Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Steve Blake

Stifling defensive effort leads Spurs to Game 1 win over Lakers

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The Lakers put up a fight in Game 1 of their playoff series in San Antonio on Sunday, and hung within striking distance for most of the game. But thanks to a suffocating defensive effort from the Spurs, L.A. couldn’t score with enough frequency or enough volume the entire afternoon, and sparked offensively by Manu Ginobili off the bench, San Antonio pulled away late for the 91-79 victory.

The Spurs are the higher seed, of course, and the Lakers without Kobe Bryant were a long shot to even keep things competitive enough to push the series beyond four or five games.

But had you told Mike D’Antoni that his team would have held its opponent below 40 percent shooting for the game, stayed even in the rebounding battle, and defended well enough to where Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined to make just 14 of 36 shot attempts from the field, I think he would have liked his chances.

The Lakers’ problems came on the offensive end, where turnovers killed any opportunity they had to get into a rhythm, especially in the first half. L.A. committed 12 of its 18 turnovers in the first two periods, with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combining for half of those with three apiece.

It’s easy to say the Lakers should pound the ball inside, but the Spurs were swarming defensively, often times running an extra defender or two at L.A.’s bigs to create confusion. San Antonio’s rotations were largely flawless, so even on possessions where Gasol or Howard would kick it back out, the Spurs were able to recover and close on the shooters to create tough shots.

And more than once in the second half, the Spurs were able to do this multiple times in a single possession.

As the defense stifled the Lakers’ offense, the Spurs were able to get just enough to gain separation when it mattered most. Ginobili was huge with 18 points in 19 minutes off the bench, which tied him for a team-high with Parker, who needed 21 shots over 37 minutes to accomplish the same.

In a low-scoring, low-shooting percentage game, Ginobili’s personal scoring run to end the third quarter essentially sealed it. He scored eight points in the final 1:38 of the period to push the Spurs’ lead from seven to 13 points, and the shots he made — two three-pointers in transition after a floating left-handed runner over Gasol — were ones that brought with them a palpable momentum change as the game entered its final period.

Steve Nash returned to the Lakers starting lineup after missing the last eight games of the regular season due to a combination hip and back issue that limited his hamstring, and while it was clear he was battling out there, it was also evident that he’s not yet close to 100 percent.

Nash finished with a helpful 16 points and three assists in 29 minutes, but shot an uncharacteristically poor 6-of-15 from the field. It’s unclear whether or not Nash will be ready to go again for Game 2 on Wednesday.

The defensive effort to hold the Spurs to 37.6 percent shooting, along with the way Howard and Gasol were able to rebound are positives the Lakers can take from this one, and if they’re able to repeat those efforts over the course of the series, you’d like to think the offense will come, and will at some point be enough to steal a game or two.

The Spurs, however, would like to believe otherwise. And if San Antonio continues to come up with these types of constricting defensive performances anywhere close to consistently, L.A. is going to suffer through just three more games like this one.

Report: Knicks grumbling about Jeff Hornacek’s lineups and rotations

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 17: Head coach Jeff Hornacek of the New York Knicks watches as his team plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek has seemingly steered clear of the Phil Jackson-Carmelo Anthony feud. Hornacek has even avoided Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time, overly interfering.

But Hornacek hasn’t sidestepped every fissure in New York.

Veteran Knicks are reportedly frustrated with the defensive scheme, though some of that resentment could be pinned on assistant coach Kurt Rambis. Derrick Rose has reportedly been increasingly frustrated with Hornacek. And apparently he’s not the only one.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Privately, players have been grumbling about lineups and rotations during the recent losing skid, according to sources. Brandon Jennings hinted at this after Monday’s loss when he spoke with frustration about the inconsistent nature of the Knicks’ recent lineups.

“Every day is something new. So just got to be ready I guess. You never know when you’re going to play,” he said.

Jennings was asked if the inconsistent rotations make things difficult for players.

