AP

Warriors’ struggle before trouncing Spurs somehow bodes well for both

Leave a comment

We’ve all been waiting for this season to show us exactly what it is. It opened ominously with the injury of Gordon Hayward, then sat dormant as little injuries picked off players here and there. Earl Watson got fired, I suppose. We didn’t get any national anthem protests, or wild trades. At least not yet.

The league is still waiting to see what the Phoenix Suns will do with the shadowbanned Eric Bledsoe. The Cleveland Cavaliers are terrible, but to what extent that matters is still up for debate. It’s one that is asked every season and answered only through the passage of time.

So instead we’ve sat here, gratefully watching plays we missed over the long summer lull. Plays like this:

Meanwhile, Thursday’s matchup between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs was always going to be one of intrigue, even as coach Gregg Popovich announced that star Kawhi Leonard didn’t have a specific timetable for his return from a quadriceps injury.

The game itself certainly did not disappoint.

In classic Spurs fashion, San Antonio came out landing punches on the reigning champions. At the end of the first quarter, the Spurs were up by nine points as LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, and Patty Mills led the way. The pattern continued through the second, with the Warriors going into the half down 55-48 to their Western Conference rivals.

That’s when the Warriors turned on the jets.

Golden State took their first lead a few minutes into the third quarter, and even then it took a gigantic effort on defense to stall Aldridge & Co. The Warriors held San Antonio to zero made 3-pointers in the second half, and therein stood the answer to their 20-point victory.

Of course, without Leonard or the still-injured Tony Parker, it was hardly a fair fight for the Warriors. But in their win, we learned enough about both teams to be able to at least start tracing the shape of what the season will look like for these teams.

First, and perhaps less important, is what happens to Golden State when they get punched in the mouth. What happens in November to the Warriors is maybe one of the least important things to pay attention to in the NBA. But hidden in what makes Golden State great — their defensive ability — was what has made them irrepressible these past few season. That is, the offensive threats they can rely on interchangeably on any given night.

The Warriors needed a 27 point effort from Klay Thompson as their leader on a night when their bench depth didn’t give them much of anything. Eight players came off the pine for Steve Kerr and scored a combined 20 points on 7-of-28 shooting. Gross.

And while Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant weren’t exactly dormant, it’s largely been a combination of star power and bench depth that has made the Warriors such a juggernaut offensively — even if the highlight reels are all lighting-quick catch-and-shoot threes. On Thursday, it was the depth between those stars that kept Golden State afloat, and perhaps continues to dash the idea that Thompson himself is extraneous to the team’s success.

For San Antonio, the first half thumping of the Warriors is less clear. Yes, Aldridge appears to be back on the path to All-Stardom, but with the caveat that Leonard has yet to play a game for Popovich this year. That’s both encouraging and worrying if you’re familiar with Aldridge’s history.

The former Portland Trail Blazers centerpiece famously had a discussion with Popovich over the summer, admitting that he wasn’t happy in San Antonio with his new role. The worry for Aldridge — who has struggled to enjoy being second fiddle to the likes of Brandon Roy, Damian Lillard, and now Leonard — is that he cannot be the top option on an elite team. So too should Spurs fans be wary that Leonard could regress if and when Leonard returns.

San Antonio came out and showed they are still a Popovich-coached team. They weren’t afraid of what is likely the most powerful squad ever to grace an NBA court, and instead took them down with smart, measured play in the absence of their No. 1 option.

And even if Popovich’s late-game ejection couldn’t rally them to even a single-digit loss, they still know they have the coaching and talent to run with the Warriors come playoff time. If they have Leonard, of course.

Thursday night’s victory for Golden State, 112-92, didn’t go as planned, but it did give us our first rematch of the playoff series from last season. The final score may not have informed us whether San Antonio will ever get their shot to top Golden State in the postseason, but it should let us know what these games will be like from October to April. It’s just a shame we have to wait until February 10 to see it all again.

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

Getty Images
3 Comments

Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

Dave Sandford/Getty Images
2 Comments

Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.

J.J. Redick apologizes for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people

Rob Carr/Getty Images
6 Comments

76ers guard J.J. Redick explained saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people – he was tongue-tied. But he didn’t actually apologize, and that bothered many.

Now, he’s getting that part right.

Redick:

Maybe Redick really did just stumble over his words. Based on the inflection, it certainly sounds possible.

Maybe he thought he was being funny then got caught.

He’d respond now the same way now either way. Maybe it’s just unfortunate he’s caught up in this. Maybe he’s using plausible deniability to get away with something.

I don’t know, but it’s good he apologized. People can apologize for accidents, and it usually helps make everyone feel better and move on.