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.

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.