Bryn Forbes

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, Tim Duncan takes over coaching, Spurs still fall to Trail Blazers

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SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan was back in charge in San Antonio and the Spurs were flourishing under his leadership again.

Duncan was directing players on defensive assignments, encouraging them and providing needed leadership. But in the end, he couldn’t provide the same late-game heroics from the bench that he long did on the court.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Spurs 121-116 on Saturday night to spoil Duncan’s first shot at coaching following Gregg Popovich’s ejection.

Duncan took over just 13 games into his first season as an assistant coach. Popovich was ejected after walking onto the court to berate official Jason Goldenberg over a non-call. Popovich calmly walked off the court following his first ejection of the season (you can see it in the video above).

On Twitter, this led to a debate as people tried to figure out who took over as coach. Assistant Coach Becky Hammon ran one time out, but it was Duncan — the assistant coach assigned to scout Portland on the staff — who was the main man. Duncan, Hammon and Will Hardy coached by committee, but it was Duncan calling the plays and screaming out instruction.

“It was cool,” Spurs guard Bryn Forbes said. “It didn’t really feel like a huge difference. I think he did a good job. He took control. He helped lead us to a big lead.”

Popovich was asked if he considered having Becky Hammon take over to make history as the first woman to lead an NBA team.

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds but the Spurs lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-8.

Damian Lillard added 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 21 points for Portland (5-8), which rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a four-game skid in San Antonio.

“We’ve blown leads before, so we kind of know what to expect,” McCollum said. “Once you do it, you’ve got to stay grounded, focus on the little stuff.”

Before the game, Popovich said coaching could only go so far and it was up to each player to take responsibility for his own mistakes and performance during this losing streak. Popovich put that responsibility squarely on the Spurs when he was ejected early in the third quarter.

McCollum had 23 of his points in the first half.

Bryn Forbes added 17 points and DeRozan and Rudy Gay added 16 apiece.

 

Three Things to Know: Trash-talking Rockets get 47 from James Harden, beat Clippers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Trash-talking Rockets get 47 from James Harden, beat Clippers. Dear basketball gods: Can you please arrange a Clippers vs. Rockets playoff series? We’d all appreciate that down here. Thanks.

There are no statement games in November, but after the Rockets 102-93 win against the Clippers Wednesday a lot of statements were being made. An intense, emotional game led to a lot of trash talk on the court that spilled over into the locker rooms afterward. These teams do not like each other — and that makes it fun. The basketball gods need to give us more of this.

Everyone was getting in on the act.

Russell Westbrook trash-talked Patrick Beverley’s defense.

Let’s put aside the irony of Westbrook calling out another players’ defensive effort for a second, he’s just wrong. It’s just not factually accurate. Beverley is a good defender and ESPN’s stats guys have the proof

The best trash-talking of the night came from Austin Rivers.

The younger Rivers should forever be grateful to his Dad for that oversized three-year, $35 million contract, but when Doc Rivers got into it with the officials, the younger Rivers urged quick-trigger Tony Brothers to go over and toss his dad out. And Brothers did. That’s when Austin waved off his dad and made the call-me gesture

(Just for the record, Doc had a point. After a failed attempt to call a challenge — Rivers took longer than 30 seconds to do so — he said two referees told him the Clippers had two timeouts. After he used one, Rivers was told that was his last one. If the officials indeed screwed up his timeouts, he should have been pissed.)

There was basketball, too — and James Harden was better at it than anybody.

Harden’s 47 pushed his per-game average over his last five to 41.6 per game. More importantly, he got his buckets when his teams needed them — he scored 17 points in the final six minutes (and did it against Kawhi Leonard and Beverley). Even with elite defenders to match up the Clippers started throwing double-teams at Harden, it just didn’t matter.

Thanks to Harden, the Rockets executed down the stretch. The Clippers did not. Los Angeles’ first half was sloppy and listless, their worst half of the season. They missed bunnies and open threes all night. Los Angeles climbed back with a good third and led at 83-80, but the Clippers offensive execution and shot selection down the stretch was poor.

Leonard finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists, but P.J. Tucker did an excellent job keeping him in check — Leonard 4-of-10 for 10 points with Tucker as the primary defender, according to the NBA.com matchup data.

If these teams meet in the playoffs next spring, this November meeting will be ancient history. Both teams will have evolved and be different by then (the Clippers will be different on Thursday night in New Orleans when they get Paul George back). However, the tone was set. And we want more of it.

2) Ja Morant does not play like a rookie, hits game-winner against Hornets. Sure, Ja Morant brings some freakish athleticism to the point guard position in Memphis. But what is really impressive is the poise he brings — he does not look like a rookie coming out of a small college.

