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.       

NBA: Spurs got away with two key fouls in crunch time BEFORE final play (videos)

San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green, left, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Manu Ginobili (20) watch Tim Duncan (21) strip the ball from -Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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The final play of Thunder-Spurs Game 2 was pure mayhem – five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds.

But what if that high-stakes ending were avoided completely?

If officials had gotten previous crunch-time calls correct, it might have been.

The last play mattered only because San Antonio was charging back from a five-point deficit with a minute and a half left. The Spurs trailed by only one when Dion Waiters inbounded the ball.

San Antonio probably shouldn’t have been that close.

The Last Two Minute Report featured three missed calls before the final play, each favoring the Spurs and two crucial.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored with 1:27 left, but only after getting away with offensively fouling Russell Westbrook. NBA:

Since Westbrook (OKC) is stationary, Aldridge (SAS) can establish himself in his path without giving him room to avoid the screen. However, Aldridge does not maintain his legal position when he pushes Westbrook off balance.

That doesn’t look like a clear offensive foul from the angle TNT showed, but the league reviews these plays from multiple angles. There’s enough obscured to believe an alternate view would show an illegal screen.

A correct call would’ve ended San Antonio’s possession and given the Thunder the ball up five instead of three.

On the ensuing possession, the Spurs forced a miss, but Tim Duncan got away with a loose-ball foul of Steven Adams to get the rebound. NBA:

Duncan (SAS) clamps the arm of Adams (OKC) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound

A correct call would’ve given Oklahoma City the ball with 1:11 left – another opportunity to run clock and add to its lead.

Duncan also committed a three-second violation with 55 seconds left, but the Spurs missed and Oklahoma City rebounded on that possession, anyway.

Especially considering that Manu Ginobili crossing the sideline should’ve been a violation before Waiters pushed him, the Spurs and their fans can’t reasonably claim officiating cost them this game

NBA official report says refs blew five calls in final 13 seconds of Thunder win

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This has to be a record.

Hopefully, this is one never broken.

The NBA’s official review found five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds of Oklahoma City’s Game 2 win over the Spurs Monday night, and eight total in the final two minutes of play. Lead official Ken Mauer admitted to one after the game — missing Dion Waiters shoving Manu Ginobili back — but this goes into all the details. And this doesn’t cover Steven Adams getting his arm grabbed by a fan.

In short the NBA says: Manu Ginobili stepped on the line, Dion Waiters did foul Ginobili, Patty Mills fouled Steven Adams, Kawhi Leonard fouled Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka fouled LaMarcus Aldridge.

It’s a wash if you want to look at it that way, although it’s hard to look past that many errors. Whether you think it was a fair outcome probably depends on which team you’re rooting for.

Here are the calls from the final 13 seconds — both right and wrong — according to the NBA’s review (the time stamp of the incorrect calls are in bold):

• 13.5 sec: Manu Ginobili did step on the line while trying to guard Waiters inbound pass. The report says that should have been assessed as a delay of game, although the rule book says that in the final two minutes it should be a technical foul.

• 13.5 sec: Waiters did shove Manu Ginobili and should have been called for a foul, with the ball awarded to the Spurs. Here is the league’s comment:

Waiters crosses the (out of bounds) plane during the inbound and makes contact with Ginobili that affects his ability to defend

• 13.5 sec: Waiters did inbound the ball within five seconds, a correct no call.

• 13.5 sec: Waiters was allowed to jump during the inbound pass, a correct no call. Here is the league’s explanation:

Waiters jumps during his inbound attempt, which is permissible under NBA interpretations of the relevant throw-in Rule No. 10, Section III, provided the player doesn’t leave the designated throw-in spot (laterally) or leave the playing surface (e.g., stepping into the stands) to gain an advantage

• 13.5 sec: The Spurs Danny Green did not Kevin Durant while KD was trying to get open for the pass, a correct no call according to the report. The comment:

Green and Durant briefly engage and separate during the inbounds play.

• 13.5 sec: Patty Mills does foul Steven Adams as he tries to get open for the inbounds play, there should have been a foul called.

• 13.5 sec: Kawhi Leonard did foul Russell Westbrook in the backcourt as the Thunder Guard tried to get open by grabbing his jersey, there was no call but it should have been whistled.

• 12.6 sec: Green did not foul Durant in going for the inbounds pass, a correct no call. The league’s comment:

Green and Durant make incidental body contact as they jump for the inbound pass. Green then cleanly strips the ball.

• 5.7 sec: Ibaka does not foul Leonard, this contact was incidental and a correct no call.

• 4.3 sec: Adams does not foul Mills in contesting his corner three. Here is the league’s comment.

Adams legally contests Mills’ jump shot attempt. Any contact that occurs after Mills has landed is initiated by Mills prior to him falling to the floor.

• 2.6 sec: Ibaka did foul LaMarcus Aldridge on his shot attempt off the rebound of Mills’ miss, Aldridge should have been awarded free throws. Here is the league’s comment:

RHH shows that Ibaka grabs and holds Aldridge’s jersey and affects his shot attempt.

• 0.5 sec: There was no foul in the scrum under the basket for the ball once Aldridge and Ibaka were tangled up. This was a correct no call. Here is the comment from the league.

Ibaka and Leonard make incidental contact with one another while diving for the loose ball.

Dwyane Wade ‘honored’ to be Prince’s favorite player

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Dwyane Wade says he’s feeling “all kinds of emotions” after hearing that he was Prince’s favorite basketball player.

The Miami Heat star took to Twitter after hearing Prince’s comments in a 2012 Australian radio interview the late pop icon conducted with model Damaris Lewis.

Prince died last month at his Minnesota home at the age of 57.

Referees admit error at end of Thunder/Spurs, will add call to training in future

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It’s hard to describe the final play of the Thunder Game 2 win over the Spurs and the officiating during it for a family-friendly publication such as this. The phrase I want to use starts with “cluster” but that’s as far as I can go.

The officiating crew missed a host of calls during those final 13 seconds, but they have at least owned up to the most egregious one — missing Dion Waiters pushing off Manu Ginobili while the Thunder guard tried to inbound the ball. (Yes, Ginobili’s foot was on the line, but sorry Thunder homers that was not close to the most egregious miss at the end.)

After the game, the lead official Kenny Mauer admitted that error.

Now the NBA referee’s union released this statement:

Did that decide the game? No. We like to focus on things we can blame as going wrong, but the Spurs offense started 2-of-15 shooting on the night, was inconsistent, and they still had a chance at the end. This one play is not why the Spurs lost. Manu Ginobili said it well postgame.