Posts Tagged ‘Marco Belinelli’

Spurs’ redemption makes game better


VIDEO: Spurs storm past Heat for their fifth NBA title

SAN ANTONIO — It was a season that the Spurs attacked like the world was their piñata, determined to keep hitting and hitting it, smacking and banging it until one day it would burst open.

When the prizes finally fell at their feet on Sunday night, it was relief and release and redemption.

“It makes last year OK,” said Tim Duncan.

He hugged his two kids. He wrapped Manu Ginobili up in a bear hug. He clamped a headlock on Kawhi Leonard. And he practically swallowed Gregg Popovich up in a grin that was as big as Texas.

Twelve months ago, there were the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan’s own missed put-back in Game 7, followed by a year that probably seemed longer than a journey across purgatory on a lawn mower.

It drove them, but not to distraction. It pulled them along, but never pushed them over the edge. It, OK, spurred them with just enough sharp pain in their flanks to know they never wanted to feel that again.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” said Tony Parker.

It was a relentless, astonishing campaign of atonement through artistry, reshaping that ugly lump of lost opportunity into the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

The Spurs won a league-best 62 games during the regular season and then sculpted a playoff drive that only got better as it went on and culminated with this jaw-dropping masterpiece against the two-time defending champion Heat.

In the process, the Spurs reintroduced the world to what it means to play the game at its purest form, the linear descendants of the 1960s Celtics and the 1970s Knicks, who share the ball and take away the breath of anyone who has ever loved the game.

Quite fitting that the culmination came on the opening weekend of the World Cup. So often called “the beautiful game,” futbol looks like a faded starlet with too much mascara when compared to these Spurs.

There are more passes in an average Spurs offensive possession than a singles bar on a weekend night, more cuts than a butcher counter, more bodies moving than in an earthquake. Their style of play practically comes with a musical score you can hear in your head.

They are the 38-year-old Duncan spinning in the paint to knock down turnaround jumpers, the 36-year-old Ginobili reaching into his past and rising up to throw down a thunderbolt dunk over Chris Bosh and the 32-year-old Parker conducting the symphony.

Now the Big Three have the 22-year-old company of Leonard as Finals MVP for a franchise that has stretched excellence over 15 years with five championships.

“Great coaches, persistence, drive and a love for the game,” said Duncan.

They wanted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh and the rest of the South Beach spectacle that are the Heat precisely because they were the ones who benefited from the Spurs’ mistakes a year ago and that loud backdrop would make the brushstrokes of the Spurs’ collaborative game practically leap off the canvas.

This wasn’t a mere beating of Miami. They couldn’t have pulverized the Heat more by using a mortar and pestle.

The Spurs were the black velvet jeweler’s cloth that shows off the flaws in a low-grade diamond. They shot the ball better than any team in Finals history against a team that prides itself in playing a disruptive, smothering defense. They won all four Finals games by 15 points or more and it was an NBA-record 12th time in their 16 playoff wins with such a margin.

After dominating the first quarters of the first four games of the series, the Spurs devilishly spotted the Heat a 16-point lead in the clincher and then stepped on their throats.

James battled valiantly with his 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but he might as well have been a lamb taking on a pack of wolves. By the middle of the third quarter, if his teammates were any deader there would have been guys in white coats standing around waiting to harvest organs.

The plight of the four-time MVP James trying to carry the entire Heat cause on his shoulders was in direct contrast to the Spurs roster that is deeper than a philosophy class at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

They had Boris Diaw doing sleight-of-hand passing, rebounding and taking his turns playing defense on James. They had Tiago Splitter mixing it up under the basket and doing throwback Larry Bird impersonations with touch passes in the lane. They had Patty Mills from halfway around the world, the first Indigenous Australian to reach The Finals, slinging in killshot 3-pointers. They had the flinty Popovich to keep them looking ahead even while feeling the sting of the past like lashes on their backs.

With the exceptions of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, they were all there a year ago in Miami when the dagger went in and the blood of remorse first rose up their throats and gave them a hint of what rejuvenation, reinvention, redemption might taste like.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” said Ginobili. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty.

“Last year made us stronger.”

Now the game is better for that.

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 5


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard did it all to pull the Spurs through against the Heat in The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — Fifteen years later, it still has to taste as sweet as the first time for San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan and his coach Gregg Popovich.

