Who is washed up? Ginobili bounces back with huge game to lead Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO — When you walk around San Antonio you see more Manu Ginobili jerseys than anything else Spurs. More than Tony Parker. More than Tim Duncan. More than the Coyote mascot. More than anyone.

But after some rough games through the NBA Finals this year — he was a passive 1-of-5 shooting in Game 4 — the beloved Argentinian was getting ripped by fans and media. And himself.

“I was angry, disappointed,” Ginobili said. “We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn’t really helping the team that much. And that was the frustrating part.”

But his teammates never lost faith in him. Neither did coach Gregg Popovich, who said he still trusted Ginobili

Trusted enough that Popovich decided go start Ginobili in Game 5 to counter the Heat’s small ball game and it turned out to be a brilliant move — Ginobili helped fuel the Spurs hot start and finished with 24 points and 10 assists as the Spurs won 114-104 to take a 3-2 series lead.

“I found out yesterday before practice,” Ginobili said about starting. “(Popovich) came to me and told me I was going to start because of the way they had been starting. Not anything else. He wanted to play from the beginning four smalls. So he told me I was going to start….

“I made the first two shots. I played with Tony more, so I was off the ball in more situations. I attacked better, get to the free-throw line a little bit more, and those things combined got me going.”

The Heat’s defense likes to pressure and trap the guy with the ball. When Ginobili comes off the bench for the Spurs he is that guy — Parker and Duncan usually sit and Ginobili has the ball in his hands, he is the focal point of the offense and the defensive pressure.

But in Game 5, while the Heat were pressing Parker, Ginobili was finding his lost rhythm. The first play for the Spurs wasn’t designed for Ginobili, it was actually for Parker but became a broken play where Ginobili drained a long two. It was a shot he needed and after that he started to attack (half his shots came inside the restricted area at the rim).

“The first two long-distance shots went in, and that helped,” Ginobili said. “I knew that I was going to be more aggressive regardless if those shots didn’t go in. But I really didn’t expect a 24-point game. It didn’t happen all season long.”

The assists came in the flow of the offense — Ginobili moved the ball but guys like Danny Green couldn’t seem to miss. The Spurs as a team shot 60 percent, Ginobili himself hit 8-of-14.

Then he keyed a big run — Miami had cut the San Antonio lead to one late in the third when Ginobili led a 19-1 run that included him with seven points and an assist to help put the game away.

And as his points and impact piled up, the fans everywhere wearing his No. 20 jerseys started chanting his name. It rung throughout the AT&T Center.

“I needed it,” Ginobili said. “I was having a tough time scoring, and I needed to feel like the game was coming to me, and I was being able to attack the rim, get to the free throw line, and make a couple of shots.

“So it felt great when I heard that. To feel that I really helped the team to get that 20-point lead, it was a much needed moment in the series. So I’m glad to see it happen.”

He’s not going to hear that kind of love from the crowd in Game 6 on the road Tuesday. However, if he plays like this again what he will hear from the Miami crowd is silence because the Spurs will be on the verge of another title.

Report: James Harden, Chris Paul and Gerald Green were holding back Trevor Ariza in back hallway

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Rockets players James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin in the Clippers’ locker room after last night’s game.

That’s one version of the story, at least.

But it apparently isn’t the only one – at least when it comes to Harden’s, Green’s and Paul’s involvement.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

A hallway runs between the Clippers locker room and the visitors locker room, where players from opposing teams often see each other and catch up. According to a Rockets source, Ariza was waiting on Griffin, and when the game ended he charged from the hallway into the Clips locker room. When Rivers spotted Ariza near the entrance, according to the source, he said: “Let his b—– a– come in.” Ariza then turned his attention to Rivers.

ESPN reported that Ariza was flanked by three teammates—Harden, Paul and Gerald Green—but their purpose was unclear. “They were holding Trevor back,” the source said.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Harden was sitting out his seventh straight game with a strained hamstring on Monday night, and Rockets sources believe that he’ll be ready for a return to the lineup on Thursday night against Minnesota.

Austin Rivers challenging Ariza is juicy, but the type of thing people say during altercations. The rest of this sounds like the Rockets trying to position themselves ahead of the NBA handing down punishments.

If they were just trying to restrain Ariza, then Harden, Paul and Green shouldn’t be fined or suspended. But if Harden is suspended, he could serve his penalty Thursday – even if the Rockets are fibbing about him being ready to play (though they at least previously laid the groundwork for that one).

There’s a lot for the league to untangle.

Russell Westbrook ejected (video)

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Russell Westbrook jumped from fifth to second in the NBA in technical fouls in about two seconds.

The Thunder star received two technical fouls and an automatic ejection late in Oklahoma City’s win over the Kings last night, leaving his nine technical fouls behind only Draymond Green‘s 11.

Westbrook got hit in the face on a drive, but instead of a foul being called on Sacramento, Westbrook was whistled for travelling. That’s quite a turnaround from the expected call to the actual call, so I understand why Westbrook was so upset. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook said something that warranted ejection. Thunder coach Billy Donovan also got a technical foul in the sequence.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

The league used to crack down on that more with public fines, but the Thunder have skirted the rule this season.

Report: ‘Several prominent’ Cavaliers express concern about aging, defenseless, redundant roster

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The Cavaliers look like they can’t hang with the Warriors, which is troubling enough for a team with championship aspirations.

But for that realization to come during a miserable 2-8 stretch only puts more stress on the Cavs, who already appeared to be ripping at the seems. LeBron James is performativity howling at his teammates. They’re pointing the finger back at him. Coach Tyronn Lue is talking about personal agendas.

And tensions aren’t easing.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, multiple players acknowledged growing discontent and a strong sense of concern that unlike past seasons, the team does not have the capability to fix its problems and get back on a championship track.

Several prominent players, speaking on condition of anonymity to ESPN, Cleveland.com and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.

The Cavaliers have one preeminent player: LeBron. It’d be disingenuous to frame this article this way without including him, and I doubt McMenamin is doing that.

These concerns are perfectly valid.

Cleveland is the NBA’s oldest team, weighted by playing time, in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for building up steam toward and in a long playoff run. This is an even more extreme version of the problem LeBron’s last Heat team succumbed to.

Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability, and Kevin Love – playing a lot of center – isn’t a rim protector. Several other players – LeBron, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose – are well past their defensive peaks, which weren’t necessarily high in the first place. The Cavs’ defense ranks 29, ahead of only the Kings.

Wade, Calderon and Rose can’t all serve as lead playmaker while LeBron sits – leaving the other two without clear roles when everyone is healthy. Smith and Korver would both be spot-up 3-point specialists if Smith were hitting shots. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green look similar (a compliment to Green, but a telltale sign of how underwhelming Crowder has been). Frye is a lesser version of Love as a stretch five. Tristan Thompson can’t get going, and Iman Shumpert can’t get healthy.

To be fair, the Cavaliers are 26-17 – hardly bad, but not quite championship-caliber. This portrait of doom and gloom is accurate only when measured against the highest of expectations.

The Cavs can still trade the Nets’ first-round pick to upgrade the roster, though they’re reportedly disinclined to do so. This report sounds like a plea from top players for the team to reconsider. And if owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman don’t, it’ll read as LeBron framing his exit in free agency next summer.

Danny Green tugs down Dennis Schroder’s shorts (video)

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We collectively made a federal case out of J.R. Smith untying shoelaces.

We probably ought to at least question what the heck Danny Green was doing to Dennis Schroder here.

At least Schroder got the last laugh with 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Hawks’ win over the Spurs.