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.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.