NBA Playoffs: Suddenly those Spurs are back, and the Mavericks don't know what to do about it

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Duncan_layup.jpgUh-oh. Those Spurs are back. The ones that have all those pretty little banners hanging up in the AT&T Center. The seemingly mistake free ones. For one night at least, those guys were back.

Tim Duncan was his cyborg-efficient self. Manu Ginobili continues to play like a man on fire. They defend but do not foul. They rebound well. They have some guy named Richard Jefferson who can drive the lane or knock down the wing jumper if you leave him open (and Dallas kept leaving him open). Their offense was simply efficient.

The Spurs were up 9-0 before anyone knew what happened. When Dallas did realize something was up, Dirk Nowitzki was on the bench with two fouls (a problem he spent much of the night battling). The Spurs could not seem to miss and pulled away to a 102-88 with that evens the series, which now heads back to San Antonio.

Nowitzki was a key part of the story (as he always is). In game one he made it look effortless and was 12 of 14 shooting, he was as hot as he can be. In game two he balanced things out by shooting worse than normal, 9 of 24. That is 24 shots to get 24 points. When your star does that — whether it be Dirk or Duncan or Kobe or Wade or… — the only way you get the win is a lot of help.

He didn’t get a lot. Caron Butler was the only other starter in double digits, but he needed 17 shots to get his 17 points. Not efficient. Jason Terry had a good game (and led the Mavs with 27 points) and hit 9 of his 19. But Jason Kidd was 1 of 7, Shawn Marion 2 of 7. None of it pretty, some of it due to good Spurs halfcourt defense.

A lot of it due to the Spurs only having 8 turnovers, limiting the easy transition buckets for the Mavericks and slowing the pace of this game way down.

Meanwhile, the Spurs were very efficient shooters — Duncan was 11 of 19, Jefferson 7 of 12, Ginobili 8 of 13, the entire team 8 of 15 from three. They were hitting the shots.

And they never let that early lead go, they kept growing it, all the way to 20 at one points. Then a 12-0 Mavs run in the fourth made it interesting for a moment, but these were those Spurs, the ones of old. They have seen a thousand of these runs, they do not get scared or flustered. They just kept hitting shots, kept doing what they do and doing it efficiently. They kept defending.

The Mavericks needed in game two — will need in San Antonio — some spark, some fire. May we recommend Rodrigue Beaubois, who sat out for a second straight game at the discretion of coach Rick Carlisle. That guy is a walking, talking ball of energy on the court. Dallas could have used that.

Coming into this series, the one thing the Mavericks showed was a professional, confident, steady locker room demeanor. They walked and talked like a team ready to make the big step forward. Now they are being tested in that belief. We know how the Spurs are going to react, they have those pretty little banners, they are the veterans of a thousand campaigns. But the Mavericks, are they only confident after beating the Clippers at the end of a long regular season? Or was that confidence real, this game being the outlier?

Tune in Friday and find out.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.