Ricky Rubio’s game translates to NBA just fine thank you

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For the first three quarters Friday night, the Ricky Rubio doubters out there — those that said his game would never translate to the NBA —  had their chance to crow. “He can’t shoot” and he was 0-10 from the floor. “He can’t defend” and Mo Williams was tearing him apart (along with everyone else on the Wolves).

But he won Minnesota the game, beating the Clippers 101-98. He won it before Kevin Love got free for a game-winning three on a play Rick Adelman has been running since Brad Miller was the guy popping out. He won it before he knocked down his one shot from the field all game, a three from the right corner that tied the game with 20 seconds to go.

Before the dramatic finish, Ricky Rubio earned the Timberwolves a key road win by controlling the game in the fourth quarter, changing the pace and getting his guys the ball in position where they could do damage. He led the Timberwolves back from a double-digit deficit in the final 10 minutes to win. And in doing so showed a kind of veteran savvy and confidence that could take the Timberwolves a long way in a few years.

His game translates just fine. Thank you very much.

“He’s got a real gift,” according to Minnesota coach Rick Adelman. “He’s a great passer in the open court and he’s just a smart player. You’ve got to give him rope and let him go because he’s got that ability. And because of him, we’ve really kind of changed and simplified things we’ve done just to put the ball in his hands. He’s been better than I thought he was going to be.”

“He’s clever with the basketball,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He was getting in the lane on us, turning the corner on the elbow pick-and-roll….

“His penetration hurt us more than anything, even though he was missing shots. He was getting in the lane, then at the end with about 20 seconds to go he hits the three from the right corner.”

For most the way Friday night at Staples Center the Clippers were in control. And Rubio seemed out of it, unable to knock down shots or find the passing lanes he likes in the half court. After the game he admitted that the number of games he plays now — dramatically more than the two or so a week he did in Europe — has his legs tired and that was impacting his shot (he was shooting 42.5 percent on the season before this game and 40 percent from three). He talked about the need to get stronger so this is not a problem in the future.

But then came the fourth quarter, and it was different.

“(The fourth quarter) is when you have to control more of the game, it’s when I feel much better…” Rubio said. “We feel comfortable in the last quarter.”

The young Clippers had the chance to put the Timberwolves away for three quarters but never did. Rather than keep doing what had gotten them the lead in the first place, they went for the home run. There were some calls the Clippers didn’t like (Williams got ejected in the fourth) and that seemed to be their focus and not the game.

Rubio never lost focus. Minnesota came back when Rubio pushed the pace in the fourth quarter and finding ways to create. That was one of the questions about him coming into the NBA — will he really be able to make those passes in the NBA against better athletes?

“Over (in Spain) he would pretty much initiate the offense without creating as much,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We found out right away he can create and we are better off when he does that.”

He did that in the fourth. He wasn’t hitting shots but he was getting in the lane and drawing contact, getting to the free throw line eight times in the quarter. The other thing he does beautifully is drive at and occupy a help defender, all the while waiting for that defender’s man to cut to the basket so Rubio can pick up the assist. Rubio had three assists in the fourth quarter that were started by his penetration. He had a steal and a block, too.

Then there was the game-tying three. He was 0-10 yet he shot it with confidence. Something one expects of veterans.

The next play he defended Chauncey Billups well on the Clippers second to last possession, getting left on an island without help but staying in front and contesting a shot Billups missed. Rubio is not the most athletic guard on the planet, but he’s pretty long and uses his anticipation well.

Some people struggle with Rubio’s game because it is hard to define — it’s not like anyone else’s game. He is not the next Steve Nash or anyone else. Adelman is good with that — and thinks it translates to the NBA just fine.

“I think we get in trouble all the time in this league trying to manufacture players into who you want them to be and not let them be themselves,” Adelman said. “He’s been playing in the pros for so long, and when I watched him he has such great instincts….

“People ask me all the time if he is like Pete Maravich. No, no. Not even close. He’s a good young player who has a chance to have a very good future but sometimes people try to mark him as something he’s not right now. Let him develop. So far he’s doing great.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.