Popovich explains decision to sit Duncan late in regulation of Game 6

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MIAMI — Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was the recipient of some rare criticism following his team’s collapse in the final moments of regulation in Game 6, and it surrounded his decision to bench Tim Duncan during some key defensive possessions.

The end result, twice with under 30 seconds to play, was the Heat getting offensive rebounds which led to three-point shots that prevented the Spurs from hanging onto a championship-clinching effort in the game’s closing seconds.

The thinking is that with Duncan on the floor, the Spurs would have had a much better opportunity to secure a defensive rebound that could have sealed the victory. But speaking after practice at the American Airlines Arena on Wednesday, Popovich said that there was much more that went into his decision than that.

“It’s not that simple,” Popovich said. “That’s not why they got the threes. We were up five when they got their first three, and so redding and switching makes sense just to take away the three. But on an offensive rebound, it’s one of the toughest things in the NBA, to pick up people. And we had one guy who didn’t pick up. LeBron shot an airball when we were up five. They got the rebound, they got it back to him and he knocked it down.

“And then on the last possession, we were switching at the three‑point line to take away the three, and Boris Diaw has a little more speed than Tim Duncan, so it makes sense to have him out there redding at the three‑point line. Unfortunately we had two guys that went to LeBron and didn’t switch with [Chris Bosh], and he went right to the hole. He’s the guy who got the rebound, so it has nothing to do with Duncan.”

Duncan, as he did after Game 6, said on Wednesday that this is how the Spurs have played in these situations all season long.

“Not new at all,” Duncan said of his late-game benching. “Something we’ve done all year. Obviously we were trying to protect the three‑point line. We had a lot of bodies in there to switch and get up on our shooters. [We had] two bad bounces off a rebound — we actually got the stops on the threes, and [then there were] bad bounces right back out for threes.

“It is what it is,” he added. “Obviously, I want to be in there every minute of the game. That’s just how we’re built. But we’ve done it all year long. We’ve been successful with it. And if it comes down to it again, Pop will make the call again.”

The Spurs have a veteran core of players that trusts Popovich implicitly, but the reality is that the decisions late in Game 6 may have had an unusually adverse effect on his team’s chances. Now, facing the prospect of winning a Game 7 on the road for an NBA title — which hasn’t been done in 35 years — Popovich isn’t too concerned with history, or the long odds that other teams have failed to overcome in the past.

“I don’t really care what it’s been like for anybody else, ever, at any time,” he said. “All I know is we have had a hell of a year, and we have an opportunity to win a championship tomorrow night. That’s all that matters.”

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.