Too much Tim Duncan, too much classic Spurs when it matters evens series with Clippers 1-1

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LOS ANGELES — It has been like this for nearly two decades now: The Spurs needed something and Tim Duncan was there to give it to them.

They needed better shooting than Game 1, they needed points, and he had 28 points on 23 shots. Duncan was going right at DeAndre Jordan early, he hit a key shot in the paint in overtime, he had 11 rebounds. In a game the Spurs said they were desperate to win, they turned to Tim Duncan early and often.

“He was probably our best player in Game 1, too,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “This is nothing new for Timmy… He was spectacular. He continues to amaze me with the things that he is able to do.”

The Spurs needed all of it on a night where Blake Griffin dropped a triple-double — 29 points, 12 points, 11 assists. Game 2 was a game the Clippers thought they had — to the point that Chris Paul stomped up and down in frustration at one point in overtime. It was the Clippers stars who seemed worn down and made mistakes late — it was a Griffin turnover that led to the free throws that allowed the Spurs to force overtime.

Then in the OT it was vintage Spurs: Duncan hits a leaner in the paint, Patty Mills scores on a leak out when the Clippers fall asleep, then Kawhi Leonard got a layup after Matt Barnes loses him. The Spurs executed the way they always do. The Clippers would not die in front of another raucous home crowd, but a J.J. Redick three rimmed out, and the Spurs hung on to win 111-107 in overtime. It was certainly not always pretty, but it was entertaining in what has been the best first round series of the playoffs so far.

The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to San Antonio for Game 3 Friday night.

Thanks to Duncan.

And Patty Mills.

Tony Parker left the game midway through the fourth quarter and did not return due to what was described as a tight right Achilles (there are no other details yet). Mills stepped up — he drove and was fouled, then hit the two free throws that forced OT. Then the Austrailian had six points to lead the Spurs in OT, and 18 total on the night off the bench.

“That was a game of grit, and grind, and competitiveness,” Mills said. “We showed competitiveness at the toughest times, which is good. We lacked that in the first game so we knew that before any Xs and Os in this game we needed to show we could come out and compete for 48 minutes — and even more so tonight.”

It was clear from the opening tip the Spurs were playing with a little more desperation. The Spurs came out much sharper and more focused defensively. They doubled the pick-and-roll out high, they rotated more sharply, and they got back in transition defense. Offensively they went to Duncan inside, and he hit 8-of-9 for 16 first half points. The Spurs moved the ball much better and that led to better looks, for the game 46 percent of their shots were uncontested. Still, the Spurs missed their threes (3-of-12 in the first half). The Clippers were no better from three (2-of-9 in the first half) but got 19 points on 13 shots from Griffin in the first half, he was hitting from everywhere. Chris Paul was sharp as usual, but the Spurs led 52-47 at the half.

Clippers came out in the second half with better ball movement, better defense, but they missed shots early. Spurs offense was not clicking either; Parker has not been sharp (or fully healthy) and it was just a lot of Duncan and Leonard vs. Paul and Griffin.

At times the Clippers started to look tired — they lack depth, and this was a hard-fought, up-tempo game. Yet they would not quit and they had their chances late. Jordan blocked a Duncan shot in the lane, Matt Barnes had a key late steal. It seemed like the Clippers would win.

The Spurs were the Spurs. They executed relentlessly. And while the polished veterans tried to sell this as just another win, the looks in their eyes and their comments in the locker room postgame when the cameras and recorders were not on let you know they thought this win was a massive one.

“The mindset was like a Game 7,” Mills said. “That’s the way we treated it. Like I said the competitiveness of that game that really got us the win in the end.”

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.