San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan celebrates in the final seconds of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder in San Antonio

Popovich reaches into toolbox, makes adjustments, Spurs win Game 1

11 Comments

There’s a reason the Spurs haven’t lost a game since before you sent your taxes in (19 in a row now) — they can adapt and take what you give them. Gregg Popovich is the master of adjustments and this roster is a huge toolbox of options for him to choose from.

He and the Spurs found the right combination in the fourth — they went small which led to an 18-3 run early in the quarter to take the lead. Follow that up with 11 points fourth quarter points from Manu Ginobili to lead the Spurs to 39 fourth quarter points, and the Spurs picked up a 101-98 win to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

One game — especially the first game in a series — is not something fans should overreact to. Still, the way the Spurs have adjusted and adapted to teams over the course of playoff series, it has to be concerning for the Thunder that their opponent is only going to get better.

The first half of Game 1 felt like two boxers trying to feel each other out in the first round. Actually, that may be kind. It kind of felt more like Celtics/Sixers. The Spurs had 14 turnovers in the first half. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to go 9-22 shooting, James Harden was 1-9. The whole game felt wrong.

Oklahoma City’s length and athleticism seemed to take a while for the Spurs to adjust to, especially in the first half when the Spurs seemed rushed trying to push the pace, but in the fourth quarter Popovich found a group that worked by going small (Boris Diaw never re-entered the game, Splitter played just a couple minutes at the start).

“We thought that (small) group gave us the best chance defensively and offensively at the other end for shooting, to get back in the game” Popovich said after the game. “We went down by nine, we thought we needed to generate a little bit of offense.”

That group did give them shooting — the Spurs shot 75 percent in the fourth quarter. More importantly, after the ugly first half the Spurs turned the ball over just three times in the second half. Part of those stats may have to do with Thunder coach Scott Brooks oddly sitting Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka — his two best defenders — for most of the fourth.

The Thunder would not roll over and when it got tight late San Antonio had Ginobili driving the lane and picking up key baskets.

“That’s Manu’s game, he’s a scorer, we depend on him to create and make things happen, whether it’s shooting or driving or assisting for somebody else,” Popovich said after the game. “It’s very important for us.”

The adjustments are on the Thunder now. San Antonio packed the paint when Westbrook or Durant drove the lane, the Thunder have to do what the Spurs do so well and it the open man on kickouts. Then knock down the shot. OKC didn’t play poorly and it’s easy to note all the good looks they seemed to miss. Oklahoma City got 27 points from Durant and 19 from Harden. Derek Fisher stepped up and added 13 points from the bench for the Thunder.

The Thunder only shot 42 percent as a team and didn’t finish well in the paint. They can play better.

But so can the Spurs. To a man they talked about it took them a while to find themselves, that they didn’t shoot well to open the game. And they will adjust. They will come back Tuesday with a better plan. Then they will see what works, Popovich will reach into his toolbox, and the Spurs will adjust.

And it will not be easy for the Thunder to keep up.

51Q: Can Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson get blood from a stone in Brooklyn?

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 20:  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson #24 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after a foul is called against him during the second half at TD Garden on November 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Can Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson get blood from a stone in Brooklyn?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

For Sean Marks, the new GM of the Brooklyn Nets, the first steps last February was to buy out Andrea Bargnani and waive Joe Johnson, then sign D-League guard Sean Kilpatrick in a quest for undervalued talent.

No team in all the NBA is in a worse rebuilding situation than the Brooklyn Nets. In their owner-pushed quest to open a new building with a splash a few years back, the Nets traded young players and control of their draft picks for expensive players on the back ends of their careers (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Johnson). When that fell apart as everyone could see it would, the Nets were left without the tools for a quick rebuild. They don’t control their own first-round pick until 2019.

This is a long, slow journey of 1,000 miles.

The question today is: Can Marks and his new coach Kenny Atkinson squeeze more wins out of this team while making that journey? The Nets won just 21 games last season.

They should win a few more this season — 25? 28? — and they should be more competitive. Certainly, they will be more entertaining. However, real change is going to take time. And patience — we’re looking at you, Mikhail Prokhorov.

The Nets have one good young player who should be part of the future core: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He needs to become more confident with his jumper, but he is a long, athletic wing who can get to the rim on one end and defend on the other. He should thrive in a more uptempo Atkinson system. If he can stay healthy this season and take a step forward (as expected of second-year players), the Nets get a little better.

Then the Nets have some solid veterans around him. Brook Lopez is still one of the better offensive centers in the NBA, and while the trade waters were tested (and will be again), Lopez remains a Net.

