Gorin Dragic, Samardo Samuels

Suns come back from 26 points down to beat Cavaliers


PHOENIX — It was a brutal start for the Suns on Friday, against a young and aggressive Cavaliers team that was ready to take it to them from the moment the ball was tipped. But that just made the finish that much sweeter.

Phoenix trailed by as many as 26 points in the first half, only to make it all the way back to a thrilling 107-105 victory, one that was the largest comeback win at home in franchise history.

“I don’t know if we just thought they were going to stop playing or what, but they just kept playing hard,” Cavs head coach Byron Scott said afterward.  “We just never reacted after the first quarter to them trying to get back into the game and being a little bit more aggressive and more physical.”

The Suns opened the game by giving up 10 straight points, then found themselves down 18-2, then trailed by 21 points at the end of the first quarter. Cleveland seemed to be unstoppable early, getting 37 points in that opening period on better than 63 percent shooting. Most of the points seemed to come on slashing drives to the basket, with the speedy backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters carving up the Suns defense.

“It’s hard, those guys are really talented and Irving’s one of the best point guards in the league,” Goran Dragic said afterward. “It’s tough when you’re getting screened two or three times in one possession and you try to fight over the screens, but you get tired. At the same time, they’re really fast so if you’re not cautious they’re going to penetrate and kill you. Our plan on those guys was to blitz them on pick and rolls and then force them to try to make plays.”

Phoenix chipped away at the deficit to get it to a more reasonable 13-point margin by halftime, and then came out with a different mindset in the second half. Michael Beasley struggled through a rough 4-of-14 shooting night, but opened the third period with a couple of nice assits and got loose for a breakaway dunk which cut the lead to single digits.

Shannon Brown was big off the bench for the second straight game, scoring 22 points in 26 minutes. He and Dragic were the ones doing the damage offensively, while Marcin Gortat continued his stellar early-season rim protection with five blocked shots, to add to the seven he had the previous game. Just don’t ask him to explain the reason for his success.

“I don’t know, I’m just blocking,” Gortat said. “I guess I’m invisible and they don’t respect me, so I’m going to disrespect them then.”

Two of those blocks were game-savers, coming with under a minute to play.

Phoenix took its first lead of the game at 87-85, before Waiters went off for 10 consecutive Cavaliers points to keep his team in it while Irving got some much-needed rest. The point guard appeared gassed in the third quarter, but Scott was forced to bring him back earlier than he wanted due to the Suns beginning to take control.

Even after the comeback, however, Phoenix found itself down seven again with just over four minutes left. Considering the effort they had to expend to come back, that might have been it. But they wanted this one, and fought to take it.

The Cavs had a final chance, trailing by two with the ball with 2.9 seconds remaining. Irving got off a contested three-pointer from the top of the arc, but with Dragic closely defending, it rimmed off as time expired.

This was beyond a huge win for Phoenix; despite the early gigantic deficit, the final result got the team back to .500, and perhaps made up for the opportunity that was lost in Orlando earlier this week when the Suns were on the wrong end of the home team’s comeback effort.

Shannon Brown said that the team was told at halftime to keep believing and keep fighting, and clearly, the message was carried to the court.

“We didn’t want to lose, we knew our mistakes we were making, and we just had to correct them,” he said. “Good thing we had enough energy to withstand a couple of runs in that whole second half, fighting our way back.”

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.