NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 1: Stars for Phoenix are hidden in plain view

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Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire are All-NBA caliber players, and in this series they will perform and be praised. They’re just too talented not to, and their combined 56 points — as well as their respective double-doubles — speaks to their tremendous impact on the Suns’ huge Game 1 victory over the Spurs.

On the other end of the rotation are the Suns reserves, who have rightfully been praised for their superior play over the course of this season. Their ability to relieve Nash and co. is a crucial reason why this Phoenix team is still alive in the playoffs, or playing in the postseason at all. Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson…these guys have been quality players for a team that desperately needed depth, and all the talk over how the bench will be the key to this series is not misguided. They matter that much.

Then, somewhere in between, are the other Suns. Oh, you know, the ones who probably won the game for Phoenix last night with their ability to get out in transition, defend, and hit big shots. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are overshadowed in the starting lineup by their more impressive counterparts, but each was absolutely stellar last night. Jason Richardson’s contributions seem easy to quantify, as he finished with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but even those numbers don’t properly capture what J-Rich was able to add to the mix.

Richardson is something of a Shawn Marion/Joe Johnson (Phoenix era) hybrid, in that his designated role in the offense is to leak out intro transition as quickly as possible. His ability to finish lies somewhere between the two, as he’s athletic enough to finish in the paint over and around defenders, but hardly as explosive as Marion was in his prime. He also shows off Johnson’s three-point range and leans more to his defensive style than he does Marion’s. Richardson is hardly a part-for-part Frankenstein’s monster-ish amalgam of the two former Suns, but the elements of each are there, and the playoff results have been fantastic.

Jason is a central reason why Phoenix was able to push the pace up to 98 possessions, which is about in line with the Suns’ season average. He runs the court so well and gets out into transition so early that many possessions are just a Steve Nash outlet away from completion. On most nights, you’d expect the Spurs’ transition defense to perform better than they did in Game 1. Then again, maybe that’s a testament to how quickly Phoenix was able to trigger the break, and Richardson’s consistently aggressive style in the open court offered an invaluable weapon.

Grant Hill, on the other hand, did most of his damage on defense. Hill guarded Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for a majority of the night, and while the Suns double-teamed Manu to get the ball out of his hands later in the game, Hill did a good job of denying the ball and playing solid one-on-one defense earlier in the game. Grant scored just seven points, but also grabbed six rebounds and notched four assists; it wasn’t exactly Hill’s most impressive statistical performance, but his ability to contain the Spurs’ deadlier threats on the perimeter was particularly notable.

When the Spurs struggled offensively in Game 1, ironically it was because they couldn’t get past the Suns’ defense. Phoenix limited San Antonio’s penetration as much as possible given the personnel on the floor, and the quick rotations of players like Hill and Richardson (and Amar’e Stoudemire, who was quite impressive defensively in the fourth quarter) denied the Spurs the usual advantages of playing against heavy double-teams.

When San Antonio went small in the fourth, they couldn’t manage to find a fifth player for the lineup that could actually contribute offensively. Roger Mason can’t shoot anymore for some reason, Keith Bogans has always been iffy at best on that end, and Richard Jefferson seems to make things so much more difficult than they have to be. The Suns scrambled to cover the Spurs’ four more threatening players while still managing to rotate onto the fifth, weaker offensive player, and their defense supplied just enough of an edge for Jason Richardson and Grant Hill to hit dual daggers in the final minutes.

Hill filled the gaps, and while the stat sheet may not reflect too kindly on his 32 minutes, he still played rather well. I don’t think Alvin Gentry would mind seeing Grant hit more than two of his seven shots, but this is a case where you take the defense (both on and off the ball), you take his passing and his help in establishing an offensive flow, and you take the win that he helped earn. 

James Harden has now had a 30+ point game vs. every other team this season

Associated Press
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James Harden had a streak of 32 games in a row where he scored at least 30 points a night, the second longest streak in NBA history. It was a run of games that propelled the Rockets from being a below .500 team sitting 13th in the West into a solid playoff team in the conference, and it shot Harden into serious MVP consideration.

However, streak did not include all 29 other NBA teams.

Going into Tuesday night Harden had dropped 30+ on 28 teams, but the Atlanta Hawks — the team that broke the streak back in February — were not on the list. That changed Tuesday night when Harden scored 31 on Atlanta in a Rockets’ win.

Atlanta has some quality defenders on the roster, but it doesn’t matter vs. Harden, who did this to Kent Bazemore.

Harden hit another milestone Tuesday: He has now has attempted more threes in a season than any player in NBA history.

Stephen Curry had the record at 886 during the 2015-16 season, but with his 4-of-11 shooting from deep on Tuesday Harden is now up to 890. And counting. He’s shooting 35.5 percent on them, by the way.

Brook Lopez plays the hero, dislodges ball from high above backboard (VIDEO)

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Brook Lopez is a tall man. That comes in handy in the NBA, from time to time.

Of course Lopez has been a tough cover his entire career as a legitimate 7-footer, but on Tuesday night as his Milwaukee Bucks took on the Los Angeles Lakers, his height helped in another, different way.

Early in the second quarter, a ball got stuck on top of the backboard where a swiveling camera sits to record the game action. Officials couldn’t start the clock until the ball was unstuck, so Lopez sprung into action.

