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

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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.   

LeBron James, Cavaliers Rick-roll intro video for ’80s night

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) shoots over Miami Heat's Rodney McGruder (17) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The 1980s were back in Cleveland Friday night. Well, not completely, Bernie Kosar wasn’t leading the Browns to contention (although man, could they use him now).

No, the ’80s were back in the form of the throwback orange Cavaliers uniforms. And to complete the theme, the Cavaliers players dressed up and Rick-rolled the intro video — they did the complete “classic” Rick Astley hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” And it was awesome.

The Cavaliers won the game 114-84 over the Heat behind 28 from Kevin Love, but that was secondary to the intro video.

Best dunk from Friday night? Houston’s Sam Dekker. Yes, Dekker. (VIDEO)

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Second-year forward Sam Dekker is finding a comfort zone in the Mike D’Antoni offense in Houston. Healthy this season, he is coming off the bench for 18 minutes a night, and his game where he is quick and can also hit the three is fitting perfectly with Houston’s system, leading him to 6.7 points a game.

Also, he can run the floor. And finish.

As Enes Kanter found out when he hustled, got back in transition defense, and wasn’t going to stop Dekker from getting to the rim.

That’s a quality dunk.

The Rockets went on to win the game 102-99, despite Russell Westbrook‘s seventh-straight triple-double.

LeBron James passes Elvin Hayes, moves into ninth on all-time scoring list (VIDEO)

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LeBron James has been climbing the NBA’s All-time scoring list fast the past couple years, passing Hakeem Olajuwon last season to move into the top 10.

Friday night LeBron passed another legend, Elvin Hayes, who spent the prime of his career with the Washington Bullets and was an NBA champion, six-time All-NBA and 12-time All-Star from the late 1960s through the early 1980s.

LeBron passed Hayes with a vintage LeBron bucket, bringing the ball up in transition, then just using his quickness and strength to power to the rim.

LeBron’s not done, he should pass Moses Malone in the next week or so. Here is the NBA’s All-time scoring Top 10. (As a side note, if you count ABA scoring in the mix LeBron is 11th because Julius Erving and Dan Issel both pass him. For now.)

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38387
2. Karl Malone 36928
3. Kobe Bryant 33643
4. Michael Jordan 32292
5. Wilt Chamberlain 31419
6. Dirk Nowitzki 29552
7. Shaquille O’Neal 28596
8. Moses Malone 27409
9. LeBron James 27315
10. Elvin Hayes 27313

Carmelo Anthony scores 33 to help Knicks hold off Kings 103-100

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Carmelo Anthony scored 33 points, including two free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining, and the New York Knicks held on to beat the Sacramento Kings 103-100 Friday night.

Kristaps Porzingis added 17 points and 10 rebounds for New York. Brandon Jennings scored 13 in place of injured Derrick Rose, and Kyle O'Quinn had eight points and 11 rebounds to help the Knicks beat the Kings for the second time in six days.

New York went cold from the field down the stretch but made six free throws over the final 2:09 to hang on.

The Kings missed multiple shots in the waning moments, including an uncontested driving layup by DeMarcus Cousins with 22 seconds left that would have given Sacramento the lead.

Rudy Gay missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining, and Cousins also missed a desperation heave from beyond midcourt that hit the rim at the buzzer.

Anthony had 23 points and five rebounds in the first half, then came up big from the stripe to help seal the Knicks’ fifth win in six games. He shot 9 of 22 from the floor and made his first 12 free throw attempts before missing two with 2.6 seconds left.

Cousins finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Gay added 13 points for the Kings.

Things got chippy during a timeout with 2:23 remaining. Darren Collison of the Kings and Courtney Lee of the Knicks appeared to get into a heated exchange before players from both teams stepped between the two. Collison and Lee received technical fouls.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Anthony scored 15 points in the first quarter. He also was called for a technical foul while driving for a layup attempt in the fourth. . Jennings shot 5 of 10 and had five rebounds with seven assists. He also shot an air ball on a free throw in the fourth quarter.

Kings: Collison scored six straight points in the fourth quarter and made a layup that briefly put Sacramento up 94-92. . Cousins was whistled for a technical foul midway through the third quarter, his eighth of the season.

A REST FOR BARNES

Matt Barnes did not play for the first time this season, although Kings coach Dave Joerger said it had nothing to do with the ongoing investigation stemming from an altercation in a bar that Barnes and Cousins were allegedly involved in while the team was in New York last weekend. Joerger called it a scheduled rest for Barnes, adding that he plans to do it more frequently for the remainder of the season.