Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Kerr uses lessons from Popovich to help Warriors dismantle Spurs

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It was as wild a night in the NBA — so busy that Jeff Green‘s three for Memphis to force overtime (they eventually won in the extra frame) doesn’t even make the cut. And I thought this was going to be an all Warriors-Spurs recap of the night, but we will, at least, start there and follow with four other things you should know from an NBA Monday.

1) Steve Kerr used lesson he learned from playing for Gregg Popovich to help Golden State throttle Spurs by 30. All game Monday night it seemed amazing how many back-door cuts — and nifty passes to those cutters — the Warriors were able to get on the Spurs. Golden State’s ball movement was otherworldly, and Draymond Green, in particular, seemed to keep finding cutters going to the rim for good looks. It’s one of many reasons the Warriors ran the Spurs out of the building Monday, winning by 30.

Fear of those Warriors cuts threw the Spurs defense off and led to THE highlight of the night when Stephen Curry shaked and baked the best defender in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard and turned him into a Vine highlight flying around the Web.

After the game, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr credited playing for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for all those cuts. Via Ethan Sherwood Straus of ESPN:

“If anybody overplays you, our guys are taught, just cut, cut back door, the next guy will fill the spot. Keep the ball moving. That was something that really was a point of emphasis when I played in San Antonio for Pop. That’s what they do.”

There was more to this win than that. The Warriors pressure defense led to 15 steals and 25 Spurs turnovers (nearly one in four Spurs possessions was a turnover), which allowed Golden State to get out and run, where it is most dangerous. Matchups between these two teams — including in the playoffs — will come down to who controls the tempo and style of play, and Monday night at 106 possessions for the game it was all Warriors. Plus, Curry dropped 37 and whichever defender the Spurs threw at him struggled. There was more, such as Green’s defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, holding the Spurs’ star to five points on 2-of-9 shooting (plus Aldridge was exploited on defense, getting switched onto Curry at times). Everything went the Warriors’ way.

This game does not dictate what would happen in a seven-game series between these teams four months from now, or even what will happen the three other times they meet this regular season. But right now, today, the Warriors are asking questions the Spurs have to figure out how to answer. Right now the Warriors have established themselves as the clear best team in the NBA.

2) DeMarcus Cousins scores franchise-record 56, still not enough as Troy Daniels‘ three lifts Hornets over Kings in double OT. This was the most thrilling game of the night. Charlotte simply had no answer for the physicality of Sacramento’s big man Cousins. He is enough of a threat as a jump shooter that defenders have to respect it, so he put the ball on the floor and drove the basket against Charlotte — Cousins scored 56 points, tying Oscar Robertson for the franchise record for most points in a game.

Well, there was one thing the Hornets could do — keep pace by scoring a lot. Which they did. They were led by Daniels, who filled it up off the bench with 28 points, including the eventual game-winner in double overtime.

On that play, Daniels popped out up high and got separation from Darren Collison thanks to a moving, illegal screen from Frank Kaminsky that was not called. That space was all Daniels needed, he turned and shot from 27 feet out and hit nothing but the bottom of the net. The Hornets were up 129-128, and that proved to be the ballgame.

3) Anthony Davis suffers concussion and by the hand… er, elbow of teammate. The good news for the Pelicans is that they are off until Thursday, so there is time for Davis to go through the NBA’s concussion protocol and still play in their next game. But this was nasty. Both Davis and Tyreke Evans were going for a rebound, trying to keep it away from James Harden, when Evans inadvertently elbowed Davis in the head.

Davis went to the ground, then went to the locker room not to return, the Pelicans announcing he had suffered a concussion. Harden and Trevor Ariza sparked an 18-0 Rockets run to start the second half with Davis out, and from there the Rockets held on for a 112-111 win. Harden finished with 35 points.

4) Tyronn Lue gets his first win as Cavaliers’ head coach. Cleveland gave Tyronn Lue the game ball for his first win as an NBA coach — and unlike his predecessor Lue accepted it gracefully. (David Blatt had used the moment to remind his players he had won more than 700 games in Europe.) That said, it wasn’t pretty. Lue has pushed the Cavaliers to play faster, and they did (99 possessions Monday, four more than their season average) but with that came guys clearly not being comfortable at times and being sporadic with their aggression. However, the bench got it and made a late third-quarter run that was enough to lift Cleveland past Minnesota 114-107. LeBron James had 21 points to lead the Cavaliers, but Kyrie Irving (17 points) had the highlight of the night.

5) Blake Griffin breaks hand, likely out weeks (at least). It’s another setback for a Clippers’ team trying to establish itself as elite. Blake Griffin has missed the Clippers last 15 games with a partial quadricep tear, but as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times told us in a PBT Podcast, he was expected to return Tuesday night when the Clippers visited the Pacers.

Nope, he’s going to be out for a few weeks (at least) with a broken right hand. Yes, that is his shooting hand, so this could be a while.

