Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Durant can’t let them see him sweat

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The TNT crew breaks down Game 2 and previews Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series

Kevin Durant talked all season about rising as a leader. So now is not the time for you to let them see you sweat, Mr. soon-to-be-named league MVP.

Durant allowed frustration to get the better of him during and after Monday night’s Game 2 overtime home loss to the seventh-seeded Grizzlies. He scored 36 points, but nothing came easy. He was 12-for-28 with Grizzlies stopper Tony Allen again applying velcro defense. After the 111-105 defeat, Durant, through slumping body language and dismissive speech, presented an air of fatalism instead of optimism, confidence and determination.

Seated at a dais alongside Russell Westbrook, Durant slouched in his chair, his head hung and shoulders folded inward. He purposefully lowered his voice into the microphone to a barely audible level. One of the more insightful players in the league offered, purposefully, mostly curt, short answers to questions he seemed to deem beneath him. On occasion he sniped back at reporters.

It wasn’t a good look.

If Allen and the Grizzlies didn’t already believe they had Durant flustered by their defensive clamp-job, all they need to do is watch his postgame performance. Durant failed to follow his own words of wisdom spoken just prior to Game 1.

“I always tell myself to be a great leader, a great encourager and a great teammate and everything else will fall right after that,” Durant said.

Frustration is understandable. Allen is again proving to be the most effective Durant antidote in the game. He did it as a mostly fourth-quarter stopper in last year’s semifinal series the Grizzlies won in five games with OKC missing Westbrook. Even with Westbrook back, Durant’s operating space remains as cramped as an airplane lavatory.

“He’s in your face,” Durant, the league’s runaway scoring champion, said. “He’s a smaller guy and smaller guys, when you guard bigger guys you try to get up under him a little bit. I’ve been playing against him for a while. He’s the toughest guy in the league for anybody because he’s so quick and he’s strong. But I just got to rely on my teammates and rely on my work I put in and I’ll be all right.”

Durant didn’t get much help from his teammates in Game 2, an aspect the Thunder will have to address before Thursday’s Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Westbrook was 11-for-28 from the field and forced far too many shots. The bench was unusually impotent with Reggie Jackson failing to make a field goal and Caron Butler going 1-for-4 from the floor.

At least twice during the game Durant expressed frustration with his own team. Early on he glared at Serge Ibaka as play continued and said, “Give me the ball,” after Ibaka had instead passed out an offensive rebound to Jackson standing at the opposite wing from Durant.

Late in the game, Durant flailed his arms and made a B-line to coach Scott Brooks after Brooks called a timeout just as Westbrook had grabbed control of a loose ball at a critical juncture and was gaining speed the other way for a potential transition scoring opportunity.

“No, that wasn’t a key play,” Durant said afterward. “We got a great stop, it looked like a jump ball and coach wanted to be the first one to call a timeout. It wasn’t a turning point in the game. It wasn’t why we lost.”

Durant on Monday described his inner-sanctum as “peaceful,” though the load he shoulders is fraught with pressure. His remarkable regular season included performances and streaks that haven’t been accomplished since Michael Jordan and because of it the MVP trophy is virtually unanimously believed to be his. Now everybody expects him to take the next step and lead the Thunder to the championship, or at least get the chance to avenge their 2012 Finals loss to LeBron James and the Heat.

If not, the pre-title scrutiny that dogged LeBron will ramp up and the undying rhetoric regarding his and Westbrook’s compatibility will heat up all summer long.

All the Thunder has to do is win one in Memphis and they regain control of a series they already knew would be challenging, regardless of seeding.

Durant, 25, has been the game’s most devastating player all season long. Now is not the time to let them see him sweat.

The best advice for him is to simply follow his own words.

“I feel great. I’ve seen it all in the playoffs, throughout the regular season,” Durant said at the start of the series. “Teams are going to try to beat me up, but I’m ready for it. I always feel comfortable because I feel comfortable with myself, I feel comfortable with my game. I’m not the strongest guy, I’m not the quickest or fastest, but I just feel comfortable with myself and I know what I can do out there on the floor.”

For Mavs, line of demarcation is 3

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs vs. Spurs, Game 2 preview

SAN ANTONIO – When Danny Green plays the Dallas Mavericks, he thinks fireworks. He kills Dallas from beyond the 3-point arc like no other team with a career-best 33 long balls in 12 regular-season games. Twenty-six of those 3s (on just 39 attempts) have come in the last two seasons, which includes him going 12-for-20 vs. the Mavs in four games this season.

