NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 2: Ignore the shiny superstars, this one's about the reserves

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dudley.pngTim Duncan had 29 points and 10 boards, the Spurs had an effective field goal percentage of 55.1%, and George Hill and Richard Jefferson combined for 32 points (including a 18-10 double-double). It just wasn’t enough. San Antonio made runs and they pressed Phoenix repeatedly, but every lineup the Suns put on the floor had an answer.

Regardless of which five of the Suns — I’m sorry, Los Suns — were on the floor, they were able to compete. Things were looking bright for the Spurs after they racked up a 10-point lead in the game’s first 12 minutes, but from that point on, the Suns simply outworked and outperformed them. Duncan was brilliant, Parker’s game was lethal at times, and the help from RJ and Hill was much-needed, but the Suns really looked the part of the better team on Wednesday night in beating the Spurs 110-102.

Probably because they were the better team. It was Phoenix that was able to persevere despite poor shooting (the Suns’ eFG% was a full seven percentage points below their regular season average) thanks to effort plays (18 offensive rebounds will do wonders), huge three-pointers (Channing Frye and Jason Richardson were especially prolific), and their frequent trips to the free throw line (37 FTAs to the Spurs’ 22). San Antonio may still be something of a powerhouse, but Phoenix clearly wasn’t ready to play the role of the underdog in this series. They’re playing like the 3-seed that they are, and right now it’s a bit too much for the Spurs.

The Suns remain the most deceptively deep team in the playoffs, and Alvin Gentry’s decision to run with a bench unit at times is not at all misguided. Every player off the Phoenix bench plays with an incredible energy, and the unique combination of shooting, defense, hustle, talent, and rebounding among the Suns’ reserves has a tremendous impact on a frequent basis. Frye and Jared Dudley were the heroes this time around, but on Friday it could just as easily be Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic.

The Suns had two essential 17-8 runs, one to start the second quarter and another to start the fourth. Any guess as to which lineup was on the floor for Phoenix? The reserve unit did serious damage in the second, and reprised their roles as gangbusters to start the fourth quarter with the help of Grant Hill. The first run brought a solid San Antonio lead to a measly two points, and the second run gave Phoenix a seven-point edge that the starters would essentially hold for the rest of the game.

Contrast that success with the limited production from the Spurs bench — Tony Parker aside, San Antonio’s reserves scored four points on 28.5% shooting in almost 29 combined minutes — and it’s no wonder why Duncan, Parker, Jefferson, and Hill weren’t enough. The four productive Suns starters (woe is Jarron Collins) just about went point-for-point with the four highest-scoring Spurs, meaning this game really was won in the trenches.

When both teams were looking for a spark, Jared Dudley came up with offensive rebounds and loose balls while Tim Duncan ran on tired legs. Channing Frye shot the lights out while Matt Bonner clanged away open looks. Having a reliable bench is a luxury that few head coaches have in the NBA, but Alvin Gentry is a lucky man. Or really, a man that has done his job over the course of the season in not only recognizing the talent that he had but also in grooming them for situations just like this one both as individual players and as a unit. This did not happen by accident.

If the Suns end up winning two more games, one could look at two of Phoenix’s offensive sequences in the mid-fourth quarter as the series’ defining moments. With Channing Frye as the lone big man on the floor for Phoenix, Tim Duncan was out of his element. He had no one to guard and no way to help. The Suns moved the ball, set screens to force switches, and isolated Grant Hill against Duncan. That was Phoenix’s game plan: they used two straight possessions with the specific purpose of going at one of the greatest defenders of all time.

And it worked. Hill hit two huge jumpers over Duncan, each helping to preserve the Suns’ then-vulnerable lead. The point is not Tim’s decline from his glory days, but just the fact that whereas he was once the matchup nightmare for the Suns, it now seems that the Suns are the problematic matchup for him. All of a sudden it’s the Spurs trying to find a place to put Duncan on defense rather than the Suns desperately searching for someone who can defend him.

He may still get his 29, but apparently Phoenix can live with that. There’s enough scoring and enough depth that it just doesn’t matter. We could be in for a very different series when things shift to San Antonio, but two games into the series, it’s abundantly clear that the Suns are not messing around. This is a dangerous team playing with a lot of confidence, and unless the Spurs pull off the four-wins-in-five-games mini-miracle, they’ll soon be rolling into the Western Conference Finals.       