How did that happen? An “undisclosed team-related incident,” ESPN reported. We know he didn’t punch Josh Smith — the Clippers had already traded him. I’m not going to speculate as to what happened, but clearly he was not “in the zone.” Details will leak out soon enough. But you can go ahead and start speculating amongst your friends.

Portland reportedly applies for disabled player exception after Rodney Hood injury

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Rodney Hood‘s season coming to an end because of a ruptured Achilles was a real blow to Portland — he had become a critical part of their rotation. That has led to a lot of speculation about already shorthanded Portland jumping into the trade market soon looking for someone to absorb those minutes, as well as hitting the buyout market hard next February.

Portland is now looking for a little more money to spend to bring someone in, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The “disabled player exemption” allows a team over some space to go after a replacement for a player lost due to injury. This is a fairly standard process and likely will be approved. Portland can use that money on a free agent (Iman Shumpert is available again) or someone bought out by another team.

Portland is 10-16 on the season, set back in part due to injuries to the front line. The Blazers knew Jusuf Nurkic would miss most of the season, and he was vital to them, but they were counting on Zach Collins to step up and absorb those minutes. Then he needed shoulder surgery. Portland eventually turned to Carmelo Anthony to help along the frontline, and he has performed well enough for them to guarantee his contract for the season.

Portland is going to be active, both looking at free agents and on the trade market. Just don’t expect a Kevin Love deal (he may want it but his contract makes that nearly impossible).

Rumor: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul stated intent to join Mavericks until Howard backed out

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
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The Mavericks went from winning the 2011 NBA championship to missing the playoffs within two years.

Somewhat by choice.

Of course, they wanted to remain competitive. But they were willing to accept a lower floor to maintain financial flexibility. They let key players – most notably Tyson Chandler – leave in order to chase bigger stars.

Dallas was repeatedly linked to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who could’ve become free agents in 2012 but opted in. They finally hit the market in 2013, but once again spurned the Mavericks. Paul re-signed with the Clippers, and Howard left the Lakers for the Rockets.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

I really think that they, Chris and Dwight, basically wink, wink said they were going to Dallas, from what I’ve heard, and that Dwight backed out.

Word on the street. But we hear a lot of stories. That’s one story I’ve heard.

This is the peril of making arrangements in underground free agency. They’re unbinding. That was especially true with Howard, who waffled through the Dwightmare with the Magic. The Mavericks might have proceeded in the smartest way, but it backfired. Dallas is only now re-emerging upward with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

This also creates a fun “what if?” How good would Dallas have been? Paul remained elite, but Howard and Dirk Nowitzki were slipping. Where would the Clippers have gone with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but without Paul? Would they still have held the credibility required to lure Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer? Where would Houston have turned without Howard as the star to pair with James Harden?

Serge Ibaka says he nearly goaltended Kawhi Leonard’s iconic shot: ‘I would’ve retired’

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Kawhi Leonard hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history – a buzzer-beater that bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced in during Game 7 of last year’s second-round Raptors-76ers series and propelled Toronto toward an eventual title.

Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, via Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

“I didn’t think it was going in. I was under the basket trying to go for the offensive rebound. The ball was bouncing and one time I was so close to going [for it]. Thank God I didn’t because it could have been goaltending. That would’ve been bad. I would’ve retired. If that had happened I would have retired.”

In hindsight, that would’ve been catastrophic. It would have been been bad at the time, too – but only so bad.

The Bucks, Toronto’s opponent in the Eastern Conference finals, looked better than the Raptors. The Western Conference-winning Warriors were widely viewed as invincible. Few would have thought Ibaka’s goaltend would’ve cost Toronto a championship.

Thankfully for him and the Raptors, we now know better.

Chris Paul refutes report that Michele Roberts is no longer leading union

Michele Roberts, Chris Paul and Luol Deng
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Michele Roberts got a new four-year term as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association in 2018.

Yet, Peter Vecsey tweeted:

The NBPA responded with a statement on behalf of Chris Paul:

NBPA President Chris Paul’s response to the false information tweeted earlier this evening regarding NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts:

“Michele Roberts has been and continues to be our fearless leader. The Twitter post that is circulating suggesting Michele is no longer the NBPA Executive Director is untrue. A Search Firm has been hired to advise on union hiring and succession planning, which has not yet begun. In the meantime, the Executive Committee is proud to report that Michele remains the NBPA Executive Director, is very much “in power,” and continues to enjoy the support of our members!”

Roberts led the union through Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations in 2016. She appears active in running the union now.

Controversially, Roberts rejected cap smoothing when the new national TV deals sent revenue soaring. That adversely affected many union members, though benefited others.

Roberts and Paul have also sometimes prioritized stars, to the dismay of the rank-and-file.

But the overall health of the union appears strong, and Roberts and Paul remain in charge.