France’s ugly finish (with Batum punching Navarro in groin) costs them in loss to Spain

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After three quarters, this was shaping up to be a classic. And with less than seven minutes to go France led 57-54.

Then the wheels came off for France. Actually, that’s too kind. France crashed and burned. They scored 6 points total in the fourth quarter and went scoreless for more than seven minutes. And then it got worse. France’s poor play degenerated into personal ugliness and a Nicolas Batum punch that probably had David Stern calling to suspend guys until he realized he couldn’t.

In the end, Spain wins 66-59 and advances to a rematch with Russia in the semifinals, the winner of that advancing to the gold medal game. France goes home.

France shot 0-for-11 to end the game (ignoring the meaningless bucket they made as time expired). Spain was down three in the fourth but went on a 12-0 to seal the game, a run in part sparked by a Pau Gasol defensive blocked shot that turned into a fast break and bucket for Sergio Lull that gave Spain a lead they would never relinquish.

Spain picked up their defensive intensity, but France could not create or hit shots they made earlier. They grew frustrated. They could feel the game slowly slipping away (slowly because Spain wasn’t scoring that fast either).

Then the frustration boiled over as France needed to start fouling to extend the game and have a chance.

First was a hard intentional hip check foul by Ronny Turiaf on Rudy Fernandez. That earned Spain free throws that they used to ice the game.

Then came the ugly moment — Portland’s Nicolas Batum came to intentionally foul Juan Carlos Navarro and flat out punched him in the groin. Wound up and punched him. This was way worse than what happened to Carmelo Anthony, this was a six game suspension if he tried it in the NBA. It led to Marc Gasol and other Spanish players coming to defend Navarro and a fight almost broke out.

Adrain Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and the NBC Sports Network asked him about it (via twitter):

I asked Nicolas Batum why he hit Juan-Carlos Navarro in the groin. “I wanted to give him a good reason to flop,” Batum said.

David Stern read that and tried to tack on two more games.

Batum went on after the game to accuse Spain of intentionally losing to Brazil in the final game of group play to get France in the first round (and out of the American’s side of the bracket). A few hours later, Batum apologized on twitter:

I want to apologize for my stupid act at the end, I showed a bad image of France and myself, Congrats to team Spain.

Batum shouldn’t be blaming Spain — France could have won this game and they blew it all by themselves. He can blame himself for shooting 3-for-12 on the night. Overall France shot 33.9 percent for the game and missed a lot of makable looks. France did a good job defensively — they doubled Pau Gasol as soon as he touched the ball and made other guys beat them — but as has been their historic problem France couldn’t score enough.

Marc Gasol had 14 to lead Spain, while his brother Pau had 10 points and 11 boards. Boris Diaw and Tony Parker each had 15 for France, but Parker was so frustrated he shattered his goggles after the game. He really doesn’t like those things.

France had their chances. In the end, they resorted to ugly play. Spain acted like the team that has been there before, so they get a chance to keep playing for a medal.

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.