Kahwi Leonard drops 34, Spurs rebound to beat Rockets, even series, but may lose Parker

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard had 34 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame the loss of Tony Parker to beat the Houston Rockets 121-96 on Wednesday night and even the Western Conference semifinals at one game apiece.

Parker did not return after hurting his left leg with 8:43 remaining in the game. Spurs officials said Parker will undergo an MRI on Thursday morning and update his status after, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said following that game that “it’s not good.”

Parker fell to the court after missing an uncontested short jumper. He grabbed his left knee immediately upon landing and remained on the court for a few minutes. He attempted to walk, but had to be carried by teammates to the back. Spurs owner Julianna Hawn Holt rose from her courtside seat to point and scream at an official after Parker exited the game.

Parker finished with 18 points and four assists in 26 minutes.

Houston point guard James Harden was limited to 13 points on 3-for-17 shooting.

The Rockets shot 11 for 34 on 3-pointers after going 22 for 50 in their 126-99 victory in Game 1 on Monday night. They host Game 3 on Friday.

The start was as frenetic as Game 1, but the Spurs kept pace this time. The teams shot a combined 15 for 25 in the opening six minutes, including 5 for 9 on 3-pointers.

Popovich started Pau Gasol in place of David Lee to give the Spurs another outside shooter in the starting lineup and it paid off early. San Antonio shot 62 percent in the opening quarter.

The Spurs finished at 54 percent.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points after being limited to four in the opener, and Danny Green added 12.

Leonard tied his postseason high with 20 points in the first half as the Spurs opened up a 65-55 lead entering the third quarter.

Harden led a charge in the second half, but not with his offense. He swiped the ball away, leapt out of bounds and tossed it backward to save it and then stripped Green on the following possession to set a strong defensive tone. The Rockets would force five turnovers in the third quarter to cut their deficit to 88-83 entering the fourth.

Spurs reserve Jonathon Simmons provided a lift, scoring consecutive baskets at the close of the third quarter and then opening the fourth by diving into the front row of seats to save a loose ball that led to Manu Ginobili‘s layup. On the ensuing possession, Simmons completed a three-point play off a dunk.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston had scored 100 points in every playoff game this season. . Harden entered Wednesday averaging 31.0 points, 8.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds this postseason. Hall of Famer Michael Jordan is the only player to average 31 points, 8.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds in a single postseason, doing so in 1991. . The league fined Nene $15,000 for “escalating an altercation” after grabbing Dewayne Dedmon by the throat while the Spurs center was jawing with Harden. Nene was ejected from the game for the action. . Houston is 3-2 when trailing after the third quarter this postseason.

Spurs: Parker joined longtime teammate Tim Duncan as the only players born outside the United States to score 4,000 points in the postseason. Parker, Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are also the only players in league history with at least 4,000 points and 1,000 assists. .. Parker and Ginobili won their 131st postseason game as teammates, matching the league record held by Parker and Duncan. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 28 straight games, the longest streak since Parker had 63 straight from 2006-12. . Parker has scored 15-plus points six times this postseason after achieving that feat just 16 times in 63 regular-season games.

Gregg Popovich ducks Australian sideline reporter for interview (VIDEO)

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San Antonio Spurs and Team USA basketball coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for not giving interviews to sideline reporters. At this point, it’s already become a schtick that’s considered a played out.

But abroad, Popovich hasn’t done that much ducking of in-game media. Perhaps he needs to get some practice in before the 2019 FIBA World Cup starts in China?

Popovich was in attendance at an Aussie rules football match this week when a reporter from BT tried to get him on camera to say a word. Not obligated to fulfill any requirements the way he is in the NBA, Popovich quickly gave the reporter the slip.

Via Twitter:

Even if you don’t like Popovich doing this to NBA reporters, this feels like it’s forgivable. There’s no obligation for him to be on TV outside of the NBA, and media is his face all the time. Pop is just trying to enjoy a game, and the reporter didn’t seem like he was too bent out of shape about it.

Meanwhile, the legend of Pop grows internationally.

