Spurs complete amazing comeback to steal game 1 against Warriors

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What. A. Game.

After the contest Manu Ginobili said he had no idea how his Spurs won this game 129 to 126 to take a 1-0 in the Western Conference semi-finals. He’s not alone as I’m sure the Warriors will be tormenting themselves wondering the same thing.

The Spurs looked dead in the water against the Warriors in this one. Down 16 with a shade over 4 minutes to play San Antonio looked resigned to their fate. Tim Duncan went to the locker room with a stomach ailment and his teammates looked ready to simply play out the stretch, trying to find their rhythm for a Wednesday’s game 2.

Only something happened on the way to the Warriors winning their first game in San Antonio in 16 years. Golden State let their foot off the gas and the Spurs took full advantage. Over the next three minutes the Spurs ran off 15 straight points to pull within a single point.  

Tony Parker (28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) scored 8 of those 15 points, relentlessly attacking the rim on dribble penetration. Parker was freed up to get into the paint with Klay Thompson — who had done a very good job on Parker up to that point — fouling out on a reach in that seemed harmless at the time, but ended up being so huge. Mixed in with Parker’s brilliance was a Kawhi Leonard three pointer and two free throws from Boris Diaw.

On the Warriors possession after Diaw’s free throws, Jarrett Jack seemingly redeemed what had been a poor game from him up to that point with a step back jumper to push the lead to three with only 30 seconds remaining. However, the Spurs, doing what they do best, diagrammed a wonderful play for Danny Green to get free for a three pointer that tied the game, ultimately sending the game to overtime.

In a microcosm of the game up to that point, the Warriors jumped out to a quick 5 point advantage in OT but couldn’t hold on to their lead. The Spurs continued to fight and tied the game back up, leading to the two teams trading baskets for the entire extra frame. When the buzzer sounded after those 5 minutes, the scoreboard was still even and we were gifted 5 more minutes from two teams giving it their all.

If the game wasn’t good enough to this point, the second overtime was the ultimate climax. The period started with plays being made by unlikely sources as a Harrison Barnes three pointer and two Draymond Green free throws sandwiched a Parker lay in. A Diaw jumper and a Green three pointer gave the Spurs a nice cushion, but that would only last so long.

A Curry finger roll was followed by a fast break that ended with a pass to rookie Kent Bazemore who was able to finish with a reverse lay in put the Warriors back in position to claim a game they rightfully saw as theirs. Holding a one point lead with only 3 seconds to go, all Golden State needed was a single stop.

A stop they couldn’t get. Just like they did to tie the game at the end of regulation, the Spurs ran a nice set with multiple options breaking towards the ball. But just as everyone seemed covered, Ginobili snuck free behind the three point line on the far side of the court. A lob pass over the top of the defense found Manu’s hands and he let the long three go, hitting nothing but the bottom of the net.

Spurs win.

It really shouldn’t have come down to that play, though. The Warriors thoroughly controlled this contest for most of the game. Early on, Klay Thompson (19 points, 8-15 shooting) was hitting his outside shots and Andrew Bogut (10 points 15 rebounds) was controlling the paint on defense. Meanwhile, the Spurs looked like a team who hadn’t played in a week showing a rust and uncertainty in how to attack a steady Golden State defense.

Then, in the 3rd quarter, the Warriors broke the game open behind a brilliant display from Stephen Curry. The young marksman scored 22 of his game high 44 points in the period, dazzling everyone with an array of shots that even left his teammates dumbfounded on what he was doing. And when he wasn’t scoring, he was creating for his teammates dishing 3 of his 11 assists in those 12 minutes. Through that period Curry easily looked like the best player in the series, carrying his team to what looked to be a huge upset that had the potential of turning this series on its head.

It wasn’t meant to be, though. 

