Tony Parker’s big game leads Spurs to game 5 victory over Warriors

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One thing this series hasn’t had is a blowout. Game 5 changed that as the Spurs turned up their defensive pressure and got some key performances from some role players to rout the Warriors 109-91 and get within a game of advancing to the conference finals for the 2nd straight season.

The star of the night was Tony Parker who poured in 25 points while also handing out 10 assists. Parker was aggressive and efficient (making 9 of his 16 shots), attacking the paint off the dribble where he was able to convert 5 of his 7 shots at the rim. Parker rarely settled for a long jumper, instead keeping the pressure on the Warriors’ defense and either creating for himself or drawing multiple defenders and hitting teammates for open shots.

Parker’s assertiveness was key in helping the rest of his teammates get good looks, especially the role players who struggle to create offense for themselves. A key beneficiary was Danny Green who, after struggling for the past three games, found his stride in this game by finding space from the outside for his jumper and getting out in transition to finish at the rim. Green finished the night with 16 points on 6-10 shooting (2-5 from behind the arc) and made his mark with his tireless work off the ball.

Also huge was Kawhi Leonard whose poise and patience served him well in creating good offensive looks. Leonard only missed one of his eight shot attempts, scoring 17 points in the process. Leonard did damage from inside and out, finishing at the rim in the open court (including a fantastic dunk over Harrison Barnes) while also hitting three shots from behind the arc.

While the Spurs were getting contributions from their role players, so were the Warriors. Jarrett Jack had his second straight good game, scoring 20 points on 16 shots including several big baskets that kept the Spurs from running away with the game even earlier than they did. Harrison Barnes also stepped up big, scoring a team high 25 points (10-18 shooting) and becoming the first rookie since Tim Duncan to reach that 25 point threshold in back to back playoff games.

But while Barnes and Jack had very good nights, the Warriors’ starting backcourt played quite poorly.

Stephen Curry only had 9 points on 4-14 shooting, struggling to create space on his jumper and losing his burst as the game advanced. The Spurs attacked Curry masterfully at the other end of the floor, running him off countless screens and wearing him down in the process. Having to work so hard while on that not yet healed left ankle surely played a part in his struggles.

Thompson, meanwhile, never got in a rhythm and struggled to escape the clutches of Leonard’s suffocating defense all night. It wasn’t just that he went 2-8 from the floor, failing to get to shoot a three pointer or a free throw in the process, but that he was held to such a low shot output and mostly erased as an option all evening. Thompson hasn’t been great since his game 2 explosion, but when he’s engaged and involved in the offense, good things happen for the Warriors. Tonight, though, he was mostly invisible.

And with their two key offensive performers struggling, the Warriors simply couldn’t generate the points they needed to keep pace. As the game advanced, they had to press more and more to get into their offensive sets. Their struggles devolved into sloppy, turnover prone action that enabled the Spurs to get easy buckets and blow the game open.

So here the Warriors are, facing elimination for the first time these playoffs. They’ve yet to lose back to back games in the post-season and in order to stay alive, they’ll need to avoid doing so when game 6 rolls around. It’s not a question if they have the fortitude to do so, but whether or not they’ve simply hit that wall after battling further than many thought they could.

The Spurs, on the other hand, are looking to slam the door on another opponent, finding and exploiting the cracks in their foe to advance another round. They’ll be facing a raucous crowd and a team fighting for their lives, but you get the feeling that with their experience they know exactly what they’re in for.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.