So when Green got off just one 3-point attempt, and missed it, in the San Antonio Spurs’ skin-of-their-teeth Game 1 victory Sunday, it came as a significant surprise. The Mavs’ defensive strategy of switching coverages and chasing Green and the Spurs’ other sharpshooters — who averaged 10.5 made 3s on 24.3 attempts against Dallas this season — mostly worked. The Spurs, No. 1 in the league in 3-point percentage, went 3-for-17 in Game 1 with Manu Ginobili accounting for all three.

Just two weeks ago, the Spurs bombarded the Mavs with 16 made 3-pointers, a combined 11 from Green and Patty Mills, in a win at Dallas.

Where the pick-your-poison strategy narrowly backfired on Dallas was opening the middle for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to work mismatches. Those two combined for 48 points with heavy damage inflicted in the paint, the difference in the 90-85 win.

But, as Dirk Nowitzki said after Game 1: “I guess two points is better than three points.”

The Spurs, who have won 10 consecutive games against the Mavs, enter tonight’s Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) anticipating that their neighbor to the north will again live and die by the same strategy.

“In regular season they didn’t switch as much, they’re playing pick-and-roll defense a lot differently,” Green said. “That’s the main difference in everything they’ve done defensively and that’s kind of slowed us up. I think the biggest thing is getting stops and just running; running and cutting and moving more.”

The Spurs’ assist number provide evidence of that slowing up. San Antonio is a precision-passing team and led the league in assists (25.2 apg) during the regular season. They had just 14 on 35 baskets in Game 1. The 90 points was the Spurs’ lowest output since using a makeshift lineup in a 96-86 loss at Chicago on Jan. 29.

“Regardless of what kind of defense they play,” Green said, “we have to continue to play how we play and that’s attack, drive-and-kick and find each other and make the extra pass.”

Both teams have had two days to reassess their options. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, named Coach of the Year for the third time Tuesday, was predictably coy as to how he expects Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to tweak his defensive approach, if at all.

“We’ll play the game and then find out what’s going on,” Popovich said. “No sense guessing.”

Blogtable: The Pacers, back in biz?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: The Pacers used a 19-0 run in the third and fourth quarters to dump Atlanta in Game 2

> Was Tuesday just a good blip in a bad month, or did the Pacers finally rediscover their mojo?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Blip. C’mon, even the crowd at a sold-out Target Center in Minnesota doesn’t cry “Wolf!” the way the Pacers have over the past month. Their funk-slash-tailspin was over, we were told, when they beat Chicago at home. Then it was over when they beat Miami. Wait, no, it finally ended when they (barely) seized the No. 1 seed. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Their performance in the series opener against the Hawks — on the heels of a reported Lance Stephenson-Evan Turner practice fight — still carries more weight than Tuesday’s Game 2 face-saver. Let’s see how Indiana does in Atlanta in the next two. Only if they now take this series in convincing fashion, the way a No. 1 is supposed to over a No. 8, will they get any credit for mojo from me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: One game does not mojo make. I still expect the Pacers to beat the Hawks in this series, but things have got to settle down considerably in that locker room and on the court before I can put Indiana back in the elite mix with the Heat, Spurs and Thunder to win it all.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comWho knows? In their final 12 regular-season games Indiana was 5-7 but two of those wins came against Miami and Oklahoma City. We know they’re capable. The eighth-seeded Hawks — hey, they play hard, no doubt — should be fodder. So we’ll see.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI have to go with good blip until proven otherwise. Can it be a step toward rediscovering their mojo? Absolutely. Are the Pacers still capable of getting back to the team that could challenge Miami in the East? Yes. But the finish to the regular season and the very start of the playoffs was so bad that Indy is a group with everything to prove. No benefit of the doubt anymore.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comA really good blip in a bad month for Paul George and Luis Scola. I think we’re still waiting for the Pacers to rediscover their collective mojo, so to speak. The Pacers have to finish off the Hawks before I’m ready to pronounce them cured from whatever has ailed them since the All-Star break. You don’t stink up the place for the better part of two months and come out smelling like roses after a good third quarter.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Just as one loss does not make a streak, neither does one win. There sure were signs of life, though, like the way George Hill played, on both ends of the court. Just as obvious, however, were signs that the Pacers still have plenty of things to fix. Like when Lance Stephenson was subbed out and he went and sulked in the corner. Or when Paul George hit a last-second three at the end of the third quarter to go up 14, and the Pacers reacted as though they’d just won the NBA Finals. Or when their All-Star center Roy Hibbert finished with six points and four rebounds playing mostly against a 31-year-old rookie. It was a good win, to be sure, and one the Pacers will definitely be glad to have in the books. But let’s not go jumping to any conclusions because they won a home game against the No. 8-seed.