Should the Raptors use this retro floor next season? (PHOTO)

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Teens keep releasing retro floors for the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season. Retro jerseys accompanied a lot of these floor releases, and teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Charlotte Hornets have dipped heavily into the nostalgia sphere.

This season it could be much the same for the Toronto Raptors.

In a graphic posted it to r/nba this week, a potential new floor for the Raptors showed something a bit different.

Or should we call it an old floor?

Just months after Toronto won the NBA championship, it appears that they might be looking to harken back to the team’s very first year in existence.

Via Reddit:

What do you think? Are you a fan of the old purple dinosaur look, or do you think that nostalgia has tinged of the lenses of our judgement?

Team USA plays down loss to Australia: The real thing doesn’t start until China”

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It was the first time Team USA has lost an international game since 2006 — 78 straight wins. That seemed like a big deal.

It absolutely was huge for the 52,000 in attendance in Melbourne, where Australia was the one that upset the USA. This was validation for a strong basketball country and program — remember in the 2016 Olympics they lost by just 10 to a USA team with Kevin Durant, and it took a late push from Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to secure that win — that has never quite gotten the huge win on the international stage.

But after the loss, members of Team USA chalked it up as a learning experience. Coach Gregg Popovich said that, and the players followed suit. Quotes via Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Kemba Walker: “Teams lose. We are just going to take this loss and build from it, that’s all we can do is continue to try our best to get better. The real thing doesn’t start until China, so we’ve got one more game. We’re going to head to Sydney and focus on Canada and from that point out the real thing starts. That’s all we are worried about, just continuing to get better, continuing to learn each other.”

Donovan Mitchell: “To be honest, this game doesn’t mean anything. Obviously it hurts to lose, but I look at this and we look at this as more of a learning experience as opposed to we just lost. That’s the mindset. If you think of this as a loss, you start to get carried away with all that.”

Technically, all of that is true. If the USA goes on to win gold at the World Cup, this will be but a blip on the radar.

But the loss also showed just far Team USA is away from that goal and how much work there is to do. Watch the game and what stood out — besides Patty Mills getting red hot and dropping 30, with 13 of that in the fourth quarter — was the difference in cohesion and chemistry. The core of this Australian squad has been playing together for a decade, and with Andrew Bogut as the offensive fulcrum (and Joe Ingles playing that role some) guys were cutting, moving with purpose, and seemingly always in the right place to get an open look or layup.

The Americans are trying to build chemistry on the fly and it comes and goes. Particularly on the defensive end. Team USA members lose guys on cuts, don’t help the helper consistently, and for stretches look like a team just thrown together. Especially under pressure, when the ball movement stops and there is too much one-on-one on offense.

This American squad still has the talent to overwhelm and beat most of the world. However, with some of the USA’s top talent staying home, there are a handful of teams out there — Serbia, Spain, Australia, France — with the talent to hang, and then it becomes about chemistry and execution. Team USA was beaten badly in those hard-to-quantify categories by Australia. The American’s margin for error is much smaller in this World Cup.

Maybe the loss galvanizes Team USA in a way nothing else could. Maybe. And the players are right that things don’t really matter for the USA until the games in China.

But Team USA still has a lot to prove.

James Harden working on one-legged step-back three for next season

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As if James Harden wasn’t unstoppable enough.

Harden’s step-back three has become probably the most unstoppable shot in the NBA. Now video has gone viral in NBA circles of Harden working on a one-legged, step-back three. Think Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged jumper, but from three and with a little more side-to-side to it. (You can see the video above.) Harden talked to Tim MacMahon of ESPN about it.

“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, step-back 3 this season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a step-back!’ — I love to see that.

“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”

Harden is going to score a lot of points… or, maybe the better way to say that is he’s going to score even more points if he gets to a point he unleashes that in a game.

The challenge this season for Harden will be balance — he’s got to share the court and the ball with Russell Westbrook. Both of them are at their best with the ball in their hands, creating in isolation, but they need to be more than that. While coach Mike D’Antoni can do some things to help with that balance (staggering their minutes as much as possible) for the Rockets to become the contenders they want to be Harden and Westbrook have to be more than “your turn, now it’s my turn” on offense.

But when it’s Harden’s turn, that one-legged step back will be fun to watch.