NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 4: The deed is done.

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Nash_eye.jpgThe Phoenix Suns just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns
just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns just swept the San
Antonio Spurs.

Maybe if I type that phrase enough times, the
basketball gods will tie my precious typing fingers into knots for my
blasphemy. In what universe could the Suns sweep the Spurs in the
playoffs? In what bizarro dimension is this Phoenix team a
Western Conference finalist, and the most respected franchise in the
league receiving the business end of a broom?

Ours,
apparently. Suspend your disbelief. It’s not easy; it wasn’t easy to
foresee the Suns closing out the series in four games in San
Antonio facing yet another double-digit deficit. Yet they did it,
107-101, because Phoenix has played like the best team in the Western
Conference, even if a little team in Los Angeles would have something
to say about that.

The Suns aren’t just good, they’re damn
good. They’ll be considered underdogs against the Lakers even after
ousting the Spurs in the most impressive of fashions, but any fan,
basketball junkie, or NBA scribe that pencils L.A. in as a Finals
participant needs to take a long, hard look at what Phoenix was able to
accomplish in this series.

Manu Ginobili, who could have made
a legitimate claim as the best Spur over the final stretch of the
regular season, was trapped like mad in the pick and roll and
completely smothered offensively at times. He finished Game 4 with 15
points and nine assists, but shot just 2-of-11 from the field. Tim
Duncan may seem like an imposing match-up for the Suns, but it’s no
secret that Manu and Tony Parker hold the keys to the offense.
Eliminate the threat of Ginobili operating (for either scoring or
playmaking purposes) off of the Spurs’ staple pick-and-roll, and San
Antonio is quite beatable. Quite sweepable, apparently.

Not that
the Suns’ defense ignored Duncan, either. His lack of effectiveness as
the roll man in pick-and-roll situations was shocking, and though
Phoenix committed two defenders and a strong front to the ball-handler
on almost every screen, Duncan never seemed all that open. There were
so many cases where the Suns’ help defenders would beat him to his spot
rolling down the lane in order to contest his attempts or run
interference on the roll lob, and Tim was left in limbo.

That
strategy wasn’t enough to deny him from reaching 17 points (on 50%
shooting) and eight rebounds in Game 4, but the fact that Duncan wasn’t
more of a factor in this series is as much a tribute to the Suns’ post
defense as it was their defensive rotations on the pick-and-roll.

Limit
the effectiveness of those two players on the offensive end, and Tony
Parker’s 22-point, five-assist effort is solid rather than deadly,
George Hill’s night is nice rather than headline-worthy, and hell, Matt
Bonner’s 14 points on just six attempts is nothing special, as opposed
to the Red Rocket that broke the camel’s back.

It’s almost
cliché these days to praise the Suns’ defense, but there’s simply no
way to write a proper recap without giving Phoenix their due. Alvin
Gentry has simply done a phenomenal job — a Popovichian job, dare I
say — of coaching this team into rotating properly on the defensive
end. No matter how much pressure was committed to blitzing Ginobili or
doubling Duncan in the post, the Suns’ defense never seemed to be on
tilt. It was vulnerable at times, but they always recovered.

Phoenix
just came down the court again and again and played consistently solid
defense. It wasn’t so much the effectiveness of the Suns’ D on a
per-point or even per-possession basis (San Antonio still scored 101
points and scored at a rate of 105.2 points per 100 possessions), but
the resiliency of that defense that was the most impressive. It wasn’t
always effective, but the Suns’ rotations were just relentless. They
forced 16 turnovers and limited San Antonio’s three-point attempts
(just 11 to Phoenix’s 24), and they worked, worked, worked.

With
the difficulties that the Suns posed for the Spurs on the other end,
that was obviously enough for them to not only win the series, but do
it without dropping a single game. San Antonio simply lacked the
ability to cover all of the bases of the Suns’ multifaceted offense,
and their peak-too-early performances reeked of a team that was just a
bit outmatched. “They made it hard for us to guard them for 48
minutes,” Gregg Popovich said. “We’d go into the fourth quarter and
someone for them would step up. Those are the kinds of things that
happen with that team.”

At various points in this series, that
nameless “someone” that stepped up has been a strong perimeter
defender, a three-point shooter, a hustle rebounder, and an undersung
reserve. In Game 4, it was Steve Nash, who came back into the game
after receiving six stitches over his right eye in the third quarter to
lead the Suns to a remarkable close-out performance. Nash, with one eye
swollen shut, was responsible for 21 of his team’s 31 points while the
game was still meaningful.

“I just feel fortunate that I had the
chance to get back out there,” Steve Nash said. “I don’t know how it
didn’t keep me on the sidelines.” It’s something of a wonder that it
didn’t. Nash’s eye was not only bruised, but swollen almost completely
shut. So naturally, he not only hit a pull-up three in transition just
moments after returning the floor, but got excellent looks for both
himself and Amar’e Stoudemire in the game’s deciding minutes.

Amar’e
was a force on his own for most of the game (he had 29 points of his
own), but with Nash spoon-feeding him wide open mid-range jumpers to
complement his prior assault of layups, dunks, and runners, he was
finally able to exact his revenge against San Antonio. “It’s
beautiful,” Stoudemire said of finally defeating the Spurs in the
postseason after falling short in four straight attempts. “It feels
great.”

It must. Phoenix has a long road to head, but the sight
of San Antonio’s corpse at their feet has to offer some relief. If not
as evidence that the Suns have exorcised their demons, then at least as
validation of their success this season. This is no longer the team
that struggled to match up with the Blazers at times, but a deep,
talented squad capable of giving any playoff opponent a run for their money. Even the Lakers. Even an opponent waiting beyond that’s even more challenging.

