San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash discusses his future after playing what feels like his final game with the Suns

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The Suns played the Spurs in the team’s season finale on Wednesday, but the outcome of the game meant less than nothing to either of the participants. With the game taking place in Phoenix, the focus was entirely on Steve Nash, who is an unrestricted free agent heading into next season, and might very well have played his last game as a member of the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix was eliminated from the playoff picture the night before, losing a hard-fought game in Utah where the team was ultimately overmatched. Their fate was sealed, as was that of the visiting Spurs, who had already clinched the one seed in the West.

(The key members of this San Antonio team had no interest in even seeing this game in person; after a full morning practice, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker all caught a plane home to get some rest before the postseason begins.)

What hasn’t yet been determined, and likely won’t be for quite some time, is the team that Nash will be playing for at the beginning of next season. While he’s been as open and honest about his decision-making process as possible, even Nash himself doesn’t know if he’ll be back in Phoenix next season.

The sense, though, is that he won’t be.

Suns fans showed their appreciation for Nash at the beginning of the evening, giving him a huge, much-louder-than-normal cheer during the introduction of starting lineups. But their spontaneous chants for him late in the game were even more meaningful.

The Phoenix faithful began a loud, passionate “We want Steve!” chant with just over five minutes remaining in the game, after Nash had started and played the first eight minutes of the contest, and then the first nine minutes of the third quarter. He appeared to be done for the evening, but as the fans rose to their feet and the chants got louder, Nash eventually subbed in briefly to take a well-deserved curtain call.

After eight years with the franchise, he deserved it. And he was clearly touched by the fans’ gesture, as he spoke thoughtfully about it afterward.

“It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support,” Nash said. “It’s very special. It’s not something I asked for or imagined, and to get that type of spontaneous reaction … It’s authentic, the relationship that I thought we had. It really feels special and the fans have been phenomenal and it really meant a lot to me to play in a city like this for as long as I have to feel important to the fans and the community, I just feel like a very lucky guy.”

Nash wasn’t feeling particularly sentimental heading into Wednesday night’s finale — partly because he didn’t have time to think about it, and partly because that’s just not who he is.

“I must admit, I’m not the most sentimental person in the world,” he said. “It’s something I shy away from more than try to soak it up and get emotional. To be honest I really didn’t get a chance to think about it. If this were to be my last game, it’ll be a night I remember and it’ll be an important night for me, but I didn’t get a lot of moments to put that in perspective because we were playing for our lives last night. And coming back in the middle of the night and getting the kids from school and stuff like that, it’s not like you have a lot of time to try and sit around and put your career in perspective.”

Nash has maintained that the idea of returning to Phoenix next season is more than just being polite; it’s a legitimate option. It’s tough to envision, though, given how much the team relied on him to do it all this season, and yet still fell short of making it to the playoffs.

At 38 years of age, it’s no longer reasonable to rely on Nash to be the sole provider of offense for this or any team; he’s going to need some help. I asked Suns head coach Alvin Gentry if it was too much to ask of Nash at this point in his career to carry such a large burden, and he seemed to think that it was.

“You’re right, I don’t think you can ask him to do that,” Gentry said. “I don’t think you can ask him to make all the plays down the stretch, I don’t think you can ask him to be the guy to facilitate all the plays, or make the shot or anything like that. Obviously, he needs help. You can’t do it alone in this league; no one’s ever been able to do it alone, not even Michael Jordan. You have to have other guys that you can continuously count on.”

The Suns, as currently constructed, don’t have anyone who you can continuously count on. The roster needs some serious upgrades if the team is going to compete in the playoffs; among the glaring needs are a reliable scorer who can create their own shots and average in the neighborhood of 20 points per game from either the wing or the low post, and a legitimate big man who can dominate inside — either offensively or defensively. Because at the moment, the Suns have no one who can do that on either end of the floor.

Personnel will certainly be a factor for Nash in determining whether or not to stay in Phoenix, but coaching definitely won’t be. Gentry is a players’ coach and knows how to deal with veterans, and Nash had nothing but positive things to say about the job he did with the talent he was handed this season.

“I think Alvin was unbelievable this year,” Nash said. “Michael Redd was a late signing, he hadn’t played for two years, if I’m not mistaken. So other than Michael Redd, (Grant Hill) and I are the only guys who have really started, and have been NBA starters before. And there were quite a few new guys this year, too. So for Alvin to put all those pieces together, for all our flaws and faults, to put us together and when we were 12-19 not let us quit — because really, we were 12-19 and we didn’t have a lot of answers at that point, either. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we’re going to get better at this that and the other,’ it was more like, ‘I’m not sure if we’re going to get better at any of this stuff.’ But he wouldn’t let us relent and he was phenomenal. I love playing for Alvin, I think he’s a great coach.”

That’s one thing the Suns have going for them, but there are too many factors going against them that lead you to believe that Nash has played his last game for the Phoenix franchise.

Nash himself is still non-committal, and truly seems open to returning to Phoenix if the pieces fall into place. But no relevant free agent is going to commit to the Suns without assurances that Nash will be back, and Nash won’t come back unless the talent level is upgraded significantly. So at this point, he can’t begin to predict his chances of re-signing in Phoenix.

“Honestly, I have no clue,” Nash said of his chances of staying with the Suns. “I couldn’t predict, I don’t know what the future holds at this point, and I’m actually OK with that. Now is the time to maybe get some distance from it, and try to find a clear perspective on where I am. Until I do that, I couldn’t put a number on it or take a guess on what the chances are that I’ll be back or not.”

