Kawhi Leonard, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan

Spurs have changed a lot since 2011 loss to Grizzlies

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When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and in that time, the Spurs had been one of the NBA’s slowest teams, ranking between 20th and 28th in pace each season. San Antonio had also never finished with a higher-ranked offense than defense.

But that changed in 2010-11. The Spurs ranked 14th in pace, 2nd in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Mannix:

The changes that Popovich emphasized in training camp (cross-court passing, more look-aheads, quicker shots) have been fully embraced. “They’re pushing the ball better than any team in the league,” says a Western Conference scout. “They’re unselfish, and the ball moves fluidly. It’s like they were built to play like this.”

Except the Spurs weren’t really built to play like that.

Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, George Hill and Matt Bonner all played major roles on a Spurs team that had ranked 20th in pace the year before, and San Antonio simply asked that same group to play faster. Because of their willingness to adjust, those four handled an increased tempo fine for a while, but they weren’t equipped to master it in the long run.

In the first round of the 2011 playoffs, Popovich’s strategy finally crumbled, as the eighth-seeded Grizzlies upset the Spurs in six games.

But in the wake of that loss, San Antonio didn’t relent in its commitment to becoming a faster team.

The Spurs showed their up-tempo bona fides today during a 105-83 win over the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Though the pace of the game wasn’t particular fast, San Antonio excelled by pushing the tempo at opportune moments and getting back defensively after a transition attack – doing so in ways the 2011 team wasn’t capable of.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are still the backbone of the franchise, but the surrounding pieces have made the difference.

In 2011, the Spurs had already signed the relatively athletic Tiago Splitter three years after drafting him and plucked Danny Green, an active defender, from the D-League. But Green and Splitter weren’t prepared to contribute in the playoffs that year.

In classic San Antonio fashion, the organization developed those two into starters. Green has already played more against the Grizzlies in the conference finals than he did in the first round in 2011, and Splitter is on pace to pass his 2011 mark in Game 3. Green scored 16 points on 3-of-6 3-point shooting, and Splitter played strong defense on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside.

Even Boris Diaw, how many pounds he weighs above his listed total, made his bones with Steve Nash’s fastbreaking Suns.

But the Spurs’ most meaningful change since 2011 has been Kawhi Leonard.

The Spurs traded for Leonard on draft night 2011, and the athletic forward quickly became a starter in a league that was increasingly featuring elite athletes. Leonard, who scored 18 points today, can quickly leak out for an easy layup, but he also defends in the open court, too.

That’s where San Antonio’s continued adaptation has really made a difference. The Spurs continue to get faster – 14th to 8th to 6th in pace the last three seasons – but after back-to-back years of ranking 11th in defense, they ranked third this season. San Antonio temporarily compromised its defense values in the name of pace, but the tradeoff is no longer necessary with this roster.

Popovich and the Spurs have continued to learn from the lesson Memphis handed them two years ago, and more than ever, they look like a team with that has earned a graduate degree from the School of Fastbreak.

“We’re trying to have pace,” Popovich said during his second-half sideline interview when asked about the key to his team’s success today.

Not long before, the Grizzlies were trying to have pause.

Fewer than two minutes into the game, Lionel Hollins called timeout as San Antonio raced to a 7-2 lead. These aren’t the same Spurs as the ones Hollins, Randolph, Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen beat in 2011.

Back then, San Antonio was chasing a new identity. The Spurs have found it and mastered it, and now the Grizzlies are doing all the chasing. So far, they can’t keep up.

Watch all 17 three pointers from Warriors Game 7 victory over Thunder

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“They beat us from the three-point line the last two games, we beat them from everywhere else,” Kevin Durant said after Game 7.

He’s right. For most of seven games the Oklahoma City Thunder owned play inside the arc — their length and athleticism gave the Warriors tremendous trouble. But the Warriors had the three ball as the equalizer — or, it turns out, slightly more than the equalizer. Golden State shot their way to a series win by knocking down threes the last two games. Often contested, well-defended threes.

