Spurs take 3-2 Finals lead with Game 5 win over Heat

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SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili had been largely missing in action for the Spurs through the first four games of the Finals, and in a series as close as this one in terms of overall talent possessed by each team, San Antonio couldn’t afford to be without what has consistently been its most dangerous weapon off the bench for very much longer.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich tried to jumpstart Ginobili by inserting him into the starting lineup for Sunday’s critical Game 5, and the result couldn’t have been any better if he had scripted it himself.

Ginobili finished with 24 points and 10 assists, and had his fingerprints all over the Spurs’ 114-104 win over the Heat that gives San Antonio a three games to two advantage with the series headed back to Miami for its deciding game or games.

The performance came essentially out of nowhere, considering how little Ginobili had done through the first four games of the series. He was just 10-of-29 from the field in total, and didn’t provide nearly the spark the Spurs have grown accustomed to getting from him over the years.

In this one, however, Ginobili infused his team from the very start. He hit the first shot of the game from near three-point distance, and had seven points and three assists in the first five and a half minutes.

“I think that first shot was huge,” Tony Parker said, “because that was not even a play for him. It was a play for me, and he kept it. It was like a broken play, and he hits that three. I think the whole team, it helps everybody, because we know Manu is a big part of what we do.  And we needed a game like that from him.”

After Ginobili got things started, Parker was able to take over with his precision penetration to the basket. He sliced through the Heat defense all night long, and was able to convert several difficult shots inside. Miami’s defense had no answer for Parker’s drives, and with their small lineup the lack of a rim protector really hurt them on a consistent basis.

Parker finished with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, to go along with five assists. The hamstring didn’t appear to limit him at all on the court, though he stepped very gingerly to the postgame interview podium and appeared a bit hobbled afterward.

If it wasn’t Parker or Ginobili doing the scoring by getting into the paint and causing havoc, it was Danny Green continuing his torrid shooting from three-point distance. He finished with 24 points of his own, and hit six of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. He now owns the all-time NBA Finals record for three-pointers made in a series with 25, surpassing the mark set by Ray Allen in 2008. Green, however, only took five games to get the record, while Allen needed six.

The Spurs had gotten out to a lead of as many as 17 points in the first half, but the Heat used the bulk of the third quarter to close the gap. They were able to get out in transition, they used LeBron James in the post, and played with a speed and intensity that allowed them to get back into the game.

Miami had cut the San Antonio lead down to just one with a 9-0 run to open the third, and again pulled within a single point with 3:05 remaining in the period.

At that point, Ginobili finished what he started.

During the 12-1 run that San Antonio put together to end the third and take control, Ginobili scored seven points and assisted on two more. The Spurs scored the first seven points of the fourth to put the game away for good, and the Heat made a late run to get within eight but never truly threatened the rest of the way.

LeBron and Dwyane Wade were held in check by the Spurs’ interior defense, and when they kicked it out the open shooters had difficulty knocking down both open and contested shots. The Heat’s two biggest threats scored 25 points apiece, but got there by shooting a low percentage — a combined effort of 18-of-44 from the field from James and Wade is never going be enough against this Spurs team.

It’s been a series where the losing team has bounced back in a big way the following game, and the Heat are going to need to continue that trend in Game 6 back in Miami if the series is to continue to a seventh game.

Game 5, however, belonged to the Spurs. Parker was brilliant, and Green was lights out from distance. But Ginobili was the one that drove this victory from start to finish.

After full season in Europe, Luka Doncic not expected to play in Summer League

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Deandre Ayton played 35 games for Arizona last season. Marvin Bagley III played 33 games last season for Duke. Jarnen Jackson Jr. played 35 for Michigan State. None of them played past March.

Luka Doncic played 61 games for Real Madrid — at a higher level than NCAA basketball — and the season ended two days before the NBA Draft. Plus in Europe, the practices are often far more strenuous than the games (many teams keep doing two-a-days through the season).

Not surprisingly after that long a season Dallas is not going to ask Doncic to play in the Las Vegas Summer League, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

This was expected in most quarters no matter who drafted Doncic. Rest and recovery matter more than getting him into the glorified pickup games of Summer League.

Doncic will be ready to go when the season starts, and he will be one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year.

Former Spur Bruce Bowen rips Kawhi Leonard for asking out after injury

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For years, players have bought into “the Spurs way” not just on the court but off — it was always about what’s best for the team first. That meant Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and others taking discounts from the max salary they could have earned at points to help the team keep the roster to do that. Sacrifice was part of the game.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that former Spurs are closing ranks around Gregg Popovich and the franchise in the wake of Kawhi Leonard pushing his way out the door following missing most of last season with a leg injury.  It was the treatment of that leg injury — Leonard did not trust the Spurs’ doctors and got a second opinion that saw things differently — which started the rift, although the advice from Leonard’s uncle/advisor and agent also play a role in widening the gap.

On SiriusXM NBA Radio this week (h/t ESPN) former Spur Bruce Bowen ripped into Leonard for complaining about his treatment.

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Bowen added, “there’s nothing but excuses going on.”

