Parker ready for tonight’s Game 3

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker is a go for Game 3 but that doesn’t mean Parker will definitely go, in terms of acceleration.

As Tim Duncan stated earlier, Parker is “a gamer. I guarantee he’ll be out there because that’s the player he is.” Actually, Parker’s presence wasn’t much in doubt; his ability to roam the floor freely without any restriction or pain is in question. He has battled leg injuries for a segment of the season, first the hamstring and lately the quad and Achilles, which caused him to skip the last five minutes of regulation and OT in Game 2 without scoring a basket. Obviously his health is of great importance to the Spurs’ chances of beating the Clippers in this first-round series, let alone repeating as champs.

“Been a tough year,” Parker said. “But nobody cares about that. I’ll be alright.”

A limping Parker conjures up images of last season when he couldn’t finish a pair of playoff series, but the Spurs won without him. There’s a difference this time, though. Parker didn’t get injured until late in those rounds. This time, he’s gimpy right from the start, which puts the Spurs in a bind. If he can’t play at or near his level, that’s asking the Spurs to beat Chris Paul with Patty Mills three more times.

One game, OK. But three?

Mills dropped 18 on the Clippers and was huge in overtime. Also, Duncan turned back the clock with 28 points and 11 rebounds, but had to labor 44 minutes. Essentially, it took a lot for the Spurs to win Game 2, which would’ve gone the Clippers’ way had Blake Griffin not lost a crucial turnover late in regulation (and another in OT).

As if Parker’s problems weren’t enough, the Spurs are getting little from Manu Ginobili, who seems a step slow on the floor and one step quicker toward possible retirement this summer.

Celtics surprised by Rondo’s finish in Dallas


VIDEO: Charles and Kenny are on board with the Mavericks parting ways with Rajon Rondo

BOSTON — Whatever issues led to Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle butting heads in Dallas were somehow avoided in Boston with the Brad Stevens.

Stevens, the Celtics coach, admitted to being a bit surprised that Rondo’s time in Dallas seems to have to come to an ugly finish.

Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the team’s postseason run, technically by a “bad back.” But his conflicts with Carlisle have been well documented, the latest coming in the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss to Houston Tuesday, when Rondo was benched in favor of Ray Felton and J.J. Barea.

Rondo was solid in 22 games with Boston this season before he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a trade exception. He averaged 8.3 points and at the time a league-leading 10.8 assists.

“I felt like Rajon had played really well at the start of the year,” Stevens said. “I had coached him during a really tough time for him, simply because last year he was just coming back from that ACL tear and not having any practice, which is really unique, and so it was just a matter of him getting the feel a little bit better. I was around him a lot this summer. I was around him a lot this fall. He had the unfortunate hand break at the start of the season and it put him a little bit behind again. But I thought he played pretty well here, so yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, a longtime Rondo advocate, admitted his surprise at the drama that’s gone down in Dallas in a local radio (98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich”) show earlier this week:

“I’m very surprised,” Ainge said. “I thought it would be a good fit for the Mavericks and Rajon. I don’t really know what’s going on down there. I read a little bit (Wednesday) and heard some things, but I’m very surprised. I thought it would work out well for both people.”

“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Ainge said. “Rajon was terrific here with coach (Brad) Stevens. I think they got along. The whole question is, Rondo was good this year for us. He worked really hard in the offseason. I really did think it was going to be a big year for him, and Rajon just hasn’t played as well, for whatever reason, as he hoped and as we had hoped and as the Mavericks had hoped.”

Rondo will be a free agent this summer, so he’ll have the opportunity to start somewhere fresh for the 2015-16 season. But this residue of this tumultuous season will no doubt travel with him, wherever he goes.

That said, Carlisle and the Mavericks stand by the deal.

Carlisle told a Dallas radio station Thursday that it was a risky move, but one worth taking.

“In the case of anything, there is risk, but there are risks worth taking,” Carlisle said Thursday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “That trade was a risk worth taking. We all agreed on that. Now, we’re at a point where, hey, it’s time to move on.”

Morning shootaround — April 24


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry sparks Warriors’ wild comeback win | Parker questionable for Game 3 | Carlisle stands by Rondo trade | James give Love another vote of confidence

No. 1: ‘Fearless’ Curry fuels epic Warriors comeback — Years and years from now, perhaps we will all look back on Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans series as the one that sparked Golden State’s title run. Or, if nothing else, the game has already secured a spot as one of the all-time great NBA playoff comebacks. The Warriors climbed from a 20-point hole in to tie (and, eventually, win) Game 3 thanks to the heroics of Stephen Curry and his never-say-die style of play. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group expertly details an amazing game by the Warriors and Curry:

The Warriors won a franchise-record 67 games in the regular season, including a league-leading 28 on the road. But none compares to the one they notched against the Pelicans in Game 3 of their first-round series that the Warriors now lead 3-0.

