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.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?