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Feb. 10, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and a center for depth if they do trade Jakob Poeltl before the deadline.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

Owners approve sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia, deal reportedly expected to close Tuesday

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons
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The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors (the other owners) voted 29-0 Monday to approve the Phoenix Suns and Mercury sale to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

What that will mean for the Suns’ organization — in terms of spending on basketball operations and the roster, as well as the business structure of the franchise — remains to be seen. But the change should be welcomed by Suns fans who dealt with decades of the penny-pinching of Sarver.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 under Tom Izzo — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale. That sale price blows away the previous record for an NBA team of $3.3 billion (what Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center).

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father Jeff founded the business and it has grown to be one of the largest mortgage lenders in the United States, and Ishbia is worth a reported $5.1 billion. Mat is joined by his brother Justin — also a billionaire and part-owner of UWM — as co-owner and alternate governor for the team.

With the sale going through and changes coming, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley chose to step down and leave the team. Rowley had been linked to the toxic work environment that led to former owner Robert Sarver agreeing to sell the team. A league-sponsored investigation into Sarver and how he ran the Suns found a hostile work environment with sexual harassment rampant. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million (the max he could do) and suspended Sarver for a yeara slap on the wrist — but pressure from sponsors and other NBA owners pushed Sarver to sell the team and step away. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million, but now sold his share for an estimated $1.48 billion.

Three things to Know: Cam Thomas takes over in Brooklyn, scores 47

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Cam Thomas takes over Brooklyn, scores 44 for shorthanded Nets

The list of players who have scored 40+ points in back-to-back games this season reads like the top seven picks of a fantasy draft: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Damian Lillard.

Now add Cam Thomas to that list.

With Kevin Durant injured and Kyrie Irving now in Dallas, the Brooklyn Nets’ second-year scoring guard has taken over the offense. He scored a career-high 44 against the Wizards on Saturday night, then on Monday topped that with 47 against the Clippers, hitting 7-of-11 from 3.

The Nets needed this. Brooklyn has been Team Drama since Kyrie Irving didn’t get his extension and demanded a trade, which has led to a lot of speculation around the league about Kevin Durant being next out the door (sources told NBC Sports to expect that issue to be resolved over the summer, not in the tight window of the trade deadline).

Thomas has been able to score since he was drafted out of LSU, but that skill was less needed when Irving and Durant were healthy and dominating the ball. His defense, playmaking, efficiency and all-around game improved this season, but the veteran-heavy Nets had guys the coaches trusted more in his role, so Thomas racked up a lot of DNP-CDs this season.

However, when the Nets needed him, he stepped up and put on a show. He is earning his run, even when Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith show up and get on the court, and Durant gets healthy.

Thomas’ career-best night wasn’t enough against the Clippers. A late 9-0 Clippers run changed the game and Los Angeles picked up the win on the road. Paul George led the Clippers with 29 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 24.

The Clippers went an impressive 4-2 on their Grammys road trip (the awards show takes over crypto.com Arena for a couple of weeks) and have moved up to fourth in the West as they head home, showing flashes of a team that could be coming together.

2) With Curry out, Klay Thompson steps up and drops 42

Stephen Curry will be out “weeks” with a leg injury, leaving concerns about where the stumbling Warriors will find enough offense.

The answer was Klay Thompson. At least on Monday night. He knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points leading the Warriors to a comfortable blow-out win over the Thunder.

Jordan Poole Sixth Man of the Year bettors are hosed as he is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, and he impressed with 21 points with 12 assists (a career-best). This was a quality win for the Warriors as the surprising Thunder have pushed themselves into contention for a play-in spot and the Warriors need to keep their head above water until Curry returns some time after the All-Star break.

3) Sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia expected to close Tuesday

The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors — the other owners — voted to approve the sale of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale.

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father founded the business, which is now worth a reported $7 billion, with Ishbia himself worth a reported $5.1 billion.

This brings an end to the Robert Sarver era in Phoenix, which is reason for Suns fans to celebrate. Sarver was a penny-pinching owner who agreed to sell the team after an investigation into his running of the Suns’ franchise had led to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment claims. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million and just sold his share for $1.48 billion.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

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Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.