After dominating for most of the game, the Pelicans left a crack open when Anthony Davis missed a free throw with 9.6 seconds left, giving the Warriors a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer.

Of course the ball went to Curry, and the NBA’s all-time single-season record-holder in such shots missed his first try. Given a second attempt off a Marreese Speights offensive rebound, Curry threw up some magic from the corner as Davis collided into him. Curry pumped his fists after Tyreke Evans‘ 3-point attempt at the buzzer missed.

“You give him two looks at that basket? In the corner?” Warriors forward Draymond Green said incredulously. “Oh man, I knew that was money when it left his hand.”

“To make that shot shows everything that Steph is about,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “On a night when he’s not even having a great shooting performance, his confidence level is just off the charts. He’s fearless.”

“It’s a long game,” Curry said of the comeback. “We just stick with it, and it’s a sweet feeling to get this win after how the whole game went.”

Davis poured in 29 points, and Ryan Anderson added 26 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough. The Warriors can sweep the series with another win in New Orleans on Saturday.

“You can’t sugarcoat it,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com recaps a thrilling Game 3 of the Golden State-New Orleans series

***  

Wizards taking out Toronto guards


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Raptors going down 2-0 to the Wizards at home.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As bad as the Toronto Raptors’ defense was in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Washington Wizards, they’ve also got some things to figure out offensively as they prepare for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

The Raptors ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season. But through two playoff games, they rank 14th. Their offense was much better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1, but not good enough to keep up with their defensive issues.

The problems on defense aren’t getting fixed overnight. The Wizards will continue putting Jonas Valanciunas in situations where he has to move his feet, and he will continue to not move them quickly enough. The Raptors ranked 26th defensively after Thanksgiving, and they’re probably not going to flip the switch on that end of the floor.

So if Toronto is to give themselves a chance in this series by winning Game 3, they have to start looking like a top-five offense again. And to do that, they have to unlock their guards.

It’s no secret that the Raptors’ offense is guard-heavy. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams were not only their three leading scorers by a wide margin, but also their leaders in usage rate (the percentage of a team’s possessions a player uses while he’s on the floor), with another guard – Greivis Vasquez – ranking fourth.

The Wizards know this. The Toronto guards are the head of the snake, and that’s where Washington’s defense has been focused.

Here’s DeRozan being double-teamed in the post…

20150421_dd_post

Here’s Lowry being denied the ball more than 30 feet from the basket…

20150421_kl_deny

And here’s Williams being trapped 10 feet beyond the 3-point line…

20150421_lw_trap

DeRozan and Lowry have each seen a drop in usage rate. Williams’ usage rate has gone up, but the Kia Sixth Man award winner has been forced to … force things. Only 10 (34 percent) of his 29 shots have been uncontested, a drop from 47 percent in the regular season.

The key to beating extra pressure on the perimeter is to pass the ball. But the Raptors aren’t exactly the Spurs in that regard. They averaged just 281 passes per game, a rate that ranked 24th in the league. And they were one of four teams that isolated on more than 10 percent of its possessions.

The Raptors were able to get DeRozan some more space by having him catch the ball on the move and operate one-on-one against Paul Pierce early in Game 2. He also went away from the screen (or just told his screener to back off) to avoid an extra defender.

Here are a few more suggestions for the Raptors to get their guards some more space to operate or take advantage of the perimeter pressure…

1. Catches at the nail

The Raptors can take a lesson from last year’s series against Brooklyn, when the Nets got the ball to Joe Johnson at the middle of the foul line to avoid double-teams in the post. If the ball is in the middle of the floor, it’s difficult to double-team, because the four other offensive players are all just one pass away. There’s a reason why a lot of defenses (the Spurs are a great example) do everything to keep the ball away from the middle of the floor.

A pin-down screen for DeRozan and a catch above the foul line will give him a one-on-one situation, a look similar to this…

20150421_dd_top

The spacing above isn’t ideal, but if you replace Tyler Hansbrough with Patrick Patterson and put him on the left wing, DeRozan would have more room to operate and no Washington defender would be able to offer help without leaving a shooter open at the 3-point line or Jonas Valanciunas open on the baseline.

2. Three-guard lineups

The Raptors’ backcourt goes four deep, with Williams and Vasquez able to make plays off the bench. And they’ve played with three of the four on the floor together for about 60 of the 101 minutes thus far in the series.

