NBA Playoffs: Thunder play well, but Spurs win while still seeming unstoppable

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The San Antonio Spurs have now played an even ten games in the NBA Playoffs and, amazingly, have won every one of them. The wins haven’t all been dominant — Tuesday night’s 120-111 victory ended up being one of their more difficult challenges this season — but it’s been astounding to watch the old, formerly boring ball players simply click on all cylinders for majority of the past few months.

While we all marvel at what the Spurs have been able to do en route to staying undefeated for 48 consecutive days, the most impressive thing is that the Spurs haven’t been playing any sort of “hero” ball … they’re just playing basketball the way it was meant to be played and, surprise(!), it works. Gregg Popovich has found out a way to put a fine-tuned machine out on the court, allowing the basketball purists among us 48 awesome minutes of watching wings cut to the bucket, guards move the ball around, slashers slash, passers pass and the big men doing what big men have been taught to do since the first time they picked up a basketball and their coach realized they were bigger than anyone else.

The Spurs are winning simply by playing fundamentally-sound basketball, really, so it shouldn’t be any sort of surprise that Mr. Fundamental himself — the ageless Tim Duncan — helped San Antonio earn a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals following Tuesday night’s victory. Duncan wasn’t the most efficient player from the floor as the Thunder got a bit more physical with him than he would have liked, but his double-double while chasing down loose balls and picking up four big blocks were key for the Spurs as Oklahoma City employed the “Hack-A-Player” defense on backup Tiago Splitter (oh, and in case anyone missed it, he also did this to Serge Ibaka).

Most frustrating for the Thunder, though, is likely the fact that San Antonio was able to find another answer on the offensive end. Manu Ginobili was the star in Game 1, but Argentina’s favorite sixth man was bottled up early on Tuesday night and never really found his rhythm … at least not until hitting what might have been a dagger three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. No worries for the Spurs, though — Tony Parker simply decided to show once again why he belongs in the conversation as one of the top point guards in the league by accumulating 32 points, seven assists and turning the ball over a mere two times — all while hitting 15 of his 20 shot attempts in part of a near-perfect performance. The scariest part is that Thursday night’s Game 3 will likely end up belonging to someone entirely different if the Thunder are able to figure out  how to stop both of the Spurs perimeter playmakers (here’s hoping for Gary Neal and Matt Bonner three-pointers early and often).

If the fact that San Antonio continues to find contributors on the other end no matter what the Thunder do on defense — Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined for 25 points — it probably isn’t making Oklahoma City happy on offense that the Spurs are also quite adept at keeping them from getting into any sort of rhythm. Tuesday night’s game got grimy in the second half when a plethora of free-throws were shot and, even though the Thunder shot more from the charity stripe, it kept them trailing as they were unable to get into a rhythm and barely picked up even a modicum of momentum before San Antonio eventually elicited an answer for each run.

The worst part about Tuesday night’s game might have been that Oklahoma City’s stars all ended up having excellent games. Kevin Durant scored 31 points on 17 shots (though he was limited quite a bit in the fourth quarter), James Harden came off the bench to hit 10 of his 13 shot attempts and free-throw attempts to score an even 30 points while Russell Westbrook scored 27 points and dished eight assists and nary a turnover. Typically when one team’s top three players are able to score 88 points against an opponent that hadn’t given up triple-digit points in their previous nine outings, it’ll lead to a victory. That surprisingly wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, however, because San Antonio held the remaining six Thunder players to a total of just 23 points despite attempting 35 shots.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Thunder decide to change for Game 3 considering they did almost all they can be expected to do on Tuesday night before falling into a two-game deficit in the seven-game series. If they’re unable to win when their top three players combing for nearly 30 points apiece while shutting down the star from their series-opening loss, can there really be much hope left in the Oklahoma City locker room?

Jimmy Butler on hearing boos to start, M-V-P chants later, “I love it. I love it.”

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Jimmy Butler knew it was coming. Request a trade out of town and of course the fans are going to boo. Butler also said he thought he could win the Timberwolves faithful over again if he just played hard like always.

That’s how the script played out.

