Clippers-Spurs Game 3: Surprise! The Spurs are better.

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It’s over. Or, it may as well be.

The Spurs could have won Game 3 in the usual, undramatic, calm, cool, collected 15-point cruise victory they have every other game since April 11th, but this is honestly almost worse. The Clippers held a 24-point lead in the second quarter.

They lost, 96-86. The Spurs at one point rattled off a 24-0 run. It was a debacle. It was a meltdown. It was a collapse, a chokejob, a massive failure, and it shows the wide gap between these two teams in terms of class. The Spurs were never rattled being down 24, never looked down. Relaxed, calm, confident. Chipped away at the lead, got it within reasonable distance, then burned past them. And the reason’s pretty simple. They’re better. Much better. They were better before the series, they’ve been better during the series, and it says a lot about both teams.

The Clipppers beat the Grizzlies behind a series of bizarre circumstances. Reggie Evans hit 50 percent from the line in 3 of the 7 games. The Clippers offense was lights out. Memphis’ offense was both hobbled and independently terrible. The Clippers never really had a chance in this series because in a lot of ways, they never should have gotten past Memphis. Give the credit for playing to and above their reasonable ptoential to advance, but this is who they are. A team down 3-0, who gave up a 24-point lead at home in a little over a quarter of play.

There’s talk of the Spurs resting starters in Game 4, to save energy on a back to back for Duncan and the Big 3. But it’s extremely unlikely given Popovich’s respect for his opponent and the fact that you don’t want to risk aggravating the Clippers to the point they start fighting for their lives. The Spurs have them on the edge of oblivion and the Clippers know it. No reason to force feed them hope through anger.

The Clippers can start looking to next year. Chris Paul will watch the Lakers continue to play at least one more game in all likelihood as the team he landed with is exposed for needing contributions at both ends from Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin. Nick Young will hopefully develop, Mo Williams may be set free to bring in better wing depth, Caron Butler’s hand will heal, and Blake Griffin must, absolutely must, develop a better offensive set.

How did the Spurs come back? Well, they shot 30 percent for the first 14 minutes and 40 seconds. They shot 53 percent the rest of the time. The Clippers shot 64 percent that first 14:40. They shot 38 percent the rest of the time. The Spurs just defended better and hit shots. Really as simple as that. Kawhi Leonard changed the complexion of the game with corner threes, hustle steals, breakaway points, and working off-ball for easy looks. The rookie continues to impress as a player who does anything asked of him. Tim Duncan adjusted to Blake Griffin’s moves after a hot start, at one point blocking a driving dunk attempt from Griffin. It was a lesson from the master to the young gun, and hopefully Griffin will learn how to play better in the playoffs.

So the Spurs are up 3-0, and the series may as well be over. The only real thing we’ve learned from Game 3 is what we knew before: the Clippers aren’t ready, and the Spurs are in a class all their own.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.