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

87 Comments

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?

Ours,
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.

That
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.

Limit
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.

Phoenix
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.

With
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.

Amar’e
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
great.”

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.

That’s
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.   

Grizzlies sign GM Chris Wallace, top executives to new deals

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 24: Mike Conley receives the 2016 Joe Dumars NBA Sportsmanship Award from Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace prior to Game Four of the First Round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 24, 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee. 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 Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed general manager Chris Wallace and a pair of executive vice presidents in the front office to multi-year extensions.

The team announced the deals Thursday without disclosing the terms.

Controlling owner Robert Pera said in a statement that Wallace along with John Hollinger, executive vice president of basketball operations, and Ed Stefanski, executive vice president of player personnel, have established the culture he believes is necessary to compete in the NBA.

Wallace has been Memphis’ general manager since June 18, 2007. The Grizzlies have gone to six straight postseasons with 27 playoff victories after having none in the first three appearances.

Hollinger has been with Memphis since December 2012, and Stefanski has been with Memphis since July 2014.

Did Carmelo Anthony throw shade at Phil Jackson on Instagram?

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a shot against the Charlotte Hornets during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in New York. The Knicks won 113-111 in overtime. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Phil Jackson, on a CBS show this week, took a little dig at Carmelo Anthony and how he plays in the Knicks offense.

“He can play that role that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played. That’s a perfect spot for him, to be in that isolated position on the weak side. Because it’s an overload offense and there’s a weak-side man that always has an advantage if the ball is swung. Carmelo, a lot of times, wants to hold the ball longer than… we have a rule, if you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold the ball for three, four, five seconds, then everybody comes to a stop. That is one of the things we work with. But he has adjusted to it, he knows what it can do and he’s willing to see its success.”

Anthony didn’t want to talk about it. However, after Knicks got their heads handed to them by the Cavaliers on national television Wednesday, Anthony took to Instagram.

UN-Phased (MyLifeSummedUpInOnePhoto) #StayMe7o

A photo posted by @carmeloanthony on

We can safely assume those were not messages to Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose. Was it intended for Jackson? Anthony has plausible deniability here, but that seems the most likely answer.

To be fair, according to the Sports VU tracking cameras in arenas (stats via NBA.com), this season Anthony is holding the ball for less time and taking fewer dribbles than he did a season ago (1.64 dribbles per touch this season). He’s doing better.

But Jackson can never quite resist a dig. If you want to play conspiracy theory and try to read more into that, well, that seems to be the trend in America, in general, these days.

David Stern blames Rockets, Lakers for “wrong impression” of failed Chris Paul trade

2013 NBA Draft
2 Comments

If was five years ago this week that David Stern canceled a three-way trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers to team up with Kobe Bryant, while Pau Gasol went to the Rockets, and the then New Orleans Hornets would have gotten Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick. The rumor was that angry owners — remember, a new CBA had just been signed with the express purpose of limiting “superteams” — pressured him and Stern, the owner representative of the Hornets at the time (the previous owner sold the team back to the league), and he nixed the trade.

Stern said this week that narrative was all wrong.

In an interview with the Sports Business Radio Road Show Stern said there never was a trade, but what we heard was the spin of angry Laker and Rockets GMs. Via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

First, this is a bit of semantics by Stern. That there was no trade to “cancel” because all three parties never approved it may be technically correct, but the idea that he was the barrier from that trade happening remained. If the Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets GM Dell Demps were all on the same page and Stern shot it down because he didn’t think it was a good enough deal for the Hornets, the outcome is the same because of him.

Was he the lone reason the trade died? Trades fall apart for a lot of reasons, it depends on who you ask.

Were the Rockets and Lakers ticked after the trade? Try bringing it up with a Laker fan now, there is still plenty of bitterness.

If Stern wants to argue in the long run this was better for the Hornets (who became the Pelicans), he can. Paul was traded to the Clippers for Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a 2012 1st round draft pick (Austin Rivers). The Hornets were so bad the year after the deal they ended up with the No. 1 pick, Anthony Davis.

Nets waive Yogi Ferrell, sign Spencer Dinwiddie

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Spencer Dinwiddie #8 of the Detroit Pistons in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  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 David Maxwell/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Brooklyn has decided to try something different to provide depth at the guard spot.

They had brought undrafted Yogi Ferrell back for depth after Jeremy Lin went down (Ferrell had been the final cut of camp). The Indiana product got in 10 games for the Nets and averaged 5.4 points a game when he did, but he was clearly a project.

Thursday the Nets waived Ferrell and signed Spencer Dinwiddie to replace him. This was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and since confirmed by the team.

Dinwiddie has bounced between the NBA and D-League for three years. This season he was playing for the Bulls’ D-League affiliate and averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 assists, and 3.7 rebounds a game, through nine games.

Dinwiddie has a solid all-around game and could be an NBA reserve, but has always struggled with his shot at the NBA level, which has made him defendable and held him back. If he found his shot the Nets have upgraded. They feel it’s worth a shot.