Blogtable: On the Grizz’s grit

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Thunder in OKC in Game 2 of their first-round series

> After that win in OKC, are you ready to pick the gritty Grizzlies over the Thunder?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not ready. Which is not to say I didn’t find Memphis’ survival in its overtime Game 2 victory to be thoroughly impressive. There were repeated opportunities for the Grizzlies to crack (and potentially have Mike Conley go into some guilt-ridden funk for some late-game mishaps), but they navigated around them. Hey, Z-Bo happened. Still, OKC has so much talent in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook it can win almost in spite of itself most nights. I’m headed to Memphis for Games 3 and 4, while hoping we get 5, 6 and 7 too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Who exactly was it at Overreaction Central that thought the Thunder were going to sweep every game into The Finals? The Grizzles are rough and rugged and are never easy to beat.  But OKC had the second-best (25-16) road record in the West and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are still too much. Things will be bruising at the Grind House, but the Thunder survive.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Pick the Grizzlies? No. It was one game. Memphis with Tayshaun Prince initially and then Tony Allen, does have a way of frustrating Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook can’t keep launching bad shots — good luck with all that — but the Thunder remain the more talented team. Sweeps are hard to come by and there’s no reason to think Memphis can’t take this to six games. But pick them to win it? Nah.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Still going Thunder. Because I think the previous 82 games mean something and because I think OKC also knows a lot about grit. It played through big injuries, still sees defense as the base of the success and developed young players while finishing with the second-best record in the West. I like the matchup for the Thunder, too. It’s not just tale of the tape with regular-season records.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. And it’s not because the Grizzlies aren’t great. They are. They’re better than what we should expect from a No. 7 seed. But they also had an uncharacteristically good shooting game from the perimeter on Monday and, more importantly, Oklahoma City is better. They’re the No. 2 seed for a reason, they’re strong on both ends of the floor, and they’ll find a way to loosen Tony Allen’s clamp on Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nope. Not yet, at least. But I am feeling like we have a seven-gamer on our hands for sure. The Grizzlies will pound you into submission with their defense, especially on the perimeter. And they wore the Thunder down and made sure that they had to work for every shot, good and bad (and Naismith knows, the Thunder get up plenty of both), the entire night. That’s a recipe for a Game 7 in OKC that I think we’d all enjoy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: The Grizz looked pretty good, to be sure, but for large stretches of the game, the Thunder weren’t really rumbling. The Thunder had their usual array of self-created obstacles to overcome, like Scott Brooks stopping a late 3-on-2 break with a timeout, or like when they needed a 2 to tie with the game on the line and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get the ball to the presumptive MVP of the league, Kevin Durant. That said, these are fixable problems, and I think the Thunder should be able to take care of these things.

Blogtable: Flukes and real wins

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: TNT’s Marty Snider looks ahead to the Blazers-Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday in Houston