Feels like the first time, indeed, even though this makes three titles in three difference decades and five total.

Larry O’Brien never looked so good.

The mighty San Antonio Spurs are your 2014 NBA champions, defeating the Miami Heat in five games and three straight breathtaking performances to dethrone the two-time NBA champs.

They did it on Father’s Day, too, a sweet day for their oldest player and proud father Duncan, the backbone of the franchise, and a bittersweet day for its young star, Kawhi Leonard (the youngest MVP of The Finals since Duncan 15 years ago), whose father was shot and killed at the family car wash in Compton, Calif., back in 2008, just as he was becoming a basketball star.

We can talk about LeBron James and the Miami Heat later, but tonight, it’s all about the “Spurs Way,” the blend of the old (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and new (Kawhi … Patty Mills Boris Diaw and the rest) and one of the league’s true dynasties and the fact that team triumphed over talent when it mattered most.

And yes, they avenged that loss to the Heat in The Finals last year in the best way possible (outscoring the champs by 70 points in the five games and winning every game by 15 or more points), better known as …

#TheSpursWay

The “Beautiful Brand” wins out

There will be more converts to come, trust me. There will be more!

All respect due …

They do indeed. And they’ll get it around here.

Leonard’s time to shine is now!

You pick up a pen, write Kawhi Leonard’s name and then hand it to someone. Pretty simple.

#SpursWay

All team, all the time!

A timeless tradition … 

Old Man River Walk


VIDEO: Manu with the nasty lefty throwdown over Chris Bosh

Not the “Framily Plan” 

Low blow alert!

Kawhi-V-P 

There is no choice but to give this quiet warrior his due!

(more…)

Right & Wrong: Where’s Kawhi?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime breaks down LeBron James’ big Game 2

SAN ANTONIO – While the game’s greatest player returned with a vengeance in Game 2 for the Heat, the Spurs’ most vital player is off to see the doctor.

So much went right for LeBron James in Miami’s 98-96 road win to even an NBA Finals series that now shifts to the Heat’s home court for a pair of quick turnaround games on Tuesday and Thursday. James showed why he’s the king of the league with an exhilarating performance of 35 points on 14-for-22 shooting, including a dominant 6-for-7 and 14 points in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker still seemed to be in some discomfort as he took the podium in the aftermath of Game 2, and the Spurs are left to hope there’s nothing more serious than a pretty decent bruise left behind from Mario Chalmers’ blatant swing of his elbow: “I”ll talk with the doctor, you know?” Parker said. “Right now, I’m just frustrated.”

Here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in Game 2:

Wrong: Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, so often billed as the future of the franchise, is taking a pretty good beating so far trying to do anything on either side of the floor against James. He fouled out in Game 2, was mostly helpless trying to defend James and finished with only nine points, same as his Game 1 total, on 3-for-9 shooting. And for the second consecutive game, Leonard was limited to just two rebounds.

Right: Check out the resurrected Rashard Lewis. The veteran had virtually no role in last year’s championship run and his role in this one has vastly increased seemingly only because Chris “Birdman” Andersen got injured during the Eastern Conference finals. It thrust Lewis into the starting lineup and coach Erik Spoelstra has kept him there despite the Spurs’ big starting frontcourt. Lewis came through in Game 2 with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting and drilled three more 3-pointers.

Wrong: The Spurs are so disciplined and so fundamental, yet there are times when the most simplistic aspect of the game eludes them — free throws. The Spurs went 12-for-20 in Game 2 and missed four consecutive free throws midway through the fourth quarter when they could have expanded a two-point lead to six. But Parker missed two after Chalmers’ flagrant foul and on the ensuing possession, Tim Duncan missed two more. James canned a 3-pointer at the other end for a rare seven-point swing that put the Heat ahead 88-87. The Spurs finished fourth in the league during the regular season in free throw percentage (78.5 percent), but 60 percent in a playoff game won’t often get the job done.

Right: Heat forward Chris Bosh just keeps doing his job. He takes the ridicule when he doesn’t score much or has a low rebound game, or whatever, but he just keeps coming back and delivering. He hit another key corner 3-pointer off a James drive and finished with 18 points in 36 minutes. There’s little mention of him only grabbing three boards because he’s been so solid (he did have nine rebounds in Game 1). The mild-mannered Bosh has scored 18 points in both games and is a combined 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Wrong: The Spurs’ bench, No. 1 in the league during the regular season, is so critical to the team’s success, but it provided little reinforcement in Game 2 outside of Manu Ginobili scoring 19 points. Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills combined to score 18 points on 6-for-21 shooting. Those three also had 18 points in Game 1, but on a much more efficient 6-for-13 shooting.