He looks like a beast who can hit game-winners – which he did against Charlotte.

Morant finished with 23 points and 11 assists.

He did all that in 30 minutes — the Grizzlies wisely continue to manage his workload this season, limiting him to 30 minutes a game (with some nights off). This is absolutely the right thing to do. When we talk about the science of “load management” what we’re talking about is the cumulative impacts of numerous seasons of running up and down a hardwood floor — starting in AAU/High School and running up to the NBA — and how that wears a body down and leads to injury.

Ja Morant is getting plenty of minutes, plenty of chances to learn and make mistakes, and he is closing out games (obviously). But he’s still thin and his body’s still adapting to the grind of the NBA. If you have a franchise cornerstone player — and the Grizzlies believe they have one in Morant — why wouldn’t you take steps early to lengthen his career and effectiveness? Why would you ramp up the miles on his odometer during a 24-win season? The Grizzlies are making the right long-term play (especially after watching their prized rookie from a season ago, Jaren Jackson Jr., have to miss the end of the season with an injury).

3) Is Orlando interested in DeMar DeRozan? Makes sense. Are the Spurs going to trade him is another question. An interesting early-season trade rumor popped up via our friend Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer:

The Orlando Magic have interest in trading for the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan.

For Orlando, this makes a lot of sense. The Magic’s offense has been dreadful this season, scoring less than a point per possession so far. They need a guy who can get buckets, and DeRozan can do that. From the midrange, sure, but the guy scores efficiently and raises the floor of your team —get DeRozan the rock and your team will have a respectable offense. Orlando needs that.

The question becomes, what do the Spurs want to do? Good luck with that one. DeRozan can opt out of the $27.7 million he is owed next season and become a free agent next July, and the Spurs talks with DeRozan about an extension went nowhere. Conventional wisdom in that kind of situation is to trade the player and at least get something for him before he walks. The Spurs, however, do not follow conventional wisdom. The Spurs are going to be a fringe playoff team in the West and may want to keep the band together and make a push for the postseason. Maybe they want to start rebuilding around a young backcourt of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White, but would they really trade DeRozan to jump start that? Maybe. Maybe not.

Just consider this the start of what will be a lot of trade rumors this season — with a very down free agent class next summer, teams will be turning to trades to upgrade their rosters.

Rumor: Orlando Magic interested in trade for DeMar DeRozan

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Nobody around the league is quite sure what direction the San Antonio Spurs are going to head next.

Most teams, when they are hanging around the fringes of the playoffs with a couple of older stars playing an old-school style — LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan — would look to retool. San Antonio has young talent such as Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White, they could take a step back and start to rebuild around them.

But the Spurs are the Spurs. Maybe they keep the band together and scramble up the board to the seven or eight seed, keeping their historic playoff streak alive.

Or, maybe, after failed attempts to reach a contract extension with DeRozan, they trade him at the deadline and look to the future. If they do that, the Orlando Magic are interested, reports Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer.

DeRozan can become a free agent in 2020 by declining his $27.7 million player option… The Spurs could always deal him sooner rather than let him walk for nothing. Multiple league sources say the Magic are scouring the trade market for scoring help and have already expressed interest in trading for DeRozan.

It would surprise none of the front-office executives I’ve spoken with if the Spurs did move DeRozan.

That’s a lot of speculation from executives outside the Spurs organization, thinking about what they would do in the Spurs shoes. Popovich and R.C. Buford rarely follow that kind of conventional wisdom. Predicting what they will do is next is like predicting the weather in Denver. Good luck with that.

It’s easy to see why Orlando — a team that thought it would be back in the playoffs but has started 3-7 — would have interest in DeRozan. The Magic’s troubles are on offense, where they are scoring less than a point per possession this season, and DeRozan is a “just add water and instant offense” kind of player. He’d fit in perfectly, even if it was just a rental for the rest of this season.

Keep an eye on this going forward, but right now the Spur are more likely evaluating what they are going to do next — trade DeRozan or make a playoff push with him — rather than moving on to the next step.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets hold off Spurs 90-86 to win Game 7, advance to next round

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had another triple-double, Jamal Murray hit a clutch floater with 36.8 seconds remaining and the Denver Nuggets held off the San Antonio Spurs 90-86 in Game 7 on Saturday night to advance in the postseason for the first time in a decade.

In a matchup between a Denver team with the youngest playoff roster in the West and the savvy Spurs, the second-seeded Nuggets built a 17-point lead in the third quarter only to see it whittled down to two with 52 seconds remaining.