The Warriors showed a tremendous amount of fight in this one, never once giving up even after they gave away their huge lead. And, for that, they deserve a ton of credit. But it would be silly to think this type of game will have zero impact on their performance moving forward. They had the Spurs on the ropes, only to be KO’d in the late rounds by letting them back into the fight. Golden State has played this entire playoffs like they don’t know (or don’t care) that they’re not supposed to be this good, but losses like this have a way of sticking with you.

If it’s any consolation, they, along with the Spurs, just gave us the game of the playoffs. I doubt that helps, though.

Both conference finals reach Game 7 for first time in 39 years

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Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team had just defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team to win the NCAA Tournament. “Apocalypse Now” and “Alien” had just been released into the theaters. Van Halen II had just hit your local record store, in both vinyl and cassette tape form. “Three’s Company” was the hottest show on television and “The Dukes of Hazzard” had just made its debut.

It was May 1979, and that was the last time that both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals went to a Game 7.

Until this year, that is. Sunday night LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will head to Boston for a Game 7 to try and return to the NBA Finals (it would be LeBron’s eighth straight trip to the Finals). Monday night, Houston will try to hold on at home in a Game 7 without Chris Paul and advance past the offensive onslaught of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.

In 1979, it was a very different NBA — there was no three-point line (that started next season, and even then few players took the shot, it was not something they grew up practicing). The shorts were a lot shorter. The Jazz were in New Orleans, the Kings in Kansas City, the Clippers in San Diego, and there was a Seattle SuperSonics team.

A very good Seattle team — they beat the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. The Sonics were led by the backcourt of Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, with Jack Sikma as the big man inside providing balance. Seattle won the first two games of the series at home, then the Suns — led by Paul Westphal and Walter Davis — tied the series holding home court in games three and four. Phoenix stole Game 5 in Seattle, but the Sonics returned the favor with a dramatic 106-105 Game 6 win in Phoenix. Game 7 went to Seattle 114-110.

In the Eastern Conference, it was the Washington Bullets and the San Antonio Spurs (yes, the Spurs used to be in the East). Those Spurs, led by George “Ice Man” Gervin (who averaged 31 points a game in the WCF), went into Washington and stole Game 1. After the Spurs held home court in Games 3 and 4, they had a commanding 3-1 series lead. That’s when Washington — led by Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes — got on a roll and won the final three games, and it was Dandridge who hit the game-winner with eight seconds left to seal Game 7.

The Finals didn’t live up to quite the same hype, with the Sonics downing the Bullets in five games. It was the Sonics’ lone NBA title.

Three things to watch in Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers Game 7

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One game. Winner moves on to the NBA Finals, loser can book early tee times starting Monday.

It’s a dramatic Game 7 between Boston and Cleveland for the Eastern Conference crown. In a series that has swung wildly in favor of whoever was the home team that night, the season comes down to one game for these two team. At this point, there are no more real adjustments — both teams, both coaches know what to expect from the other side. It’s about poise. It’s about keeping your head. It’s about what role player will step up big (as one always seems to do in quirky Game 7s).

Here are three things to keep an eye on in this game.

1) LeBron James. He’s the best player on the court, the best of his generation, and with the Cavs it all starts with him — he can’t be just merely good for the Cavaliers to win, he has to be superhuman. Which is what we’ve come to expect — he had 46 points in 46 minutes of play in Game 6 and that’s going to be needed again.

It’s worth watching early on to see if the tweak to his knee suffered in Game 6 has any impact — he scored 12 points after it in that game, but it’s possible it tightened up after his body cooled down. Does LeBron have the same lift and explosiveness? Either way, he’s going to make plays. From the Celtics’ perspective, they just need to make him work hard for them.

There are a lot of players who get tight and shrink from Game 7s. Not LeBron — for his career he has averaged 34.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in Game 7s. The last five times he’s been in a Game 7, LeBron’s teams have won (his last Game 7 loss was to the Celtics in 2008). Bottom line, if there’s one thing we know will happen in this game, it’s LeBron will be great. That, alone, is not enough to get the Cavaliers a win, which leads us too….

