Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili

Game of the night: The Spurs would like your attention, please

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After 24 minutes of decent offensive execution with poor finishing, the Spurs’ third quarter was an explosion of contrasts. San Antonio’s inexplicable misses were made right again, and so were some of their lower quality looks, for that matter. The Spurs just went to that happy place, where every three-pointer is accompanied by candy raining from the sky, and each swift cutter left behind them the scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns. SanAn won’t be able to tap into this kind of nirvana on a nightly basis, but this is what the Spurs are capable of when the five on the floor start harmonizing.

It didn’t matter who hit the hardwood for San Antonio; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Matt Bonner, Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Gary Neal…everyone clad in black, white, and silver just got it. We should expect nothing less from the Spurs after all this time, but this was a special combination of pitch-perfect execution and elite offensive talent, the latter of which has eluded the Spurs at times, even at the height of their powers.

It may not have even been the best third quarter of the night — New Orleans put on a hell of a show — but consider this your regular reminder that the Spurs are not only damn capable, but damn talented. They established an offensive rhythm in the first half even while they struggled to put up points, and when the time was right, it all came together, and the result was a nice 109.6 points per 100 possessions. There’s no question that when San Antonio has the capability to produce a run like this, they’re super-quasi-demi-contenders.

They push the pace when it’s appropriate (which is more often than longstanding Spurs fans might be used to), but more importantly, they continue to grind out teams with their ball movement in half-court sets. With the ball swinging and the right players making the right moves, it’s no surprise that San Antonio went off in the third. It’s just a bit shocking that it didn’t happen sooner.

San Antonio outscored Chicago 37-12 in that pivotal third frame, and though the Bulls would eventually make things interesting at times in the fourth, the Spurs coasted. They lived off the momentum they had gained a quarter earlier, and found sustenance in their rhythm and lead

But focusing too much on the third quarter (and the Spurs, for that matter) does a great disservice to what was a sturdy offensive outing by the Bulls. Derrick Rose taking 27 shots shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s game plan, but he was attacking the San Antonio defense in all the right places. Rose still steps into those long two-point jumpers more than he should, but on a night where he balanced long — but open — twos with an array of drives and floaters, I can hardly lambast him for trying to take this game over.

You can’t throw the ball down to Joakim Noah against Tim Duncan, even though he had a productive night to finish with 10 and 14. Luol Deng scored 18 points, but shot just 6-of-17 along the way. Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer gave the Bulls some nice play off the bench, but neither is a go-to option in any regard. No other Bull was creating quality shots, and many of Rose’s teammates (I’m looking at you, Taj Gibson) couldn’t even finish a few of their spoon-fed buckets. Rose did what he had to do, and though that led to satchel-full of field goal attempts and four turnovers, he wasn’t given all that many alternatives to a hero act.

The game itself may not have been as entertaining as some of the night’s other contests, but the message here is important. The Spurs executed defensively as they are ought to do, but they won this game with a deluge rather than their typical maelstrom. San Antonio may be a step removed from some of the league’s truly elite squads, but they can do it all, even when faced with a tough start against a quality team. San Antonio is still San Antonio, but their offensive potency in games like these should make us all wonder if they’re capable of being something more.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Stories to be thankful for this season

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
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Happy Thanksgiving. In the spirit of the day, our five takeaways have become five storylines we should be thankful for this young NBA season. We at PBT are thankful to you for being here, reading our work, and, of course, we’re thankful for stuffing (the best part of the Thanksgiving meal). 

1) Record-setting Golden State revolutionizing the game. The Warriors’ revolution will be televised. And copied by half the league or more. Golden State put together the personnel to take full advantage of the current rules (zone defenses, no hand checking on the perimeter), to take what Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash started to do in Phoenix and win with it. Golden State is at the forefront of the small ball revolution sweeping the league because they can make it work — but nobody can quite copy it because nobody has Stephen Curry or Draymond Green. Those guys are the lynchpins. Curry is the perfect modern point guard, one who can shoot the three comfortably out to nearly 30 feet, but can also recognize the defense and set guys up. Green is his dangerous pick-and-roll partner who makes going small work because their defense doesn’t suffer when they do.

Golden State is kind of like Brazil in international soccer — they’re everybody’s second favorite team to watch because they play such a beautiful and entertaining game. And in the case of Golden State they are winning doing it — they are a record-setting 16-0 to start the season after they won the NBA title. They are the bar to clear in the NBA right now.

2) Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns lead an impressive rookie class. Even Porzingis’ biggest supporters on draft night thought it would be a year or two before he could contribute at the NBA level. Nope, he’s good right now with the potential for greatness. Karl-Anthony Towns had great offensive moves and vision but back at the draft was seen as a defensive project (especially off the ball). Nope, he is an effective rim protector and pick-and-roll defender now who looks like a franchise cornerstone big man (to go with franchise cornerstone wing Andrew Wiggins) in Minnesota. Justise Winslow is already a good NBA defender who can get some points for Miami on offense. Jahlil Okafor is as advertised, a scoring machine when he gets the ball in the post. Emmanuel Mudiay is improving and showing strong NBA potential up in Denver. Stanley Johnson and Frank Kaminsky are already contributing in Detroit and Charlotte, respectively. And the list goes on.

This is a great rookie class that is going to be fun to watch for a long time.

3) Highlights like these. The NBA’s highlight factory is back in full session with plays like these from Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin — and these were just Wednesday night’s plays. It’s like this every night.

4) Paul George is back. This is maybe my favorite story of the young season — I was not sure we’d ever see peak Paul George again after his horrific leg injury playing for Team USA. He is all the way back and more. George has scored at least 25 points in nine straight games, he has developed a much more reliable jump shot, and he can still play lock-down defense. He is back to being an elite player, and with him the Pacers are back to being a good and potentially danger ous playoff team (9-5 so far, with a top five defense). 

5) Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are defying Father Time. Nowitzki’s jumper seemed to be deserting him in recent seasons, and then this season he has gone and gotten it back — he’s shooting 51 percent from three this season. Teams have to game plan for him again like it’s 2011. Duncan and Manu Ginobili are playing their best ball in years for what felt like it could be the final run for this era of the Spurs — San Antonio has been the second best team in the NBA so far. Duncan is playing great defense and understands what he can still do efficiently on offense. Duncan and Nowitzki could well be All-Stars in the West — and they will have earned it, they deserve it for their play.

LeBron James calls Cavs players’ only meeting after loss to Raptors

LeBron James

Yes, the Cavaliers are 11-4 on the season and on top of the East. Yes, they are outscoring teams by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth best in the NBA. They have the third best offense in the league. All that without their starting backcourt (Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert). There are reasons to be optimistic.

But the Cavaliers have a middle-of-the-pack defense and their efforts have been up and down. Wednesday night was one of those down nights, they lost on the road to Toronto, dropping the Cavs to 3-4 outside Quicken Loans Arena. All those losses are to teams in the East.

It was enough for LeBron James and James Jones to call a players-only meeting, reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

Following a 103-99 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a players-only meeting during which LeBron James and James Jones got on the team for its inconsistent play through the Cavs’ 11-4 start to the season, multiple sources told….

“It’s all mindset,” James said after the game, still visibly frustrated. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it; my upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”

When asked whether fatigue was a factor, James said, “No. It’s not an excuse.” When another reporter asked whether injuries were to blame, James repeated, “It’s not an excuse.”

Injuries and fatigue did play a role, this was a team without four regular rotation players and that puts more of a burden on everyone else. Players can’t look at it that way, but injuries are a reality and they are impacting the Cavaliers right now.

But I get it. LeBron is trying to set a tone, one he learned in Miami and is now trying to instill in the Cavaliers. It’s about effort, it’s about attention to detail, it’s about building good habits over the course of a season so they can pay off in the playoffs. The Cavs are winning, they look clearly like the best team in the East once healthy, and yet LeBron rightfully isn’t convinced they could beat Golden State or San Antonio right now. The good news is they don’t have to beat them right now, but they need to beat them eventually. The building blocks for that are laid during the season. He wants that building to start going up.

But getting guys healthy would solve a lot of those problems.

Jason Kidd ejected; shoving match ensues between teams after Kings beat Bucks

Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd is going to miss a game or three (and some dollars to go with it), and he could not be the only guy in trouble with the league after a tension-filled end to the Kings’ win over the Bucks Wednesday.

There wasn’t a ton of drama at the end of the contest itself. The Bucks played a “defense optional” game that led to 36 points for Rudy Gay and 13 dimes for Rajon Rondo, and the Kings won their first game this season without DeMarcus Cousins (back issue). That frustrated the Bucks to no end.

Jason Kidd expressed that frustration by slapping the ball out of referee Zach Zarba’s hands, a move that rightfully earned him an instant ejection.

You can be sure a suspension is coming for Kidd — the league can’t let that slide. This was not a Budenholzer incidental bump. After the game here is what Kidd had to say.

After Kidd had gone to the showers, there was a little jawing on the court between Cousins (in street clothes) and the Bucks’ O.J. Mayo. That spilled over after the final buzzer into the tunnel, where there was at the very least some jawing, maybe a little shoving, and a lot of security stepping in before anything serious happened.

Whatever happened in the tunnel is going to be a lot harder for NBA disciplinarian Kiki Vandeweghe (technically the vice-president of basketball operations for the NBA) to sort out. Who started what, and did it rise to the level it calls for a fine or more, is going to be tricky, especially since this was out of site of the arena cameras.