Jokic finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, with no pass bigger than the one to set up Murray’s floater. DeMar DeRozan had a chance to slice into the deficit but was blocked by Torrey Craig.

Then, the Spurs couldn’t hear coach Gregg Popovich screaming for a foul over the noise and the Nuggets were able to essentially run out the clock.

“It took everybody,” Murray said. “Most of all it took the fans. … It’s a great feeling, an amazing feeling. We’re having a lot of fun. We’re one group. We’re united.”

Since making the Western Conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets have bowed out in the first round on four occasions. This was their first playoff appearance in six seasons.

Denver will host third-seeded Portland in a series that begins Monday.

Murray added 23 points for the Nuggets, who captured a Game 7 for the first time since May 3, 1978, when David Thompson had 37 in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Nuggets never trailed Saturday and it was far from easy.

“Anxiety is a good word,” coach Michael Malone joked.

Rudy Gay had 21 points for San Antonio, while DeRozan and Bryn Forbes each added 19. The Spurs fell to 3-4 in Games 7s under Gregg Popovich.

Jokic turned in another monster game. Jokic showed off his arsenal of shots, even throwing in a sky hook. He played a little more than 43 minutes – just slightly down from the 48 minutes Malone pledged to play him in pregame.

Jokic also had a triple-double in Game 1.

“He’s magnificent, magnificent,” Popovich said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

Denver went an NBA-best 34-7 at home in the regular season and rode the energy of the crowd.

It was a forgettable first half for the Spurs, who trailed 47-34 after shooting 22.2% from the floor.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard eliminates Thunder

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard drops 50, game-winning three to eliminate Thunder. Paul George — the best perimeter defender in the NBA this past season, a guy who likely lands top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — was on him. Didn’t matter. On a night when Oklahoma City was playing with a sense of desperation because their playoff lives were on the line, a night when George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points on 51 shots, plus 20 rebounds and 17 assists, it didn’t matter.

Because Lillard. Words do not do him or the moment justice. Just watch the game winner, which got him to 50 points on the night.

Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder. That shot gave Portland the 4-1 series win.

It wasn’t one “bad” shot which did in the Thunder, it was OKC’s bad shooting.

The other hero of the night — and in this series — for Portland was big man Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder Tuesday to have 13 points and 13 rebounds. More impressively, he played solid defense for much of the series (even if OKC didn’t drag him into enough pick-and-rolls).

Portland advances to the second round, where they will likely face…

2) The Denver Nuggets look like a team that has figured out Spurs, playoffs, take command for 3-2 series lead. Denver has won the last two games against San Antonio by a combined 42 points, and that makes it sound closer than it has actually felt.

Denver is the more talented team on paper in this series, but the question was would their lack of experience allow them to show it against a franchise that considers deep playoff runs part of its birthright. It took a few games for the Nuggets to get the confidence they needed that they could win this series, but now that they have it — now that they have figured this series out — Denver has taken command.

Tuesday was a 109-90 rout of the Spurs that has the Nuggets up 3-2 in the series. San Antonio is going home to try to force a Game 7, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their level of play.

Two things have helped Denver separate from San Antonio.

One is Nikola Jokic, who is impacting every aspect of this game and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists as the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump,” Jamal Murray joked after the game.

The other difference was the coaching move of this series (maybe of the playoffs thus far): Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig into the starting lineup and moving Will Barton to the bench. It changed the Denver defense: Craig is doing a solid job on DeMar DeRozan, it shifted Gary Harris onto the young Derrick White and Craig has won that battle, while Murray can now hide on Bryn Forbes. Craig has not been a drag on the Denver offense as predicted, Barton was not happy about the move to the sixth man but has played well and handled it like a pro, and Denver has overwhelmed San Antonio for two straight games.

Gregg Popovich will have adjustments, but what he and the Spurs need more to force a Game 7 is a role player to break out and change the momentum of this series.

3) Toronto, Philadelphia both advance to face off next round after blowout Game 5 wins. The Eastern Conference playoffs were always really going to start in the second round, with a rock/paper/scissors battle of four teams — Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston — all of whom can make a claim they can come out of the conference.

Tuesday night Toronto and Philadelphia closed out their series with easy wins to set up a second-round showdown between the teams.

Toronto dropped Game 1 of this series then took command the rest of the way, winning 115-96 on Tuesday in a game that was never close.

Kawhi Leonard had 27 to lead the way.

Sixers fans enjoyed letting Jared Dudley have it.

Philly got up 21 in the first quarter and cruised to a 122-100 victory. The Sixers got pushed some by the Nets, which is a good thing because Toronto is going to push a lot harder.