> Playoff-opening win that’s more likely a harbinger: the Warriors in L.A. or the Blazers in Houston? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look at Mr. Blogtable, dropping words like “harbinger.” OK, I’ll play along: You mean precursor, foreboder and bellwether of what we can expect as each series plays out? Forced to choose, I’ll go with Portland. The Clippers already have fired back against Golden State, in a big way. Their talent level is superior, when accounting for both ends, and L.A. has been seen as a legit contender to reach The Finals. Few have argued that Houston can go that far. The Rockets’ gap vs. the Blazers is narrow and LaMarcus Aldridge might just prove he’s better than both Blake Griffin and Kevin Love among elite power forwards by the time these playoffs end. I still don’t think either the Warriors or the Blazers will advance, but as far as putting the bigger scare into its foe and possibly pulling off the upset, yeah, gimme Portland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWarriors winning. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 46 points, James Harden missed 20 shots and the Blazers still won by just two points in overtime. That will be tough to repeat three more times. Golden State goes home for next two and Steph Curry hasn’t heated up yet.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Blazers in Houston, no question. The Warriors without Andrew Bogut should not be an even match against the Clippers and I think we saw that in Game 2 with Blake Griffin being allowed to actually play. The Clips are by no means perfect, but this is a team that is getting better the longer they play together. As for Houston, losing that late lead is the same kind of stuff they pulled early in the regular season so that’s a bad sign. Portland has more weapons. Damian Lillard can hang with James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a far more offensively skilled player than Dwight Howard. Now, this should be a great series, and a long one, but I like the Blazers’ chances. They secured the all-important road split and nobody likes to play at their place no longer named the Rose Garden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Now you’re forcing a lot of people to look up the definition of harbinger. Anyway, the Blazers in Houston. I don’t think the short-handed Warriors are capable of winning the series, though they probably don’t hate the skepticism. But Portland went in with a real shot against the Rockets. Game 1 was just the affirmation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: This is unfair, because we’ve already seen Part 2 of one of these movies. But Portland’s Game 1 win in Houston could certainly foreshadow the rest of the series, because LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will continue to be tough matchups for the Rockets, especially if Patrick Beverley isn’t 100 percent. If they choose to double-team Aldridge, Portland’s shooters will get better looks. If they choose to use Omer Asik more, their own offense will suffer. James Harden will play better, but Houston’s defense might not.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with the Blazers in Houston. The 4-5 matchup on both sides of the conference divide in a given year always seem to provide a pretty fair fight. But this one has some serious issues for the Rockets to deal with in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. After fighting the good fight for Dwight Howard the past couple of years, I’m starting to agree with the masses (well, the talking heads at TNT and NBA TV) that he’s no longer the force of nature he was earlier in his career. And if he’s not, that means the Rockets don’t have two stars that can match the Blazers’ two stars.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I feel like the Blazers in Houston was the truer picture of what that series could be. Mainly because the Blazers/Rockets Game 1 was both teams at the fullest of their powers. We were one extra-session Harden jumper from this game going into infinite overtimes. But to me that opening Clippers/Warriors game was one of the worst games I’ve seen Los Angeles play in the last few weeks. Blake Griffin was in foul trouble throughout (he finished with 16 points in 19 minutes) and how often do you see Chris Paul with a 4:3 assist-to-turnover ratio? Even with all that, the Clips still were in the game down the stretch and nearly pulled off the win.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew examines Golden State’s problems in Game 2

Pop led Spurs out of Finals doldrums

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich accepts his third Coach of the Year award

SAN ANTONIO – Last summer was unlike any of the previous 17 in Gregg Popovich‘s career as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. The long days passed, but the doldrums from the Spurs’ heartbreaking Finals defeat to Miami bogged down like a stagnant lake in the Texas heat.

The 2013 championship was right there, 28 seconds from glory for a proud San Antonio franchise, the model of the NBA if not professional sports as a whole. But everybody knows what happened next. Popovich lived with it every day thereafter until he finally could not any longer, when the players returned to begin, somehow, a brand new season.

“The way we lost in the Finals wasn’t an ordinary loss; it was pretty devastating,” Popovich said Tuesday afternoon at the Spurs’ practice facility as he received the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year trophy. “And we decided that we would just face that right off the bat at the beginning of the season and get it out of the way; don’t blame it on the basketball gods or bad fortune or anything like that. The Miami Heat beat us and won the championship and that’s that, and you move on. In all of our lives there are many things more important than winning and losing basketball games and that’s the perspective we had to take. And our team showed great maturity and resilience in being able to do that, so I’m very proud of them for that.”

Their resiliency also came during a period of transition on the bench. Popovich’s longtime aids, Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer, became head coaches.

But nothing seems to phase this group. With Manu Ginobili turning 36 over the summer and Tim Duncan celebrating his 38th birthday on Friday, neither had to return, or return in better shape than they finished the previous season. When this season could finally have been the one that signaled the inevitable descent it seems has been predicted for the past half-dozen seasons, the Spurs won 62 games, the second-most of Popovich’s 18-year career and earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with the league’s top record.

With the Spurs, everything is a collective effort. They win together, lose together and plan how to win again together.

“We’re fortunate,” Popovich said. “These guys don’t care about stats, they only care about winning basketball games. You might get a championship, you might not, but you give it your best effort. But these guys could all have better stats. I play them for 29 or 30 minutes a game in their careers and their stats suffer because of it, but that sacrifice helps our entire team. and this year, whatever adversity we had — every team has adversity — but our bench really helped us through that. We would not have had the same success without what our bench did. I think that and the leadership that our older players showed helped us get through the hard times.”

In accepting his third Coach of the Year trophy, joining only Pat Riley and Don Nelson as three-time winners, Popovich spoke sincerely. He praised owner Peter Holt for granting he and general manager R.C. Buford, who sat next to his friend of more than two decades at the table during the news conference, the freedom to do their jobs, and said he was humbled to be singled out among the many worthy candidates this season that included first-year coaches Jeff Hornacek at Phoenix and Steve Clifford at Charlotte, plus Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Portland’s Terry Stotts and others.

