Three Stars of the Night: MVP Candidates shine on Christmas

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Christmas Day is a showcase day for the NBA. No NFL. No college bowl games. Just hoops. And as you can imagine any league run by David Stern doing, it put its biggest stars on display on the biggest early season stage. The second opening day, if you will.

The stars on Christmas were the three guys at the front of the MVP race. With apologies to Kobe Bryant, who came in fourth in the stars voting by our committee (of one).

Third Star: LeBron James (29 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists)

He won the MVP last year and voters seem a little weary of voting for him, but you simply cannot have an MVP conversation without the single best player on the planet in the discussion. He almost put up a triple-double, which he seems to almost do a lot of nights. He showed off the full range of skills, from a couple monster dunks to a no-look pass late. If you think the MVP has to be the single best player in the league, you have to vote for him.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists)

He is doing more than just scoring this year, but when he does score the Knicks take leads. Like when Anthony put up 17 points in the third quarter when the Knicks seemed to take control of the game. He had seven in the fourth but the Lakers focused their defense more on him and his teammates could not make Los Angeles pay for that. Anthony deserves to be in the early MVP conversation, but now it falls on him to stay in the talks.

First star: Kevin Durant (33 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assist)

He didn’t have a huge first-half impact because he was mired in foul trouble, but he had 14 in the fourth quarter when you expect your stars to make plays (although he missed a tough three to tie it with LeBron in his face. He did. He has been the most consistent of the big stars this year and I get the feeling voters are going to give it to him because “it’s his turn.” But it’s more than that, he came back to the NBA off the Olympics a better player and he has led the Thunder to the top spot out West.

Manu Ginobili receives standing ovation upon exiting what may be his final game

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Manu Ginobili is a four-time NBA champion, a two-time All-NBA player,  two-time All-Star, and a Sixth Man of the Year.

He’s also the most popular Spur of his generation — walk around San Antonio, even at the peak of the Spurs runs, and you saw more Ginobili jerseys than Duncan or Parker or Robinson or anyone else. Ginobili is beloved.

When he was taken out near the end of Game 4, maybe his final game as a Spur, the fans erupted into a standing ovation (joined by Stephen Curry, who stepped away from the free throw line to let the moment happen).

Ginobili hinted during the season this would be his last, but has said repeatedly during the playoffs he didn’t know what he would do during the season. He looked like he had game left in the tank during the Western Conference Finals (he had 15 points in Game 4 and was one of the Spurs best players in the series). The question is, at age 40 next season, will he want to go through all the work it takes to get physically ready for the next season.

Warriors take control early, hold off Spurs to sweep series, advance to NBA Finals

Associated Press
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This series was decided early in the second half of Game 1, when Kawhi Leonard’s ankle rolled. He never got back on the court in the next three games, the Spurs were +21 when he was on in that first game and -85 the rest of the way. Without his defense on one end and shot creation on the other the Spurs could not match up.

The Spurs didn’t play like it was over Monday night — while the Warriors would hit threes and go on runs, the Spurs would answer back never let them completely pull away. They got buckets from Kyle Anderson (20 points off the bench) and 15 from Manu Ginobili in what may have been his final NBA game (he got the start, and the crowd erupted when he was taken out near the end).

It wasn’t enough. The Golden State Warriors were the better team — maybe even if Leonard had played — and they were in control of this game the entire way, getting 36 points from Stephen Curry and 29 from Kevin Durant.

The Warriors went on to win 125-110 and sweep the Spurs 4-0. Golden State swept through the West undefeated at 12-0, and they will take on the winner of the East (we all know it will be Cleveland). The Finals don’t begin until June 1.

This is the Warriors third straight trip to the Finals.

“Our chemistry is getting better and better,” Durant said after the game. “We’re going to need it even more in the next series, whoever we play, we’re just looking forward to it. I’m glad we got this done.”

There was a lot of respect between the teams after the series, particularly for Ginobili.

“Somebody I grew up watching, amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him,” Durant said after the game. “I got nothing but love and respect for him, plus he wear my shoes every year so that’s a plus. He was phenomenal this series.”

There also was a feeling among fans that we were robbed of a good series by the injury to Leonard (and the cheap play by Zaza Pachulia that caused it). Without Leonard (and Tony Parker) the Spurs struggled to create shots and generate consistent offense against a stout Warriors defense.

It was evident at the start of Game 4. San Antonio opened game 3-of-16 shooting, but the bigger issue is they went 1-of-8 in the paint against a Warriors team that started small (Patrick McCaw instead of JaVale McGee). Meanwhile, the Spurs were 7-of-7 in the paint to start the game. That is why the Warriors raced out to a quick 12 point lead midway through the first quarter.

The game hung around the 10-point era until an 11-0 Warriors run midway through the second quarter. The Spurs kept fighting, they had 13 more shots than the Warriors in the first half — thanks to 9 Golden State turnovers and 8 San Antonio offensive boards — but the Spurs shot 34.5 percent in the first half, and it wasn’t enough because the Warriors shot 60 percent. The Warriors shot 74 percent (14-of-19) in the second quarter. Because of that it was Warriors 65, Spurs 51 at the half, and Curry and Durant each had 18 for Golden State; Kyle Anderson has 10 points to lead the Spurs.

The second half saw the lead bounce between 10 and 20 most of the time, the Spurs would make a little run and the Warriors would answer with some crisp ball movement and a three. Curry was 5-of-13 from three on the night to lead the way.

Draymond Green added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists for the Warriors.

Now the Warriors get more than a week off to rest and prepare for the Finals.

Kevin Durant blocks Dejounte Murray twice on one shot (VIDEO)

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Kevin Durant was doing it all in the first half — he had 18 points to lead the Warriors (tied with Stephen Curry) and was making plays all over the court.

That includes racing back on this play and blocking Dejounte Murray‘s layup. Twice. On one shot.

The Warriors have led by 20 and been in control through the start of the third quarter. KD was at the heart of that.

Draymond Green flops to sell call, Gregg Popovich just laughs

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That was a foul. Jonathan Simmons caught Draymond Green in the face as he reached in.

But the delayed then overly-dramatic reaction by Green is a classic flop.

We’ll see if the NBA fined Green for this, but Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich was amused.