Spurs would like to remind you they are very good, crush Grizzlies in Game 1

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The San Antonio Spurs are never the “it” team. Never the sexy squad with high-flying stars casual fans gravitate toward in the postseason. The collective national will was behind Stephen Curry and Golden State last round. Then a whole lot of prognosticators — very smart, good ones — picked Memphis this round. The Grizzlies were the new hot team among the basketball cognoscenti.

The Spurs don’t care.

San Antonio remains what they always were — very good, very efficient, very smart and a beautiful thing to watch if you truly love the sport of basketball.

Sunday afternoon San Antonio raced out to a 28-3 lead at home, pushed back on Memphis’ big third quarter run, shut down Zach Randolph (2 points and a -28) and cruised to a 105-83 win. San Antonio now leads the series 1-0.

Memphis will not be rattled; they will be a much better team Tuesday night in Game 2. They have been adjustment kings this postseason — they have lost Game 1 of every series and eventually won four straight to end it.

But their adjustments are going to be a lot more difficult this time around. Plus, that Gregg Popovich guy who coaches the Spurs is pretty good at adjustments, too.

Tony Parker carved up Mike Conley, getting into the teeth of the Grizzlies defense all game on his way to 20 points on 14 shots, plus 9 assists. Kawhi Leonard had 10 points and was 4-of-5 from three. As a team, the Spurs were 14-of-29 from three and that was key to this win.

After playing the Clippers and Thunder, this was a radically different offense the Grizzlies faced — both those first two teams key off just one guy (Chris Paul and Kevin Durant). The Spurs are not like that, they are diverse and will beat you with what you give them. The Spurs often attacked at the top of the key then got into the paint, the middle of the floor, with three point shooters in the corners. The Grizzlies defenders that were supposed to rotate had an impossible choice — leave the hot shooter from three or stop the layup. They couldn’t do enough of either.

“The main thing is we just overhelped,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said after the game (in a press conference broadcast on NBA TV). “I mean we were just so hyper, running all over the place on defense. We’d have four guys in the paint and nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody, and that’s not how we play defense.”

(The Spurs, on the other hand, played the two big men combo of the Lakers in the first round, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, which helped prep them some for this series.)

Memphis did a solid job all night defensively of taking away the Spurs first options on offense, the preferred shot out of their sets, but San Antonio is better and more efficient at their second and their options than any team (Miami might want to argue that). Danny Green had 16 points, Matt Bonner hit 4-of-6 threes, and when the Spurs are doing that you’re in trouble.

“We’ve played our bench all year long and they’ve probably gained a little bit of confidence through that,” Popovich said in his post-game press conference (broadcast on NBA TV).

Memphis got better as the game wore on, but the Spurs found a rhythm and once the shots started falling even when Memphis started to contest it didn’t matter the Spurs hit everything.

Meanwhile, Memphis could not get in a rhythm at all.

San Antonio fronted Zach Randolph in the post and Memphis reacted like they had never seen this before. Mike Conley was never comfortable and shot 5-of-12. As a team Memphis never looked comfortable.

Except for Quincy Pondexter — he came in hot off the bench in the second half with 11 third quarter points on 4-of-5 shooting that quarter (he had 17 points on the night to lead Memphis.

He helped spark a 10-0 Grizzlies third quarter run that had the San Antonio lead down to six. But then the Spurs answered with a Manu Ginobili three, a Bonner three, then a Ginobili driving layup. By the end of the third quarter the lead was 16 and most of the fourth quarter was garbage time.

Hollins and the Memphis coaching staff have a lot of work ahead of them. They have to cut off the San Antonio penetration in the paint (that collapsed the defense and left Spurs shooters alone at the arc), they have to get Zach Randolph the ball in spite of the front, they have to get some floor balance.

They have done it before in the playoffs. It’s just going to be harder this time because the Spurs are very good. In case you forgot.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.