San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game Four

Preview: Spurs look to put Warriors on the edge of elimination in crucial Game 5

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How important is this game 5 to both teams? Historically, in the NBA, the team that goes up 3-2 wins the series 85.7% of the time. And while that’s not necessarily a doom’s day scenario for the loser, it’s pretty close.

For the Warriors, it may be even more important as it’s hard to see them winning a game 7 on the road in San Antonio. If they can claim this game, they get a chance to close out the veteran Spurs in Oakland, in front of a raucous crowd that can carry them for long stretches.

Getting to play for that chance will be easier said than down, however.

The Warriors have seemingly been at their best all playoffs when they play small. In game 4, Mark Jackson’s hand was forced in that direction as he saw nearly every one of his big men get into foul trouble. This forced Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green into the power forward slot, putting more quickness and defensive versatility on the floor which, in turn, helped contain the Spurs’ dribble penetration game.

Will Jackson go this route on his own tonight? If he does, he can use the speed and playmaking ability of Barnes and Green respectively to help turn the tempo of the game in his team’s favor. Those skills will be especially needed if Stephen Curry is still feeling the affects of his sprained left ankle.

Jackson deployed Curry brilliantly in game 4, monitoring his minutes closely and getting the most out of him in the process. That said, part of Curry’s effectiveness was related to having Tony Parker guard him most of that game and, tonight, that’s likely to change. Danny Green has been a thorn in Curry’s side all series and even if it forces mismatches in other areas, expect for Curry to receive maximum defensive attention even if he’s still hobbled.

The other key to the Warriors’ attack will be how Jarrett Jack performs. His 24 points in game 4 were key to Golden State keeping the game close and ultimately winning in overtime. However, Jack’s shaky play in game 3 helped the Spurs claim that game. If Jack can make shots and channel his aggressive play into good production, he can be a major X-factor.

For the Spurs, they need better play from their role players. Since scoring 22 points on 8-14 shooting in game 1, Danny Green has only scored 23 points total over the next 3 games while only making 9 of his 28 shots. The Spurs need Green’s outside shooting to give Duncan and Parker space to operate in the paint.

And speaking of Duncan, he must also find a way to be more productive than the 7-22 shooting effort he posted in game 4. Andrew Bogut is doing a fantastic job of pushing Duncan off his spots, forcing him to work further from the hoop and then challenging his shots expertly. Duncan needs to start to hit his outside jumper and then use that threat to drive hard to the rim where he can either draw fouls or get shots closer to the rim.

San Antonio could also use another good game from Manu Ginobili. His 21 points in 37 minutes in game 4 helped counter the poor shooting nights from Tony Parker and Duncan and a repeat performance would go a long way towards helping the Spurs claim this one. Ginobili hasn’t been his most consistent this season, but he’s long been a big game player and this game certainly qualifies as that.

At this point, accurately predicting what will happen in any game is a fools errand. After it’s all said and done, the game could just as easily be decided on a great game by one of the stars as much as a role player. Such has been the way of this series, making it the most entertaining match up so far. As a fan, I just want another great game.

Considering what’s at stake for both teams, I think we’ll get it.

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.