Associated Press

Three Things We Learned Monday: Spurs, Warriors now tied for NBA’s best record

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Monday night saw some key games in the standings as teams try to shuffle for playoff positioning. If you were trying to re-watch the last season of Game of Thrones before the new season starts, here’s what you missed.

1) Kawhi Leonard returns, Spurs move into a tie with Warriors after comeback win over Hawks. We should have had a pretty good idea how this game was going to turn out — it has been 20 years since the Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio. Seriously. It was Feb. 15, 1997. The same week that the Spice Girls “Wannabe” became the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts. It’s been that long.

The Spurs were in control starting in the first half and drained 16 threes on their way to the win (which got competitive in the fourth). Kawhi Leonard was back on the court for the Spurs after missing Saturday’s game against the Warriors with a concussion, and he picked up right where he left off — 31 points, five rebounds, and four assists, plus playing strong defense and looking like an MVP candidate.

It’s not the game itself that was the news, but rather that the win moved the Spurs into a tie with the Warriors for the best record in the NBA (technically the Spurs are on top as they have the tiebreaker in that series, having won both meetings). The Spurs need to keep finding wins however because the Warriors now head home with an easier schedule the rest of the way — the Warriors have one more home game and two fewer games against teams over. 500 through the rest of the season. The key game, of course, is a rematch in San Antonio on March 29 (and again the Spurs catch the Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back in that game).

By the way, the loss by the Hawks hurt their goal of moving up to the four seed, getting home court against the Raptors in the first round. Toronto beat Dallas Monday night, so with the Atlanta loss the Raptors now have a two-game cushion.

2) Jazz rain threes on Clippers to get the win, solidify hold on four seed in Western Conference. Nothing is set in stone, but the Clippers and Jazz appear destined for a first-round playoff matchup as the four/five seeds in the West. That made Monday night’s matchup a playoff preview, technically, but what it really meant was a chance for the Clippers to move into a tie with the Jazz with a win. Whichever team gets the four seed gets home court in the first round.

Score one for the Jazz. Which defied history — the Clippers had won 17 of the last 19 games between these teams, including nine straight in Utah.

The Jazz changed history with a barrage of threes, In the first half, the Jazz were just 3-of-9 from deep (by design or poor execution, the Jazz got a lot of good looks that half against a sagging defense but did not knock them down). That changed in the second half when the Jazz hit their first nine attempts from three — Gordon Hayward in particular got looks, coming off screens or creating his own looks near the top of the key, and hitting 4-of-5 from deep in the second half. Hayward finished with 27 points.

This was also a great battle of point guards. Chris Paul carved up the Jazz defense in the first half, scoring 18 and looking like the point god he is. In the second half, Utah’s George Hill was working secondary actions on his way to 14 points half and 19 for the game.

The win gives Utah a two-game cushion for the four seed in the West. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but you’d rather have the cushion than not. The two teams play one more time before the season ends, in Los Angeles.

3) Ricky Rubio drops 19 dimes, sets Timberwolves record in victory. There are a surprisingly large number of Ricky Rubio haters on Twitter… although should we be surprised at the number of people who hate anything or anyone once they get the anonymity of social media? Rubio is far from a consistent shooter, but the guy is one of the games great passers, one of the better defensive point guards in the league now, and a fairly consistent game manager. He’s a quality NBA point guard.

Monday night he bested Scott Skiles Minnesota record with 19 assists in a game — 10 in the first quarter. That led the Timberwolves to the win over a hot Wizards team.

Steve Kerr “uncertain” if he will coach in NBA Finals

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The Warriors have gone 12-0 through the playoffs, the first team to sweep the first three rounds of the playoffs since the NBA went to a best-of-7 in all three rounds (a couple Lakers teams did it when the first round was best-of-5).

That doesn’t mean they haven’t missed Steve Kerr as coach, but they haven’t needed him. Yet. Mike Brown has done the job quite well.

Will Kerr be back for the NBA Finals? He told Marc Spears of ESPN he doesn’t know.

Kerr had back surgeries two summers ago, and that caused him to miss the start of the 2015-16 season (Luke Walton ran the show). Kerr coached through pain caused by a slow leak of spinal fluid until nausea and pain became too much at the start of this postseason. Kerr has had a new procedure — one that is apparently promising, one that we hope works to end the leak — but he’s understandably cautious about jumping back in.

That said, the next round, against the Cavaliers (barring the most improbable comeback in NBA history), is when the Warriors will need Kerr’s creative mind and solutions to the challenges Cleveland presents.

