NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies go for the kill, take 3-1 lead over Spurs

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The San Antonio Spurs are lost. Their will is broken, their vaunted offense has withered and died, and the three-star core that has brought so much success to the Spurs franchise just isn’t producing at an acceptable level.

Or, more accurately, the Memphis Grizzlies have erased the Spurs. They’ve broken San Antonio’s will, and smothered the Spurs’ vaunted offense with a hyperactive defense. The three-star core that has brought so much success to the Spurs franchise has been shackled, while the best players in this series have worn three shades of blue.

Regardless of which perspective you prefer, the facts remain the same: The Memphis Grizzlies demolished the San Antonio Spurs in the second half in Game 4, and rode out their momentum to a 104-86 win and a decisive 3-1 series lead.

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol made some remarkable plays on both ends of the court, but scored just 20 combined points and grabbed 18 combined rebounds. This wasn’t merely a case of of that tandem working over San Antonio’s bigs, but instead a comprehensive dominance by the Grizzlies from top to bottom. Gasol made Tim Duncan a non-factor. Darrell Arthur came in off the bench to provide some great two-way production in the second half. Mike Conley finished with just 6-of-15 shooting from the field, but ran the offense expertly and hit some key baskets. O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen D-ed up and made smart cuts. The Grizz just worked and worked and worked, and countered each of San Antonio’s runs with a relentless commitment to forcing turnovers and moving within the offense. By the end of the game, the Spurs had turned the ball over on nearly one-fifth of their possessions, and the Grizz had scored at a rate of 119.5 points per 100 possessions. Memphis topped the No. 1 seed with a bullet, an exclamation point, and just about every emphatic accessory one could possibly think of.

What’s worse: the Spurs had the best production out of their bench in this series, as George Hill, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal contributed 31 points between the three of them. Most of Neal’s production came after the game had already been decided, but Splitter’s near double-double and Hill’s contributions were no mirage; San Antonio had two solid bench contributors scoring efficiently, but just didn’t have the bulk production necessary from the starters, nor anything resembling an effective defense.

One need only to watch the third quarter for a full sampling of the Grizzlies’ authority. The Spurs shot 6-of-15 from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range. They attempted just two free throws, and turned the ball over seven times. Meanwhile, the Grizz rattled off punishing 14-0 and 10-2 runs to open and close the quarter, and finished with 30 in the frame overall. Five of Memphis’ players scored five or more points in the third, and the team’s six assists in those 12 minutes doesn’t even do justice to the quality of their teamwork. The Grizz are clicking, and with each interior pass, well-timed rotation, and quality shot attempt, San Antonio’s existence dwindles away.

Who knows what will become of San Antonio next season and beyond, but this year’s team is in the ground, awaiting only the closure of a proper burial. This isn’t another premature eulogy, the kind to which the Spurs are no stranger; San Antonio is done. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, on Spurs. Horseman, pass by.

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.