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.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.