NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 4: The deed is done.


Nash_eye.jpgThe Phoenix Suns just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns
just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns just swept the San
Antonio Spurs.

Maybe if I type that phrase enough times, the
basketball gods will tie my precious typing fingers into knots for my
blasphemy. In what universe could the Suns sweep the Spurs in the
playoffs? In what bizarro dimension is this Phoenix team a
Western Conference finalist, and the most respected franchise in the
league receiving the business end of a broom?

apparently. Suspend your disbelief. It’s not easy; it wasn’t easy to
foresee the Suns closing out the series in four games in San
Antonio facing yet another double-digit deficit. Yet they did it,
107-101, because Phoenix has played like the best team in the Western
Conference, even if a little team in Los Angeles would have something
to say about that.

The Suns aren’t just good, they’re damn
good. They’ll be considered underdogs against the Lakers even after
ousting the Spurs in the most impressive of fashions, but any fan,
basketball junkie, or NBA scribe that pencils L.A. in as a Finals
participant needs to take a long, hard look at what Phoenix was able to
accomplish in this series.

Manu Ginobili, who could have made
a legitimate claim as the best Spur over the final stretch of the
regular season, was trapped like mad in the pick and roll and
completely smothered offensively at times. He finished Game 4 with 15
points and nine assists, but shot just 2-of-11 from the field. Tim
Duncan may seem like an imposing match-up for the Suns, but it’s no
secret that Manu and Tony Parker hold the keys to the offense.
Eliminate the threat of Ginobili operating (for either scoring or
playmaking purposes) off of the Spurs’ staple pick-and-roll, and San
Antonio is quite beatable. Quite sweepable, apparently.

Not that
the Suns’ defense ignored Duncan, either. His lack of effectiveness as
the roll man in pick-and-roll situations was shocking, and though
Phoenix committed two defenders and a strong front to the ball-handler
on almost every screen, Duncan never seemed all that open. There were
so many cases where the Suns’ help defenders would beat him to his spot
rolling down the lane in order to contest his attempts or run
interference on the roll lob, and Tim was left in limbo.

strategy wasn’t enough to deny him from reaching 17 points (on 50%
shooting) and eight rebounds in Game 4, but the fact that Duncan wasn’t
more of a factor in this series is as much a tribute to the Suns’ post
defense as it was their defensive rotations on the pick-and-roll.

the effectiveness of those two players on the offensive end, and Tony
Parker’s 22-point, five-assist effort is solid rather than deadly,
George Hill’s night is nice rather than headline-worthy, and hell, Matt
Bonner’s 14 points on just six attempts is nothing special, as opposed
to the Red Rocket that broke the camel’s back.

It’s almost
cliché these days to praise the Suns’ defense, but there’s simply no
way to write a proper recap without giving Phoenix their due. Alvin
Gentry has simply done a phenomenal job — a Popovichian job, dare I
say — of coaching this team into rotating properly on the defensive
end. No matter how much pressure was committed to blitzing Ginobili or
doubling Duncan in the post, the Suns’ defense never seemed to be on
tilt. It was vulnerable at times, but they always recovered.

just came down the court again and again and played consistently solid
defense. It wasn’t so much the effectiveness of the Suns’ D on a
per-point or even per-possession basis (San Antonio still scored 101
points and scored at a rate of 105.2 points per 100 possessions), but
the resiliency of that defense that was the most impressive. It wasn’t
always effective, but the Suns’ rotations were just relentless. They
forced 16 turnovers and limited San Antonio’s three-point attempts
(just 11 to Phoenix’s 24), and they worked, worked, worked.

the difficulties that the Suns posed for the Spurs on the other end,
that was obviously enough for them to not only win the series, but do
it without dropping a single game. San Antonio simply lacked the
ability to cover all of the bases of the Suns’ multifaceted offense,
and their peak-too-early performances reeked of a team that was just a
bit outmatched. “They made it hard for us to guard them for 48
minutes,” Gregg Popovich said. “We’d go into the fourth quarter and
someone for them would step up. Those are the kinds of things that
happen with that team.”

