Spurs “beautiful game” offense turned ugly in fourth quarter

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SAN ANTONIO — There were points during Game 2 of the NBA Finals where you just had to be in awe of the Spurs ball movement. On one possession they got the ball to Tim Duncan on the right block then he swung it to three point line on the left side, then the ball was whipped the right top, then back to the right block — all in about three seconds.

When the Spurs play like that, it’s the beautiful game.

Then in the fourth quarter they stopped.

“The ball stuck to us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think we were trying to do it  we didn’t do it as a group. We tried to do it individually and we’re not good enough to do that.”

San Antonio scored 18 fourth quarter points on 35.3 percent shooting, and they had an offensive rating of just 90 points per 100 possessions in that frame. The Spurs were up one with less than three minutes to go, they got some stops, but they just couldn’t get the ball inside or score.

That cost them Game 2.

Miami made one key defensive switch in the fourth quarter — they put LeBron James on Tony Parker. His size took the focal point of the Spurs offense out of the game, he was 1-of-2 shooting for 3 points with one assist in the final frame. LeBron also didn’t need help on Parker, which allowed the other Heat defenders to stay at home with their men. Also, Miami switched a lot more picks in this game, which threw the Spurs off it seemed.

But that still shouldn’t have negated the Spurs’ ball movement like it did.

“We stopped the ball,” Manu Ginobili said. “Against a team like them, we are not going to score much if we do stop the ball… But, yeah, there are moments where we forget what got us to where we are now. It happened also in Game 1. The only thing that we were perfect for moments in Game 1.”

Take a look at the Spurs possessions in the final 4:30 of the game:

• Danny Green misses driving, twisting, contested lay-up.

• Ginobili missed a deep three he had to race up because the shot clock was about to expire.

• Parker hit a three pointer — Ginobili drove and got into the paint, the defense collapsed and he kicked it out to Parker. Chris Bosh was hesitant and slow on the close out. (That shot put the Spurs up one with 2:25 left).

• After the Spurs first couple actions got nowhere Parker drove the ball in but got stripped by LeBron. The Spurs retained the ball but with just 0.8 seconds left they did not get off a good look.

• Ginobili made a hard pass inside to a cutting Duncan, but it bounced off his hands out of bounds.

• Ginobili missed a step-back 18 footer.

• The Spurs got a Ginobili three at the buzzer to make it just a two-point loss.

Notice with those shots, not one was in the paint. Green missed his and Parkers’ three came off penetration and a kick-out.

Miami did well overall on defense, their rotations were sharper and they played with much more aggression. Heat coach Eric Spoelstra had said they just needed to do what they normally do for a full game, and to do it harder. Miami was far better defending the pick-and-roll and cutting off penetration before it got going.

“We had to take the challenge one-on-one and do a better job with that, contain the pick-and-rolls two-on-two to give our backside defense more help and more opportunities to make plays,” Chris Bosh said.

The question for the Spurs is how they adjust — you can bet LeBron will be back on Parker for key stretches, that can’t kill the ball movement.

For the Heat, the question is consistency — they haven’t done that these playoffs. They have been great for stretches but not entire games, or after a good one they have a bad one. Miami can’t do that against San Antonio.

We will get our answers Tuesday night.

Nike “very concerned” after LeBron James’ jersey rips on opening night

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In the team’s first preseason game, the jersey of the Lakers’ Tyler Ennis was torn in the back with a tug from an opponent. Everyone made tearaway jersey jokes and moved on, thinking it was a one-off situation.

Then LeBron James‘ jersey ripped down the back on opening night, on national television.

Now Nike is looking into the issue, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

Nearly three days after one of its jerseys tore in the first regular-season game of its new deal with the NBA, Nike released a statement Friday expressing worry about the issue, without offering insight as to what happened or what will be done.

“The quality and performance of all our products are of utmost importance,” the company said in a statement. “We are obviously very concerned to see any game day jersey tear and are working with the NBA and teams to avoid this happening in the future.”

This is the first year Nike has the NBA apparel contract, having just taken it over from Adidas. They made the jerseys similar to what had been done for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where there were no issues, but these jerseys are lighter than the former Adidas ones. It’s unclear what, if any, changes could be coming.

Like many of the jerseys from opening night, LeBron’s ripped one is being auctioned by the NBA to raise money for hurricane relief.

Reports: Rockets think Chris Paul could be sidelined for up to a month

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The Rockets’ opening night win over the Warriors was a boost to their confidence — they believe they can challenge the Warriors next May in the playoffs.

Chris Paul is a big part of that plan, which is why we may not see him for up to a month (even though he is listed as day-to-day, and officially only out Saturday). With that, the Rockets are considering adding another point guard to the roster. Marc Stein of the New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news Friday afternoon.

At the top of the free agent point guard list is Jameer Nelson, the veteran was just waived by Denver to make room for Richard Jefferson.

C.J. Watson and Trey Burke also are available.

Chris Paul and Harden still need to smooth out playing together, something that will take time on the court together. CP3 being out until mid-November is not ideal, but the Rockets are thinking about May, and ideally June, so they will sacrifice a few games now to have him healthy then.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.