Not surprisingly, the offense has been much better (104.3 points scored per 100 possessions) in those minutes than in the minutes with just two guards (83.0). Simple math tells you that if there are three playmakers on the floor, the defense can’t double-team all of them. And if a guy who’s being double-teamed can get rid of the ball quickly, he’ll have at least two teammates who can take advantage of a four-on-three situation.

3. James Johnson

When the opponent defends your pick-and-roll aggressively, it helps to have a screener who can get the ball from the ball-handler and quickly make a play before the defense recovers. See Diaw, Boris.

In Game 1, Amir Johnson was often that release valve for the Raptors and led the team with 18 points as a result. On several possessions in the second quarter of Game 2, the Raptors used James Johnson as the screener and had him attack the rim while the defense was still moving. Here’s an example.

The results would have been OK if Johnson didn’t shoot 0-for-4 from the free throw line. The bigger problem was that the Raptors’ defense was getting scorched at the same time. Johnson was a minus-14 in just seven minutes of action, with the Wizards scoring 26 points on the 15 possessions for which he was on the floor.

James Johnson isn’t nearly the passer that Diaw is, but he is better than Amir Johnson at attacking and scoring. It’s a question of whether or not he can be trusted on the other end of the floor.

4. Hope Lowry is healthy

None of the above matters much if Lowry isn’t close to 100 percent. He’s been dealing with a back issue and then suffered a shin contusion in the fourth quarter of Game 2. He seemingly is lacking both burst off the dribble and lift on his jumper.

The Raptors have a deep backcourt and one of the best benches in the league, but Lowry is still their engine.

Green not defensive about award loss

NEW ORLEANS — Draymond Green figures if a guy can get the most votes and not wind up as the leader of the free world, what right does he have to complain?

The Warriors’ versatile forward and attack dog was philosophical about finishing second to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard for the Kia Defensive Player of the Year balloting, even though he actually received more first-place votes.

“That’s not the end of the world,” Green said at the Warriors Thursday shootaround prior to Game 3 of the playoffs against the Pelicans. “Al Gore won the popular vote and didn’t get elected president, so I’m not gonna sit here and kill myself over not winning Defensive Player of the Year. We’ve got a bigger goal. That’s to win a championship.”

Green, in fact, was magnanimous in his praise of Leonard.

“Congratulations to Kawhi,” he said. “He’s a great defender. Phenomenal defender. He impacts the defensive end just as good as anybody in the league. So congratulations to him.

“Kawhi is what we all strive to be. He’s a champion. So you can’t sit here and beat yourself up or worry about what happened. He’s a champion. How can anybody complain about that?

“Disappointed? Yeah … but to be angry? That man’s a champion and we all strive to be that. You can’t knock that. He’s done that at the highest level. He’s helped carry his team to a championship on the defensive end.”

Collectively, the Warriors expressed more shock that Green was left entirely off the ballot by nearly one-third of the 129 voting members of the media. He was not listed first, second or third on 42 ballots.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed he didn’t win,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “You can’t argue with Kawhi winning. He’s a great player. My only real disappointment is someone just told me that like 20 people left Draymond off the ballot entirely. That’s a little tough to swallow.

“I can understand giving your first-place vote to someone else. But for what Draymond has meant to us this year. We have the No. 1 rated defense in the league, the way the game is played, where you have to guard everybody, that’s what Draymond does. He was the focal point of our defense. So I don’t know how you couldn’t have voted him third, but that’s the way it goes.”

Teammate Stephen Curry agreed.

“Draymond being so close to getting that award, I don’t know how you leave him off the ballot entirely,” he said. “To go through the season and see how we play and his impact on the game and for him not to be on pretty much everybody’s ballot somewhere one, two or three is pretty crazy to me.”

With center Andrew Bogut finishing sixth in the voting, the Warriors did get recognition that they’re about much more than simply firing up 3-pointers.

“I think people who follow the league closely are well aware that defense is really the key to our team and fuels our offense. Bogues had a tremendous season and he’s continued to shine in the playoffs. His rim protection and intelligence with all of coverages, calling out schemes, he’s been really great.”

Green said losing out on the award will not add to his motivation on the court.

“I’m a motivated guy already,” he said. “I don’t need little jabs to motivate me. If anything else motivates me, it’s gonna motivate me the wrong way and then I’ll be too excited, too fired up. I don’t need anymore motivation. I go out here and play basketball, try to win the series and try to move on to the next round. That’s been the goal since Day One.

“I didn’t come into the season with the goal to win Defensive Player of the Year. It would have been great. I’m not gonna sit here and lie and say it wouldn’t have. It definitely would have. But at the end of the day, the goal that I came into the season with is still alive and that’s the most important thing.”


