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.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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