Memphis Grizzles v San Antionio Spurs - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: For one game new Spurs look like old Spurs

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These are not your father’s San Antonio Spurs. Well, bad example, because your father’s Spurs had Artis Gilmore and George Gervin, and these definitely are not those Spurs.

But these are not the four-time champion Spurs, either. This is a very different team with a different, more offense-minded identity. As Timothy Varner said at 48 Minutes of Hell, one of the more interesting story lines of the playoffs is how far these new Spurs can go.

But for one night — and one night only — it was like the old Spurs were back.

Kind of. It was the defensive Spurs with just enough offense to win it. In what was an offensively ugly game, the Spurs held the Grizzlies to 39.8 percent shooting, 3-of-14 from three and 91.6 points per 100 possessions (16 points below Memphis’ season average). More importantly, the Spurs held the Grizzlies two big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, to a combined 7-of-23 shooting. The Spurs controlled the paint, they doubled Randolph and both and fronted and doubled Gasol. Memphis could not get comfortable.

It was an old-school Spurs defensive slugfest and they won 93-87 to even the series heading back to Memphis for Game 3.

This was not a pretty game, but then this isn’t really going to be a pretty series. Memphis wants to grind it out and the Spurs can play that game. For example, the first quarter saw both teams shooting less than 40 percent and ending with a 17-17 score.

San Antonio was always in for a tough series because the Grizzlies and their physical style with two quality scorers in the post were very much the kind of team that matches up with the new Spurs. Tim Duncan is still a quality defender and had a big part in what San Antonio did in the paint. But he cannot own it in the same way he did in years past.

The other key was the return of Manu Ginobili, who wasn’t sharp (only hitting 7-of-13 free throws shows you how much his elbow is hurting still) but still opened things up on the floor and came up with several key defensive steals. Manu helps create better angles of attack in the Spurs offense. More importantly, the Spurs had a different energy with him out there. Single game +/- is usually a pretty useless stat, but the fact Manu was a game high +16 was not a coincidence.

These Spurs did what the old-school Spurs did — they executed better at the end of the game. They went on a late 11-4 run to take control of the game and while the Grizzlies got a three from Sam Young to make it close the Spurs were willing to live with that (Young took 50 threes all season, that’s not his specialty). At the end of the game George Hill drained four free throws while the Grizzlies missed threes.

Memphis fans have reason to feel good — they got a split in San Antonio and lost the second game by six points on about as off a shooting night as Zach Randolph is going to have. They are going home with a real chance, knowing the Spurs have not been a very good road playoff team in recent years.

But that was the old Spurs, who made a return appearance Wednesday. We’ll see what Spurs we get in Game 3.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.