Gregg Popovich finds delicious, barbecued love in Mark Cuban's hate

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Though Mavs and Spurs fans may hate each other, I’ve honestly never had the impression that the Mavs and the Spurs themselves hate each other. Manu Ginobili can get under anyone’s skin and Jason Terry’s in-game yapping and posturing is sure to drive some opponents batty, but Mavs-Spurs seems predicated more on mutual respect than bile. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki praise each other frequently, there’s physical play but little extracurricular contact (particularly with no Bruce Bowen around to play the villain), and the built-in tension isn’t because of a history of shenanigans, but because the teams have played each other so well so often.

That’s why Mark Cuban’s comments about “hating” the Spurs should surprise you in principle, if not in practice.

I don’t know that anyone on the Mavs roster hates the Spurs. They may not relish the thought of playing another tough game against a pretty terrific San Antonio team, but I think ‘hate’ would go far beyond the civility that has made this rivalry so intriguing. I don’t think Cuban hates the Spurs, either (he actually clarified his quote as a “respectful hate,”). After all, it wasn’t long ago that his team was constructed almost entirely in San Antonio’s image, including plugging in a former Spurs point guard as the head coach.

Gregg Popovich agrees, and he cites the visiting locker room cuisine as evidence. From Eddie Sefko and Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News:

On Wednesday, Cuban admitted the line, along with his annual crack about the San Antonio River’s cleanliness, “was gamesmanship. Just to increase the rivalry. Sell tickets.”

Popovich seemed to interpret Cuban’s words in that spirit. “It’s an exaggeration,” Popovich said. “If he hates us so much, he wouldn’t have that good barbecue in the locker room after the game.”

This is what Mark Cuban does. He drops some quotes to get the fans of both teams riled up, he creates additional interest (even in a series that needs it not), and puts himself in the middle of the action. What a lot of people don’t understand, though, is that while this is what Cuban does, it’s not who Cuban is.

I wouldn’t claim to be best friends with the man, but quotes such as these are gamesmanship, just as Mark described. This isn’t a “what will he say next?” owner riffing himself into shocking statement after shocking statement, but one who fully understands the implications of his actions and yet still chooses to do them in order to elicit a specific response. The only thing that’s shocking is that so many people are still taking the bait.   

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.