Spurs guard Parker drives on Warriors forward Barnes and guard Curry during their NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Texas

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.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.