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.”

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.