2) With Kevin Love out, will any other role players step up for the Cavaliers? Love has been the second best offensive player for the Cavaliers in the postseason, but they can survive his loss — this is a better defensive team without him (3.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court in this series) and the offense often sees better ball movement and flow.

Cleveland’s veterans need to step up in this pressure situation, and that starts with George Hill — he is the bellwether for this team, the second ball handler and shot creator they need. When he plays well, when he is playing downhill and attacking off picks as he did in Game 6, they win. Hill was aggressive, got into the paint, and from there is both a scorer and a distributor in the last game in Cleveland. He has not been the same guy on the road, what does he have to do to be that guy again?

“I have to focus and try to do the same things that I prepared today to take into Sunday,” Hill said after Game 6. “It sounds funny, but I had to go find my Chipotle barbacoa. That’s my pregame meal, so I’m up two games — well, the three games here, that’s what I ate before the game. I’m for sure going to find a Chipotle in Boston, I’ll tell you that.”

Beyond Hill and his barbacoa, Jeff Green is getting the start with Hill out — he is a streaky player, but the good Green would go a long way to helping the Cavs in this one. Kyle Korver needs to find space and knock down threes, the good J.R. Smith needs to show up (that version of him missed a lot of time this series, he’s been dreadful for several games), and Tristan Thompson needs to get some offensive rebounds. LeBron is going to do his thing, but the man can only do so much, he needs help.

3) Are the Celtics’ young stars ready for this pressure and this moment? Boston is at home, where they are a different team and an undefeated 10-0 this season. Boston is also the younger team that bounces back faster, something that matters because this is the third game in five days for these teams (great scheduling, NBA… ugh). The Celtics deserve to be the favorite, but the question that has hung over them all playoffs still looms for this game:

Is Boston ready for this stage and this level of pressure?

“I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after Game 6. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be… We need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play.”

The Celtics have already played a Game 7 in this postseason, handily beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. That, however, is a much smaller stage. They need to do Sunday what they did in that first Game 7 — the win starts on the defensive end, making LeBron work for his buckets and not letting the supporting cast get rolling. Then, with the stops and turnovers, use those young legs to get out in transition and get a few easy buckets, force cross-matches and take advantage.

Boston gets their points by committee, they get the ball to the open man and he has to knock the shot down, whether it’s Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown or Terry Rozier or Al Horford or anyone else. In Game 6, they were not hitting those shots, and defensively they let Hill and other supporting Cavaliers get rolling. That has to change in Game 7 — make LeBron work for his buckets and don’t let the role players get hot.

Boston needs another aggressive first quarter from Brown (he’s done that most of the series). They need to force switches and run sets that get Horford space from Thompson. The Celtics need to defend, then run — they need to force the pace and try to wear down the older Cavaliers.

All season, all playoffs, despite being down men, the Celtics have just found a way to win. They need to do that one more time to reach the Finals.

Will Chris Paul play in Game 7?

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The way Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were shooting it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Game 6, but the Houston Rockets missed Chris Paul. They missed his steadying influence on offense, and maybe more importantly they missed his defense — Curry was directing the offense, creating space with his handles then finding people cutting off the ball and draining threes. Paul may have been able to help keep Curry in relative check.

Which all leads to this big question: Will Paul suit up and play in Game 7?

Doesn’t sound like it.

I would describe the mood of sources I spoke to on this issues as pessimistic on CP3’s chances of play.

If Paul can at all go, he will. Three years ago Paul played through a hamstring injury to lead the Clippers past the Spurs, he’ll want to do it again.

This is different. For one thing, Paul is older now, his body will not bounce back the same way. Also, there are risks in playing him — if he is at all limited with his movement the Warriors will target him with Curry and Klay Thompson, try to get CP3 moving laterally and exploiting him. If he’s not right, Mike D’Antoni needs to have him on a short leash.

But if he can go, D’Antoni will let him try.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.