Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich

Tony Parker goes MIA in Game 5, but Spurs advance to Western Conference Finals


Where’s Tony Parker?

That question dominated the first half as the San Antonio Spurs point guard left the court and bench without suffering an obvious injury. Turns out, his hamstring tightened, and the Spurs ruled him out at halftime – potentially a real concern going forward.

But there were no questions about Kawhi Leonard’s whereabouts.

He was everywhere.

Leonard (22 points on three 3-pointers and two dunks, seven rebounds and five steals) made plays all over the court to lead the San Antonio to a 104-82 series-closing win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

With their 4-1 series victory, the Spurs join the Heat as the only teams to make the conference finals each of the last three years. But whether San Antonio returns to the NBA Finals, let alone wins them, might hinge on Parker.

Parker’s backup, Patty Mills (18 points, three steals, zero turnovers in 26 minutes), filled in admirably. But winning with depth, as the Spurs have done to this point, gets much more difficult when the field narrows. Parker is a true star, someone who has repeatedly elevated his game as the playoffs go deeper. That’s whom San Antonio needs.

And there’s reason to believe the Spurs will get Parker back soon.

“I think it’s more precaution than anything,” said Tim Duncan, whose 16 points and eight rebounds helped ensure the Spurs could comfortably rest Parker on Wednesday. “Just don’t want to get him any more hurt.”

At least San Antonio will get extra rest before facing the Thunder or Clippers, and that can only help Parker heal.

In wins in Games 1-3, the Spurs led at halftime by 26, 19 and 20 at halftime. In their Game 4 loss, they trailed by two at the break.

Wednesday, they led by just seven at halftime – a comfortable position to be certain, but one indicative of a team no longer possessing an unbreakable lock on the series. The only other time the Trail Blazers got this close after two quarters, Game 4, they ran away with it in the third.

“We might have ran out of a little energy in the last game,” Duncan admitted.

San Antonio quickly ensured that wouldn’t be repeated in Game 5, opening the third quarter on an 8-0 run. Thanks to Danny Green making all five of his second-half shots on the way to 22 points, the Spurs led by double digits the rest of the way.

The Trail Blazers’ run ends here, and they were an exciting team that got in over their heads – way over their heads. But this season was a resounding success for Portland, which reached the playoffs for the first time in three years and won a postseason series for the first time in 14.

Portland’s stars – Damian Lillard (17 points and 10 assists) and LaMarcus Aldridge (21 points and 10 rebounds) – had double-doubles in the season ender, but neither really gave San Antonio much reason for concern. They’re not quite good enough to beat a great team like the Spurs, especially with so little bench help.

Next season, the Trail Blazers can get better. They’re young enough to expect significant internal growth, and using the mid-level exception wouldn’t take them into the luxury tax.

But the West is tough, and breaking into the upper echelon is a daunting task. Again and again this series, the Spurs proved that.

76ers on blocking anthem singer wearing ‘WE MATTER’ jersey: ‘We use our games to bring people together’

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Sevyn Streeter said the 76ers prevented her from singing the national anthem at tonight’s game because she was wearing a “WE MATTER” jersey:

76ers statement:

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community.”

This is a continuation of Carmelo Anthony‘s argument: The emphasis should be on action in communities and there’s no longer a place for gestures like Colin Kaepernick kneeling.

But this needn’t be an either/or discussion. Community-based action is obviously important (though don’t assign responsibility to NBA players to fix racism). Recognizing the width and depth of the problem is necessary – which is why symbols matter, too.

Take Street’s shirt at face value. “We matter.” “Black lives matter.” What’s so offensive about that? There is no implicit “more” attached.

Yet, the 76ers found it antithetical to their brand.

This is why the widespread “unity” message preached by arm-locking NBA players left so much to be desired.

To the 76ers, unity meant silencing Streeter.

Is that what players were demonstrating on behalf of during the preseason? I’m sure that arena was much more united with a 76ers dancer singing the anthem than it would have been with Streeter spotlighted. But sometimes divisiveness is necessary to advance a cause.

If the 76ers don’t want Streeter using their platform to say “WE MATTER,” that’s their right. Not everyone has to support that choice, though.

Sevyn Streeter says 76ers prevented her from performing national anthem due to ‘WE MATTER’ jersey

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

No NBA players followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead by kneeling during the national anthem in the preseason.

But that courageous form of protest still found its way onto NBA courts.

A national-anthem singer knelt before a Kings game, and other did at a Heat game.

Another singer wanted to take a bold stance for the 76ers’ regular-season opener against the Thunder tonight by wearing a “WE MATTER” jersey, but she said the team stopped her.

Sevyn Streeter:

A 76ers dancer performed the anthem instead:

The 76ers deserve some latitude to choose how someone uses their platform. But what about claiming black lives matter is antithetical to the 76ers’ brand?

The team did not immediately respond to request for comment. I will update if it does.

76ers fan flips double bird to Russell Westbrook, who reacts incredulously (video)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder warms up prior to the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on October 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Russell Westbrook era didn’t get off to the fastest start for the Thunder, who fell behind the 76ers early.

This Philadelphia fan got way ahead of himself (and any reasonable standard of decency).

Via Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report:

Oklahoma City responded with a 5-0 run, Westbrook scoring three points himself and assisting another basket.

Report: Bulls close to deal with former Celtic R.J. Hunter

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  R.J. Hunter #28 of the Boston Celtics carries the ball against the New York Knicks during the third quarter at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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The No. 28 pick, R.J. Hunter became the first first-rounder from last year’s draft to fall out of the NBA when the Celtics waived him.

He won’t be out of the league for long.

The Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot, appear close to adding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Hunter belongs in the league.  Though he must knock down shots far more reliably than he has, Hunter has potential as an outside shooter with complementary ball skills to provide value. Boston just had more NBA-caliber players than roster spots.

He’s far from a lock to succeed in the NBA, but I value Hunter about as much as Tony Snell – whom the Bulls just traded for an upgrade at backup point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. That they could so cheaply replace Snell makes that deal look even better.