Butler was loudly booed loudly when he was announced — although not as loudly as coach/GM Tom Thibodeau — but by the end of the game they were cheering him and chanting MVP as he dropped 33 points on 12 shots in a Timberwolves win over the Cavaliers, 131-123. After the game, Butler said he was good with the boos.

“I love it. I love it. I think people kind of love to hate me sometimes. Say whatever you want to say, but it really makes me smile, what people think about me. But no matter what, you gotta respect my effort…

“You may not like me, That’s okay. But as long as you know that my mind and my heart are in the right place, that I do everything to win and I would do anything for my guys.”

Butler said he was being made out to be the bad guy in this saga but people don’t know all the facts, then he wouldn’t discuss what it was people didn’t know. Butler also was frustrated with teammates that the Timberwolves had a 21-point lead in the third but it got close again in the fourth (Butler himself was -3 for the game, he was part of that problem). But in the end, as it often does (and as Thibodeau seems to be betting on), winning cures all ills.

Minnesota is now 1-1 on the young season, meanwhile, trade talks surrounding Butler are dormant.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton help Bucks beat Pacers 118-101

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 15 rebounds and Khris Middleton added 25 points to help the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Indiana Pacers 118-101 on Friday night.

Victor Oladipo led Indiana with 25 points, and Doug McDermott added 14.

The Bucks led 62-53 at the half and extended it to 93-76 entering the third quarter.

Milwaukee, which ranked 25th in the NBA last season with 24.7 3-point attempts per game, continued to fire away under new coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks were 17 of 47, with Antetokounmpo going 0 for 7.

WhatAntetokounmpo was doing was dunking.

Middleton had five 3-pointers, including a four-point play that put the Bucks up 111-88 with 5:03 remaining.

The Bucks were 14 of 34 beyond the arc in their 113-112 season-opening victory at Charlotte on Wednesday night.

The Bucks shook off a slow start en route to a 30-25 lead after one quarter, extending it to 62-53 at the half. Milwaukee took 26 of its 51 first-half shots from 3-point range, making eight.

Antetokounmpo had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.

 

Jonas Jerebko? Yes, Jonas Jerebko with game-winner for Warriors

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Jonas Jerebko was a quality under-the-radar pickup for Golden State last summer, a solid veteran power forward who can space the floor and hit threes.

Obviously, the Warriors got him to be their go-to player in the clutch.

Or, at least, that’s what happened in Utah on Friday night.

Jerebko inbounded the ball then rolled to the rim. Rudy Gobert put a body on him, but as Kevin Durant went up for his game-winner attempt, Gobert took a step toward him and that gave Jerebko the space to get inside Gobert. From there it was just a tip in.

This was a wildly entertaining game, where Kevin Durant dropped 38, Stephen Curry had 31, and for Utah Joe Ingles put on a show on his way to 27. Check out the finish of this game, it was amazingly fun basketball with a lot of emotion for the second game of the season.

Kawhi Leonard hears MVP chants, plays like it with 31 points, leads Raptors past Celtics 113-101

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TORONTO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard had 31 points and 10 rebounds, Serge Ibaka added 21 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the Boston Celtics 113-101 on Friday night in an early matchup between Eastern Conference contenders.

By the end of the game, Raptors fans were chanting “M-V-P” for Leonard.

Kyle Lowry scored 15 points, Danny Green had 14, and Fred VanVleet 11 to help the Raptors win for the 10th time in 11 home meetings with the Celtics.

Kyrie Irving scored 21 points for Boston, and Al Horford had 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jayson Tatum scored 16 points, and Jaylen Brown had 13.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward scored 14 points in 24 minutes, connecting on six of 13 field goal attempts.

Leonard made 10 of 25 attempts, including 2 of 5 from 3-point range, and went 9 for 9 at the free throw line.

Brown made a 3-pointer to give the Celtics an 87-86 lead with 9:03 remaining. VanVleet answered with a reverse layup, the first basket in a 6-0 spurt that gave Toronto the led for good.

Green and Lowry each made 3-pointers around an offensive foul by Tatum with just over two minutes remaining, giving the Raptors a 107-99 edge. Green went 4 for 7 from long range, while Lowry made 3 of 5.