At various points in this series, that
nameless “someone” that stepped up has been a strong perimeter
defender, a three-point shooter, a hustle rebounder, and an undersung
reserve. In Game 4, it was Steve Nash, who came back into the game
after receiving six stitches over his right eye in the third quarter to
lead the Suns to a remarkable close-out performance. Nash, with one eye
swollen shut, was responsible for 21 of his team’s 31 points while the
game was still meaningful.

“I just feel fortunate that I had the
chance to get back out there,” Steve Nash said. “I don’t know how it
didn’t keep me on the sidelines.” It’s something of a wonder that it
didn’t. Nash’s eye was not only bruised, but swollen almost completely
shut. So naturally, he not only hit a pull-up three in transition just
moments after returning the floor, but got excellent looks for both
himself and Amar’e Stoudemire in the game’s deciding minutes.

was a force on his own for most of the game (he had 29 points of his
own), but with Nash spoon-feeding him wide open mid-range jumpers to
complement his prior assault of layups, dunks, and runners, he was
finally able to exact his revenge against San Antonio. “It’s
beautiful,” Stoudemire said of finally defeating the Spurs in the
postseason after falling short in four straight attempts. “It feels

It must. Phoenix has a long road to head, but the sight
of San Antonio’s corpse at their feet has to offer some relief. If not
as evidence that the Suns have exorcised their demons, then at least as
validation of their success this season. This is no longer the team
that struggled to match up with the Blazers at times, but a deep,
talented squad capable of giving any playoff opponent a run for their money. Even the Lakers. Even an opponent waiting beyond that’s even more challenging.

just how good these Suns are, and though Phoenix still continues to
surprise — as they did tonight, even when their series victory seemed
imminent — nothing about this team should be startling from this point
forward. Based on their performance from this series, we should expect
the best from the Suns. They’ve played well enough to earn that.   

Not one 2016 top-10 draft pick started his team’s first game. How does that compare historically?

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Commissioner Adam Silver poses for a photo with the top prospects before the start of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. 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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons is hurt. Brandon Ingram is being brought along slowly. Jaylen Brown is on a good team trying to win now. Dragan Bender is blocked by Marquese Chriss. Kris Dunn is stuck behind Ricky Rubio (for now). Buddy Hield lost a preseason battle to E'Twaun Moore. Jamal Murray is ready for only a minor role. Marquese Chriss is blocked by Jared Dudley. Jakob Poeltl got drafted by a good team with an established starting center. Thon Maker is far too raw.

The top 10 of 2016 NBA draft class isn’t off to a fast start.

In fact, no top-10 pick started his team’s first game after being drafted for just the second time on record. The only other time it happened since 1983, as far back as records go, was 2013.

The only 2016 draft picks to start so far are No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis (for the Thunder) and No. 27 pick Pascal Siakam (for the Raptors).

No. 11 pick Michael Carter-Williams was the only 2013 draft pick to start his team’s first game in 2013. So, at least the class of 2016 has a leg up on that class, which was led by No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.

Here’s each first-round pick since 1983 to start his team’s first game since being drafted. Top-10 picks are in blue, and all other first-rounders are in orange.


