NBA Playoffs: The Spurs take another close game against the Mavs, heap all the pressure onto Dallas

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The last two games have represented a phenomenal opportunity for the Dallas Mavericks: rather than the 1-2 deficit they now face, the Mavs could very well have been blocking off travel dates for the second round as the proud owners of a 3-0 series lead. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs showed in both games what makes them such a formidable foe — not only to the Mavs, but to any team in the league — and their late-game performance last night made Game 3 an excellent companion piece to their Game 2 showing.

Tim Duncan (25 points on 18 shots, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers), Tony Parker (23 points on 10-of-16 shooting), and Manu Ginobili (15 points, seven assists, five rebounds) were resolved and effective, as each provided fantastic contributions made even more impressive by the game’s snail-like pace (84 possessions). Opposite them were Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds) and J.J. Barea (17 points, four assists, four rebounds), who improbably kept Dallas competitive despite seeming completely outmatched.

This was just a fantastic performance by the Spurs’ team defense, and their ability to make the Mavs think twice about every shot attempt was a huge factor. Dallas, on the other hand, gave up too much ground to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker when matched up man-to-man, and their switch to the zone in the third quarter wasn’t enough to counter their lack of offensive balance.

Part of the reason the Mavs’ offense was so Dirk-heavy was due to an impromptu benching of Shawn Marion and Caron Butler; Marion played just three and a half minutes to start the third quarter and Butler didn’t play in the entire second half.

Caron’s benching was understandable, as he was completely invisible (save his three turnovers) in his 15 first half minutes. Shawn on the other hand, was the primary defender on Manu Ginobili and had limited Manu to a scoreless first half. The three-guard lineup of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barea (playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier) keyed the Mavs’ third quarter surge, but one can’t help but wonder if Dallas could have been more effective on defense in the fourth with Marion on the floor.

Instead, Ginobili drove through the heart of the zone for several key scoring possessions in the fourth, and while Dallas kept the game close, they were unable to respond. That difference highlights a key theme throughout the game: the Spurs were willing to get the ball inside, even if they were stopped at the rim, and the only Mavs determined to do the same were J.J. Barea and to a lesser extent, Dirk Nowitzki.

Dallas is going to need to get to the line more against San Antonio’s impressive defense, and while they showed they were capable of doing that very thing in Game 1, the whistles weren’t quite so friendly at the AT&T Center tonight. Woe are they, and regardless of any issues the Mavs had with the officiating, they’ve now magnified the importance of the almighty Game 4: a win rights the ship and presumably removes any doubt as to the Mavs’ ability to perform (not that any such doubt exists in the locker room, as the players themselves remain convinced of their own ability to win the series), while a loss on Sunday would force Dallas to win three straight elimination games.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.