Nash may not yet know what he wants. But the scene in Phoenix on Wednesday suggested that his time playing for the Suns has become a thing of the past.

Thunder get off to fast start, survive wild ending to win 98-97, even series with Spurs

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, center, scramble with San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, right, for a loose ball as time expires in the second half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. Oklahoma City won 98-97. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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When the playoffs are all over, and all the confetti has fallen at the parade celebrating the 2016 NBA champion, we are still going to be talking about this game. The Spurs and Warriors gave us everything — great shooting, leads and comebacks, and a wild, controversial ending.

What ultimately matters is the Thunder bounced back from a rough first game, were aggressive from the start and raced out to that early lead using their transition offense. They hung on through multiple Spurs comebacks and ultimately got a 98-97 win behind 29 points from Russell Westbrook and 28 from Kevin Durant (who played well at the four spot much of the night). The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Oklahoma City.

All the controversy at the end doesn’t change that fact, or that the Thunder did some things much better in Game 2.

The Thunder have had moments like this throughout the season, where they defended better, got transition points, and Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter (or someone else) would step up and make plays — but they didn’t sustain that high level of play for very long. They still won 55 games because Durant and Westbrook are talented, but we will see if they can sustain a “beat the Spurs” level of play for most of the next couple weeks.

San Antonio helped out by having their offense not as sharp, and just missing shots — the Spurs started 2-of-15 from the field and finished the game shooting just 26.1 percent from three. The missed shots allowed the Thunder to get out in transition more and get the easy buckets that fuel their offense.

But that’s not what anybody is talking about, this is:

Those final 13 seconds, when the Spurs were down 1 and the Thunder were trying to inbound the ball, is the topic of the day. The referees swallowed their whistles to the point that a rugby scrum broke out.

The most discussed part of the play was the inbound — Dion Waiters reaches across the boundary line to shove Manu Ginobili back, which is a clear foul and a change of possessions. Ginobili had stepped on the end line, which could have been ruled a technical but was not as egregious as Waiters’ blatant foul. There were a host of other fouls in those final seconds: Kawhi Leonard grabbing Westbrook’s jersey, a Spurs fan grabbing Steven Adams when he fell out of bounds and not letting him back in the play, and Ibaka hacking LaMarcus Aldridge in the final seconds.

But that’s not what decided the game. The Spurs made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of clean looks before that, things they needed at the end. Aldridge had 41 points, and Leonard added 12. However, Tim Duncan was 1-of-8, and Tony Parker was 3-of-9 — those guys are not the top offensive options anymore, but the Spurs need them to be efficient. The hustling Thunder defense had something to do with this, but that doesn’t change that the Spurs need more from these two key players.

The Thunder offense worked not because they shared the ball — as per usual, it happens only in spurts — but because Westbrook and Durant hit their shots, and because they got transition buckets.

If they can do that for a couple more games at home, they will be in command of this series. But it’s not going to be simple or easy.

Referees miss Dion Waiters push off, multiple other calls in final seconds of Thunder’s win over San Antonio

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Manu Ginobili said it perfectly after the game: This one play, this one sequence is not why the Spurs lost Game 2 of their series against the Thunder.

However, I can’t remember a time the referees swallowed their whistles on so many calls in the final seconds of a game.

Oklahoma City was up one with 13.5 seconds left (after Serge Ibaka made a silly foul on LaMarcus Aldridge shooting a three), the Thunder just needed to inbound the ball, get fouled and hit their free throws. But it wasn’t that easy.

First and most notably, Dion Waiters was trying to inbound the ball and pushed off on Manu Ginobili guarding the inbound play. That’s a foul, or a technical depending upon which rule you want to apply. But the Spurs should have had the ball out of bounds, the referees just missed that one and both Chris Webber on the call and the TNT Inside the NBA crew harped on that one. They were right.

The officials admitted as much, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Ken Mauer, lead referee from tonight’s game: “On the floor we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever. We should have had an offensive foul on the play.”

The question Thunder fans are asking: Why wasn’t Ginobili called for stepping on the out of bounds line? In the final two minutes that’s a technical (the rule book says it’s a foul if he “crosses or breaks the plane of the boundary line,” Ginobili has a toe on the line). Also Leonard had Russell Westbrook‘s jersey through that entire inbounds play.

Waiters did throw a leaping inbound pass as Ginobili stumbled backwards, and he threw it to Durant — who was held as he went for the ball by Danny Green. That should have been a foul call (although Waiters’ inbound foul would have nullified it if that call had been made).

The Spurs get the ball in a scramble for the rock and end up kicking out to Patty Mills for a corner three (not sure that was the best shot), but he missed. In the rebound scramble there could have been a few calls, but the most obvious was Ibaka hacking Aldridge trying to get a putback. It was another clear foul.

All that obscured some great plays — Ginobili with the no-look, behind the head pass to Mills in the corner, or Steven Adams with an amazing closeout to get a piece of Mills’ shot, to name a couple.

I get it, the referees don’t want to decide the game with their whistle, but when it turns into a rugby scrum there should be calls, and the referees shouldn’t be afraid to make them.

Watch LeBron James make plays when it matters in fourth quarter

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On paper LeBron James didn’t have a great fourth quarter — 2-of-7 shooting, both his buckets right at the rim, and he’d been passive for long stretches of the game.

But when the Cavaliers made a 17-2 run late in the game that earned them the Game 1 win over Atlanta, LeBron was at the heart of it all. He had assists, a key steal, and a powerful and-1 dunk. You can check out LeBron’s impressive play in the last five minutes above.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.