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.

Portland reportedly to guaranteed Carmelo Anthony’s contract for rest of season

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Portland was in desperate need of frontcourt help but, like the rest of the league, it was not sold on Carmelo Anthony as the answer.

The Trail Blazers decided to take a chance on Anthony, but a low-risk one — a non-guaranteed contract.

It’s worked out better than anyone had hoped — Anthony is averaging 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, and the Blazers have been +14.2 per 100 possessions when he is on the court. Portland is 4-4 since he was signed (although, to be fair, the four wins came after Damian Lillard returned from injury to the lineup).

With that, the Trail Blazers have decided to guarantee Anthony’s contract for the rest of the season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Consider this a reward for Anthony.

The bigger reward is that Anthony is getting to redefine the end of his career. Understandably he did not like the way it ended, with getting played off the floor in the playoffs for Oklahoma City, then only lasting 10 games in Houston. The market had dried up for Anthony until Portland came through with an offer.

Now Anthony will be with the Blazers through the end of the season. At the very least.

Rockets to officially protest loss to Spurs due to disallowed James Harden dunk

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After 48 hours of bluster, the Houston Rockets are going to follow through with actions.

The Rockets are going to officially protest Tuesday night’s loss to the Spurs on the grounds of James Harden‘s missed call, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. A protest requires proof of a  misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibits a team’s chance to win a game, the Rockets believe they have that and the league should allow the teams to replay the final 7:50 of the game (with the Rockets conveniently up by 15 at that point).

The Rockets prepared to file a protest of Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs, a person with knowledge of the team’s plans said, with an argument that will cite the James Harden dunk that did not count as an example of a “misapplication of rules.”

It will also cite subsequent errors in officials’ failing to grant a coaches’ challenge, though the primary argument is with points not being awarded following a made basket.

What’s not in question is that the referees missed the call on James Harden’s fourth-quarter dunk — it should have counted. After the game the officials, after reviewing the video, admitted as much.

In addition to the missed dunk, the Rockets also are arguing that coach Mike D’Antoni should have been allowed to challenge the play (another misapplication of a rule). The officials talked to D’Antoni for a handful of seconds, then moved away to debate the call itself — was it basket interference or something else — before settling on it being a missed shot with the ball out of bounds off Harden. D’Antoni said he was never given the chance to protest the call by the referees, after the game crew chief James Capers said D’Antoni did not protest the game within the required 30 seconds. Privately, some around the league question if D’Antoni actually told the officials he wanted to protest — he says he did, not everyone believes him.

Protests around the NBA are rarely upheld because the bar is incredibly high. A successful protest requires proof of a  misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited a team’s chance to win a game. The Rockets argue that not giving Harden two points for a made basket qualifies as a misapplication of the rules, but others could argue it was just a missed call. There are a lot of those in every game (Russell Westbrook had a backcourt violation that was not called and became a Tyson Chandler dunk). 

This one play is not why the Rockets lost the game. Houston was up by 20 with 3:23 left in the third and by 10 with 3:53 left in the fourth but, as has followed a pattern with this team, could not hold the lead. Harden and Westbrook combined to shoot 17-of-68 on the night.

Because of that, and because there is 7:50 left in the game, it’s hard to imagine the league ruling to replay the end of the game. The Rockets likely will miss out on this.

But Houston — a team known in the league office for the deluge of referee complaints they file — is going to takes its best shot.

Former Suns coach Igor Kokoskov on Phoenix not drafting Luka Doncic: I sleep peacefully

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Mavericks star Luka Doncic looks is taking the NBA by storm at age 20.

Why did the Suns take Deandre Ayton No. 1 over Doncic – who went No. 3  – in last year’s NBA draft?

Phoenix’s coach was even Igor Kokoskov, who coached Doncic with the Slovenian national team.

Kokoskov, via Index, via Google Translate:

Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question because of a professional code, but when you have already asked me, I will tell you that I sleep peacefully and peaceably.

In other words: Kokoskov has no regrets about his input into the draft process. He’s hinting he wanted Doncic. (That’s easier to do after seeing how everything played out.)

Suns owner Robert Sarver reportedly pushed for Ayton, who played at nearby University of Arizona. Ayton looked like a reasonable choice at the time.

But Doncic’s ascent in Dallas leaves so much room for second-guessing. Maybe Kokoskov, who got fired after last season, would still be with the Suns if they drafted Doncic. Doncic would’ve done wonders for making Phoenix competitive last year – let alone beyond.

The Suns aren’t alone in facing these questions. The Kings are getting their share after drafting Marvin Bagley III No. 2.

Marcus Morris missed Knicks games, because his ‘huge for a 1-year-old’ son jumped on him to wake him

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Marcus Morris cares deeply about his role as a father.

Morris also missed the Knicks’ last two games with a neck injury.

Those statements are related.

Morris, Ian Begley of SNY:

“Every morning, he comes in the room and jumps on me. You know, I just got the bad batch of it that morning, so I’m good now,” Morris said.

He described his son as “huge for a 1-year-old.”

“I’ve just got to be ready,” Morris said with a smile. “He gets up at a certain time and I know he’s coming. This particular morning I think I was just in a deep sleep or something and he got me. But it happens. I’d rather him do that than stay in his room.”

Adorable!