None faced quite the unpredictable psychological hurdle that Popovich did with his heartbroken team.

“I think his steadfast attention to detail and facing the realities of last season’s end and immediately getting it behind us was really important,” Spurs general manager Buford said. “And his approach with his staff was different because it was a different staff, but the energy and the leadership we’ve seen has been consistent throughout his time as a coach.”

But of course it wouldn’t be a Popovich press conference without a measure of snark, and Pop didn’t disappoint.

When asked about losing his two longtime assistants, he interrupted the questioner:  “Thank God.”

Asked where he displays his Coach of the Year trophies, Popovich said: “They’re on the hood of my car. … I’ve got three of those right on the hood.”

As a younger man, Popovich dreamed of a playing career in the NBA before turning to coaching, getting his start as an assistant at the Air Force Academy. Asked if he knew he wanted to coach in the NBA once he didn’t make it as a player, Pop responded: “Larry Brown screwed me as a player. He had the unmitigated gall to pick David Thompson over me back when he was the Nuggets coach.”

Brown, of course, is one of Popovich’s mentors and who helped him get to the NBA, a place Popovich said was never truly a goal. He said he would have been happy to live out his days where he spent his early coaching days at Division III Pomona-Pitzer College in California.

“For me, the NBA was watching on TV back when they had the long nets and watching the ball go through the long nets; I really enjoyed that,” Popovich said. “I was fat, dumb and happy as a Division III coach. I could do it the rest of my life, it was fantastic, I loved it. But all of us take a different road here and there. The NBA was never a dream or thought of, ‘I’m going to go to the NBA and be a coach and do this.’ I had no clue.

“We run a lot of the same drills to be honest with you, pivoting drills and sitting on chairs, silly things like that, but all fundamental basketball stuff. After that, let the players play. They know how to get it done.”

So, too, does Pop.

Pop (hmmph) picks up third Coach award

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The best of Gregg Popovich (2013 playoffs)

SAN ANTONIO — Even after coaching 217 playoff games over the last 17 seasons, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich embarked on another postseason Sunday with butterflies swirling.

“Heck yeah,” Popovich quipped 90 minutes before the Spurs began their 17th consecutive playoffs under the coach everybody knows as ‘Pop.’ “If you don’t get nervous, you’re dead.”

The gruff Air Force Academy graduate is maybe the only coach in U.S. sports who has to come to be as celebrated for his typically terse exchanges with the media — particularly for his now famous, one-word retorts to television sideline reporters — as he is for his enduring legacy with a single franchise.

On Tuesday, Popovich, 65, added yet another layer to his rich, sure-fire Hall of Fame career as the recipient of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year. He led the Spurs to a 62-20 record, the best record in basketball, made more impressive because it came on the heels of a devastating loss last year in the NBA Finals.

“I feel very honored for a whole lot of reasons,” Popovich said at the news conference announcing the award. “First of all because there were so many coaches who did such a great job this year. I think it was really unique. A lot of people were really special and to be singled out is pretty humbling. I know I’ve been very lucky for a good number of years and I know full well I just represent part of what goes on here.”

It’s his third Coach of the Year honor and second in the last three years. He joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only coaches to win the award three times. Popovich totaled 380 points, including 59 first-place votes, from a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.

First-year Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek finished second with 339 votes, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau was third, Charlotte’s first-year coach Steve Clifford was fourth and Toronto’s Dwane Casey finished fifth in the voting. (Complete voting totals here.)

Popovich also won the award following the 2011-12 season and also for 2002-03, the season in which Manu Ginobili joined Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to form the Big Three. They won their first of three championships that season. (Popovich won another title with Duncan and David Robinson back in 1999.) The Spurs entered these playoffs as the reigning Western Conference champions, boasting the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

That consistency is the hallmark of Popovich’s 18-year career in San Antonio. This season included a 19-game winning streak and only one losing streak of more than two games (three, back in late January). The Spurs extended their streak of winning at least 50 games to an NBA record 15 consecutive seasons.

The Spurs’ 62 wins is their second-highest total under Popovich, one fewer than the 2005-06 team. This team was an offensive juggernaut, ranking sixth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 108.2 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 in 3-point shooting at 39.7 percent. At the other end they ranked fourth overall in defensive efficiency and second in the Western Conference.

