Spurs ride strong nights from Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to take down Warriors

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It took 3 games, but the Spurs finally started to look like themselves against the Warriors. The ball movement was back, the defensive discipline was there and with those two things in place the Spurs took control back in the series with a 102-92 win in game 3.

After the game Gregg Popovich said that heading into the contest he implored Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to be more aggressive in looking for their own shots. Both stars took that advice to heart by showing up big and driving the Spurs’ offense from the outset.

Parker played to the level that had his name mentioned as an MVP candidate during the season, scoring 32 points on only 23 shots while tallying 5 rebounds and 5 assists as well. Parker did a lot of his damage from mid-range, using the threat of his driving ability to create space and consistently hit his jumper. When the defense tried to step up to contest his shot he used hesitation dribbles and quick bursts to get into the paint and finish at the rim.

Duncan, meanwhile, was nearly as good in his own right. After struggling to get good looks against Andrew Bogut in the series’ first two games, Duncan used all facets of his all-court game to score 23 much needed points for his team. He sank his jumper when operating as a release valve out of the pick and roll, then used those makes to set up his drives to the rim when his defender closed out too hard. Duncan also went to his bread and butter in the post, working his turnaround jumper and half hooks to very good results.

But where the Spurs were really at their best was on the defensive side of the ball.

Where Duncan and Parker combined for 55 points, the Warriors’ starting five only combined for 56. Particularly impressive was what they were able to do to the Warriors’ starting backcourt. Stephen Curry, who suffered a sprained ankle in the 4th quarter, only hit 5 of his 17 shots to score his 16 points while Klay Thompson only made 7 of his 20 attempts to score 17 points. Neither ever got into a rhythm, mostly because they couldn’t consistently create space to get off their jumpers.

With Tiago Splitter back in the starting lineup, the Spurs always had one big man at the rim to protect the paint and that allowed the other big to step out high on the pick and roll to deny the three point shots the Warriors love to take out of that action. Golden State only attempted 19 three pointers in this game after attempting 30 and 23 in games one and two respectively. Limiting those attempts threw off the Warriors’ offense and they had to look elsewhere for points.

Only, no one else could really step up to provide them. The most efficient Warriors on the night were Carl Landry (14 points on 5-8 shooting) and David Lee who, in three minutes of action, not only pumped up the crowd with his presence but also provide a nice boost by scoring 5 points on 3 shots. Beyond them, though, the Warriors box score was littered with poor shooting nights from Jarrett Jack (5-12), Harrison Barnes (4-10), and Draymond Green (2-7).

With the stars and the role players all having tough shooting nights the Warriors needed to play good defense and make all the little plays to win this game, but they couldn’t do those things either. Instead they committed 11 turnovers that the Spurs turned into 20 points and also had too many suspect offensive possessions where nearly the entire shot clock was eaten up by dribbling that never established a viable threat (I’m looking at you, Jarrett Jack).

After the game Mark Jackson noted that the Warriors aren’t good enough to win games in this series when they don’t play their game. And Jackson is 100% correct in that. But credit the Spurs because it was their execution that took away what the Warriors wanted to do, especially on defense where they effectively crowded shooters and showed quick, decisive help in the paint.

And with Parker and Duncan carrying the offense, that’s all they needed.

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by the team).

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.