Right: The Heat defense turned up the heat on the Spurs and made it much more difficult for San Antonio to score inside. Duncan started Game 2 4-for-5 from the floor, picking up where he left off in Game 1 with easy buckets under the rim. But he was just 3-for-9 the rest of the way, and Tiago Splitter was limited to 1-for-3 shooting and no free throws. The Spurs scored 48 points on 24-for-35 shooting in the paint in Game 1, but were limited to just 34 points on 17-for-33 shooting on Sunday.

Spurs’ bench never lets foe rest


VIDEO: Game Time: Spurs Offense

SAN ANTONIO – The Gregg Popovich minutes management plan during the regular season receives plenty of praise for allowing the Spurs’ more high-mileage players such as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to play longer when it matters most.

Like on hot, steamy indoor nights in June.

In Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, played without air conditioning inside the AT&T Center, all three of San Antonio’s Big Three surpassed their season averages in minutes played.

Yet off the bench came Manu Ginobili, sixth-man extraordinaire, going for 16 points and 11 assists in 32 minutes; Boris Diaw putting forth 33 highly effective minutes, finishing a game-high plus-30; and Marco Belinelli adding nine points, including a pair of 3s, in 18 minutes.

Everybody knows a championship team is more than its star players. It takes max production from role players to get this far, and that’s the lesser appreciated byproduct of more bench time for starters — more floor time, experience and confidence for bench players.

“It also does develop the bench, give them some confidence to play,” Popovich said of his carefully monitored rotation. “And hopefully in the end when playoff time comes, sometimes it’s a role player that steps up in a certain game and has a heck of a night and helps you.”

San Antonio has boasted one of the deepest rosters in the league and benefitted from a group of reliable, fundamentally sound reserves who mesh seamlessly into the Spurs’ machine-like system. Numerous times during the regular season, the Spurs won games with one, two or even all three of the Big Three being strategically held out by Popovich with an eye toward making a deep playoff run.

Twice a shorthanded Spurs squad — once without Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, and later without Duncan and Ginobili — won at Golden State. In the final week of the season, the Spurs were in Dallas playing a desperate Mavericks team fighting for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

With Parker out of the lineup, backup point guard Patty Mills, a player under development in the Spurs’ system for three seasons, dropped six 3-pointers and 26 points in a 109-100 win.

“You obviously come into a program like this and you go through it and you learn the coaches and the system and how to react,” said Mills, who had seven points and a steal in 12 minutes in Game 1. “We’re past the stage of being scared to make mistakes. And I think we’re all part of that now.”

Spurs reserves are ready for the fire of the playoffs because they spend the season playing through hot spots. In Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at Oklahoma City, the Spurs’ starters were getting blown out. Popovich benched them, down 27 points, in the middle of the third quarter. Five Spurs reserves cut the lead to 12 early in the fourth quarter, before the Thunder regained their advantage.

“You want the bench to be more perfect in some ways, but we expect the starters to set the example in the way we want to play and oftentimes the bench comes in and plays better,” Popovich said. “It happens.”

In the Game 1 win over the Heat, Spurs reserves Ginobili and Diaw combined for 17 assists, one more than the entire Heat team. San Antonio’s bench outscored Miami’s 34-20 and outrebounded it 20-10.

That’s really nothing new for this group. The Spurs’ bench finished the regular season first in scoring per game (44.5 ppg), field-goal percentage (47.8) and assists (10.9); second in rebounds (16.8) and 3-point percentage (39.1); and third in steals (3.3).

The one category in which they stunk? Turnovers, ranking dead last (5.9 per game).  But even then, the Spurs’ reserves live, learn and get back to business.

“We just play freely and if you make a mistake you own up to it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mills said.

Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: GameTime: Finals Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Considering how dramatic last year’s Finals was, now’s the perfect time for the first rematch in 16 years. The last time two teams faced each other in The Finals in back-to-back years was the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998.

We’re also returning to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the first time since 1984. In the 29 years of the 2-3-2 format, the lower seed won all three games at home only three times (though the Heat did it in 2006 and 2012).

