron Collins) just about went point-for-point with the four highest-scoring Spurs, meaning this game really was won in the trenches.

When both teams were looking for a spark, Jared Dudley came up with offensive rebounds and loose balls while Tim Duncan ran on tired legs. Channing Frye shot the lights out while Matt Bonner clanged away open looks. Having a reliable bench is a luxury that few head coaches have in the NBA, but Alvin Gentry is a lucky man. Or really, a man that has done his job over the course of the season in not only recognizing the talent that he had but also in grooming them for situations just like this one both as individual players and as a unit. This did not happen by accident.

If the Suns end up winning two more games, one could look at two of Phoenix’s offensive sequences in the mid-fourth quarter as the series’ defining moments. With Channing Frye as the lone big man on the floor for Phoenix, Tim Duncan was out of his element. He had no one to guard and no way to help. The Suns moved the ball, set screens to force switches, and isolated Grant Hill against Duncan. That was Phoenix’s game plan: they used two straight possessions with the specific purpose of going at one of the greatest defenders of all time.

And it worked. Hill hit two huge jumpers over Duncan, each helping to preserve the Suns’ then-vulnerable lead. The point is not Tim’s decline from his glory days, but just the fact that whereas he was once the matchup nightmare for the Suns, it now seems that the Suns are the problematic matchup for him. All of a sudden it’s the Spurs trying to find a place to put Duncan on defense rather than the Suns desperately searching for someone who can defend him.

He may still get his 29, but apparently Phoenix can live with that. There’s enough scoring and enough depth that it just doesn’t matter. We could be in for a very different series when things shift to San Antonio, but two games into the series, it’s abundantly clear that the Suns are not messing around. This is a dangerous team playing with a lot of confidence, and unless the Spurs pull off the four-wins-in-five-games mini-miracle, they’ll soon be rolling into the Western Conference Finals.       

Check out the 100 best crossovers of last season (VIDEO)

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Do you have 22 minutes to watch the 100 best crossovers of last season? It’s Monday, of course you do. It’s either that or work.

Here they are, as compiled by the fine folks at NBA.com. Enjoy. And don’t be shocked that Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook have the top spots.

And if you must go into the comments and complain that technically not all of these are crossovers, go ahead, but it doesn’t change anything. It’s like saying there is only one way to make a proper matzo ball soup — there are a lot of variations (I like it with dill in the broth), and they all can be delicious. Just enjoy it.

Cavaliers name Koby Altman full-time general manager

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CLEVELAND (AP) The Cavaliers have named Koby Altman their full-time general manager.

Altman’s promotion had been expected for days and was made official on Monday. The 34-year-old has been serving as Cleveland’s interim GM this summer after David Griffin parted ways with the club following the NBA Finals.

Altman has been with the club since 2012. He will be the fifth GM for owner Dan Gilbert since 2005.

Gilbert said he’s been impressed with the job Altman has done over the past five weeks and said he “has the credentials, knowledge, experience and instincts to be an outstanding general manager. … I am confident that Koby is equipped and prepared to lead and succeed in this dynamic environment.”

Altman is taking charge during an interesting juncture for the Cavs. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving recently asked to be traded and LeBron James is heading into his final season under contract.

More AP basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Derrick Rose commits to sign with Cleveland Cavaliers

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It looks like former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Rumors have been swirling all week about Rose, who could be a backup or big-minute replacement for Kyrie Irving, who reportedly wants to be traded away from LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

According to reports released on Monday from Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, Rose has committed to sign with the Cavaliers after completing a physical. Rose will be paid $2.1 million on a one-year contract.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers have had one of the weirder offseasons, and while adding Rose isn’t necessarily the strangest thing they have done, it could be a larger signal for the rest of the league with regard to what direction the team is going to go.

Rose played OK in New York last season, and would be well suited as a backup bench spark for a contending team if he found the right fit. The Cavaliers will likely try him out in lineups with Lebron, but how he fits in as of the end of July isn’t quite clear. Will he be a backup? Will he be the de facto starter if Irving is no longer on the team come opening night?

The 2017 NBA offseason has been endlessly interesting, and this move is another in a long series of twists and turns.

Report: Spurs paying Pau Gasol about $16 million each of next two years

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The Spurs got Pau Gasol to decline his $16,197,500 player option, allowing them to chase major free agents. They didn’t take advantage of that flexibility, so they’re re-signing Gasol to make him whole – and then some.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Sources: Free agent Pau Gasol’s deal to return to Spurs: three years, $48M with a partial guarantee on final year

If Gasol’s 2018-19 salary is guaranteed – strongly implied by this report – this is a bad contract.

The 37-year-old Gasol, still a nice player, isn’t worth $16 million this season in a tight center market. It’s fine to pay him that much given the circumstances of his opt out. But to guarantee him a similar amount – salary-cap rules dictate his 2018-19 salary be within 5% of his 2017-18 salary – at age 38 is an awful choice.

Especially for San Antonio, which was shaping up to have massive flexibility next summer.

The Spurs can still have significant cap room if LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and/or Rudy Gay opt out. But then they wouldn’t have Aldridge, Green or Gay. So, the more space to upgrade, the better. San Antonio just cut about $16 million from that maneuverability.

Kawhi Leonard is a 26-year-old superstar who has proven his ability to thrive deep into the playoffs. Instead of aggressively working to add talent to chase another championship, the Spurs are surrounding him with the status-quo declining-veteran supporting cast.

That was acceptable this year, once Chris Paul chose the Rockets. But to commit about $16 million toward a similar team in 2018 is a major mistake.