Gregg Popovich played for the long term, not the win Tuesday

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Be clear about this — the Knicks earned their victory over the Spurs. For the first time seemingly in memory, the Knicks pushed an elite team into their game. The Knicks hit their shots (ones provided by unusually poor defense from the Spurs, but the Knicks hit them). They made the plays. It’s a signature win for a young Knicks team and they should celebrate it.

But at the end of this game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made the move of a wise coach with a veteran team that has some scratching their heads, as Henry Abbott at TrueHoop pointed out.

With 3:10 left in a game in New York, the Spurs down by ten and the game a longshot, but decidedly undecided, Popovich summoned from his bench three players who had not taken off their sweats all night: Chris Quinn, Ime Udoka and Tiago Splitter. They were to complete the Spurs’ comeback — or not, as it turned out — teamed with Matt Bonner and Gary Neal.

Sitting on the Spurs’ bench: Some of the greatest clutch performers in NBA history, including Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. With the best players out there playing, maybe this was about to become three minutes for the ages. The Spurs have come back from bigger deficits in less time.

After this game, the Spurs hopped on a plane and flew to Boston, where they face the Celtics tonight. A back-to-back as games 34 and 35 in a long 82-games season. A regular season which is followed by what really matters — the playoffs.

It comes back to what the Celtics showed last season, going 11-11 in their last 22 but getting rested and healthy for the playoffs — then making a run all the way to Game 7 of the NBA finals. What really matters for veteran teams is taking care of themselves and reaching the playoffs in good condition.

If that means not throwing everything into a longshot at a comeback in early January, then so be it. Fans may not love it, the league may not love it, but it’s the reality in a six-month long regular season.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.