Popovich achieved it while masterfully managing his team’s minutes and particularly his two aging stars, Duncan, 38, and Ginobili, 36. Popovich limited every player on the roster to less than 30 minutes a game while nine players averaged at least 18.9 mpg.

“We saved minutes all year long so we could give those minutes come playoff time,” Popovich said.

Rick Adelman‘s announcement Monday that he was stepping down as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves moved Popovich to the top of the list of career victories among active coaches — ninth on the all-time list — with a record of 967-443. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (644-498) is second and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle (569-339), who is matching wits with Popovich in their first-round playoff series, is third.

“Pop’s the best coach in the game and for my money he’s the best coach in history because of what he’s been able to do over a period of almost two decades, keeping the same system and just plugging in different players,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with the same team in all four major professional U.S. sports.

Allen making life rough again for KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: The Grizzlies grind out a win at OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – Remember that commercial from last season where Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade haunt each other’s dreams? They got it wrong. Tony Allen, gritty, grimy and forever grinding, is Durant’s worst nightmare.

And now, after Allen made life miserable for Durant in Memphis’ impressive 111-105 overtime victory on the second-seeded Thunder’s home floor Monday night to tie the series 1-1, Allen and his seventh-seeded Grizzlies welcome the soon-to-be-named MVP back to The Grindhouse  — where they’ve put away 14 consecutive opponents.

“First thing first, Kevin Durant, he’s the scoring leader, All-Star, probably one of the greatest in the game right now,” Allen said. “But it’s a competition at the end of the day. Basically, it ain’t about me, it’s about the Grizzlies coming in here, basically playing grit-n-grind basketball, holding our hats on the defensive end.”

But it is about you, Mr. Allen. You suffocated Durant into submission in the fourth quarters of last year’s semifinals series without Russell Westbrook and you’re pushing KD’s buttons again with Westbrook by his side.

It seems crazy to say it with Durant scoring 33 and 36 points in the first two games of this wild first-round series between these familiar foes, but those 69 points have come on 53 shots and with Allen draped all over practically every one of them. Nothing phases him, not when Durant drops a miracle 3-point shot that becomes a four-point play after Allen tipped the initial pass or when Durant started to heat up in the fourth quarter after having just 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting after three quarters.

“I [have] got to do my work early,” Allen said. “If that’s being physical with him then trying to push him through screens, just cause havoc the best way possible. The guy still had 36 points. He’s going to get his. The biggest thing is not to get discouraged, just keep fighting throughout the game.”

Allen gives up eight inches to Durant. It doesn’t matter. He burrows under him and invades his space. He swats shots from behind, curling over screens and closing fast to get an outstretched hand high enough to disrupt his shot. The Thunder have to find some answers, have to figure what makes this Allen fellow tick and take him out of his game.

“I wish I knew what made Tony Allen tick,” said teammate Mike Conley, who’s been masterful with 23 assists and three turnovers in the two games. “He’s hard to explain. He’s a guy that comes in every day with a chip on his shoulder. You don’t know why, you don’t know what’s got him mad, what’s got him angry, but you roll with it. I think playing against top-level competition, KD, Russell, those guys, he really gets up for that opportunity and that challenge, and I’m happy to have him on my team.”

Memphis controlled Game 2 virtually from the start, leading for all but just a couple of minutes of the 53 that were needed. Allen and company did a number on the defensive end, holding OKC to 39.8 percent shooting, Memphis shot 49.4 percent with Conley and Beno Udrih — yes, Beno Freaking Udrih — carving up the Thunder for 19 and 14 points, respectively.

Durant didn’t get much help. Westbrook was 11-for-28. Reggie Jackson didn’t make a shot and the rest of the bench was impotent as well.

Allen and the Grizzlies’ punishing defense pushed Durant out of his comfort zone and into taking 12 3-point attempts — two more than the entire Memphis team — including the miracle corner 3 in the final 15 seconds of regulation that helped the Thunder simply get to overtime.

Allen left Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamenting how the Grizzlies put their hands all over Durant and Westbrook to slow them down. He left Durant in a somber mood in the postgame interview room. He spoke softly and often reluctantly, projecting a tone that he wasn’t much interested in discussing what just went down.

“We shot the shots that were open,” Durant said. “I think we settled for a few, but we put ourselves in position to win a basketball game and they made more plays than we did. So that’s the name of the game, so we’re not panicking at all.”