Year Pick Player
2016 11 Domantas Sabonis
2016 27 Pascal Siakam
2015 1 Karl-Anthony Towns
2015 2 D'Angelo Russell
2015 3 Jahlil Okafor
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis
2015 7 Emmanuel Mudiay
2014 1 Andrew Wiggins
2014 2 Jabari Parker
2014 10 Elfrid Payton
2013 11 Michael Carter-Williams
2012 1 Anthony Davis
2012 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2012 3 Bradley Beal
2012 4 Dion Waiters
2012 6 Damian Lillard
2012 7 Harrison Barnes
2012 10 Austin Rivers
2011 1 Kyrie Irving
2010 1 John Wall
2010 5 DeMarcus Cousins
2009 4 Tyreke Evans
2009 6 Jonny Flynn
2009 7 Stephen Curry
2009 9 DeMar DeRozan
2009 10 Brandon Jennings
2008 1 Derrick Rose
2008 2 Michael Beasley
2008 3 O.J. Mayo
2007 2 Kevin Durant
2007 3 Al Horford
2007 6 Yi Jianlian
2007 27 Arron Afflalo
2006 5 Shelden Williams
2006 6 Brandon Roy
2006 10 Mouhamed Sene
2005 1 Andrew Bogut
2005 4 Chris Paul
2005 16 Joey Graham
2005 25 Johan Petro
2004 1 Dwight Howard
2004 2 Emeka Okafor
2004 3 Ben Gordon
2004 5 Devin Harris
2004 9 Andre Iguodala
2003 1 LeBron James
2003 3 Carmelo Anthony
2003 5 Dwyane Wade
2003 10 Jarvis Hayes
2002 2 Jay Williams
2002 4 Drew Gooden
2002 10 Caron Butler
2001 6 Shane Battier
2001 27 Jamaal Tinsley
2000 1 Kenyon Martin
2000 3 Darius Miles
2000 17 Desmond Mason
1999 1 Elton Brand
1999 2 Steve Francis
1999 4 Lamar Odom
1999 6 Wally Szczerbiak
1999 9 Shawn Marion
1999 18 James Posey
1999 26 Vonteego Cummings
1998 2 Mike Bibby
1998 3 Raef LaFrentz
1998 5 Vince Carter
1998 7 Jason Williams
1998 9 Dirk Nowitzki
1998 10 Paul Pierce
1998 14 Michael Dickerson
1997 1 Tim Duncan
1997 4 Antonio Daniels
1997 5 Tony Battie
1997 6 Ron Mercer
1997 13 Derek Anderson
1997 23 Bobby Jackson
1996 1 Allen Iverson
1996 3 Shareef Abdur-Rahim
1996 4 Stephon Marbury
1996 5 Ray Allen
1996 6 Antoine Walker
1996 11 Todd Fuller
1995 1 Joe Smith
1995 2 Antonio McDyess
1995 3 Jerry Stackhouse
1995 4 Rasheed Wallace
1995 7 Damon Stoudamire
1995 22 George Zidek
1994 2 Jason Kidd
1994 3 Grant Hill
1994 6 Sharone Wright
1994 10 Eddie Jones
1994 18 Eric Mobley
1993 2 Shawn Bradley
1993 3 Anfernee Hardaway
1993 4 Jamal Mashburn
1993 6 Calbert Cheaney
1993 7 Bobby Hurley
1993 18 Luther Wright
1992 1 Shaquille O’Neal
1992 3 Christian Laettner
1992 5 LaPhonso Ellis
1992 6 Tom Gugliotta
1992 9 Clarence Weatherspoon
1992 11 Robert Horry
1992 24 Latrell Sprewell
1991 1 Larry Johnson
1991 4 Dikembe Mutombo
1991 5 Steve Smith
1991 9 Stacey Augmon
1991 11 Terrell Brandon
1991 24 Rick Fox
1990 2 Gary Payton
1990 7 Lionel Simmons
1990 8 Bo Kimble
1990 10 Rumeal Robinson
1989 3 Sean Elliott
1989 5 J.R. Reid
1989 14 Tim Hardaway
1989 19 Kenny Payne
1989 21 Blue Edwards
1988 3 Charles Smith
1988 5 Mitch Richmond
1988 6 Hersey Hawkins
1988 9 Rony Seikaly
1988 10 Willie Anderson
1988 14 Dan Majerle
1988 20 Kevin Edwards
1988 21 Mark Bryant
1987 2 Armen Gilliam
1987 3 Dennis Hopson
1987 6 Kenny Smith
1987 12 Muggsy Bogues
1987 13 Joe Wolf
1986 1 Brad Daugherty
1986 3 Chris Washburn
1986 5 Kenny Walker
1986 8 Ron Harper
1986 11 John Salley
1986 12 John Williams
1986 13 Pearl Washington
1986 21 Anthony Jones
1985 1 Patrick Ewing
1984 1 Hakeem Olajuwon
1984 3 Michael Jordan
1984 4 Sam Perkins
1984 6 Melvin Turpin
1984 18 Vern Fleming
1983 1 Ralph Sampson
1983 2 Steve Stipanovich
1983 13 Ennis Whatley
1983 20 Roy Hinson

