Spurs take 3-2 Finals lead with Game 5 win over Heat

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SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili had been largely missing in action for the Spurs through the first four games of the Finals, and in a series as close as this one in terms of overall talent possessed by each team, San Antonio couldn’t afford to be without what has consistently been its most dangerous weapon off the bench for very much longer.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich tried to jumpstart Ginobili by inserting him into the starting lineup for Sunday’s critical Game 5, and the result couldn’t have been any better if he had scripted it himself.

Ginobili finished with 24 points and 10 assists, and had his fingerprints all over the Spurs’ 114-104 win over the Heat that gives San Antonio a three games to two advantage with the series headed back to Miami for its deciding game or games.

The performance came essentially out of nowhere, considering how little Ginobili had done through the first four games of the series. He was just 10-of-29 from the field in total, and didn’t provide nearly the spark the Spurs have grown accustomed to getting from him over the years.

In this one, however, Ginobili infused his team from the very start. He hit the first shot of the game from near three-point distance, and had seven points and three assists in the first five and a half minutes.

“I think that first shot was huge,” Tony Parker said, “because that was not even a play for him. It was a play for me, and he kept it. It was like a broken play, and he hits that three. I think the whole team, it helps everybody, because we know Manu is a big part of what we do.  And we needed a game like that from him.”

After Ginobili got things started, Parker was able to take over with his precision penetration to the basket. He sliced through the Heat defense all night long, and was able to convert several difficult shots inside. Miami’s defense had no answer for Parker’s drives, and with their small lineup the lack of a rim protector really hurt them on a consistent basis.

Parker finished with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, to go along with five assists. The hamstring didn’t appear to limit him at all on the court, though he stepped very gingerly to the postgame interview podium and appeared a bit hobbled afterward.

If it wasn’t Parker or Ginobili doing the scoring by getting into the paint and causing havoc, it was Danny Green continuing his torrid shooting from three-point distance. He finished with 24 points of his own, and hit six of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. He now owns the all-time NBA Finals record for three-pointers made in a series with 25, surpassing the mark set by Ray Allen in 2008. Green, however, only took five games to get the record, while Allen needed six.

The Spurs had gotten out to a lead of as many as 17 points in the first half, but the Heat used the bulk of the third quarter to close the gap. They were able to get out in transition, they used LeBron James in the post, and played with a speed and intensity that allowed them to get back into the game.

Miami had cut the San Antonio lead down to just one with a 9-0 run to open the third, and again pulled within a single point with 3:05 remaining in the period.

At that point, Ginobili finished what he started.

During the 12-1 run that San Antonio put together to end the third and take control, Ginobili scored seven points and assisted on two more. The Spurs scored the first seven points of the fourth to put the game away for good, and the Heat made a late run to get within eight but never truly threatened the rest of the way.

LeBron and Dwyane Wade were held in check by the Spurs’ interior defense, and when they kicked it out the open shooters had difficulty knocking down both open and contested shots. The Heat’s two biggest threats scored 25 points apiece, but got there by shooting a low percentage — a combined effort of 18-of-44 from the field from James and Wade is never going be enough against this Spurs team.

It’s been a series where the losing team has bounced back in a big way the following game, and the Heat are going to need to continue that trend in Game 6 back in Miami if the series is to continue to a seventh game.

Game 5, however, belonged to the Spurs. Parker was brilliant, and Green was lights out from distance. But Ginobili was the one that drove this victory from start to finish.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Kyrie Irving-LeBron James saga featured in hilarious parody of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ (video)

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What’s going on between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James?

I’ve seen better explanations.

But I haven’t seen more entertaining explanations.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.