Marks added veteran point guard Jeremy Lin to the mix — Atkinson was an assistant coach to Mike D’Antoni in New York during the Linsanity era, and he knows how to get the most out of him. The Nets brought other vets on the roster such as Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, and Randy Foye. Trevor Booker is still on the roster. There is rookie Caris LeVert to develop.

All of this should make the Nets considerably more entertaining (they were the hardest team in the NBA to watch last season) a little better. They should win a few more games. The issues keeping them from making any real leap begin with this was the second worst defensive team in the NBA last season and adding guys like Lin, Vasquez, and Scola to the roster is not going to improve that end. Add to that the fact this team has no true alpha players, plus a lack of depth, they have a lot of fringe players trying to establish themselves (which makes cohesion on the court difficult), they have almost no home court advantage, and it’s hard to be optimistic about the short term.

But Marks and Atkinson know it’s not about the short term.

Hopefully, ownership understands that as well, stays back, and lets the men do their jobs. Find some young talent, trade for what they can, and develop it. Progress will be incremental for years.

Marks has made a lot of good moves as GM, but no quick fixes are coming to Brooklyn. They don’t even have enough picks to trust the process. Progress is going to be incremental.

Marks and Atkinson may get a drop or two of blood from the stone — if you consider five more wins some blood — but don’t expect miracles.

Expect a long journey — and Marks to keep them walking on the right path. Which is all that can be reasonably asked.

Report: Pelicans aggressively seeking ‘one of the higher level free agent guards left’

Norris Cole, Deron Williams
AP Photo/Adam Hunger
Leave a comment

The Pelicans will reportedly work out Lance Stephenson, and whether or not they’re serious about him, they seem serious about somebody at his position.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

I’m not sure who qualifies as “‘one of the higher level free agent guards left” other than J.R. Smith, who seems extremely likely to return to the Cavaliers. (The Pelicans don’t have cap space to pursue Smith, anyway.)

Norris Cole, whom New Orleans already renounced? Mario Chalmers coming off a torn Achilles? Kevin Martin who did little with the Spurs? Kirk Hinrich who’s over the hill? Andre Miller who’s five years older?

Making this harder to decipher: The Pelicans have 15 players with guaranteed salaries, most of whom signed this offseason. How will they make room for an additional guard on their regular-season roster, which is capped at 15 players? They don’t have money or roster spot to lure a quality guard, even if you grade quality on a curve for who’s left unsigned.

Does this signal another shoe to drop in New Orleans?

Former Magic player Keith Appling charged with four more felonies after third arrest in four months

Orlando Magic's Keith Appling (15) makes a shot in front of Philadelphia 76ers' Jerami Grant (39) and Nerlens Noel (4) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
Leave a comment

Former Orlando Magic and Michigan State player Keith Appling was arrested for the third time in four months.

The latest arrest brings four new felony charges.

Elisha Anderson of the Detroit Free Press:

The new charges Appling faces are carrying a concealed weapon, resisting and obstructing police, third-degree fleeing and eluding and felony firearm.

Detroit police stopped Appling, 24, on a traffic violation Sunday while he was driving in the area of 7 Mile and Russell about 9:15 p.m, prosecutors said in a news release. A police officer reached in the car to get his identification and Appling is accused of driving off while the officer’s hand was still in the window.

Authorities say Appling threw a Gucci bag from his car. Police found the bag, which had Appling’s name on it and handgun inside, near the area of the initial stop.

Appling was a fringe NBA player. It’s a shame his basketball career probably won’t work out, because he sounds like a really bad criminal.

Tossing your gun in a personalized Gucci bag? Really?

Rutgers uses NBA incomes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams to pitch recruits

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 24:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot over Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2008 at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  The Celtics won 94-80.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
3 Comments

College men’s basketball teams earn vast revenue on the backs of players while conspiring to pay those players no more than a scholarship and some expenses. In lieu of the market dictating player salaries, that revenue is funneled to administrators and coaches – like Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell, who earns $1.6 million per year.

But the money in basketball is real, and college players want a taste. So, many coaches try to sell players that they’ll prepare them for the NBA, where they can make millions.

Which led to this Rutgers tweet featuring former Connecticut players Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond and former Pittsburgh player Steven Adams:

The heck?

Rutgers’ only NBA players in the last two decades were Hamady N’Diaye and Quincy Douby. So, the Scarlet Knights got creative.

An assistant on Pikiell’s staff was an assistant at UConn when Allen and Hamilton played there. Another was an assistant when Drummond was a Huskie. Yet another was a Pitt assistant during Adams’ time.

Just when I thought college teams couldn’t get any cheaper when it comes to their players, here comes Rutgers using its barely earned currency in recruiting.

Connecticut took notice:

Here’s an idea: Instead of squabbling over who deserves credit for getting players paid later, use some of that revenue to pay players now.

(hat tip: Mark Sandritter of SB Nation)