MVPs don’t panic. They produce. And now’s the time for Durant to carry over his historic regular season into the postseason. Since OKC opened the first half of Game 1 as if guzzling rocket fuel, it’s been nothing but mud-buggying ever since.

“Basically it’s just going to be a slugfest,” Allen said. “We’re going to pound it. They’re going to run it. Whoever can come up with the most stops pretty much wins the game.”

Durant and the Thunder have two days to figure out how to find some breathing space on the road, where Allen will be waiting.

Time for Harris’ speed over steady Calderon

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tim Duncan has 27 points as the Spurs take Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle needs to pull a page from Avery Johnson‘s 2006 postseason playbook against San Antonio and match speed on speed, minute-for-minute.

Johnson sprung second-year backup point guard Devin Harris on Tony Parker and the Spurs in Game 2 of their 2006 semifinal series. His insertion into Dallas’ starting lineup proved to be a catalyst in ending the Spurs’ repeat title hopes in seven games.

In 2008, Dallas traded Harris to the Nets for Jason Kidd, and Parker applauded.

“To be honest with you,” Parker said back then, “I’m really happy for that trade.”

After stops with the Nets, Jazz and Hawks, Harris is back in Dallas and Carlisle essentially followed Johnson’s adjustment in Sunday’s tough, 90-85 Game 1 loss, turning to Harris early and often over the miscast Jose Calderon. One of the few men in the league with the quicks to challenge the Spurs’ All-Star point guard and driving offensive force, Harris nearly won the game for the eighth-seeded and heavy underdog Mavs, who didn’t get typical efforts from Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, yet led 81-71 with 7:45 to go.

Carlisle endured five minutes before turning to Harris over the slow-footed Calderon, whose defensive deficiencies grew in their unpalatability as his shot misfired. Calderon was 0-for-4 from the floor, with only one attempt being a bread-and-butter 3-pointer, when he made way for Harris. The Spurs led 9-2 and Parker, being guarded by overmatched Mavs small forward Shawn Marion as Dallas mixed coverages, scored the first seven points on beautiful drive-and-scoops.

Harris might need to play 35 minutes or more if they’re going to press the Spurs, so he might as well get started on Parker from the jump. At Mavs practice back in Dallas on Monday, Carlisle didn’t tip his hand with Wednesday’s Game 2 still more than 48 hours away, but Nowitzki told reporters they’re sticking with Calderon.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

Calderon, playing in his first postseason since 2008 with Toronto, logged just 16 minutes — his shortest stint of the season not cut short by injury. He watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench. Harris played 32 minutes, his third-most minutes of the season, scored 19 points — one off his season high — including three 3-pointers, with five assists, and he consistently forced the issue against Parker and speedy Spurs backup Patty Mills.

“He’s capable of that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, noting Harris’ scoring binge . “He might not do it night after night after night, but he’s capable of it, and he showed that.”

Parker, who finished with 21 points and six assists, left Sunday’s game offering Harris credit, and something of a pointed compliment.

“He surprised us a little bit,” Parker said. “He made three 3s in the first half. He usually doesn’t make those 3s. Devin is the type of guy, he can score a lot of points quickly, so we are going to have to stop that.”

It certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Carlisle to alter his starting lineup in the postseason. In the 2011 Finals against Miami, Carlisle inserted the diminutive J.J. Barea at shooting guard over defensive-minded DeShawn Stevenson trailing in the series 2-1 to take advantage of Barea’s quickness and ability to penetrate. The Mavs never lost again.

Carlisle did go back to Calderon to start the third quarter against San Antonio and the tough-minded veteran responded with three buckets, but finished 3-for-9 with seven points and a couple assists. A spot role in this series for the Spaniard, who signed a four-year $29 million deal with Dallas last summer, could be something he’ll have to accept.

The Spurs have won 10 games in a row over Dallas, including 4-0 during the regular season. Parker played in the first three meetings and torched the Mavs for 23.3 ppg — seven more than his season average — on 54.2 percent shooting. Calderon averaged 29.6 minutes in the four games. Harris averaged 20.5 mpg playing in only 40 games after undergoing offseason toe surgery.

While Sunday’s Game 1 was Calderon’s shortest stint of the season, it was the second time in the last three games that Carlisle sat the 32-year-old against a quick, penetrating backcourt. Calderon, who averaged 30.5 mpg during the regular season, played just 17 minutes with a playoff berth on the line against Phoenix in the second-to-last game of the season.

Nowitzki and Ellis must pick up the scoring load, but the bigger burden at both ends of the floor might just lie with Harris’ ability to tackle Parker.