That’s
just how good these Suns are, and though Phoenix still continues to
surprise — as they did tonight, even when their series victory seemed
imminent — nothing about this team should be startling from this point
forward. Based on their performance from this series, we should expect
the best from the Suns. They’ve played well enough to earn that.   

Watch LeBron James give game-worn shoes to emotional Grizzlies equipment manager

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Brian’e Miller is an assistant equipment manager for the Memphis Grizzlies. A longtime LeBron James fan, Miller wears The King’s signature shoes during each workday, a particularly fun pastime when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town as they did on Saturday night.

James and Co. took care of the Grizzlies, 111-88, but the shoe habits of the 23-year-old Miller were not lost on LeBron. During the game, video was captured from the stands of James giving Miller his game-worn shoes. Miller, naturally emotional about the interaction, gave James a hug and could be seen pushing back tears.

It was touching to see.

Via Twitter:

Miller told the Commercial Appeal that she had been a fan of LeBron for years.

“It’s emotional because so many years I’ve been idolizing him,” said Miller. “He has so many fans. That’s the thing. I’m not a fan just when LeBron comes. I’m a fan when he’s not looking, so it was just really cool to see him appreciate me.”

One of the things that has let the NBA become the league of LeBron is just how accessible he’s seemed over his tenure. While some players don’t have the personality or the temperament to be a global star, James has that “it” quality, particularly after his first championship with the Miami Heat.

That’s why when video was captured of James giving his game-worn shoes to Miller on Saturday, it felt wholly in-character.

James was asked about the interaction after the game, and he responded by saying that he had noticed Miller’s dedication to his shoe line for a while.

Via Twitter:

It’s easy to feel cynical when it comes to sports, especially in the face of the overcommercialisation of pro athletes. Hell, this story is about giving and receiving shoes. But the connection Miller felt to James, and that he decided to respond and recognize that is a human thing more than anything. Good for him.

Matthew Dellavedova receives standing ovation in return to Cleveland (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) Matthew Dellavedova‘s return to his first NBA home is off to a good start before playing in a game.

Dellavedova, dressed in street clothes, was greeted by security guards and arena employees, and received a standing ovation from the crowd when he returned to Cleveland on Saturday night.

“I appreciate the love from everyone,” he said. “It makes me feel very welcome.”

 

Cleveland acquired Dellavedova in a three-team trade Friday with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. He began his career with the Cavaliers in 2014 and was a key member of the 2016 title team before he signed with the Bucks later that summer.

Dellavedova watched Saturday night’s game against the Wizards from the bench. The Cavaliers showed a video of him playing in the Finals from the championship season, which led to a long ovation from the crowd.

Known to Cleveland fans as “Delly,” Dellavedova became an instant hit with Quicken Loans Arena crowds, who immediately liked his gritty style of play. The trade received positive reaction from fans on social media.

“It makes me feel great,” he said. “My time here was really special and I loved every minute of it. It makes me excited to get back out there and play for everyone in this city because it’s a special place.”

Dellavedova could play Monday when Cleveland is in Milwaukee, where he learned of the trade.

“Obviously you don’t expect to pick and move, but it’s the NBA so it could always happen,” he said. “If it was going to be anywhere I’m definitely glad it’s here where I’m comfortable with familiar faces and a lot of friends. ”

The 28-year-old Dellavedova averaged 1.7 points and 2.4 assists in 12 games with Milwaukee.

Cleveland is 5-20 and rebuilding following LeBron James‘ departure last summer. The Cavaliers also received forward John Henson and 2021 first- and second-round picks from Milwaukee, and a 2022 second-rounder from Washington.

Henson also arrived in town Saturday and quickly learned how popular Dellavedova is, calling his teammate a “folk hero” in Cleveland.

“I’ll just be in Delly’s shadow,” Henson said. “Don’t forget about me.”

Cavaliers coach Larry Drew believes Dellavedova will help the development of rookie point guard Collin Sexton.

“It will be really, really good for Collin,” Drew said. “Delly is one of those guys when you watch him play, he doesn’t woo you the way he plays, he just gets the job done.”

The Cavs sent guard George Hill and a 2021 second-round selection to the Bucks, and forward Sam Dekker to the Wizards. Milwaukee also got forward Jason Smith from Washington.

For more AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chris Paul politely tries to get reporter off the court before game starts (VIDEO)

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Dallas Mavericks’ sideline reporter Dana Larson was where she felt she was supposed to be: On the sidelines.

However, with the game about start, Chris Paul was trying — politely — to urge her to step off the court.

The best part of this video may be what’s happening in the background.

First, watch DeAndre Jordan doing a pirouette for some reason as he steps onto the court.

Then at the end, there’s James Harden, bouncing back-and-forth like a boxer waiting in the corner for the bell to ring. Or a jogger at the corner waiting for the light to turn so he can keep running.

If you thought the pregame for Dallas vs. Houston was fun, you should check out the final three minutes of the game.

John Wall tries to play through bone spur in heel, scores career low 1 point in loss

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Just when you thought “maybe these Wizards are turning the corner,” having won three straight and going up against the lowly Cavaliers next…

Then John Wall scored one point on 0-of-5 shooting, moved gingerly around the court, got torched by rookie Collin Sexton, and Cleveland easily handled Washington 116-101. After the game Wall explained that he is injured with a bone spur in his heel and probably shouldn’t have played.

The Wizards are now 11-15 on the season and would be out of the playoffs if they started today (but because the bottom of the East is so sad, they are only a game out of the eight seed).

Is Wall going to miss some time with this bone spur? One would think so, but players never want to sit and Wall would not concede he needs time off.