Mavericks’ dramatic comeback falls just short, Spurs even series with win

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Dallas came tantalizingly close.

Down 20 in the third quarter they fought all the way back to take a lead late in the fourth — they did it with defense, they did it with Monta Ellis making shots, they did it thanks to DeJuan Blair being everywhere.

But in the end a desperate Spurs team made plays — Boris Diaw hit threes, Manu Ginobili knocked down free throws and Diaw contested a potential Ellis game-tying lay-up and got a miss — and they got a win 93-89.

The win evens the series 2-2 heading back to San Antonio for a crucial Game 5.

Mavs fans thought they had this one, they were going nuts in the arena. They might blame the loss on another cold shooting night for the loss (Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki were a combined 13-of-39, 33.3 percent). They might want to blame the referees for ejecting DeJuan Blair with three minutes left. They might… oh, who are we kidding, Tony Romo was in the building and you know if it’s a close loss in the playoffs it is his fault.

San Antonio’s offense is simply not as consistently sharp as we are used to seeing it — the offense lacks the movement and crisp passing we were saw when they racked up the best record in the NBA. Give some credit to the feisty defense from the Mavericks trying to create turnovers, but part of this is just execution from San Antonio. We saw it in a stretch during Monday’s game.

Dallas had raced out to 10 point lead early, but starting late in the first quarter and into the second the Spurs took charge of the game, They were getting the shots they wanted, contesting everything on defense (the Mavs started the second quarter 1-of-12 shooting , getting easy buckets thanks to ball movement. Manu Ginobili was a big spark for this and finished the game with 23 points on 14 shots — he has been the best Spur player in this series and was +11 in this game.

Dallas, on the other hand, had won the last couple games because while the Spurs had shut down Dirk Nowitzki (he was 7-of-19 shooting for the game, once again Tiago Splitter did a fantastic job guarding Nowitzki) other guys had stepped up. Not this time. Monta Ellis was 2-of-8 in the first half. Other Mavs followed suit.

Early in the third quarter the Spurs lead grew to 20 — and that’s when Blair started outworking everyone on the court. That’s when shots started falling for Ellis. That’s when the other Mavs started to find a way to contest and get some balls they could turn into transition plays.

By the middle of the fourth quarter the Mavs had closed the gap completely, Dallas opened the quarter This game was going to be close the rest of the way.

But then Blair got ejected with three minutes left for this play:

The refs said it was done in hostility. You can argue that the kick wasn’t intentional, that Splitter was on his legs and he reacted — but you can’t kick a guy in the head. It’s an ejection every time.

That is it changed the game. It’s kind of amazing to say but yes, losing DeJuan Blair was a huge blow to the Mavericks.

San Antonio won the game thanks to its French Connection.

Tony Parker and Diaw had been playing a pick-and-pop at the top of the key all game with some success. With the game on the line in the final minute they did it again — Parker attacked off a Diaw pick and got into the lane, then kicked it back to Diaw who had time to set and fire and he knocked down the three that proved to be the game winner.

It took more, of course. Nowitzki made it a one-point game on an offensive rebound and putback. Ginobili was fouled but hit just one of two, making it a two-point Spurs lead.

Monta Ellis got the call and drove for bucket off Nowitzki handoff, a great play design… but he misses the shot. Give Diaw credit for contesting and making Ellis work for it, but that’s one he hits more often than not.

San Antonio sealed the win from the line and now goes home for what is now a best-of-three. San Antonio has had to work harder for this than expected, but if the Spurs from the second quarter of this game shows up they are going to be partying on Riverwalk again.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.