In these playoffs, the Spurs (9-1) and Heat (8-0) are a combined 17-1 at home, each scoring more than 116 points per 100 possessions. That’s ridiculously good offense, and we’re sure to see some more of it over the next 4-7 games.

These were two of the top six offensive teams in the regular season and have been the two best offensive teams in the playoffs. Comparing their offensive efficiency in each round with their opponents’ regular-season defensive numbers, both the Spurs and Heat have improved offensively during the playoffs.

The Heat (11th) are the first team since the 2006 Mavericks (11th) to make The Finals after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And they’re aiming to be the first team since the 2001 Lakers (19th) to win the title after not ranking in the top 10.

The Spurs ranked in the top four defensively for the second straight season after sliding out of the top 10 the previous two. That they played more consistently on that end of the floor over the last seven months could give them the edge, as the team that can most consistently slow down the other over the next two weeks will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

But postseason series are often about matchups, and the Heat have the ultimate trump card in LeBron James. If it seems like this series could be decided by a possession or two, you only have to look back at last year’s to confirm that it certainly could.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding these two teams’ paths to The Finals, their two regular season meetings, and last year’s scintillating series.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

First round: Beat Dallas in 7 games.
West semifinals: Beat Portland in 5 games.
West finals: Beat Oklahoma City in 6 games.
Pace: 96.2 (4)
OffRtg: 111.2 (2)
DefRtg: 101.0 (2)
NetRtg: +10.1 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs by round

Round Opp. OffRtg Rank AdjO DefRtg Rank AdjD
First round DAL 110.2 3 +4.3 106.8 9 -2.2
Conf. semis POR 112.3 2 +7.5 93.9 1 -14.3
Conf. finals OKC 111.4 2 +10.4 100.7 1 -7.4

AdjO = OffRtg – opponent’s regular-season DefRtg
AdjD = DefRtg – opponent’s regular-season OffRtg

Playoff notes:

  1. Opponents have attempted just 25 free throws per 100 shots, the lowest opponent FTA rate of the playoffs. But their opponent free-throw rate has increased in each round, from 0.217 against Dallas to 0.233 against Portland and 0.303 against Oklahoma City.
  2. Their defensive rebounding percentage has improved each round.
  3. Their rate of 9.7 turnovers per 100 possessions in the conference semifinals against Portland has been the lowest turnover rate for any team in any series so far.
  4. According to SportVU, they lead the postseason with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.5 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
  5. They’ve scored 124.0 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter, more than any other playoff team has scored in any quarter.
  6. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with Danny Green on the floor. That’s the best on-court NetRtg of any player that has logged at least 20 minutes per game in five or more playoff games.
  7. Kawhi Leonard has the best raw plus-minus of the playoffs at plus-111.
  8. Marco Belinelli is the only Spurs rotation player with a negative plus-minus. They’ve been outscored by 42 points in his 296 minutes on the floor and are a plus-186 in his 572 minutes on the bench. In the regular season, Belinelli had a better on-court NetRtg (plus-7.3) than Tim Duncan (plus-6.6) or Tony Parker (plus-6.7).
  9. Green has an effective field-goal percentage of 63.4 percent in the playoffs, a jump of 7.2 percent from his regular season mark (56.2). That’s the biggest EFG% jump of any player who has attempted at least 75 shots in the postseason.
  10. Duncan had 14 more rebounds than any other player in the conference finals.
  11. Manu Ginobili shot 15-for-30 (50 percent) from 3-point range in the conference finals after shooting 2-for-14 (14 percent) in the conference semifinals.
  12. The usage rates of Ginobili (28.9 percent, 25.9 percent, 23.8 percent) and Parker (31.8 percent, 30.4 percent, 25.0 percent) have decreased in each round. The usage rates of Duncan (19.9 percent, 20.2 percent, 25.4 percent), Boris Diaw (14.4 percent, 16.2 percent, 21.4 percent) and Green (11.7 percent, 17.1 percent, 17.8 percent) have increased in each round.
  13. Parker leads the postseason with 195 drives and 10.8 drives per game.
  14. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 27.1 points per 100 possessions in 114 minutes with Ginobili, Leonard and Tiago Splitter on the floor together, the best three-man NetRtg among 194 trios that have logged at least 100 minutes.
  15. Patty Mills has traveled at the fastest average speed in the playoffs, 4.9 miles per hour.

