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


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.       

Rumor: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope demanding more than $20 million annually to sign contract extension with Pistons

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #5 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading andor using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Pistons owner Tom Gores said he’d pay the luxury tax if a contract extension for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put Detroit over next season.

Yet, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t signed an extension with the deadline six days away.

What will it take?

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

There was gossip over the summer that it would take a deal worth north of $20 million per year to get Caldwell-Pope’s signature.

That’s not an unreasonable demand. It’s up to Caldwell-Pope whether he’d accept less in exchange for more security, but I think he’d get even more as a restricted free agent next summer – maybe even a max contract, which projects to start at more than $24 million.

Caldwell-Pope is a good shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality wings and a greater need for them as teams go smaller. He’ll be just 24 next offseason, so his next deal should last through his prime.

His preseason didn’t foreshadow a breakout year. He remains a good defender and streaky 3-point shooter. But it’s possible Caldwell-Pope steadies his outside stroke and/or becomes an even more impactful defender. He could also improve his off-the-dribble skills, though his bread is buttered as a 3-and-D player.

Still, it won’t take massive improvements for Caldwell-Pope to hold value. To some degree, the Pistons could view every dollar under the max on a Caldwell-Pope extension as savings.

If his demands remain high, the Pistons could always take another year to evaluate the fourth-year guard. With matching rights, they can always re-sign him in the offseason.

NBA sets record with 113 international players, a plurality from Canada, on opening-night rosters

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 21: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs go after a loose ball during the first quarter of the game on November 21, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Spurs defeated the Timberwolves 121-92. 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 Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Until last season, the NBA set or tied its record for number of international players on opening-night rosters the previous three years.

But after peaking at 101 in 2014-15, the number dropped to 100 last season.

A sign the league has hit its foreign saturation point?

Probably not.

The NBA boasts a record 113 international players from a record 41 countries and territories to begin this season. Canada, with 11, leads the league for the third straight year.

A count of international players in the NBA on opening night:

  • 2016-17: 113
  • 2015-16: 100
  • 2014-15: 101
  • 2013-14: 92
  • 2012-13: 84

Here’s a full list of 2016-17 international players, but before you read it, take our quizzes on opening-night rosters.

Trivia: Name every player on a 2016-17 NBA roster

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NBA teams cut their rosters to a maximum of 15 players yesterday. Only one team, the Bulls, has just 14 players.

That means there are 449 players in the NBA as the season tips off tonight.

How many of them can you name?

Take these two quizzes, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. Players are in a random order within their teams.

Chandler Parsons out for Grizzlies’ opener

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Chandler Parsons missed the Mavericks’ final 18 games last season, including the playoffs, due to knee problems.

Now with the Grizzlies, his games missed streak will hit 19.

Michael Wallace of

Maybe this is just a blip. Parsons will get healthy soon enough and diversify Memphis’ offense.

But Dallas didn’t make a stronger push to keep Parsons due to his knees. We could look back on this and chastise the Grizzlies for signing someone to a max contract who wasn’t even ready to play in the first place. They have big plans for Parsons, but he must play for those to work.

Brandan Wright just can’t get healthy. Maybe Memphis will believe this injury warrants missing time.