VIDEO: Spurs’ Leonard named Kia Defensive Player of the Year

Pelicans need Anderson to step up


VIDEO: Ryan Anderson talks after Wednesday’s practice

NEW ORLEANS — The Pelicans are counting on their young star Anthony Davis to build on his scant two games of playoff experience to get them back into their first-round series against the Warriors.

The Pelicans are counting on getting an emotional lift from a sellout home crowd at the Smoothie King Center — the first playoff game in New Orleans in four years — to help close the gap in a 2-0 series that has been closer than expected.

The No. 8 seed in the Western Conference will have to count on a much bigger impact from Ryan Anderson to have any real hope of knocking off the No. 1 overall seed of the playoffs.

In the first two games of the series, the Pelicans have not received the boost off the bench that can make a difference from Anderson’s perimeter scoring ability. He’s shot just 2-for-11 for a total of seven points so far in the series, which continues the struggles since returning from a sprained MCL in his right knee that forced Anderson to miss 18 games late in the season.

“I feel like I am and I can be a big scoring threat,” Anderson told the media following Wednesday’s practice. “It has been tough for me to find a rhythm coming back from the knee injury, but that’s no excuse.

Though they’ve been largely unsuccessful in slowing down the whirlwind talent of Davis, the Warriors have attacked Anderson with defensive pressure to prevent him from getting good open looks at the basket. Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes have taken turns getting Anderson out of his comfort zone.

“Obviously I think they are doing a good job of trying to take me out,” Anderson said. “They are putting a smaller guy on me and not leaving me, so It creates an opportunity for me to spread the court and create for my teammates. The few shots I do get, I would like to make them and that’s what I’m working on.”

Coach Monty Williams believes the key to getting his sharpshooting big man untracked is to get Anderson out in transition to get him shots and scoring chances before the Warriors have a chance to set up their defense.

“I feel like if we can take advantage of the stops we’re getting and rebound, we can find him in transition,” Williams said.

Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin, Clippers regret late-game flubs | Pelicans’ Davis turns to Cole | Defense lifts Hawks to 2-0 series lead | Pierce helping Wizards’ youngsters

No. 1: Clippers know they left a win on the table — All the Los Angeles Clippers had to do in the final seconds Wednesday night to claim a 2-0 series lead against the San Antonio Spurs was not turn the ball over. Yet, they did exactly that — and it was Los Angeles’ hero of the night, Blake Griffin, who committed the costly error. Griffin’s turnover wasn’t the only flub that cost L.A. a key playoff win, but it’s one that he will remember for a long time. The Los Angeles TimesBen Bolch has more:

Blake Griffin leaned back as he sat on the court, covered his face with his hands and looked toward the rafters.

It was a moment of exasperation the Clippers star is not likely to forget any time soon.

Griffin lost the ball following a pair of between-the-leg dribbles with his team holding a two-point lead late in regulation Wednesday night, one of a handful of missed opportunities during a momentum-shifting 111-107 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series at Staples Center.

Griffin finished with a triple-double but would surely give away all the dunks and points for a chance to do over the play with 11.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter that helped the Spurs deadlock the series at one game apiece.

Game 3 will be Friday in San Antonio.

“That game’s pretty much 100% on me,” said Griffin, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in addition to five turnovers. “I got the ball up two, I needed to take care of it and get a good shot or get fouled and I turned it over. That’s what’s on my mind.”

Griffin certainly wasn’t the only Clippers culprit. DeAndre Jordan made six of 17 free throws and Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford combined to make two of 13 three-pointers, but Griffin’s play will be the one that probably will haunt the Clippers most.

“We’ve got to finish,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who missed a 19-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left in regulation that could have put his team ahead. “We’ve been talking about it all season long. We had an opportunity to win a game, go up 2-0 and we didn’t take full advantage of it.”

The Clippers appeared as if they might have secured the victory when Matt Barnes then stole a pass from the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli, but Griffin lost the handle on the ball while dribbling and Paul was forced to foul Patty Mills on a fastbreak, his free throws forcing the overtime.

“It was a switch and we had been running that play all game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “We got [Griffin] to the elbow and they made a good play. The guy [Boris Diaw] popped it loose and they went down and made two free throws, so give them credit.”

“It’s tough, but we have to get past it,” Paul said. “We can’t go back there and play it over again. It’s 1-1 and we know we have to go win a game there.”


VIDEO: Wild sequence marks end of regulation in Game 2 of Clippers-Spurs

***  

Durant reacts to firing of Scott Brooks

NBA.com Staff Reports


VIDEO: Aldridge on firing of Scott Brooks

Kevin Durant took to Instagram to share his thoughts on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s firing of coach Scott Brooks on Wednesday:

Thank you Scotty!