Above check out the 17 threes the Warriors nailed in Game 7 (on 37 attempts, or 45.9 percent shooting). There’s a lot of Stephen Curry (7) and Klay Thompson (6) in those highlights.

Here’s the NBA Finals schedule, clear your schedule accordingly

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7
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The Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Golden State Warriors. A rematch of the highest-rated NBA Finals since the Jordan era, which you know makes the suits at ABC/ESPN/Disney happy. But it’s also good for fans, these are the best teams from each conference, and it should be an interesting matchup.

The NBA has moved away from the Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday pattern of games the NBA Finals has followed for years. Below is the schedule for this year’s Finals, all times are Eastern, and all the games will be broadcast on ABC.

Game 1 – June 2 (Thursday) at Golden State  9:00PM

Game 2 – June 5 (Sunday) at Golden State 8:00PM

Game 3 – June  8 (Wednesday) at Cleveland  9:00 PM

Game 4 –Fri  June 10 (Friday) at Cleveland 9:00PM

Game 5 * — Mon  June 13 (Monday) at Golden State 9:00PM

Game 6 *  — Thu  June 16 (Thursday) at Cleveland 9:00 PM

Game 7 * —  June 19 (Sunday) at Golden State 8:00 PM

* means if necessary

Joel Embiid tweets he’s ready to recruit Kevin Durant to Sixers

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid has a great sense of humor.

I’m sure if Kevin Durant were going to consider going to Philadephia — instead his hometown Wizards, or the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, Warriors, or (the most likely option) staying put with the Thunder — he’d want to get the advice of a guy who has yet to play one NBA game.

Not long after the Warriors eliminated the Thunder from the playoffs — making Durant a free agent — Embiid tweeted this.

Needless to say, KD is not going to go to the Sixers. GM Bryan Colangelo says the team is in the market for veterans, but this may be aiming a little too high.

Durant said after Game 7 he hasn’t thought about free agency yet.

The smart money remains on Durant signing a two-year deal with an opt-out after one year with the Thunder, keeping that roster together for a year so they can make one more run at a ring (you can’t get much closer than the Thunder did this season). Then in the summer of 2017 Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Dion Waiters will all be free agents.

Maybe one of them goes to the Sixers then. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Report: David Blatt near deal to coach Darussafaka in Turkish league

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 28, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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David Blatt said he was going to be a head coach somewhere next season.

That turned out not to be in the NBA, where he interviewed and was in the running for the head coaching jobs with the Nets, Knicks, and Rockets but didn’t land any of them. So rather than be a lead assistant, or just wait the market out, he is headed back to Europe, Turkey in particular, reports David Pick, a well-connected basketball reporter.

Darussafaka Dogus is based out of Istanbul and was in the EuroLeague for the first time last season (that’s the highest level of European basketball, featuring the best teams from leagues around the continent, similar to the Champions League in soccer). Darussafaka is trying to climb the ladder and compete with the traditional powers of Turkish basketball, Fenerbahçe and Turkey Anadolu Efes. The Darussafaka roster includes Sixers’ Summer League standout Scottie Wilbekin, Luke Harangody, Jamon Gordon, and Reggie Redding from the United States.

Hiring Blatt, who had tremendous success in Europe before coming to the NBA, would be a coup for the club. One they certainly are paying handsomely for.

Blatt won 67.5 percent of his games over a season-and-a-half with the Cavaliers and guided the team to the NBA Finals, but he never fully meshed with LeBron James and the Cavs veterans. Part of that was on Blatt — he demanded respect for his time spent and success in Europe, and that plus his need to be the smartest guy in the room rubbed players the wrong way. Blatt wasn’t humbly trying to earn respect, and the players went to current Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue when frustrated with Blatt. Eventually, Cavaliers management turned to Lue to coach the team because of team chemistry concerns.

Blatt deserved another chance in the NBA, but that didn’t come this summer. We’ll see if his return to Europe impacts that in the future.