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Difference from 2012? Spurs just better

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich speaks at Spurs practice ahead of Game 3

By the time they finally take the floor for the opening tip on Sunday night (8:30 ET, TNT), they will have reviewed it, relived it, dissected it more than a frog in a high school biology class.

Everywhere they turn, every newspaper or blog they read will remind the Spurs of the last time they were in Oklahoma City with a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

The Spurs actually brought 20 consecutive victories and an air of invincibility onto the court at Cheasapeake Energy Arena. And they left it eight days later with a fourth straight loss and the shards of a season in their bloody hands.

But you’ll excuse Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the silver and black for not being kept awake by scary reminders and bumps in the night.

This time around is like returning to the haunted house in broad daylight when it doesn’t seem quite so spooky. Gone, for one, is the ghost of James Harden, who hit big shots and was the third weapon in the OKC armory. Then there’s the skeleton of Serge Ibaka, out with a calf injury, that is now locked away in a closet.

“We’ll remind everyone of that situation,” said Duncan, showing the proper amount of the so-called appropriate fear. “We need to go into Oklahoma for that first game with the focus we’ll need to win the game.”

However, there is another more basic reason that the Spurs can walk a bit more boldly. They’re better.

In the past two years, the Spurs have added to their depth, improved their balance and become a more potent overall team than any of the remaining contenders in either of the conference finals.

The Heat are the two-time defending champs and may still have the best player in the game in LeBron James. But his supporting cast, beginning with Dywane Wade, has fallen off and James is now required to do more. Often much more.

The Pacers with the emergence of Paul George may be a step up from 2013. However, their late-season swoon, near-cratering in the first round against Atlanta, overall mood and performance swings — not to mention George’s physical status for Game 3 — makes Indiana shakier than a rope ladder.

The Thunder, of course, have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but are playing without two ingredients that made the previous comeback possible and three-fifths of a starting lineup — Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha — that has produced a total of nine points in the first two games.

While the Spurs’ solar system still revolves around the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, the fact is it’s the emergence of the others that have allowed the veterans to keep their minutes down to all-time lows during the regular season in order to step up now, along with providing some punch of their own.

Danny Green — Parker’s partner in the starting backcourt became so lost and discombobulated during the 2012 series that he was eventually benched by coach Gregg Popovich for the final two games, playing less than four minutes in each.

“He’s come a long way,” Popovich said. “We cut him a couple of times and other people cut him, and he went to Europe and he went to Russia and he went to the D-League and he went all over the place. But the light went on and he become a little bit more aggressive, so that I think he could play at the defensive end. But I think his confidence grew shooting-wise, and I think that he gets a lot of credit for persevering and ending up where he is right now.”

That’s hitting seven 3-pointers in Game 2, giving him 21 points for the night, which is more than the total of 20 he scored in the entire 2012 series against OKC.

Kawhi Leonard — He’s steadily grown into the role that Popovich described as a “future face of the franchise” after the Spurs traded for the No. 15 pick on the night of the 2011 draft. He was a 20-year-old rookie in that previous series against the Thunder, taking the occasional wide open jumper and hustling for loose balls. Now Leonard is the Spurs’ No. 1 defender, locking up with Durant, James and every other big gun in the NBA while also blossoming at the offensive end to quite devastating effect at times, bull-rushing to the hoop or confidently stroking shots from the perimeter. His 14.7 rating is the best in the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs by any player.

“He’s growing month by month, week by week,” Popovich said. “He’s been pretty special for us.”

Tiago Splitter — After nearly two full seasons in the starting lineup alongside Duncan, the Brazilian big man is showing more and more of the ability that got him named MVP of the Spanish League in 2010. OKC coach Scott Brooks shook his confidence by intentionally fouling Splitter during the 2012 series. But now he’s a key Spurs element at both ends of the floor. He and Duncan have developed rugged defensive combination, limiting opponents to 93.4 points per 100 points when they’ve been on the court together in the playoffs. He’s also an excellent interior passer and had a breakout Game 2 with nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Splitter has more rebounds (18) in two games than the entire 2012 series (11).

“What he does for us now is what he’s done in Europe for a lot of years,” Popovich said. “He’s been on championship teams over there. He’s a defender, a rebounder, a solid pick-and-roll player. He doesn’t have moves and he’s not a big offensive threat, but he’s every coach’s dream because he does everything so fundamentally sound.”

