Spurs shut down Zach Randolph in Western Conference Finals’ first major strategic move

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Zach Randolph recovered the opening tipoff in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, and he didn’t touch the ball again until the possession following the Grizzlies’ first timeout.

Moments after cameras caught Randolph and Tim Duncan sharing a laugh coming out of that timeout, Randolph ran a seemingly designed pick-and-pop with Mike Conley, caught the pass and drove toward the rim, where Duncan blocked him.

I don’t know whether Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw had the last laugh, but one of those four Spurs certainly did. They each took turns making Randolph and the Grizzlies’ offense look foolish in a 105-83 win over Memphis.

Randolph finished with a season-low two points on 1-of-8 shooting in 28 minutes, the lowest-scoring playoff game by a player who averaged at least 15 points per game in the regular season and played more than 20 minutes in the playoff game since Ray Allen in Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

In that game, Allen shot 0-for-13, but Celtics trailed by just two points in the final minute their game against the Lakers. Randolph’s Grizzlies, on the other hand, got hammered by 22.

It’s just not common for interior players to shoot so poorly, but the results are particularly devastating. Sometimes, outside shooters go cold. In the 2013 playoffs, Randolph became the 13th player to shoot 12.5 percent or worse from the field on at least eight shots – joining 11 guards and small forwards and a jump-shooting power forward (Serge Ibaka). Those 12 players’ teams went a reasonable and middling 5-7.

When a key low-post player like Randolph struggles so mightily, it’s very difficult for his team to even approach middling. Not only did Randolph shoot poorly, Memphis wasted valuable time on the shot clock trying to throw entry passes to him against a Spurs defense that fronted him. Randolph flubbed away one entry pass, and Tony Allen threw away another for two clearly Randolph-related turnovers. But several other Memphis offensive possessions were hindered as the Grizzlies passed the ball around the perimeter waiting for a clear passing lane.

In the rare times Memphis actually got the ball inside to Randolph – three of his shots, including his lone make, came directly after offensive rebounds (two of which Randolph got due to San Antonio’s fronting) – the Spurs effectively used double-teams.

After his horrid playoff game, Ray Allen said, “But I never hang my head. [Wednesday] is another opportunity to get right back on track.” Randolph would do well to emulate Allen’s focus, but not necessarily Allen’s vow to keep shooting.

If the Spurs again devote so much defensive attention to Randolph, the Grizzlies shouldn’t keep wasting shot clock to get him the ball. And maybe Memphis should give a few of Tony Allen’s and Tayshaun Prince’s minutes to Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless, two quality offensive players who will prevent San Antonio from double-teaming Randolph as easily.

Gregg Popovich made this series’ first major strategic move with San Antonio’s defensive gameplan against Randolph. It’s time for Lionel Hollins to respond.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.