“His quickness, his ability to shoot the pull-ups, shoot the 3, get in the paint, find guys is just something we have to exploit,” Mavs shooting guard Vince Carter said of Harris.

It’s why Harris should find himself back in the Mavs’ starting lineup come Wednesday night.

Duncan takes what’s given and burns Mavs for Game 1 win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Duncan, Spurs rally past Mavs in Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – After his game-high 27 points foiled an otherwise expertly executed defensive scheme by the Dallas Mavericks that shut down San Antonio’s sharpshooters, Tim Duncan didn’t sound much like a cowboy in his final rodeo as some postseason narratives have suggested.

“I’m always excited around this time,” Duncan said, a 90-85 victory Sunday afternoon marking the start of his 13th consecutive playoffs. “Even now, I might be more excited because I know there are only a couple more left in my career, and I’m excited and I’m going to take the opportunity and really remember it.”

A couple? At least two more? Maybe three?

Duncan, who turns 38 on Friday, ran his hand through his hair, smiled, but wouldn’t bite at the followup inquiry.

“I don’t know what that number is,” Duncan said. “I’m worried about one right now.”

In Game 1 against his old rival Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, Duncan pulled the Spurs through in a game that Dallas did nearly everything right to seal an upset, everything but keep Duncan at bay. The old warrior scored 17 points in the second half, nine in the fourth quarter and five points during the Spurs’ decisive 15-0 run that flipped an 81-71 Mavs lead with 7:45 left in the game into an 86-81 Spurs lead with 2:17 to go.

The Mavs’ perimeter pressure induced a 3-for-17 Spurs effort from beyond the arc. Manu Ginobili made all three. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills combined to miss all 11 of the 3s they shot.

Just 10 days ago in Dallas, Mills hit six by himself to give the Spurs their ninth consecutive victory over the Mavs. Sunday made it 10 in a row.

“We got killed on 3s in the first four outings this year, so I guess it was no secret, we stayed a little bit more at home on the 3-point shooters,” a dejected Nowitzki said. “I mean you’ve got to give them something and Duncan down there is still solid.

“I guess two points is better than three.”

Said Duncan: “We took what they gave us. They took us off the 3-point line and made our shooters into drivers. They were helping, switching and rotating a lot. We continued to move the ball and the guys around the rim were the ones that were open.”

Nowitzki, 35, doesn’t have the luxury of playing with such a devastating crew around him. Where the Mavs were content to switch coverages that enabled Duncan to operate more freely in exchange for crowding the 3-point arc, the Spurs’ entire defensive scheme was focused on the 10th leading scorer in NBA history.

“They’re living with Monta [Ellis] and Devin [Harris] shooting, that’s clear,” said Nowitzki, who had just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and was 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter. “They went under every pick-and-roll. Devin finally made a couple, he hit two 3s, he made a pull-up behind the screen. So those two guys, they’re going to step into shots and make most of them, hopefully. But Devin was really the only guy that was making something happen for us.”

Harris had 19 points, but Ellis was mostly a no-show with just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.


VIDEO: Duncan talks about the Spurs’ mastery of the Mavericks

Meanwhile, Duncan received dump pass after dump pass for easy buckets off the glass, and when they didn’t come easily he twice made off-balance, circus shots made possible by his still remarkable agility.

“He stole it from me,” Parker joked. “He was great. It was vintage Timmy. He was very aggressive, demanding the ball and he played great, so we are going to need him to play like that if we are going to go far in the playoffs.”

It didn’t come without a brief scare not unlike that recent night in Dallas when he hyperextended his knee and left the game only to quickly return. This time Duncan, already wearing a bulky brace on his left knee bumped knees with Ellis and limped off the floor. After going straight to the bench, he then headed to the locker room.

He missed some six minutes of game action and Dallas extended its lead. Duncan returned with 9:26 to go and immediately drained a short jumper.

“We’ve got to make him work for shots and keep him off the free-throw line,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the top 10 greatest along with Nowitzki, so he’s going to score some points, but we’ve got to evaluate our game plan, adjust it where we need to adjust it and we’ve got to come back out here Wednesday guns blazing again because that’s what it’s going to take to win in here.”

As far as the incessant speculation that is really going to be it for Duncan, the bigger question than will he or won’t he, is why would he?

“I hope he stays as long as I’m here,” Green said. “But you never know, he’s been doing this for a really long time since I was a kid. I watched him play when I was in middle school, high school. It’s amazing for him to keep doing it the way he’s been doing it.”