NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies go for the kill, take 3-1 lead over Spurs

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The San Antonio Spurs are lost. Their will is broken, their vaunted offense has withered and died, and the three-star core that has brought so much success to the Spurs franchise just isn’t producing at an acceptable level.

Or, more accurately, the Memphis Grizzlies have erased the Spurs. They’ve broken San Antonio’s will, and smothered the Spurs’ vaunted offense with a hyperactive defense. The three-star core that has brought so much success to the Spurs franchise has been shackled, while the best players in this series have worn three shades of blue.

Regardless of which perspective you prefer, the facts remain the same: The Memphis Grizzlies demolished the San Antonio Spurs in the second half in Game 4, and rode out their momentum to a 104-86 win and a decisive 3-1 series lead.

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol made some remarkable plays on both ends of the court, but scored just 20 combined points and grabbed 18 combined rebounds. This wasn’t merely a case of of that tandem working over San Antonio’s bigs, but instead a comprehensive dominance by the Grizzlies from top to bottom. Gasol made Tim Duncan a non-factor. Darrell Arthur came in off the bench to provide some great two-way production in the second half. Mike Conley finished with just 6-of-15 shooting from the field, but ran the offense expertly and hit some key baskets. O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen D-ed up and made smart cuts. The Grizz just worked and worked and worked, and countered each of San Antonio’s runs with a relentless commitment to forcing turnovers and moving within the offense. By the end of the game, the Spurs had turned the ball over on nearly one-fifth of their possessions, and the Grizz had scored at a rate of 119.5 points per 100 possessions. Memphis topped the No. 1 seed with a bullet, an exclamation point, and just about every emphatic accessory one could possibly think of.

What’s worse: the Spurs had the best production out of their bench in this series, as George Hill, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal contributed 31 points between the three of them. Most of Neal’s production came after the game had already been decided, but Splitter’s near double-double and Hill’s contributions were no mirage; San Antonio had two solid bench contributors scoring efficiently, but just didn’t have the bulk production necessary from the starters, nor anything resembling an effective defense.

One need only to watch the third quarter for a full sampling of the Grizzlies’ authority. The Spurs shot 6-of-15 from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range. They attempted just two free throws, and turned the ball over seven times. Meanwhile, the Grizz rattled off punishing 14-0 and 10-2 runs to open and close the quarter, and finished with 30 in the frame overall. Five of Memphis’ players scored five or more points in the third, and the team’s six assists in those 12 minutes doesn’t even do justice to the quality of their teamwork. The Grizz are clicking, and with each interior pass, well-timed rotation, and quality shot attempt, San Antonio’s existence dwindles away.

Who knows what will become of San Antonio next season and beyond, but this year’s team is in the ground, awaiting only the closure of a proper burial. This isn’t another premature eulogy, the kind to which the Spurs are no stranger; San Antonio is done. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, on Spurs. Horseman, pass by.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.