“Yeah, when you come in here you don’t really know what’s going to happen, so it’s kind of no consistency and it’s really tough right now,” he said. “Right now, you come in here you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m struggling. It’s difficult for me, because I don’t really know what’s going on. Just take it one day at a time.”

Jennings isn’t the only player expressing dissatisfaction beyond anonymous leaks.

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Rose and Hornacek yelled at each other after Rose – who called on Hornacek to coach defense harder – got beat by Dennis Schroder on this play:

Berman reports Kyle O'Quinn also glared at Hornacek after being subbed out during the Knicks’ loss to the Hawks.

After the game, Courtney Lee – whom Hornacek removed the starting lineup – posted and deleted photos of Dumb & Dumber on Instagram. Lee then followed with this caption:

I posted a pic of dumb n dumber cuz that was my mood, no jab at no1. It’s dumb that we have a talented team and we’re in position to win games n keep losing by 1 possession. We’ll figure it out collectively as a team but that was my mood after the game. Has nothing to with any change, rotation, system, players, coaches, so let that be clear.

Are we reading too much into vague social media postings and distant body language? That is a real risk.

But Hornacek still appears to have issues with these Knicks. The debate should be a matter of the depth of the problems, not whether they exist.

This is what happens when teams lose 11 of 13. Players get frustrated and grumble.

The coach also often adjusts the rotation, which Hornacek has done, including starting Ron Baker. Jennings and co. haven’t earned stability in their roles. When they had that, they were losing.

The question now: Can Hornacek reclaim the players’ trust, which would help the team break its skid? Or does the griping – and, partially as a result, the losing – continue in a season-destroying snowball?

PBT Extra: Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson rift just adds to Knicks stagnation

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Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson had a chilly talk, and Anthony told Jackson the star forward wants to stay in New York. Which, based on the mind games we’re seeing, is not what Jackson wants — although you get the feeling Jackson wants to move Anthony to bring in more stop-gap, win now pieces rather than try to build a future around Kristaps Porzingis.

Which all speaks to why the Knicks have made the playoffs just three times in 13 years. What is the Knicks long-term plan?

I discuss it all in this latest PBT Extra. Well, except the long-term plan because nobody knows what that is.

Rajon Rondo strangely runs behind Rick Carlisle during play (video)

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This would be ignored – still odd, but ignored – if it weren’t for their history.

But Rajon Rondo running behind Rick Carlisle during the Mavericks’ win over the Bulls raised a couple eyebrows in curiosity and drew a few chuckles. What was Rondo doing?

At least Carlisle explained why he didn’t call timeout before Wesley Matthewsgame-winning 3-pointer. The Dallas coach had Rondo in mind.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Mike D’Antoni: “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s not exactly Seven Seconds or Less Part 2 in Houston, but it may be closer to Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate vision.

The Rockets are 32-12 with the third-best offense in the NBA (Toronto and Golden State), and it’s an analytics wet dream of threes and shots at the rim. It’s all come together because James Harden bought in. Steve Nash ran the offense brilliantly but differently — Harden is as good or better with his style (which gets him to the line more often).

The brilliant Howard Beck at Bleacher Report got everyone to talk about the Rockets rapid rise and how it all came together. It’s must read. Plus there are some brilliant quotes, starting with Harden about D’Antoni pitching the move to point guard:

“I thought he was crazy,” says Harden, who earned his stardom at shooting guard….

Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”

“People always ask, ‘You traded for him; did you know he was this good?'” (Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says. “I’m like, ‘F–k no!’ I mean, we thought he was extremely good and better than other teams probably did.”

But not top-five good or, say, top-three, which Morey would make the case for today.

Harden is MVP-level good. What’s more, the Rockets are knocking on the door of contender good. The pedestrian defense isn’t there yet (18th in the NBA for the season, 15th for the month of January), questions about depth and if young key cogs like Clint Capela can grow into the roles the Rockets need them to, and there are the health concerns considering the histories of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

But the Rockets are dangerous right now and could reach the Western Conference Finals this season if healthy and things break right (their style and athleticism would be a tough test for the Spurs).  And the story of how it all came together is fascinating.