Patty Mills — The Australian dynamo only got off the bench for mop-up duty in the 2012 meeting with the Thunder. But now he’s Parker’s first backup at the point and he steps onto the floor with a fearless sense of belonging. His offense punch has not been needed so far against OKC, but Mills scored in double figures six times in 11 games in the first two rounds of the playoffs against Dallas and Portland.

Marco Belinelli — The free agent signing is the only newcomer to the core rotation since the 2012 series and has been invaluable all season long with his on-court smarts and excellent perimeter shooting. He was the team’s top bomber from behind the 3-point line this season and has had the best overall shooting year of his NBA career.

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime: Western Conference Finals Analysis

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Though the Western Conference appeared to be wide open and stacked with nine strong teams, the two that are meeting in the conference finals are the two top seeds and the team that have represented the conference in last two Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs were the league’s best team this season and have home-court advantage. But they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 meetings with the Oklahoma City Thunder, going back to the 2012 conference finals, when OKC rebounded from an 0-2 deficit to win four straight.

It’s the Thunder’s length and athleticism that gives the Spurs fits. But OKC is down one long, athletic starter with Serge Ibaka out with a calf injury.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the West, as well as the four games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Beat Dallas in 7 games.
Beat Portland in 5 games.
Pace: 96.3 (4)
OffRtg: 111.1 (2)
DefRtg: 101.2 (3)
NetRtg: +9.9 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Playoff notes:

Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)

Beat Memphis in 7 games.
Beat L.A. Clippers in 6 games.
Pace: 94.6 (6)
OffRtg: 107.9 (6)
DefRtg: 102.8 (5)
NetRtg: +5.2 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Thunder won 4-0.
Pace: 96.9
SAS OffRtg: 99.1 (17th vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 110.2 (1st vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Parker limp cramps Spurs’ victory party

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA crew looks at Spurs’ potential opponents and Parker’s injury

SAN ANTONIO — In a season the Spurs have spent exorcising ghosts from Miami, it could just be an eerie coincidence.

Or a scary bump in the night.

Tony Parker walked tenderly off the court with 8:46 left in the second quarter and limped to the locker room, followed by the team trainer and general manager R.C. Buford.

Tightness in the left hamstring. Tightness rippling throughout Spurs Nation.

Parker didn’t return in Game 5 against the Blazers. He didn’t have to. Not with Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Patty Mills leading the 104-82 closeout win with another tightrope walker’s display of instinctive balance.

In the end, the return flight from Portland for the Blazers was just the biggest waste of fuel since the invention of the Hummer as the Spurs wound up on top by an average margin of 19.5 points in their four wins in the series.

The Spurs now advance to the Western Conference finals for the 13th time in franchise history, ninth time in the Tim Duncan era and for the third season in a row. It is a testament to consistency and excellence.

Yet it will not be enough if the Spurs don’t at least get a chance to return to the NBA Finals to clean up unfinished business that left them ringless.

That’s the Parker question. That’s the haunting flashback to last June. That’s the painful reminder that one small tweak can lead to big consequences.

Long before those ugly last 28 seconds of Game 6 became a lost championship, the Spurs watched Parker limp off the court in Game 3 against Miami with tightness in his right hamstring. He came back to play the rest of the series, but he was never quite at the same crackling level. He often looked tired, worn out and was no longer explosive.

Now Parker will have an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of any damage to his left hamstring and the Spurs will likely, for a night at least, become Clippers fans. It’s all about getting their point guard time to rest and rehab. If L.A. can win Thursday to force a Game 7 against OKC, that would push the start of the West finals back to next Wednesday, giving Parker a full week off.

“We hope for him to be back and healthy,” said Manu Ginobili. “It is too early to tell. I don’t know what’s going to happen. If we want to have a chance to make it to The Finals, we need him healthy.”

Because it’s been evident for at least the past two seasons that the baton has been passed and now it’s Parker who sets the tone and the pace for the Spurs and simply confounds defenses.

With the Blazers entering the conference semifinals feeling so confident after winning their first playoff series in 14 years, Parker simply blew them down like a house of grass and twigs.

Coach Gregg Popovich now has the deepest lineup in the league at his disposal and is not at all afraid to use every inch of it. He practically walks around in front of the Spurs bench wearing a tool belt and reaches for another implement when he needs one.

