Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

Spurs would like to remind you they are very good, crush Grizzlies in Game 1

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The San Antonio Spurs are never the “it” team. Never the sexy squad with high-flying stars casual fans gravitate toward in the postseason. The collective national will was behind Stephen Curry and Golden State last round. Then a whole lot of prognosticators — very smart, good ones — picked Memphis this round. The Grizzlies were the new hot team among the basketball cognoscenti.

The Spurs don’t care.

San Antonio remains what they always were — very good, very efficient, very smart and a beautiful thing to watch if you truly love the sport of basketball.

Sunday afternoon San Antonio raced out to a 28-3 lead at home, pushed back on Memphis’ big third quarter run, shut down Zach Randolph (2 points and a -28) and cruised to a 105-83 win. San Antonio now leads the series 1-0.

Memphis will not be rattled; they will be a much better team Tuesday night in Game 2. They have been adjustment kings this postseason — they have lost Game 1 of every series and eventually won four straight to end it.

But their adjustments are going to be a lot more difficult this time around. Plus, that Gregg Popovich guy who coaches the Spurs is pretty good at adjustments, too.

Tony Parker carved up Mike Conley, getting into the teeth of the Grizzlies defense all game on his way to 20 points on 14 shots, plus 9 assists. Kawhi Leonard had 10 points and was 4-of-5 from three. As a team, the Spurs were 14-of-29 from three and that was key to this win.

After playing the Clippers and Thunder, this was a radically different offense the Grizzlies faced — both those first two teams key off just one guy (Chris Paul and Kevin Durant). The Spurs are not like that, they are diverse and will beat you with what you give them. The Spurs often attacked at the top of the key then got into the paint, the middle of the floor, with three point shooters in the corners. The Grizzlies defenders that were supposed to rotate had an impossible choice — leave the hot shooter from three or stop the layup. They couldn’t do enough of either.

“The main thing is we just overhelped,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said after the game (in a press conference broadcast on NBA TV). “I mean we were just so hyper, running all over the place on defense. We’d have four guys in the paint and nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody, and that’s not how we play defense.”

(The Spurs, on the other hand, played the two big men combo of the Lakers in the first round, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, which helped prep them some for this series.)

Memphis did a solid job all night defensively of taking away the Spurs first options on offense, the preferred shot out of their sets, but San Antonio is better and more efficient at their second and their options than any team (Miami might want to argue that). Danny Green had 16 points, Matt Bonner hit 4-of-6 threes, and when the Spurs are doing that you’re in trouble.

“We’ve played our bench all year long and they’ve probably gained a little bit of confidence through that,” Popovich said in his post-game press conference (broadcast on NBA TV).

Memphis got better as the game wore on, but the Spurs found a rhythm and once the shots started falling even when Memphis started to contest it didn’t matter the Spurs hit everything.

Meanwhile, Memphis could not get in a rhythm at all.

San Antonio fronted Zach Randolph in the post and Memphis reacted like they had never seen this before. Mike Conley was never comfortable and shot 5-of-12. As a team Memphis never looked comfortable.

Except for Quincy Pondexter — he came in hot off the bench in the second half with 11 third quarter points on 4-of-5 shooting that quarter (he had 17 points on the night to lead Memphis.

He helped spark a 10-0 Grizzlies third quarter run that had the San Antonio lead down to six. But then the Spurs answered with a Manu Ginobili three, a Bonner three, then a Ginobili driving layup. By the end of the third quarter the lead was 16 and most of the fourth quarter was garbage time.

Hollins and the Memphis coaching staff have a lot of work ahead of them. They have to cut off the San Antonio penetration in the paint (that collapsed the defense and left Spurs shooters alone at the arc), they have to get Zach Randolph the ball in spite of the front, they have to get some floor balance.

They have done it before in the playoffs. It’s just going to be harder this time because the Spurs are very good. In case you forgot.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

 

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.