He’s also got more than a week to decide since the Finals don’t start until June 1.

Manu Ginobili receives standing ovation upon exiting what may be his final game

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Manu Ginobili is a four-time NBA champion, a two-time All-NBA player,  two-time All-Star, and a Sixth Man of the Year.

He’s also the most popular Spur of his generation — walk around San Antonio, even at the peak of the Spurs runs, and you saw more Ginobili jerseys than Duncan or Parker or Robinson or anyone else. Ginobili is beloved.

When he was taken out near the end of Game 4, maybe his final game as a Spur, the fans erupted into a standing ovation (joined by Stephen Curry, who stepped away from the free throw line to let the moment happen).

Ginobili hinted during the season this would be his last, but has said repeatedly during the playoffs he didn’t know what he would do during the season. He looked like he had game left in the tank during the Western Conference Finals (he had 15 points in Game 4 and was one of the Spurs best players in the series). The question is, at age 40 next season, will he want to go through all the work it takes to get physically ready for the next season.

Warriors take control early, hold off Spurs to sweep series, advance to NBA Finals

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This series was decided early in the second half of Game 1, when Kawhi Leonard’s ankle rolled. He never got back on the court in the next three games, the Spurs were +21 when he was on in that first game and -85 the rest of the way. Without his defense on one end and shot creation on the other the Spurs could not match up.

The Spurs didn’t play like it was over Monday night — while the Warriors would hit threes and go on runs, the Spurs would answer back never let them completely pull away. They got buckets from Kyle Anderson (20 points off the bench) and 15 from Manu Ginobili in what may have been his final NBA game (he got the start, and the crowd erupted when he was taken out near the end).

It wasn’t enough. The Golden State Warriors were the better team — maybe even if Leonard had played — and they were in control of this game the entire way, getting 36 points from Stephen Curry and 29 from Kevin Durant.

The Warriors went on to win 125-110 and sweep the Spurs 4-0. Golden State swept through the West undefeated at 12-0, and they will take on the winner of the East (we all know it will be Cleveland). The Finals don’t begin until June 1.

This is the Warriors third straight trip to the Finals.

“Our chemistry is getting better and better,” Durant said after the game. “We’re going to need it even more in the next series, whoever we play, we’re just looking forward to it. I’m glad we got this done.”

There was a lot of respect between the teams after the series, particularly for Ginobili.

“Somebody I grew up watching, amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him,” Durant said after the game. “I got nothing but love and respect for him, plus he wear my shoes every year so that’s a plus. He was phenomenal this series.”

There also was a feeling among fans that we were robbed of a good series by the injury to Leonard (and the cheap play by Zaza Pachulia that caused it). Without Leonard (and Tony Parker) the Spurs struggled to create shots and generate consistent offense against a stout Warriors defense.

It was evident at the start of Game 4. San Antonio opened game 3-of-16 shooting, but the bigger issue is they went 1-of-8 in the paint against a Warriors team that started small (Patrick McCaw instead of JaVale McGee). Meanwhile, the Spurs were 7-of-7 in the paint to start the game. That is why the Warriors raced out to a quick 12 point lead midway through the first quarter.

The game hung around the 10-point era until an 11-0 Warriors run midway through the second quarter. The Spurs kept fighting, they had 13 more shots than the Warriors in the first half — thanks to 9 Golden State turnovers and 8 San Antonio offensive boards — but the Spurs shot 34.5 percent in the first half, and it wasn’t enough because the Warriors shot 60 percent. The Warriors shot 74 percent (14-of-19) in the second quarter. Because of that it was Warriors 65, Spurs 51 at the half, and Curry and Durant each had 18 for Golden State; Kyle Anderson has 10 points to lead the Spurs.

The second half saw the lead bounce between 10 and 20 most of the time, the Spurs would make a little run and the Warriors would answer with some crisp ball movement and a three. Curry was 5-of-13 from three on the night to lead the way.

Draymond Green added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists for the Warriors.

Now the Warriors get more than a week off to rest and prepare for the Finals.

Kevin Durant blocks Dejounte Murray twice on one shot (VIDEO)

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Kevin Durant was doing it all in the first half — he had 18 points to lead the Warriors (tied with Stephen Curry) and was making plays all over the court.

That includes racing back on this play and blocking Dejounte Murray‘s layup. Twice. On one shot.

The Warriors have led by 20 and been in control through the start of the third quarter. KD was at the heart of that.