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.   

Report: Hornets sign head coach Steve Clifford to three-year extension

Steve Clifford
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With the Hornets fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, head coach Steve Clifford’s future with the team has been a mystery hanging over their heads. Clifford, in his third year with the team, was set to become a free agent after this season. Not anymore. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the Hornets have signed Clifford to a contract extension that will keep him in town through the 2018-19 season:

The Charlotte Hornets and coach Steve Clifford have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension, the Observer has learned.

The deal includes a three-year guarantee that would keep Clifford in his current role through the 2018-19 season.

In Clifford’s first year with the Hornets (then the Bobcats) in 2013-14, they made the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. This season, they’re off to an 8-6 start despite losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a season-ending shoulder injury during the preseason.
With several teams potentially having openings this summer, it was smart of the Hornets to keep Clifford off the market.

Griffin, Jordan each score 18, Clippers beat Nuggets 111-94

Blake Griffin
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DENVER (AP) Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan each scored 18 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 111-94 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Jordan finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Griffin had 10 rebounds. Chris Paul had 15 points and 10 assists to give the Clippers (7-7) three players with double-doubles.

The Clippers, who hadn’t been under .500 this far into a season under Doc Rivers, made eight 3-pointers after coming into the game at 31.3 percent.

The Clippers hit their first four shots from deep, missed their next seven but found the stroke again when Jamal Crawford hit a halfcourt shot to give them an 83-72 lead at the end of the third.

Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 20 points and had a career-high 18 rebounds.

Crawford scored the Clippers’ first seven points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 90-76. He finished with 15 points.

Denver started fouling Jordan, and the center was just 7 of 16 from the line in the fourth, but Denver couldn’t hit enough shots to close the gap.

His dunk on a lob from Paul gave the Clippers a 110-93 lead.

Griffin was struggling from the field until he hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock midway through the third. He hit two more shots and fed Jordan for a dunk to give the Clippers a 73-62 lead.

Rookie Nikola Jokic had 16 points and Gary Harris scored 14 for the Nuggets, who have lost four straight and fell to 3-5 at home.


Clippers: J.J. Redick had 16 points. … Griffin reached double digits in rebounds for the first time in seven games. He averaged 6.5 boards in his previous six games. … The Clippers were outrebounded for the 12th time in 14 games. They are 5-7 when that happens.

Nuggets: All of Gallinari’s rebounds came on the defensive end. … F Kenneth Faried missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. With C Joffrey Lauvergne (low back strain) also out, the Nuggets were down to 11 players. … Mike Miller made a rare first-half appearance and gave the Nuggets a jolt with two 3-pointers in seven minutes off the bench. He finished with nine points.


Clippers: Host Utah on Wednesday night.

Nuggets: Host San Antonio on Friday night.

George scores 40, Pacers make 19 3s to beat Wizards 123-106

Paul George
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WASHINGTON (AP) Paul George scored a season-high 40 points and made seven 3-pointers, part of a franchise-record 19 by the Indiana Pacers in a 123-106 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

C.J. Miles added 32 points, his most since joining the Pacers before the start of last season, as Indiana won for the ninth time in 11 games.

Miles was 8 of 9 from beyond the arc, and George also missed only once from deep.

The Pacers finished 73.1 percent (19 of 26) from 3-point range, crushing their previous season high of 44.4 percent (12 of 27).

Gary Neal scored 23 points off the bench for the Wizards, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.

Bradley Beal added 20 points and John Wall scored 18 for Washington, which has lost five of its six games when it allows more than 110 points.

Even with George and Miles combining to shoot a perfect 9 of 9 beyond the arc before halftime, the Wizards remained close for much of the first half and even led for stretches of the second quarter.

But the Pacers failed to cool down and eventually pulled away.

Miles finally missed his first 3-point attempt midway through the third. He answered with his seventh and longest of the game to beat the shot clock and make it 81-74.

George’s turnaround jumper later in the quarter pushed it to 86-77, and then his pull-up 3 from the left wing made it 91-81, the first double-digit lead for either team.

Chase Budinger‘s running jumper pushed it to 99-86 early in the fourth, and the Wizards never got closer than 10 after that.


