San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7

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.

NBA: Heat got away with two violations before clutch 3-pointer in win over Mavericks (video)

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Dirk Nowitzki entered Miami nostalgic about returning to the place he led the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title.

He left with a 99-95 loss to the Heat.

But perhaps correct officiating down the stretch would have produced a different result.

Before Tyler Johnson hit a key late 3-pointer, Miami got away with two violations, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Goran Dragic should’ve been called for travelling with 1:47 left:

Dragic (MIA) moves his pivot foot.

Failing that, Hassan Whiteside should’ve been whistled for a three-second violation with 1:45 left:

Whiteside (MIA) is in the paint for longer than three seconds.

Either call would’ve ended the Heat’s possession. Instead, they kept swinging the ball until Johnson hit his 3-pointer.

We’ll never know how the game would’ve played out with a correct call, but at different points, Dallas trailed by just two and three while having to intentionally foul.

Raptors Kyle Lowry was ejected Sunday for blow to Brandon Knight’s head (VIDEO)

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Kyle Lowry has had an All-Star worthy season, but he’s had a rough few games.

His jumper has gone missing the last three games — he is shooting 35.4 percent overall and 25.9 percent from three in those games. Not coincidentally, all three of those are Raptors losses.

Then on Sunday, he struck the Suns’ Brandon Knight in the head as Knight drove the lane. Lowry made an ill-advised swipe at the ball after Knight got past him and smacked Knight on the head. Lowry was given a Flagrant 2 and was ejected, which was the right call.

Lowry took responsibility for the hit and said after the game he texted Knight to apologize, that he wasn’t a dirty player and didn’t intend to do hurt Knight. Classy move. But Lowry still could face a fine from the league for this.

Three things we learned Sunday: Roller coaster Laker season has some deep, deep dips

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Luke Walton of the Los Angeles Lakers watches play during a 101-89 Dallas Mavericks win at Staples Center on December 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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With a couple of important football games Sunday you may have missed some other things. Like why a highway was covered in red Skittles. Or, the handful of NBA Games that took place. We can help you with the latter, here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) On the anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, Lakers only score 73.
I keep waiting for the day Luke Walton snaps.

He has been the model of the patient, developmental basketball coach of a young team this season — it’s about progress, about lessons learned, about laying a foundation that helps this young core grow into something more dangerous in future years. He has been what the Lakers needed, a departure from last year and he who shall not be named. However, the lack of effort and growth on defense — the continued inability to defend the pick-and-roll — has to be eating at him inside. This is a young team, it’s going to have ups and downs, but the downs have been deep and pronounced, and at some point I expect Walton to just unload on his young charges.

Although if it didn’t happen after Sunday, it might never happen. On the 11th anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, the Lakers as a team scored just 73 points. Los Angeles lost by 49 points, a franchise record for worst loss ever. Walton said after the game the Lakers lacked the kind of veteran or natural leader on this team who would take charge on the court and call out his teammates off it in moments like this. Maybe he needs to be that guy.

Comments about the Lakers often talk about a quality young core for them to build around. There is some truth to that. Brandon Ingram has had some better games of late, although on Sunday he was asked to start for the injured D’Angelo Russell and be a playmaker and that failed. Ingram missed his first shot and it got in his head for the rest of the day, throwing off his game. Ingram needs to be a better shot creator (and get stronger). Jordan Clarkson can score the rock, and both he and Larry Nance Jr. are future NBA rotation players who can contribute to very good teams. Then there is Russell — nobody has been more up and down this season than the second-year point guard. A few weeks back I wrote about how he had finally developed a game-day routine and seemed to be turning a corner with a string of strong games. Since then he’s pretty much stunk. He’s developing, although it’s fair to ask if he’s doing that fast enough?

(Still, the Lakers really missed Russell Sunday — he’s the only guard they have who is a threat to score from three or getting into the lane, he’s a good passer who sees the angles on the court, and when he’s out there the ball moves better. This Lakers team lacks shot creators and when Russell is out the offense can stagnate quickly, reverting to one-on-one plays.)

It’s fair to ask why the inconsistent defensive efforts? Well, consistently bad may be the more accurate description. They make bad decisions constantly, and the veterans they have either are not great defenders — Nick Young, Lou Williams — or can be drawn into bad positions, such as Timofey Mozgov having to defend Dirk Nowitzki Sunday.

It’s also fair to ask if the Lakers really have an alpha in this core? Do they have a top 15 NBA player that can be the cornerstone of a future contender? I don’t see it. Maybe Ingram with some muscle and experience on him can get there — scouts are still very high on his game — but I do not see it elsewhere. Plus, I don’t see the alpha, ultra-competitive personality that doesn’t accept losing gracefully. Again, maybe Russell or someone has that and is just not confident showing it yet, but this team lacks it.

With all that, the Lakers development roller coaster seems to have bigger dips than highs. Which has to frustrate Walton. And at some point, he’s going to lose it.

2) The Suns beat the Raptors, and Eric Bledsoe was the reason.
Phoenix has won a couple of game in a row, and while beating the Knicks does not earn guys high praise, beating the Toronto Raptors will do that. Quietly Eric Bledsoe has had a borderline All-Star season — he’s not going to make the team due to the depth of talent in the West and the fact the Suns suck — and he showed it Sunday with an impressive 40 points to get Phoenix the win.

3) The Warriors punish Magic to end week where they asserted themselves. Last week for the Warriors started with a rematch against Cleveland, and Golden State earned a measure of confidence blowing them out. Then the Warriors beat Russell Westbrook and the Thunder thanks to a “look at what you’re missing” game from Kevin Durant. Then the Warriors knocked off the surging Rockets and James Harden.

That’s a good week, although the Warriors still had to face the Magic on Sunday. That had the makings of a potential let down game but the Warriors pulled away for the win.

Golden State has established itself as the best team in the NBA this regular season. There’s still a lot of season (nearly half) to go, and they will get tested in the playoffs, but they have set the mark to beat. Did they set the bar last year, too? Yes. And they made the Finals (and would have won if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself), not something to ignore. But this season feels different with Durant in the fold. We’ll see. But for right now, they keep right on rolling at 38-6.

Suns’ Marquese Chriss shows off crazy hops to throw down alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Marquese Chriss has ridiculous athleticism, which is why a lot of teams had their eye on him last draft.

He’s still trying to figure out how to make that talent work for him on the court, but on plays like this third quarter alley-oop your jaw drops.

The Suns got the upset win over the Raptors thanks to a monster game from Eric Bledsoe.