Via Twitter:

Not all heroes wear capes.

This wasn’t the show this guy wanted, but at least it was worth the nearly $7,000 he paid to see LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo go head-to-head.

Watch Patrick Beverley drop Bojan Bogdanovic with move, stick dagger in Pacers

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Usually Lou Williams is the closer for the Clippers. Occasionally Danilo Gallinari will stick the dagger in a team with a three ball. Patrick Beverley? He’s the defensive stopper and emotional leader, not the closer out of the pen.

Except against the Pacers.

Down three and needing a stop late in the fourth, Indiana followed the scouting report beautifully and doubled Williams as he came off the high screen. Gallinari’s man never left him. So Williams passed back to Patrick Beverley, and when Bojan Bogdanovic tried to recover Beverley dropped him, drove the lane, and nailed the floater to end the Pacers chances.

Beverley has that floater in his bag, it’s a trusted shot.

The Clippers are going to make the playoffs, and while they may not win a round whatever team lands them is going to be in for a physical, tough series that will take something out of them.

Three Things to Know: D’Angelo Russell’s 27 in fourth sparks Nets 25-point comeback win

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) D’Angelo Russell’s 27 in fourth sparks, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s circus shot completes Nets’ 25-point comeback on Kings. Heroes in the NBA can come from the most unlikely places.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had fallen out of Brooklyn’s rotation. He got a DNP-CD four of the last six games, and the two games he got on the court it was only in garbage time. He had become an afterthought.

However, on Tuesday, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was frustrated. His Brooklyn team was getting outworked and outhustled by the Kings in a game the Nets needed — lose this and just two games (one in the loss column) would have separated Brooklyn and missing the playoffs. Yet the Nets were flat and down 24 with 4:53 left in the third quarter when Atkinson turned to the bench and put Hollis-Jefferson in looking for a spark. He didn’t get it immediately (Hollis-Jefferson’s first play was a turnover), the Nets were down 25 points at the start of the fourth.

That’s when D’Angelo Russell took over — he scored 27 points in the fourth (of his career-high 44), much of it in transition as the Nets pushed off misses right back at the fast-paced Kings. Russell attacked — he was 6-of-7 inside 8 feet of the rim in the fourth — but also was 4-of-7 from three.

It was an epic comeback that saw a Jared Dudley three put the Nets in the lead for the first time.

But it ultimately took a circus shot from Hollis-Jefferson to get the win. The play was designed for Russell (as it should have been) but De’Aaron Fox did a good job of ball denial, so with time running down Russell yelled “go!” and Hollis-Jefferson went at Marvin Bagley III, then got the circus shot to fall.

This loss was essentially the final dagger in the Kings’ already dying playoff dreams, and you could hear that in the voice of the Kings’ announcers on that final shot.

The Nets won the fourth quarter 45-18. The game before against the Clippers the Nets had made a comeback with a 10-0 run in the final 1:02, only to have Lou Williams spoil the comeback with a game winner. Tuesday night it was the Nets’ turn.

Brooklyn is going to make the playoffs and be a tough out for somebody in the first round.

Russell is a restricted free agent who is going to get PAID this summer.

2) James Harden has now had a 30+ point game on every other team in NBA this season. Which is the more impressive feat from James Harden:

That he has now scored 30 points on all 29 other teams in the NBA this season, a feat he capped off by dropping 31 on the Hawks’ Tuesday in a win.

Or that he has now has taken more threes in a season than any player in NBA history. Stephen Curry had the record at 886 during the 2015-16 season, but with his 11 on Tuesday Harden is now up to 890 attempts. And counting. He’s shooting 35.5 percent on them, by the way.

Or maybe his best play of the night is what Harden did to Kent Bazemore.

We’re going to go with the 30-points on all 29 teams as being the more impressive. The last guy to drop 30+ on every team was Michael Jordan, but that was “just” 27 teams because the league expanded in 2004.

Either way, it’s been an MVP-level season (whether he wins the award or not he played well enough to get it).

3) Doc Rivers is not going to coach the Lakers, signs extension with Clippers. Luke Walton is going to be the fall guy for a disappointing — or if you prefer, disastrous — Lakers’ season. He’s not blameless, but he’s also not the primary reason the Lakers have fallen so far short of expectations. Still, someone’s head has to roll, and the conventional wisdom around the league says it will be Walton.

If/when the Lakers fire Walton, who are they going to get that’s better? What coach can they bring in that LeBron James will instantly respect and trust? What coach will they find who the players want to play for and who puts them in positions to succeed?

That guy is already at Staples Center — Doc Rivers of the Clippers. Which has led to rumors and speculation the Lakers would target him this summer.

Rivers shot that all down Tuesday night, saying he signed an extension to stay with the Clippers.

To be clear, Doc River signed an extension with the Clippers last May, but both sides had an opt-out after this season. Rivers and Ballmer talked, got rid of the opt-out, and extended the deal even further.

Rivers knows the Clippers are in a good spot — they start three guys age 21 or younger, they are going to be in the mix for major free agents, and they have an owner who both helped turn the franchise culture around and is willing to pay for the best to win. Rivers knows a good situation when he sees one and he’s not leaving it.

It’s going to be interesting to see what direction the Lakers go next summer when getting their new coach.