The Pacers nearly matched last season’s New Orleans Pelicans, who made 15 of 20 3-point attempts in a game in November, 2014. That’s the highest 3-point team percentage in the last five seasons with at least 20 attempts, according to STATS.


Pacers: G George Hill scored 14 points in 32 minutes in his return after missing three games with an upper respiratory infection. . Indiana’s stretch of six consecutive 3s made to start the game ended when Hill’s 28-footer at the first-quarter buzzer rimmed out . With Hill’s return, Indiana’s most-used starting five improved to 5-2.

Wizards: None of Washington’s starters began the second quarter. The Wizards’ second group outscored the Pacers 16-10 to take a 47-43 lead before Beal returned with 6:15 left in the half. . C Nene (sore calf) scored 11 points in 23 minutes after missing practice on Monday. . Wall sat even longer during the second before re-entering with 3:41 left in the half.


Pacers: Host Chicago on Friday.

Wizards: Visit Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Warriors are a tremendous machine

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes
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Watching Golden State Tuesday night, I was reminded of the call when Secretariat easily won the Belmont Stakes to take the triple crown, almost lapping the field: “He is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by twelve, Secretariat by fourteen lengths on the turn! Sham is dropping back… But Secretariat is all alone! He’s out there almost a sixteenth of a mile away from the rest of the horses! Secretariat is in a position that seems impossible to catch. He’s into the stretch. Secretariat leads this field by 18 lengths… They’re in the stretch. Secretariat has opened a 22 length lead! He is going to be the Triple Crown winner! Here comes Secretariat to the wire. An unbelievable, an amazing performance!”

1) The Warriors are not unbeatable, just nobody has figured out how to do it yet. The Golden State Warriors will eventually lose this season. If I had to bet, it will come on their upcoming seven-game road trip (which includes some back-to-backs), but it will happen. Eventually.

That doesn’t diminish what they did Tuesday night, destroying the Lakers to become the first team in NBA history to go 16-0 to start the season. Which is insane. They are playing at a level a notch higher than anyone else in the league right now and their cruising speed can crush teams like the Lakers. LeBron James talked Tuesday about trying to savor the greats of the game — that is good advice. We need to step back sometimes and soak in the moment when we witness greatness. And make no mistake, right now the Warriors are great. Nobody has an answer for their small-ball lineup, nobody can slow the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll. Whatever happens this season — start like this and don’t win a ring and people will only talk about the latter —  right now the Warriors are simply a joy to watch. They play such a smart game. Seeing high IQ players working in unison is a joy for any true fan of the game.

And if you want to bring up them pushing the 72-win Bulls go right ahead — they likely will not get there, but nothing is out of play now. (The 1994 Rockets that started 15-0 lost a game then won seven more, they were 22-1, and yet didn’t even win 60 games. Things happen.). Forget Tuesday’s Laker game, L.A. is a dumpster fire. The Warriors are on an unprecedented streak, playing ridiculous offense behind Curry and their small-ball lineup, plus still having a top-5 defense. Savor this while you can.

2) Paul George drops 40 on Wizards. The Wizards say they want to play small and fast, but mostly they just play small. The Pacers showed them how to do it right on Tuesday night. Indiana hit 19 threes (a franchise record) and shot 73 percent from beyond the arc. It was a good night to be a Pacers’ fan. And it was a good night to be Paul George, who dropped 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, and 7-of-8 from three. He could always shoot, but I don’t recall him having this kind of confidence in his shot before. He has a Curry-like belief in his shot right now. The Wizards had no answer. We’ve said before George is back, but here is a video reminder.

3) Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 retired in Atlanta. One of the game’s great defensive players and one of Atlanta’s fan favorites — the finger wag will do that — had his number retired in Atlanta on Tuesday night. It was well deserved.

4) Blake Griffin hits three pointer alley-oop. Sure, he knew this was going in all the way. Let’s see him recreate that in a practice. (The Clippers beat the Nuggets, by the way.)

5) Griffin and Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone had some not-so-kind words for each other. If you can read lips, well, then this is NSFW. Griffin and Nuggets coach Mike Malone exchanged a few unpleasantries during the Clippers win Tuesday night.