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Spurs defense holds Warriors to season low, San Antonio wins 87-79

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Last week against Portland, Golden State scored 81 points in the first half.

But up against the best defense in the NBA, the Warriors shot just 37.8 percent overall, 25 percent from three, and their unstoppable force Stephen Curry hit just 1-of-12 from three.

That is not going to get it done against the Spurs.

San Antonio beat Golden State 87-79 in a game where the host Spurs controlled the style of play from the opening tip. It improves the Spurs to 35-0 at home and serves as a reminder to anyone who thought the Warriors were on a cake walk to another trophy that at least one team has some answers for them.

This game was played at San Antonio’s pace and in their style (just 90 possessions, nearly a dozen below the Warriors average). Curry admitted the Warriors could not get comfortable in their offense.

Which is a huge credit to the Spurs, as the Warriors forced the game toward their small ball style from the start. With Andrew Bogut out injured the Warriors went to their small ball lineup to start, with Brandon Rush. Gregg Popovich countered by sending Tim Duncan to the bench and starting Boris Diaw in his space. Duncan only played eight minutes, and for long stretches Popovich went with a double point guard lineup of Tony Parker and Patty Mills. Consider that a glimpse into the future — when the Warriors go to their death lineup in the playoffs, the Spurs feel they can match up. (To be fair, the Warriors are without Andre Iguodala, a key part of their best small lineup.)

Lineups weren’t the only thing the Spurs tried. They picked up Curry out to 30 feet, they did a good job switching and challenging threes, they used LaMarcus Aldridge more in the paint (26 points, but on 25 shots), and they seemed to run the offense through Kawhi Leonard less (18 points still, and he was a beast on the boards).

The Spurs defense was at the heart of everything — it had the Warriors rushing. The Spurs contested 37 Warriors shots and they hit just 35.1 percent on those. However, the Warriors had 36 uncontested shots and hit just 38.9 percent on those.

Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 15 points, but on 20 shots. Curry had 14 points, but on 18 shots. Looks they have hit against other teams did not fall against the Spurs, which is a bit luck but San Antonio’s smart defense had something to do with that.

The other key was the Spurs bench outplaying the Warriors bench — the Warriors starting five by itself was just -4 on the night, but the Spurs bench has been better this season and that came tough on Saturday.

Is this game indicative of what we will see in late May when these teams meet in the Western Conference Finals? (And we all know that is coming, right? Sorry Oklahoma City.)

No. Not completely. The Warriors were short-handed without two of their top six players, and they were on the second night of a back-to-back. They missed shots they often make.

But if anyone thought the Spurs simply could not keep up with the Warriors, this game proves them wrong. The first meeting between these teams was the anomaly. This game showed some of how these teams plan to attack each other in the playoffs, and the San Antonio had to like how their strategies work.

The Spurs can hang with and challenge the Warriors. This is an elite team who knows how to defend, knows how to get the shots it wants, and that can win you a title.

Is that enough come the Western Conference Finals?

Ask me in June.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.

Rockets sign Ben McLemore

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The Kings couldn’t figure out what to do with Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

Now, the Rockets will try.

Rockets:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The link in the Rockets tweet leads to an inaccessible page, which is pretty fitting.

McLemore has talent, athleticism and size. He probably doesn’t have as much talent and athleticism as it seemed when he became a lottery pick. But he still has some. He also plays shooting guard, a common position of need throughout the league. Maybe Houston can find a way for the 26-year-old to become productive for the first time in his career.

It’s a low-risk bet considering the cheap cost, and the upside probably isn’t that high. But it’s still an interesting attempt considering McLemore’s stature when he entered the league.

Report: Clippers tried to trade for James Harden before landing Paul George

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Kawhi Leonard tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Leonard eventually got Paul George to join him on the Clippers.

Two other stars the Clippers tried to land? Bradley Beal and James Harden.

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Clippers inquired about Washington’s Bradley Beal and Houston’s James Harden, according to league sources, but neither star was available.

Beal fits the most obvious parameter of an available star: He’s on a bad team. But the Wizards aren’t interested in trading him. For most of the summer, they didn’t even have a general manager to negotiate a potential deal.

Harden is the far more interesting target. The Rockets have built around him, but they reached a rough spot with Harden and Chris Paul. Houston could have viewed that as the end of the road. The Clippers parted with an elite package for George – five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. That’s the kind of offer that can open many doors. Instead, the Rockets went the other way by acquiring Russell Westbrook.

Still, a Leonard-Harden pairing would’ve been quite interesting. Both work best as offensive focal points, not contributing much off the ball. Harden’s defensive deficiencies would’ve put more pressure on Leonard. But the talent level would’ve been astronomical.

I think the Clippers are just happy with Leonard and George, who fit better together and still carry elite talent.

Report: NBA opens investigation into tampering following ‘tense’ owners meeting

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Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.

The league will also investigate.

Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of 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 investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.

In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.

Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.

It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.

Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.

I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.

This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.

Tricky questions remain, though.

How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.

When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.

So, there’s no perfect solution.

But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.