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: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.