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.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.