To some degree, this year’s state of affairs is understandable. Simmons was a lock to start before he got injured. Two playoffs teams – Celtics (who took Jaylen Brown No. 3) and Raptors (who took Jacob Poeltl No. 9) – drafted in the top 10 due to trades.

But the effect is clear. This draft class seems underwhelming.

It’s why the Rookie of the Year race feels so wide open and a 2014 draft pick, Joel Embiid, is the frontrunner.

76ers: ‘Wrong decision was made’ on blocking national-anthem singer who wore ‘WE MATTER’ jersey

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The 76ers were contractually within their rights to block Sevyn Streeter from singing the national anthem Wednesday because she wore a “WE MATTER” jersey.

But they also made a choice – to silence someone who was asking for only her dignity as a person so they could present a faux unity.

Thanks to some implied pressure from their players, the 76ers saw the error of their ways.

Dei Lynam of CSN Philly:

Why did the 76ers say “The wrong decision was made” rather than “We made the wrong decision”? They’re still deflecting responsibility, but at least they reached the right outcome.

I hope Streeter returns to perform the anthem wearing the same jersey, but after that experience, I wouldn’t blame her if she chooses not to.

Report: Lakers were fined over Magic Johnson’s tweets

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15:  Earvin 'Magic' Johnson attends game one of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on October 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last May, Magic Johnson tweeted that the Lakers chase LeBron James, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan in free agency. All three players were still under contract with their teams until July 1.

In response to that apparent tampering, the Lakers announced Johnson had asked the team to remove his title of Vice President.

Too little, too late.

William Weinbaum and Steve Delsohn of ESPN:

Outside the Lines learned this week — and confirmed with a senior Lakers official — that the NBA fined the team over Johnson’s communiques about players under contract to other teams.

If Drake got the Raptors fined for tampering by pitching Durant during a concert, the Lakers deserved this fine.

Report: LeBron James unhappy Tristan Thompson is dating Khloe Kardashian

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2016, file photo, Khloe Kardashian participates in the panel for "Kocktails with Khloe" at the FYI 2016 Winter TCA in Pasadena, Calif. Kardashian is calling her sister's robbery on Oct. 3, in Paris "a wake up call for everybody" but is pushing back against criticism that Kim Kardashian West had been too public in displaying her wealth. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian are dating. There are mixed reports about whether they’re engaged.

No matter their exact terms of their relationship, it brings increased attention to the Cavaliers – who are already in the spotlight as LeBron James‘ team and the defending NBA champions.

LeBron might not welcome increased scrutiny.

Gabriella Ginsberg of Hollywood Life:

LeBron James hasn’t been happy that Tristan Thompson is dating drama magnet Khloe Kardashian, and we hear that the teammates had a locker room showdown before the Cavs’ home opener game.

“Tristan isn’t taking any crap from his teammates anymore. As far as he’s concerned, Khloe’s coming to every damn game she chooses,” the insider reveals. “Tristan told LeBron straight up before last night’s game that Khloe was coming and that was that.”

There’s nothing wrong with LeBron, as a friend, advising Thompson about his personal life. They share an agent, Rich Paul, and that obviously means a lot to LeBron.

But at a certain point, LeBron should back off. Neither coworkers nor friends have a right to determine who someone dates.