Kawhi Leonard

Spurs ramp up defense to beat Warriors, advance to Western Conference Finals

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The Warriors had a great run, but their magic ran out. In a hard fought, defense driven effort the Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82 to advance to their 2nd consecutive Western Conference Finals.

Golden State battled all night, trying to stave off elimination but simply didn’t have enough.

Stephen Curry scored 22 points, but never found the range on his jumper while going 10-25 from the floor. Jarrett Jack tried his best to keep the Warriors in it by hitting half his 12 shots to score 15 points, but with off shooting nights from Klay Thompson (4-12, 10 points) and an awful fall that kept Harrison Barnes from finishing the game (while limiting him to 4-10 from the field), even the home crowd trying to will them to a win wasn’t enough to get them over the top.

Credit the Spurs for the Warriors’ inefficient output. As they’ve done over the past several games, San Antonio clamped down defensively and kept Golden State from ever finding a rhythm offensively. The Spurs hedged high in the pick and roll and funneled shooters into mid-range shots and flips at the rim, contesting nearly every look along the way. And while some of those attempts found the bottom of the net, those aren’t the types of shots the Warriors want to take nor are they the kind that can sustain a high powered attack to match what the Spurs were able to produce.

So the Warriors struggled all night to keep pace, falling behind by double digits multiple times throughout the contest. If not for some timely shot making, some inspired defense of their own, and a crowd that would not let them surrender, this game could have gotten out of hand.

So credit the Warriors too. They displayed a lot of heart and showed off the type of young talent that should keep them competitive for years to come. The future looks bright in the Bay Area.

But now is the Spurs’ time. The veteran group showed a combination of physical and mental toughness, displaying a discipline and adherence to their game plan that kept them a step ahead all night.

Tim Duncan was huge early, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the first half. With Tony Parker struggling to get into a flow, Duncan provided the ballast his team needed as both a scorer and a drawer of attention that opened up opportunities for others.

Kawhi Leonard was also big all night, hitting timely shots and while erasing Klay Thompson defensively. Nearly every single one of Leonard’s 16 points seemed to come on a big basket, as he hit jumpers to nip a potential Warrior run in the bud or converted a shot inside to bolster the Spurs lead.

And while Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled all night to score for themselves — they combined to shoot 4-22 from the floor for 18 points — they more than made up for it by creating good shots for others, tallying 19 assists between them. Both were so good in maintaining their aggressiveness off the dribble, threatening the defense and then picking out teammates for makable shots.

Of all the Spurs that deserve credit, though, head coach Gregg Popovich should receive a fair amount. As the series has advanced he’s made the right moves over and over again, putting his players in position to succeed. Down the stretch of this game he went small to spread the Warriors out, sitting Tim Duncan in the process. Pop relied on Tiago Splitter to man the middle and the big man delivered, playing strong defense on one end and occupying defenders as the dive man in the pick and roll on the other. Splitter’s activity was crucial in creating space on offense and taking it away on defense, allowing the Spurs to hold on down the stretch.

This truly was a fantastic series and, in a way, fans should feel a bit cheated that they didn’t get a game 7 to decide who should advance. But it wasn’t meant to be. The Warriors showed they had the heart, but they were just a bit too banged up and lacked that extra kick to break through.

Meanwhile the Spurs showed that they have that right mix of youth and veterans, talent, and coaching to get it done. Again.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.