Old-school Spurs earn extra measure of respect in defeat.

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Youth may ultimately have been served, but age earned a lot of respect.

Yes, the younger and more athletic core of the Miami Heat won another NBA title, but the older core of the San Antonio Spurs reminded everyone just how beautiful well played team basketball can look like. And how far it can take you. They reminded everyone what a great organization looks like. They no doubt have Hall of Fame players on the roster, but it really works because those guys play their roles just like everyone else. They are a coach’s dream.

They remind us of why we love the game — not the dunks and the ankle-breaking crossovers, but the extra pass and the smart cut. Why we love basketball the sport, not just it’s parts.

Yet somehow and all too often, the Spurs get overlooked. They get counted out. “They’re too old, this is the year it all fall apart.”

Despite San Antonio’s four titles from 1999 to 2007, somehow we tend to look right past the Spurs these days. They are not the sexiest team in the room and too often as fans we focus too much on players and teams who haven’t accomplished 1/10th of what San Antonio has.

However, in these Finals they reminded us they were one of the best. Even in defeat.

“That was the toughest series we have ever been in,” Heat coach Erik Speolstra said.

“For our part, I couldn’t love our guys more,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “What they accomplished this year is something nobody would have ever expected. And they showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

What the Spurs did for much of this series — and almost did in Game 7 — is withstand the runs of the Heat. San Antonio showed real mental toughness. Miami’s athleticism is too much for every other team in the league for stretches, yet the Spurs never wilted like everyone before them. The Heat tried to get runs going in Game 7 — Popovich said LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played Hall of Fame games — but each time the Spurs answered. Until at the closing moments of the last two games their legs just had nothing left.

Yet don’t discount that they were there, right in it.

Tim Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds just two days after a 30-point showing. He torched Chris Bosh with counter moves and reminded everyone he is the greatest power forward ever. Manu Ginobili played much better than his game 6, with 18 points, but he had couple key turnovers late. Tony Parker was clearly slowed.

More than their stars, the Spurs front office always finds the guys who can step in and step up. There was 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard scoring 19 points while having to cover LeBron. Danny Green had huge games earlier in the series. Gary Neal hit some big shots, including a ridiculous banked three pointer in Game 7. I’m sure he called bank on that, but this is not a game of H-O-R-S-E.

By the end of Game 7 the Spurs were gassed. It was obvious. Parker had to sit; Duncan missed a bunny to tie the game. Their legs were gone and Miami’s weren’t.

“Well, I thought they gave everything,” Popovich said. “That was a tough Game 6. And I think they showed a lot of poise, a lot of mental toughness to come back today and play as hard as they did.

“I don’t think we played very well, but we played hard. We gave it everything we had. They did a pretty good job of forgetting what we let go in Game 6.”

A number of Spurs players after the game talked about Game 6, where they led by 10 points to start the fourth quarter and by 5 with: 28 seconds left. That’s the game that they felt they let slip away (they did). That’s very understandable. A bounce here, a break there and they could have been celebrating.

But it was not to be.

Right after a loss like this one, saying they earned a new measure respect sounds a little hollow. But it’s not. This is one of the great teams, great core groups of its era. In an age of lob for dunks making the highlights, the Spurs showed everyone what good, clean basketball looks like and why it is most likely to take you all the way to the NBA Finals.

The Spurs were not flashy, they were just smart and tough, with a nice mix of chemistry on the side.

We should appreciate that for how rare and special it is. We should give the Spurs their due.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor).

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more focus than they brought against the Timberwolves, because unlike Minnesota those teams will make Houston pay a steep price.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top. Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.