Three things about Game 2: Tony Parker is that good but Randolph, Grizzlies figuring it out

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That was more like what we expected out of this series — close, intense, physical. Well, it was close for the final 17 minutes (just ignore the first 36), but in the end the Spurs got the win and are up 2-0 in the series.

Here are three takeaways from this game.

• Yes, Tony Parker is that good. After Game 1 the Grizzlies wanted to slow down the Spurs pick-and-roll, they wanted to cut Tony Parker off at the point of attack. Well, they tried. But not much is going to was going to shut down Parker on a night he was playing like the mid-season guy everyone thought should be in the MVP conversation.

For a second game in a row he sliced and diced the Grizzlies defense, this time to the tune of 14 points and 18 assists — he seemed to sense guys open and hit them, whether they were cutting to the rim or hanging out at the arc. Memphis wanted to slow down the pace (so they can set their defense) and Tony Parker was at the heart of destroying that strategy.

Parker is going up against one of the best defensive point guards in the game in Mike Conley and besting him. In Game 2 Parker got Conley in foul trouble and what little the Grizzlies were able to muster went away.

It all went away in the fourth quarter, when Parker was 2-of-8 shooting with no assists — he looked exhausted. Everyone did, but it showed in his game. That also showed how key he is to the Spurs offense against a good Grizzlies defense. The Spurs need that Parker every game.

• Zach Randolph, welcome to the conference finals. The first half of this game looked like all of Game 1 for Zach Randolph — the Spurs fronted him in the post, didn’t let him easily establish position and brought help from the corners quickly (sometimes before the pass). It got in his head — he was rushing shots when he did get the ball and as a result was missing shots he normally hits. The result was a 1-for-10 shooting first 24 minutes. And that’s not mentioning how the Spurs continued to expose Z-Bo’s pick-and-roll defense (there’s a reason Parker has room at the point of attack).

But in the second half Randolph was 5-of-7 shooting for 13 points and he was key to the Memphis comeback. With guys making shots and cutting out of the corners, Randolph found himself in more on-on-one situations on the block, and he can exploit that. He was grabbing offensive rebounds. He had a much better energy.

It wasn’t enough, but it’s something to build on — the Grizzlies will need two games of the full Z-Bo at home to even this series.

• For Memphis this was something to build on. There are no moral playoff victories. But after seven ugly quarters of basketball from Memphis they fought back, tied the game up, made some plays down the stretch and could have stolen one.

In the fourth quarter they slowed the game down and took away the transition buckets of San Antonio. The Spurs missed shots but they also didn’t get as many good looks against a set defense. The Grizzlies got some shots from Randolph and others (Quincy Pondexter was 2-of-3).

Memphis also played better defense as San Antonio shot 4-of19 — the Grizzlies seemed to finally anticipate the ball rotation and they closed out on shooters much better. The Grizzlies shouldn’t have needed a 15-2 run, but they got one and tied it up on the road.

At home role players like Jerryd Bayless shoot better, the Grizzlies won’t miss seven shots in a row inside five feet, they will play better.

We’ll see if they can build on that good fourth quarter, Memphis needs to win both of the two games at home to have a real shot in this series. But they came back from down 0-2 against the Clippers (and the Spurs were up 2-0 in this spot last year against the Thunder and lost four straight.

Gregg Popovich on Fox News pundit attacking LeBron James: “Unbelievable”

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Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham launched an attack at Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the NBA star voiced his opinion on Donald Trump. LeBron had done so many times before, alongside other notable NBA personalities like Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr.

This instance of LeBron speaking up apparently struck Ingraham in some type of way, enough to invoke a shot at James’ intelligence and speaking mannerisms in thinly-veiled comments. Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble” which sparked the ire of many around the league. LeBron responded in kind, and most considered Ingraham’s racially-tinged tirade to be par for the course from that particular outlet.

Ingraham, who failed to do basic research on LeBron’s background, community leadership, and charitable contributions, also drew criticism from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Speaking before San Antonio’s game against the Cavaliers, Popovich told a crowd that Ingraham’s comments said more about her than about LeBron, and that he was happy the game had such a positive role model for young fans in James.

Via Twitter:

Shoutout to Popovich for continuing to be a voice from such a prominent position within sports and pop culture. Guys like him and LeBron haven’t exhausted themselves even though the discussion about what they say is undoubtedly tiring.

Jimmy Butler has surgery on right meniscus, no timetable for return

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The playoff picture in the Western Conference became much more opaque after Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury earlier in the week.

Reports out of Minnesota was that Butler had suffered a right meniscus injury, ducking what many had feared was an ACL tear. According to the team, Butler had successful surgery on his right meniscus this weekend.

As of Sunday morning they did not have a timetable for his return.

Via Twitter:

Minnesota currently stands third in the West but they will have a hard time fending off the rest of the playoff hopeful teams below them without their star player.

For his part, Butler is hoping he will be back in time for the playoffs. Early reports were that the team was thinking his recovery had a 4-to-6 week timeline, but again nothing has been set. Meniscus recovery times vary greatly depending on the issue at hand and the procedure done, neither of which we have details on at this time.

The Timberwolves have the 15th most difficult strength of schedule ahead of them according to Tankathon.com, with games against major Western Conference opponents ahead of them as well as bottom-dwellers like the Memphis Grizzlies.

Minnesota has been a good story all season long. No doubt many will bring up Tom Thibodeau’s workload once again with Butler injured, something compounded by Butler apparently requesting to rest during the 2018 All-Star Game.

Wolves fans have been waiting a long time for this. They don’t deserve this kind of punishment at this late a date, but the Basketball Gods are cruel and unceasingly unforgiving.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.