The backlash to Leonard is to be expected, particularly from those in San Antonio (not so much from people in Los Angeles, where Leonard is trying to force himself to). The injury treatment started the rift, but Leonard is putting his desires in front of those of the team and franchise — and that’s his right, he’s far from the first player to do that. It’s just not something we have seen from San Antonio. The Spurs have long sought out not only guys who could play on the court but guys who fit a mold personality wise and would put the team first. On the court Leonard had done that, going back to when he won Finals MVP. Now, off it, he has had a change of heart, for whatever reason (or reasons).

Bowen is more outspoken than most, but this will be the sentiment out of San Antonio if Leonard leaves.

That is not going to change the reality on the ground, however.

Michael Porter Jr.’s status for Summer League, next season unclear

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Blake Griffin. Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons. Most recently, Harry Giles.

NBA teams are not afraid to sit an injured player throughout his rookie year, not if they think there’s a payoff on the other side.

Thursday night during the NBA Draft concerns about Michael Porter Jr.’s surgically repaired back (among other things) had the guy considered a potential top pick a year ago sliding down the board to Denver at No. 14. That’s potentially a steal for the Nuggets, but even at the press conference immediately after the pick Nuggets’ president of basketball operations Tim Connelly sounded very cautious.

A day later, speaking to Marc Spears of The Undefeated at ESPN, both Porter Jr. and the Nuggets’ owner/president were suggesting he is out for Summer League and could have a redshirt year next season.

Porter Jr. said the day before the draft that it was possible he could miss summer league action through injury…

Nuggets president Josh Kroenke told The Undefeated he was uncertain about whether Porter Jr. would play in summer league or during the 2018-19 season.

According to reports, Porter Jr. was showing a slight limp at his introductory press conference with the Nuggets Friday.

The Nuggets are right to be cautious here and think long-term. It would be a shock to see Porter Jr. at Summer League in July. Could he lace up his shoes and play at some point next season? Maybe. Depends on his rehab and how he progresses, but the Nuggets have zero fear of letting him sit out a season. This is a team that just missed the playoffs last season and is expected to take a step forward this time around without Porter — they don’t need him to be good, they have Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and the rest.

Porter needs to get healthy, and that very well may mean sitting out a season. Then when he does play accept a role and go from there.

Take 2: Collin Sexton to wear Kyrie Irving’s jersey number with Cavaliers

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Collin Sexton endeared himself to the Cavaliers with his competitive streak, speed and attitude long before they picked him in the NBA draft.

His jersey number showed them something else: He’s fearless.

Sexton made quite a first impression by deciding to take No. 2, his college number but also the one previously worn in Cleveland by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. After showing off his jersey at a news conference Friday, Sexton said he doesn’t feel pressure to live up to Irving’s high standards.

“Not at all,” he said. “Coming in, I’m going to set goals for myself and then as well there’s going to be team goals set. But I feel like I’m not going to have to live up to anybody’s shoes, but I’m going to come in and learn and be the best player I can be on the court as well as off the court.”

Some Cleveland fans feel No. 2 should be retired. After all, Irving made the biggest shot in franchise history in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals before asking to be traded last summer to escape the daunting shadow cast by LeBron James.

Maybe one day No. 2 will hang in the rafters. For now, it belongs to Sexton.

With an eye toward rebuilding – and maybe persuading James to re-sign this summer – the Cavs selected Sexton, the lightning-quick Alabama point guard, on Thursday night with the No. 8 overall pick. As a freshman, the 19-year-old Sexton carried the Crimson Tide to the NCAA Tournament, for a brief time giving the school’s rabid football fans a late-winter diversion before coach Nick Saban blew his whistle in spring practice.

The Cavs believe Sexton, who earned his “Young Bull” nickname in high school for his charge-ahead playing style, can help them finally offset the loss of Irving. Without him, Cleveland lacked a dependable second-scoring option for James; the club spent the entire season with a virtual revolving door at the position as coach Tyronn Lue started eight point guards.

Irving’s absence was never felt more than in the Finals as the Golden State Warriors only had to concentrate on James. The Cavs didn’t have another player capable of breaking down their defense.

Sexton gives Cleveland a new weapon.

He’s in good hands. At Alabama, Sexton played for former NBA guard Avery Johnson, and he’s being passed to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, a 14-year pro looking forward to developing the youngster.

“I’ve watched him play,” Lue said. “I understand who he is as a player and as a person, talked to his parents a lot throughout the course of his college selection, so I know them very well. I’m just excited, man. To be able to have a young talent that I can help mold and build and make better and teach him what suit to wear, what shoes to wear with a suit, how to tie a tie, when you go to dinner, things like that that Bryan Shaw and Robert Horry and Ron Harper and those guys taught me, so I’m very excited about that.”

Sexton wowed the Cavs during his personal workout, which came one day after Cleveland was swept by the Warriors. He attended Game 4, and as he witnessed James, Kevin Durant and others competing at the highest level the game offers, Sexton could imagine one day being part of the action.

“Like the seats were shaking,” he said. “Fans were screaming. Just I feel like I’ll be ready to play in something like that when it’s my time.”

Sexton smiled throughout his introductory news conference, which came following a nearly sleepless night in New York. And while he came across as easygoing and affable, there’s a darker side to Sexton.

On the floor, he’s ferocious.

“When you get between those lines, there’s no friends,” he said. “When you get between those lines it’s us against them, and we’re trying to win. It’s like a switch that cuts on. It’s go time when you get on the court.”