In comes Mills to replace Parker for the second half. Up pops Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes and the Spurs roll over Portland. But this was a Blazers team with a lineup thinner than gruel. They used only two different starting lineups all season long and played the original lineup in 80 of 93 games from start to finish.

The Spurs could wear out and wear down the top-heavy Blazers with sheer numbers. That won’t be the case against the survivor of Thunder-Clippers. Or ultimately in The Finals.

It’s the grind of the playoffs, the minefield that has to be negotiated on tiptoes, knowing that a misstep can blow everything up, ruin a season’s worth of planning and growing together and building something special. One second you’re driving to the hoop to score and the next you’re limping to the locker room.

Minor coincidence? Or a scary bump in the night reminder of what happened in Miami?

Just say Tony Parker isn’t the only one feeling a little sudden tightness in San Antonio.


VIDEO: Spurs push aside Blazers to advance to the Western Conference finals

Buford’s worldwide reach changed NBA

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tony Parker continues to do great things since R.C. Buford brought him into the Spurs’ fold

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker remembers his first encounter with R.C. Buford.

“It was a long time ago,” Parker said. “He was the first one who found me in Paris. After the Nike Hoops Summit, they started following me, calling my agent and saying they’d be interested. That’s when I decided to put my name in the draft.”

But Parker did not perform well in his first workout for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“The first workout, it was like 12 hours from the plane,” Parker said. “I went straight to the workout. That was kind of tough. I was kind of tired. Pop was like, ‘Eh, he’s not good.’ R.C. and Sam [Presti] were pushing for a second workout. … Then I did a second one with the Spurs. I remember finishing the workout and I told my Dad, “I hope I can be in San Antonio.” I had no clue about the city and stuff like that. I just had a feeling after that second workout.”

Three NBA championships the later, the feeling has proved true.

For Manu Ginobili, it was a shared meal with Buford.

“Yes, I was in Italy,” Ginobili said. “He came to dinner. It was 14 years ago, a long time. Before that, I got emails that he was watching me, getting the tapes. But I was in Bologna, and that was my first close approach with an NBA person. It was great.”

In fact, it has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Maybe it’s only fitting that the NBA world finally brought the Executive of the Year Award to Buford’s doorstep. After all, he’s spent so many years bringing the world to the NBA.

While there were exotic names — Hakeem Olajuwon, Drazen Petrovic, Sarunas Marciulionis, Alexander Volkov, Georgi Glouchkov — drip, drip, dripping into the NBA in the 1980s, it was Buford and Popovich who cranked the valve and opened the international pipeline of talent to the league.

Today roughly 25 percent of the players on NBA rosters are from outside the United States and no place embraces the fact that basketball is the world’s game more than San Antonio, where nine of the 15 players on the Spurs playoff roster are internationals — Tim Duncan from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Parker and Boris Diaw from France, Ginobili from Argentina, Cory Joseph from Canada, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes from Australia, Tiago Splitter from Brazil and Marco Belinelli from Italy.

“The biggest part of that is having a coach that was willing to play with international players and to respect the contributions that guys like Manu and Tony and Fabricio and the players we have now,” Buford said. “It started first with a coach who was willing to take that and had great respect and admiration for the style that they played.

“I think it provides us with opportunities to be a culture that’s unique. The city of San Antonio is obviously very multicultural. The way our owners and fans have supported all those players has put them in a position to be successful.

“The mindset had to be: Why should we put borders on our player acquisitions and our player recruitment? There are good players all over the world, whether from Bexar County (San Antonio) or someplace else.”

Popovich and Buford have been an inseparable tandem since they arrived in San Antonio together and have built the Spurs into the model franchise with their stability and consistent winning that has brought four NBA titles. They have not just changed the culture of the Spurs, but changed the game itself by incorporating, embracing and perfecting the passing, moving, shooting style that is played internationally.

While Popovich has been recognized as NBA Coach of the Year three times, including this season, it’s the first honor for Buford.

“We’re all excited for him,” Popovich said. “Long overdue. He’s done a great job for a very long time, so we’re giving him the requisite amount of you-know-what all over the offices. He walks down the halls and we hit the walls, hit the sides as a group for him and all that stuff.

