For Spurs players Finals win is cathartic… and the legacy is nice, too

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SAN ANTONIO — In as dominant as an NBA Finals performance as you will ever see, the San Antonio Spurs catapulted their legacy up with the all-time great franchises of an era — five titles over 15 years, an unparalleled length of greatness in the modern era.

After the game the Spurs players didn’t talk much about that.

What they talked about openly was how this was cathartic. How they needed this win to remove the sting of scars from the last three years and everything that was said about them.

There was 2011 when the Spurs were the No. 1 seed muscled out of the playoffs by the Grizzlies in the first round. Clearly these Spurs were too old.

There was 2012 and games 3-6 of the Western Conference Finals when the Thunder swept them out of the playoffs, when it looked like the younger generation had passed the Spurs by.

Then there was the most painful cut of all — 2013 Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Miami.

This championship exorcized all those demons.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” Manu Ginobili said. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty. We all felt that we let teammates down. But we work hard. We thought every game in the regular season trying to get better to have the same opportunity again.

“We got to this spot, and we didn’t let it go.”

This was more than just revenge, more than just about the yellow rope coming out and Ray Allen hitting a three. For the Spurs this was years of working, evolving the roster and offense, the focus on process, of buying in, of playing basketball “the right way,” of preaching sacrifice and selflessness in a league where salaries can be determined by numbers.

It all paid off in the grandest of ways.

The San Antonio Spurs absolutely owned the two-time defending champion Heat through the final three games of this series. The better team was never in doubt.

Tim Duncan has become the first player to be a starter on a championship team in three different decades (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and now 2014). He went from being the 23-year-old Finals MVP to the 38-year-old who still averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds in the NBA Finals.

But legacy was not the motivation so much as erasing pain. Specifically the loss to the Heat last year. Every Spurs player mentioned it, as did coach Gregg Popovich.

“Last year’s loss was devastating. I’ve said many times, a day didn’t go by where I didn’t think about Game 6,” Popovich said. “So I think just in general, for the group to have the fortitude that they showed to get back to this spot, I think speaks volumes about how they’re constituted and what kind of fiber they have.”

“It’s been a long time, but it makes it even sweeter,” Tony Parker said. “That’s why I say it’s the sweetest one because it’s just unbelievable to win seven years ago and to be so close last year, it was very cruel, but that’s the beauty of sport. Sometimes it’s tough. And sometimes it can be beautiful like today, because it shows a lot of character of the team to take a loss and to come back the following year and to win the whole thing.”

Those scars may remain on the Spurs, but you won’t notice them as you are blinded by the five flashy, diamond-studded rings. Those five rings leave a legendary legacy for the Tim Duncan-era Spurs.

But that’s not what they were feeling Sunday night.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.