Three things about Game 2: Tony Parker is that good but Randolph, Grizzlies figuring it out

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That was more like what we expected out of this series — close, intense, physical. Well, it was close for the final 17 minutes (just ignore the first 36), but in the end the Spurs got the win and are up 2-0 in the series.

Here are three takeaways from this game.

• Yes, Tony Parker is that good. After Game 1 the Grizzlies wanted to slow down the Spurs pick-and-roll, they wanted to cut Tony Parker off at the point of attack. Well, they tried. But not much is going to was going to shut down Parker on a night he was playing like the mid-season guy everyone thought should be in the MVP conversation.

For a second game in a row he sliced and diced the Grizzlies defense, this time to the tune of 14 points and 18 assists — he seemed to sense guys open and hit them, whether they were cutting to the rim or hanging out at the arc. Memphis wanted to slow down the pace (so they can set their defense) and Tony Parker was at the heart of destroying that strategy.

Parker is going up against one of the best defensive point guards in the game in Mike Conley and besting him. In Game 2 Parker got Conley in foul trouble and what little the Grizzlies were able to muster went away.

It all went away in the fourth quarter, when Parker was 2-of-8 shooting with no assists — he looked exhausted. Everyone did, but it showed in his game. That also showed how key he is to the Spurs offense against a good Grizzlies defense. The Spurs need that Parker every game.

• Zach Randolph, welcome to the conference finals. The first half of this game looked like all of Game 1 for Zach Randolph — the Spurs fronted him in the post, didn’t let him easily establish position and brought help from the corners quickly (sometimes before the pass). It got in his head — he was rushing shots when he did get the ball and as a result was missing shots he normally hits. The result was a 1-for-10 shooting first 24 minutes. And that’s not mentioning how the Spurs continued to expose Z-Bo’s pick-and-roll defense (there’s a reason Parker has room at the point of attack).

But in the second half Randolph was 5-of-7 shooting for 13 points and he was key to the Memphis comeback. With guys making shots and cutting out of the corners, Randolph found himself in more on-on-one situations on the block, and he can exploit that. He was grabbing offensive rebounds. He had a much better energy.

It wasn’t enough, but it’s something to build on — the Grizzlies will need two games of the full Z-Bo at home to even this series.

• For Memphis this was something to build on. There are no moral playoff victories. But after seven ugly quarters of basketball from Memphis they fought back, tied the game up, made some plays down the stretch and could have stolen one.

In the fourth quarter they slowed the game down and took away the transition buckets of San Antonio. The Spurs missed shots but they also didn’t get as many good looks against a set defense. The Grizzlies got some shots from Randolph and others (Quincy Pondexter was 2-of-3).

Memphis also played better defense as San Antonio shot 4-of19 — the Grizzlies seemed to finally anticipate the ball rotation and they closed out on shooters much better. The Grizzlies shouldn’t have needed a 15-2 run, but they got one and tied it up on the road.

At home role players like Jerryd Bayless shoot better, the Grizzlies won’t miss seven shots in a row inside five feet, they will play better.

We’ll see if they can build on that good fourth quarter, Memphis needs to win both of the two games at home to have a real shot in this series. But they came back from down 0-2 against the Clippers (and the Spurs were up 2-0 in this spot last year against the Thunder and lost four straight.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.

Not a ‘tattooed guy’: Larry Bird wants mural changed

Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird likes the mural but not the tatts.

A lawyer for the former NBA star has asked an artist to remove certain tattoos from a large painting of Bird on an Indianapolis multi-family residence. The tattoos include two rabbits mating on his right arm and a spider web on a shoulder.

Artist Jules Muck painted Bird in a blue basketball uniform. It’s a replica of a 1977 Sports Illustrated cover when he played for Indiana State.

Attorney Gary Sallee says Bird “needs to protect” his brand and “doesn’t want to be seen as a tattooed guy.” Muck says she adds things like tattoos to her art to avoid creating a complete copy of a photo.

She says she’s trying to reach an agreement with Bird’s representatives.