Spurs complete amazing comeback to steal game 1 against Warriors

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What. A. Game.

After the contest Manu Ginobili said he had no idea how his Spurs won this game 129 to 126 to take a 1-0 in the Western Conference semi-finals. He’s not alone as I’m sure the Warriors will be tormenting themselves wondering the same thing.

The Spurs looked dead in the water against the Warriors in this one. Down 16 with a shade over 4 minutes to play San Antonio looked resigned to their fate. Tim Duncan went to the locker room with a stomach ailment and his teammates looked ready to simply play out the stretch, trying to find their rhythm for a Wednesday’s game 2.

Only something happened on the way to the Warriors winning their first game in San Antonio in 16 years. Golden State let their foot off the gas and the Spurs took full advantage. Over the next three minutes the Spurs ran off 15 straight points to pull within a single point.  

Tony Parker (28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) scored 8 of those 15 points, relentlessly attacking the rim on dribble penetration. Parker was freed up to get into the paint with Klay Thompson — who had done a very good job on Parker up to that point — fouling out on a reach in that seemed harmless at the time, but ended up being so huge. Mixed in with Parker’s brilliance was a Kawhi Leonard three pointer and two free throws from Boris Diaw.

On the Warriors possession after Diaw’s free throws, Jarrett Jack seemingly redeemed what had been a poor game from him up to that point with a step back jumper to push the lead to three with only 30 seconds remaining. However, the Spurs, doing what they do best, diagrammed a wonderful play for Danny Green to get free for a three pointer that tied the game, ultimately sending the game to overtime.

In a microcosm of the game up to that point, the Warriors jumped out to a quick 5 point advantage in OT but couldn’t hold on to their lead. The Spurs continued to fight and tied the game back up, leading to the two teams trading baskets for the entire extra frame. When the buzzer sounded after those 5 minutes, the scoreboard was still even and we were gifted 5 more minutes from two teams giving it their all.

If the game wasn’t good enough to this point, the second overtime was the ultimate climax. The period started with plays being made by unlikely sources as a Harrison Barnes three pointer and two Draymond Green free throws sandwiched a Parker lay in. A Diaw jumper and a Green three pointer gave the Spurs a nice cushion, but that would only last so long.

A Curry finger roll was followed by a fast break that ended with a pass to rookie Kent Bazemore who was able to finish with a reverse lay in put the Warriors back in position to claim a game they rightfully saw as theirs. Holding a one point lead with only 3 seconds to go, all Golden State needed was a single stop.

A stop they couldn’t get. Just like they did to tie the game at the end of regulation, the Spurs ran a nice set with multiple options breaking towards the ball. But just as everyone seemed covered, Ginobili snuck free behind the three point line on the far side of the court. A lob pass over the top of the defense found Manu’s hands and he let the long three go, hitting nothing but the bottom of the net.

Spurs win.

It really shouldn’t have come down to that play, though. The Warriors thoroughly controlled this contest for most of the game. Early on, Klay Thompson (19 points, 8-15 shooting) was hitting his outside shots and Andrew Bogut (10 points 15 rebounds) was controlling the paint on defense. Meanwhile, the Spurs looked like a team who hadn’t played in a week showing a rust and uncertainty in how to attack a steady Golden State defense.

Then, in the 3rd quarter, the Warriors broke the game open behind a brilliant display from Stephen Curry. The young marksman scored 22 of his game high 44 points in the period, dazzling everyone with an array of shots that even left his teammates dumbfounded on what he was doing. And when he wasn’t scoring, he was creating for his teammates dishing 3 of his 11 assists in those 12 minutes. Through that period Curry easily looked like the best player in the series, carrying his team to what looked to be a huge upset that had the potential of turning this series on its head.

It wasn’t meant to be, though. 

The Warriors showed a tremendous amount of fight in this one, never once giving up even after they gave away their huge lead. And, for that, they deserve a ton of credit. But it would be silly to think this type of game will have zero impact on their performance moving forward. They had the Spurs on the ropes, only to be KO’d in the late rounds by letting them back into the fight. Golden State has played this entire playoffs like they don’t know (or don’t care) that they’re not supposed to be this good, but losses like this have a way of sticking with you.

If it’s any consolation, they, along with the Spurs, just gave us the game of the playoffs. I doubt that helps, though.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.