San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

Spurs vs. Thunder Game 4 preview: Serge Ibaka’s back but which Spurs team shows up?

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Serge Ibaka changed the dynamic of the Spurs/Thunder series, no doubt. After being declared out for the series with a calf injury he was back in Game 3 and was blocking shots (four) while altering others in the paint on defense, he was helping space out the floor on offense. Combine that with the comforts of being home and the Thunder were a different team in Game 3.

But the Spurs were a different team, too.

Gregg Popovich called the first half the worst defense he had seen from the Spurs all season. Tony Parker was 4-of-13 shooting with as many turnovers as assists. Spurs not named Manu Ginobili shot 35.9 percent overall and 23.5 percent from three. The Spurs were out rebounded by 16.

Yes, Ibaka’s return helped influence the Spurs poor play, but the fact is the Spurs shot 40.7 percent when he was on the court and 37.5 percent when he was off it. They shot worse from three when he was off the court. It you watched the game, you saw the Spurs just flat out miss a number of good looks they normally knock down.

That is the big question for Game 4 Tuesday night, not can Ibaka’s play keep lifting the Thunder — it can and will — but how will the Spurs respond?

If the Spurs play up to their standards from the first couple rounds of the playoffs and the first couple games of this series, Game 4 could be a classic.

Back before this series started and before we knew the extent of Ibaka’s injury, we thought we had a real series on our hands — evenly matched, a tight series that could go either way. Now we have that. It’s going to be a good show.

For the Spurs, they need to get back to defending without fouling — they were the best in the league at it but in Game 3 the Thunder lived at the line (31 free throw attempts). Part of that was the Thunder were the clear aggressors and attacking, but still the Spurs were uncharacteristically fouling.

The Thunder should still be playing with a sense of desperation — they can’t just trade wins, go down 3-1 in this series and it’s all but over — but they got a boost in Game 3 from more than just Ibaka. Reggie Jackson being inserted into the starting lineup also provided scoring balance and the Spurs did not exploit the defensive mismatch (Russell Westbrook was usually on Parker and Danny Green was just 3-of-12 at the other guard spot). Jackson will be back in the starting lineup and while he had 15 points he was 1-of-6 from three and the Thunder may need better than that.

The Thunder need the much improved defense to keep clicking as well, their rotations were much sharper in Game 3 — Ibaka deserves the credit there. His ability to cover ground defensively, his timing, are very impressive and knowing he is back there protecting the rim lets the perimeter Thunder defenders be more aggressive, more confident.

You couldn’t watch Game 3 Sunday and not think back to 2012, when the Spurs won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals before the Thunder figured out how their athleticism could disrupt the Spurs offense, then the Thunder won the next four and went on to the NBA Finals. That Game 3 and Sunday night had a similar feel.

But it is Game 4 Tuesday that will be more telling of what kind of series we have the rest of the way. The Spurs are not prone to have a couple bad games in a row. The question is will that be enough?

Rajon Rondo reportedly threw towel toward Bulls assistant during game, and they fedued more after

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 10: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls gestures during the first half of the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Getty Images
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The Bulls suspended Rajon Rondo for tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers for conduct detrimental to the team.

But what does that really mean?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Rondo had an emotional exchange with an assistant coach during and after Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks, according to a source. One source said Rondo threw a towel in the direction of associate head coach Jim Boylen during the game and the situation escalated postgame.

Rondo has already apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates, the source said. He met with coach Fred Hoiberg on Sunday and also attended a team function that day.

Rondo has long been notoriously difficult to coach. That reputation has only intensified in recent years as his play has declined, which is probably not a coincidence. Struggling on the court – Rondo had two points, two assists and five turnovers against Dallas – will only lead to frustration. Plus, tolerance for players acting out exists on a sliding scale with their ability.

But it’s also worth noting teammate Jimmy Butler and coach Fred Hoiberg continue to speak positively about Rondo:

Butler said following Monday’s shootaround that Rondo “has been great” during his stint with the Bulls.

“I think this is just another bump in the road,” Butler said. “He’s a phenomenal damn teammate and I back him on everything.

Hoiberg refused to get into details about the suspension but echoed Butler’s opinion on Rondo’s stint with the Bulls.

“Rajon, as we’ve all said, has been great,” Hoiberg said. “A great teammate. I’ve enjoyed the relationship that we developed, and … it’s not going to change moving forward.’’

This could explain why Rondo got a one-game suspension for throwing a towel at a coach when Markieff Morris, who was already feuding with the Suns, got two games just last year (as could the fact that Chicago is not Phoenix and can administer discipline differently).

Player-coach feuds happen over a long season. The reaction is often telling. Some get ignored. Some result in suspensions.

The Bulls are treating this like an isolated incident from an otherwise model player – but a situation serious enough to warrant a suspension. Rondo will eventually prove that approach right or wrong.

Matt Barnes’ rep says Kings forward acted in self-defense in nightclub fight

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks to pass the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 27, 2016 in Sacramento, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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New York police reportedly want to question Kings forward Matt Barnes over a nightclub fight early this morning.

What happened between Barnes, teammate DeMarcus Cousins and other clubgoers?

TMZ:

A rep for the NBA star tells us … Barnes was having a good time at Avenue Nightclub with his teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, when he went to sit at his VIP booth and accidentally “butt bumped” a woman who was at the next booth over.

Barnes claims the woman reacted by slapping him in the face, hard — and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Barnes claims the woman’s crew — which included several men — jumped in and began to get violent. Barnes was knocked to the ground in the melee and one of the men began to choke him.

We’re told Barnes got physical in an effort to protect himself. Cousins also jumped in to defend Barnes.

We spoke with  Barnes’ attorney Alex Spiro who tells us, “We do not believe a crime was committed and are hopeful no charges will be pressed.”

By this telling, it sounds as if a crime was committed – with Barnes as the victim. I have no idea whether this account is accurate – what else would Barnes’ representation say? – and it’s reasonable for Barnes not to desire charges even against the other side. But it’s a little strange to hear Barnes’ lawyer give the other side such a quick reprieve while Barnes’ camp circulates this story of Barnes as a clear victim.

Bulls suspend Rajon Rondo for Trail Blazers game

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks on from the bench in the final minutes of their 115-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Starting for an injured Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant had 18 points and five steals in the Bulls’  25-point win against the Trail Blazers last month.

Grant will likely get another crack to start against Portland tonight.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Chicago’s net rating with each starter on the court is lowest with Rondo:

But I doubt that’s the detrimental conduct the Bulls are referring to.

Chicago’s other starters have been dynamite with Grant instead of Rondo, outscoring opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions (relative to +10.6 with Rondo, still a robust mark). That’s a small sample with Grant, but we’ll get another opportunity to learn how this team meshes without Rondo.

Remember, though it started with a team-imposed one-game suspension, the Mavericks eventually told Rondo to stay away.

DeMarcus Cousins pushes handsy Joakim Noah (video)

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Joakim Noah kept his hands on DeMarcus Cousins after getting called for a foul, and that – and/or the Kings heading toward their third straight loss – agitated Cousins into pushing the Knicks center.

Remember, Cousins and Noah have a history.