A photo posted by Kevin Durant (@easymoneysniper) on

Brooks spent seven seasons as coach of the Thunder to post a record of 338-207, including three trips to the Western Conference Finals and one to the NBA Finals in 2012.

Brooks Firing Shakes Pelicans’ Williams

NEW ORLEANS — The news of Scott Brooks’ firing in Oklahoma City hit Monty Williams hard and maybe with very good reason.

The Pelicans coach had to at least wonder that if things turned out differently on the final night of the regular season, it might have been him getting shown the door.

Williams’ team beat the defending champion Spurs in Game 82 to clinch the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs by virtue of a tie-breaker over Brooks’ Thunder.

So when word came down Wednesday that Brooks had been let go by OKC, Williams was visibly shaken, according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“I just heard, it’s really tough,” Williams said. “Scott is a really good coach. Anytime one of your colleagues goes down like that, you feel bad for he and his family. Just a tough situation, that’s all I want to say right now.”

The Pelicans and Thunder finished the season with matching records of 45-37, but New Orleans earned the playoff berth by virtue of a 3-1 win in the head-to-head season series that included a February road win at OKC in February when Anthony Davis hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

There rumors circulating throughout the final days of the season that Williams was under make-or-break pressure from team management to reach the playoffs in order to keep his job.

In five seasons coach the Pelicans, Williams is 173-221 (.439). He has one more season remaining on his current contract.

There is still no definitive word on the playing status of Pelicans guards Jrue Holiday for Game 3 against the Warriors on Thursday night. Holiday, who is coming back from a stress fracture in his lower right leg suffered in January, did not play in Game 2 at Oakland, but got in extra work following the team practice on Wednesday.

Guard Tyreke Evans, who suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in Game 1 of the series, gutted out a 16-points, 10-rebound, seven-assist effort in the Game 2 loss, has said he’ll continue playing through the pain.

Back injury continues to sideline Lee


VIDEO: The Warriors likely will be without David Lee for Game 3

The declining role of David Lee in the Warriors rotation has turned into a complete non-presence in the playoffs as Lee battles a strained lower back that kept him out the first two games against the Pelicans and is also expected to keep him out when the series resumes Thursday in New Orleans.

There is no timetable for Lee’s return, only word from coach Steve Kerr on Monday that “his back is getting better and he’s making improvement.” Draymond Green, who succeeded Lee as the starting power forward this season, has played 42 minutes both times as Golden State built a 2-0 lead, although that is more a function of how invaluable Green has become, especially on defense, than a depth-chart problem.

“I ask Draymond if he’s tired, and if he says no, I leave him in,” Kerr said. “If he says yes, I leave him in. It’s a very scientific approach.”

The absence of a rotation big man is a development, though, anytime Anthony Davis plays for the other team, a sign the Warriors would want to keep reinforcements ready. And if Golden State turns the 2-0 lead into a series victory, the next opponent will be either the Grizzlies (with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol up front) or the Trail Blazers (with LaMarcus Aldridge). Lee could become important at some point, even if the All-Star as recently as 2013 had been getting occasional DNP-CDs the final five weeks of the regular season and hadn’t logged more than 20 minutes since April 2.

In all, Lee averaged 18.4 minutes, a drop from the 33.2 minutes of 2013-14 and a third consecutive season of decline. The 18.4 is the second-lowest of his career, after the 16.9 as a rookie in 2005-06.

Also on the Golden State-New Orleans front as the series shifts to Louisiana:

*Even with the Pelicans searching for offense after 42.2 and 37.8 percent from the field the first two games, resulting in 99 and 87 points, Ryan Anderson played just nine minutes Monday in Oakland while missing four of five attempts to drop to 18.2 for the series. It was another sign of Green’s defensive prowess and of how many among the Warriors’ versatile lineup — Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala — can render stretch fours done.

“Ryan hasn’t shot the ball well this series, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play the next game,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “He’s got to be ready to go out there and do what he does.”

*The Warriors have a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time since the first round in 1989 against the Jazz.

*Tyreke Evans went from being a game-time decision Monday because of a bruised knee to playing 41 minutes, a big effort that helped the Pelicans again threaten the Warriors in the fourth quarter. Evans missed nine of 13 shots, but had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists without a turnover.

“And I thought his defense was pretty good, too,” Williams said. “Harrison tried to drive on him early and Tyreke blocked his shot. We were much better with our switches (Monday) and a lot of it was due to him being on the floor, because he’s so doggone strong that you just can’t run through Tyreke. He’s about 230.”