Spurs get a little lucky, are plenty good, get road win in Game 5 over Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — In a close, evenly-played game like this, it comes down to a thousand little things.

For the Clippers, it was death by a thousand cuts: a Chris Paul technical; the team going 1-of-14 from three; letting the Spurs grab a late offensive rebound; calls not going their way; and a tired Blake Griffin having a fantastic game then going 1-of-9 in the fourth quarter due in part to fatigue.

And it was DeAndre Jordan tipping in a ball over the cylinder that was going in on its own.

“It was a dumb ass play… can’t blame anybody for that but me,” Jordan said.

The Spurs just kept executing and making plays: Tim Duncan hitting Boris Diaw for the corner three; Duncan blocking Blake Griffin in the paint (then stripping the ball from him); Manu Ginobili beating out Matt Barnes to get a rebound with the game on the line. And even when the Spurs didn’t execute well, Diaw hit a bail-out 18-foot fadeaway he even described as “lucky.”

It all added up to a 111-107 Spurs win in Staples Center Tuesday night. With the win the Spurs take a 3-2 lead home and will try to close it out in games six Thursday in San Antonio.

It’s tempting to describe the game as just the kind the Spurs find a way to win, but coach Gregg Popovich was not buying that.

“One would assume that experience would help you, but not as much as players making plays,” Popovich said.

Popovich made one key adjustment, putting Duncan on Griffin for key stretches of the game, including the fourth quarter. Most of the season, the Spurs prefered to use Tiago Splitter on Griffin, but with Splitter injured and playing limited minutes it wasn’t working. So Popovich turned to the future Hall of Famer.

Griffin put up numbers — 30 points, 14 rebounds — but he struggled down the stretch. That included a key block then strip by Duncan of Griffin in the paint.

“His timing is just impeccable,” Popovich said. “He has a hard time jumping over the proverbial piece of paper, and he gets in position. He knows where to be. He’s played long enough, he’s got a great basketball IQ, and he has excellent timing, so he reads things well….

“It might have been the play of the game when he blocked that shot.”

That was one. The other was a Griffin basket with :07 seconds left that would have put the Clippers up by one, but was waived off when Jordan touched it over the cylinder.

“I was just trying to make a play on the ball, but it ended up being a dumb play,” said Jordan, who admitted touching the ball.

Early on it seemed this could be a good night for Los Angeles. The Spurs opened the game 4-of-14 shooting, the misses allowing the Clippers to get out and run — and that means high-flying dunks that got the crowd going. Add some bad rotations on defense and things got so weird Popovich called for some zone defense. It was pretty much the dream start for the Clippers, who led by as many as 14… then Doc Rivers went to his bench. That zone and the Clipper bench meant by the end of the quarter it was 27-22 Clippers and felt like a game again.

When the Clippers starters returned, the team went on a run, but this time the Spurs were not going to let the game get away. A seesaw second quarter ended with a 54-53 Clippers lead at the half. Blake Griffin already had 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, plus eight rebounds.

The Spurs had a vintage Spurs night — Ducan had 21, Kawhi Leonard 18, but the Spurs had eight guys with at least 8 points. Their balance makes them hard to defend.

The Clippers are more top-heavy in their scoring, and in the end Griffin was clearly tired and not making plays. Not that it was his fault the Clippers lost. It was just another of a thousand little cuts.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
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Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.