Team USA knocks off Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo 69-53

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Sometimes one stat does tell the story:

Through three quarters, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, despite being the focus of Team USA’s defensive attention, and with the entire defense collapsing on him every time he drove.

Greek players not named Giannis were 8-of-42 shooting through three (14-of-51, 27.5 percent for the game).

That had the USA up by 17 after three quarters. The Greek squad made a push in the fourth — while sitting Giannis for most of the quarter in one of the more bizarre coaching decisions you’ll ever see (they said it was to rest him for the next game) — it was too little, too late as the USA won comfortably, 69-53.

With the win, Team USA is now 4-0 overall, lead Group K and is on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinal knockout round of the tournament (where they will face France or Australia). The USA still has a game against Brazil in the second round of group play on Monday that they need to win to guarantee advancement, although even if they lose they likely advance (the scenarios where they do not are long shots).

Greek and USA players had words after the game, and there was some tension, although nothing got physical. It stemmed from a late game play when Harrison Barnes made a steal and had a breakaway dunk but Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ brother) tried to make a chase-down block. He missed, and instead Antetokounmpo hit Barnes in the head and fouled him hard, causing Barnes to fly through the camera crews and to the ground several feet off the court. It’s a foul that would have been a clear flagrant — likely flagrant 2 with an ejection — in an NBA game but was just an ordinary foul for FIBA (even after a video review). After the game, Jaylen Brown and Myles Turner seemed to express their displeasure, particularly to Giannis. Marcus Smart was in the middle of it all, too.

That should not overshadow what was one of the better wins for Team USA in this tournament, one where the USA can build some momentum.

Coach Gregg Popovich went with more small ball in this one, with Myles Turner getting 14 minutes at center, but Miles Plumlee only had five, and Brook Lopez did not see the court. For more than half the game the USA went without a traditional center and it worked for them, in part because of Marcus Smart’s defense. It gives us an idea of what we are likely to see when games start to get tight in the knockout rounds, Popovich is going to lean on his athletic backcourt and wings and try to get by with less at the five.

This was not a stellar offensive night for the Americans, who shot 36 percent overall and were 7-of-30 (23 percent) from three. Especially when Kemba Walker sits, the USA struggles to generate consistent offense, although by the second half their ball movement had improved. The Greek defense did a good job collapsing on drivers and getting back to the paint in transition, and the USA did not make them pay with threes.

However, Gregg Popovich has wanted defense to be the USA’s calling card and on Saturday it was, holding the Greeks to 32 percent shooting and never letting Antetokounmpo really take over the game in a way he is capable. Greece was isolating Antetokounmpo on offense at points, trying to get him the ball in the post on others (Smart was among those shutting him down that way), but they don’t use him nearly as wisely as Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks (nor do they have the same shooting around him).

Kemba Walker had 15 points to lead Team USA, Donovan Mitchell added 10, and they were the only two players in double figures for the red, white, and blue. That doesn’t mean other guys didn’t contribute — Harrison Barnes had 9 points and 7 boards, Jaylen Brown had 8 points and 9 rebounds, and Myles Turner had 8 points and 7 rebounds plus got some defensive time on the Greek Freak.

Jayson Tatum did not play in this game. His sprained ankle will be re-evaluated before the Brazil game, but with advancement likely it would be a shock to see him play.

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.