Mavericks’ dramatic comeback falls just short, Spurs even series with win

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Dallas came tantalizingly close.

Down 20 in the third quarter they fought all the way back to take a lead late in the fourth — they did it with defense, they did it with Monta Ellis making shots, they did it thanks to DeJuan Blair being everywhere.

But in the end a desperate Spurs team made plays — Boris Diaw hit threes, Manu Ginobili knocked down free throws and Diaw contested a potential Ellis game-tying lay-up and got a miss — and they got a win 93-89.

The win evens the series 2-2 heading back to San Antonio for a crucial Game 5.

Mavs fans thought they had this one, they were going nuts in the arena. They might blame the loss on another cold shooting night for the loss (Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki were a combined 13-of-39, 33.3 percent). They might want to blame the referees for ejecting DeJuan Blair with three minutes left. They might… oh, who are we kidding, Tony Romo was in the building and you know if it’s a close loss in the playoffs it is his fault.

San Antonio’s offense is simply not as consistently sharp as we are used to seeing it — the offense lacks the movement and crisp passing we were saw when they racked up the best record in the NBA. Give some credit to the feisty defense from the Mavericks trying to create turnovers, but part of this is just execution from San Antonio. We saw it in a stretch during Monday’s game.

Dallas had raced out to 10 point lead early, but starting late in the first quarter and into the second the Spurs took charge of the game, They were getting the shots they wanted, contesting everything on defense (the Mavs started the second quarter 1-of-12 shooting , getting easy buckets thanks to ball movement. Manu Ginobili was a big spark for this and finished the game with 23 points on 14 shots — he has been the best Spur player in this series and was +11 in this game.

Dallas, on the other hand, had won the last couple games because while the Spurs had shut down Dirk Nowitzki (he was 7-of-19 shooting for the game, once again Tiago Splitter did a fantastic job guarding Nowitzki) other guys had stepped up. Not this time. Monta Ellis was 2-of-8 in the first half. Other Mavs followed suit.

Early in the third quarter the Spurs lead grew to 20 — and that’s when Blair started outworking everyone on the court. That’s when shots started falling for Ellis. That’s when the other Mavs started to find a way to contest and get some balls they could turn into transition plays.

By the middle of the fourth quarter the Mavs had closed the gap completely, Dallas opened the quarter This game was going to be close the rest of the way.

But then Blair got ejected with three minutes left for this play:

The refs said it was done in hostility. You can argue that the kick wasn’t intentional, that Splitter was on his legs and he reacted — but you can’t kick a guy in the head. It’s an ejection every time.

That is it changed the game. It’s kind of amazing to say but yes, losing DeJuan Blair was a huge blow to the Mavericks.

San Antonio won the game thanks to its French Connection.

Tony Parker and Diaw had been playing a pick-and-pop at the top of the key all game with some success. With the game on the line in the final minute they did it again — Parker attacked off a Diaw pick and got into the lane, then kicked it back to Diaw who had time to set and fire and he knocked down the three that proved to be the game winner.

It took more, of course. Nowitzki made it a one-point game on an offensive rebound and putback. Ginobili was fouled but hit just one of two, making it a two-point Spurs lead.

Monta Ellis got the call and drove for bucket off Nowitzki handoff, a great play design… but he misses the shot. Give Diaw credit for contesting and making Ellis work for it, but that’s one he hits more often than not.

San Antonio sealed the win from the line and now goes home for what is now a best-of-three. San Antonio has had to work harder for this than expected, but if the Spurs from the second quarter of this game shows up they are going to be partying on Riverwalk again.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.