No Parker, no problem. Spurs find way in overtime to beat Thunder, return to NBA Finals

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All season long fans and people around the league say the same thing: “How do the Spurs keep winning no matter who they roll out there?”

They did it again on the biggest stage of this season.

Tony Parker could not play the second half due to an ankle injury and the Spurs were already down 7. The instinct is to write them off. But Corey Joseph ran the offense well, Boris Diaw hit 6-of-7 for 14 points after the break, while Danny Green and Manu Ginobili each chipped in 11. They took a lead, hit some shots late and hung on to send the game to overtime.

In OT the Spurs offense was all about posting up Tim Duncan — he had 7 of the Spurs 11 points — while Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to shoot 1-of-10 and that was enough.

San Antonio won 112-107 and take the series 4-2.

That sets up an NBA Finals rematch of San Antonio and Miami — which went a thrilling seven games last time. The series starts Thursday night in San Antonio.

“We worked eight months really hard, we had a very successful season, and all we did was to get to this point, to have another shot,” Ginobili said during the ceremony awarding the Western Conference title trophy. “We’re going to give everything we got to get that trophy again.”

Duncan was more direct in his post game interview on TNT with David Aldridge.

“We have four more games to win, we’re going to do it this time,” Duncan said.

Tony Parker first sprained his ankle in Game 4 and aggravated it in Game 5, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. He didn’t know Parker’s status for Game 1 Thursday, although with five days of treatment and rest smart money is he plays. He almost didn’t play this game but did put up 8 points in the first half.

“The 19 minutes he gave us were huge, we couldn’t have gone the whole game without him I don’t think,” Popovich said in his post game press conference. “He showed a lot of guts to be out there and do what he did, but at halftime I talked to him, he stiffened up a little bit and I made the call. He wanted to go and I said, ‘No, you’re going to sit.’”

Popovich said the Spurs succeeded in the second half because they were more active, and when Westbrook or Durant had the ball they “created crowds for them.” Call it what you want, it worked — yes those two combined for 65 points but they shot 41.7 percent and combined for 14 turnovers. Reggie Jackson tried to pick up the slack with his 21 points.

The other big difference was the Spurs got their threes to fall. It was 49-42 Thunder at the half and the Spurs had shot 10-of-20 on two point shots but just 4-of-18 from three. San Antonio had six assists and eight turnovers in the first 24 minutes. Westbrook and Durant each had 15 in the first half plus Jackson 12 on 5-8 to give Oklahoma City its needed third scorer.

The second half gave us the first close, highly entertaining game of the series.

San Antonio moved the ball much better (13 assist) and that combined with hitting their threes and good defense — particularly from Kawhi Leonard, who had the Westbrook assignment much of the night — they got the lead up to 12.

But the Thunder would not quit, with Durant and Westbrook combining for 24 fourth quarter points — Westbrook again was making steals and displaying an athleticism the Spurs struggled to match.

The end was thrilling. At 97-97 there was a missed goaltending call on Serge Ibaka. Then at the other end the much-maligned Scott Brooks drew up a nice play (well, he cleared out the side for Kevin Durant with a high pick, but it worked). Then Ginobili hit a clutch three to put the Spurs up one. Durant tried to create a game winner for the Thunder but slipped, Ginobili picked up the loose ball and was fouled, hitting one of two free throws. The Spurs were up two. Westbrook drove the lane and got fouled, but calmly hit both to make it 101-101. The Spurs had Ginobili take the last shot over an outstretched Westbrook, it hit the back of the rim (and an impressive putback from Duncan was too late). The game was headed to overtime.

Also known as Tim Duncan time.

And with that the Spurs get their shot at redemption.

Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo trade massive blocks during Raptors-Bucks (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a long dude. So is Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. The two faced off in Game 6 at the Bradley Center on Thursday night, so it makes sense the two wound up using one of their most impressive physical assets against each other.

Let the battle of length begin!

Via Twitter:

That’s Ibaka blocking the Milwaukee Bucks star on an attempt at the rim, on a dunk no less. That was impressive, no doubt, but just a minute later, it was Antetokounpmo coming through with a big time block on DeMar DeRozan:

But DeRozan got his revenge later in the fourth quarter, throwing down a dunk over the Bucks defense that was perhaps the finger in the wall needed to stop the leak that was Toronto’s disastrous final period.

DeRozan and the Raptors got the last laugh, winning the closeout game on the road, 92-89. Toronto will go on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi finals.

Should the Trail Blazers go after Pacers star Paul George? CJ McCollum says yes

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The Portland Trail Blazers need to do something drastic this offseason. Fans in Oregon should be expecting something big with a roster of players prime for the trade market and three first round picks in GM Neil Olshey’s pocket for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Who should Portland go after? That is a tough question to answer.

The Blazers are not exactly a huge free agent destination, although the city is changing its reputation toward NBA players in recent years with the help of star players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have fully embraced Oregon’s largest city.

McCollum, in fact, has his own opinion on who the Blazers should go after this summer: Indiana Pacers star Paul George.

Via Twitter:

George, who is under contract for 2017-18 but has a player option for 2018-19, has been rumored to desire playing in Los Angeles. In any case, fans around the league are looking at George as a potential trade candidate.

He would certainly do well on the Blazers, who had a disappointing 41-41 season in 2016-17. After a surprising effort last year, the Trail Blazers were slotted to expand upon their finish in 2016. But a sluggish start from Damian Lillard mixed with one of the worst defensive rosters in the NBA found them battling for the No. 8 seed come the end of the season. Even still, a miraculous stretch of good play after the All-Star Game was what it took for the Blazers to beat out the likes of Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the final playoff spot.

We know now that the Blazers were swept by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, and up here in the Northwest it only solidified the fact Portland needs to get better on the wing.

Last season, Al-Farouq Aminu showed he could shoot a league average percentage from 3-point range, which helped relieve some pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. But Aminu regressed to shooting 33 percent from deep in 2017, and although Maurice Harkless did an excellent job as a young starter he’s not yet the kind of dynamic offensive player the Blazers need to be a Top 4 team in the West.

Aminu projects for Portland better as a 4, and with Jusuf Nurkic now anchoring the center position, the goal for Portland will be to strengthen the wing and flesh out the bench.

George would be an excellent get, but the Blazers would need to have the salaries match in any trade with Indiana. Allen Crabbe seems the most likely option, given his RFA match for Portland was a clear move to retain an asset. Evan Turner occupied a lot of guard minutes for Portland, and it seems the Blazers aim to keep him.

Meanwhile, you have other players like Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis who still have some value and could help Portland’s cap situation or work as part of a trade with Indiana.

Having watched Portland closely the past six seasons or so, and seeing how parts of this roster has developed, it would make the most sense to add a third star to this team. Turner hamstrings the bench unit with his gargantuan $17 million salary next season, so building out the bench unit under him still won’t put the Blazers in a position to compete with the top teams in the West without another star.

I think the clearest way to capitalize on the prime part of the careers for Lillard and McCollum is to grab another star right now. George might be out of reach — and he reportedly wants to play in LA anyway — but I think the Blazers should think big this offseason. Whether that means trading for George or doing something else bold remains to be seen.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.