Spurs close out school, season for Clippers with clean sweep

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For the Spurs, it was another step toward their goal — they wanted plenty of rest before they take on the Thunder next series (sorry Lakers fans), now will get a week (rumors are the Western Conference Finals start May 28).

For the Clippers, this was school — Chris Paul does not want to admit it, but teams learn how to win in the NBA. They run into a wall in the playoffs, learn what they need to improve (or sometimes what kind of players to add) and then next season take the next step.

Sunday night was the end of this school year for the Clippers, the Spurs swept them out of the second round of the playoffs in the closest game of this series by far, 102-99. The win advances the Spurs to the Western Conference finals, where they will take on the Thunder, unless you believe in Lakers miracles (Thunder lead that series heading home for Game 5 Monday). No starting date for the next round has been set.

Winning is a process in the NBA, one the Spurs have down and the Clippers are figuring out.

“Just learning, just watching that team maneuver,” L.A. guard Randy Foye said. “And understanding how they execute game plans, and what they do is definitely something you can take from it…

“Just watching guys like (Manu Ginobili), just watching guys like (Tony Parker), just watching how they maneuver, how they continue to attack — they’re down 1, they’re down 10, they’re up 10 they just continue to keep the pressure on and keep the defense on their heels. Tim Duncan does that, too. That is something I will definitely take from this.”

The Clippers seemed to be learning and improving in this series. In Game 4 their offense seemed to attack the Spurs defense the best it had in any of the games. But then, when it got to the end of the game, the Spurs were able to get a couple stops. The Clippers struggled all series to get stops, with Tim Duncan scoring 21, Tony Parker 17 and the Spurs as a team shooting 52.8 percent on the night.

Clippers had the expected rush to start the game, but by five minutes in the relentless Spurs had started to grind them down. At one point in the first half the Spurs led by 12 and were shooting 53 percent to the Clippers 33 percent. The crowd at Staples sounded like it was a Tuesday night February, not a playoff game.

But Los Angeles made a push behind some entertaining play by Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams, and it was just 51-47 San Antonio at the half.

Then the third quarter saw the kind of scrap, fight, and stepping up of their game the Clippers are going to need in future years. They did it behind their stars — Chris Paul had nine points in the third, Blake added 10 and had three dunks in a row. The Clippers were attacking again, Bledsoe was putting on a show again on his way to 18.

Los Angeles was up 92-88 with 4:54 left in the game Reggie Evans checked in for DeAndre Jordan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately called for hack-a-Reggie — intention fouls to send him to the free throw line. It worked, just like it did Saturday — Evans missed both free throws and Vinny Del Negro had to call a timeout to get him out of the game for a decent free throw shooter. When the Clippers needed a three with 1.7 seconds left, the Clippers didn’t have a time out to use to set up a play or advance the ball.

“It worked. It worked,” said Manu Ginobili. “In Game 3 it was huge, today it was less times, we did it only twice, but they had to make changes, they had to call a time out and it really helped us.”

The Clippers hung in until the end, down 1 with :11 seconds to go Paul drove the lane but he lost control on what appeared to be a kickout pass, with the Spurs Danny Green draped all over him. It was a turnover and it was the ballgame.

To a man the Spurs talked about wanting the rest that is coming their way now. They know their next series will be a physical challenge beyond what they have yet seen.

The Clippers were taken to school, but like any education what really matters is how they apply it next time around.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.