“There’s not a formula — you made this trade, you added this and you did this contract. It’s not always a thing you can add up. But the bottom line is he’s the man this year and that’s very exciting for all of us.”

24-Second thoughts — May 6

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s emotional MVP nod to his mother

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What a day!

Kevin Durant wins his first KIA MVP, dethroning the two-time defending champion LeBron James just hours before his Heat hit the floor against the Brooklyn Nets in their eastern conference semifinal.

The Golden State Warriors sever ties with Mark Jackson after three seasons, firing him after three straight seasons that saw the Warriors finally claw their way into the consistent playoff mix in the Western Conference.

And the NBA announced that Los Angeles Clippers President Andy Roeser would take an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.  “This will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” NBA VP of Communications Mike Bass said in a statement released by the league.

We got all of this before Ray Allen showed up to America Airlines Arena for his early afternoon shooting workout, so you had to know it was going to be a wild night …

24 – Oh and before we get started, big ups to CJ Paul for his Happy Birthday shout out to his baby brother Chris Paul. #TaurusPower #brotherskeeper

23 – When you have two teams like Miami and Brooklyn, teams with, ahem, elder statesmen galore, you should expect the rotations to run deep for both Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Nets coach Jason Kidd

22 – Perhaps the most underrated story of the late regular season and the start of the playoffs is that Dwyane Wade seems to have gotten his old bones healthy enough to be, well, Dwyane Wade …

https://twitter.com/EthanJSkolnick/status/463825355862573057


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant accepting his KIA MVP award


21 – Magic Johnson playing agent for Mark Jackson, you know this has been an upside-down day …

20 – Joe Johnson and Deron Williams doing it like you’re supposed to on the road. The pace of this one is exactly what the Nets are looking for. And LeBron’s playing well but he’s not nearly as dominant as you’d like to see him if you’re a Heat fan. Very reminiscent of some of his previous battles against Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-led teams …

19 – Pacers big man Roy Hibbert should thank his lucky stars for teammates like Paul George and George Hill. They’re holding him down at a time when plenty of folks would run for the hills, if they had hills in Indianapolis. Do them a favor big fella and show up tomorrow night in Game 2 against the Wizards …

18 – I knew the pace of this game wasn’t going to be Clippers-Thunder, or anything close to it, but wow! Only one fast-break bucket in 24 minutes?

17 – Heat playing bully ball. LeBron getting whatever he wants in the paint. Shaun Livingston, as much as I love him and his comeback, is locked in an unfair fight.

16 – Did someone say Billy Knight?

15 – We need LeBron mic’d up more often …

14 – No more Birdman tonight. Right knee contusion. Heat will be fine without him. They’re rolling the Nets right now.

13 — This wasn’t a contest. The Heat were the far superior team. Rest worked just fine for the Heat. #NoRust And LeBron had an easy time of it, way too easy, if the Nets are going to make this series interesting. KG being held scoreless for the first time in 139 career playoff games … wow!


VIDEO: LeBron James keeps it classy after the Heat’s Game 1 rout of the Brooklyn Nets

12 – Spurs start 8-0 and remind us all that they’ve been doing this longer than half the Trail Blazers’ roster has been alive … not really, but it always feels that way when you see the Spurs schooling some upstart squad.

11 – Gone but not forgotten Dr. Jack Ramsay

10 – Euro step my … foot! Calling Manu Ginobili for traveling is like a holding call on an offensive lineman in football. You could blow that whistle on just about every snap if you wanted to. But you don’t, because it’s Manu!!!!!!

9 – Welcome to Role Player Tuesday, when guys like Shane Battier, Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes — yes Aron Baynes — move into the spotlight after not being heard from in the first round. #baynesanymeansnecessary …

8 – The Conference Semifinals would like to apologize to the basketball world for not being nearly as intriguing and flat-out wacky, so far, as our wild and crazy cousin, the First Round!

7 – This is what they call Night School where I’m from. The Blazers are finding out the hard way … you don’t take any of the same mojo from one series to the next. Treat it like it’s brand new or you’ll get popped. Youngsters take notes for Game 2!

6 – Sure, it looks ugly now. Really ugly. Bubba Sparxxx Ugly! But I don’t think there is any need to overreact to the first half of the first game of a series, any series …

5 – Spurs are not messing around tonight. They’ve never made back-to-back trips to The Finals in the Duncan-Pop era. Would be an accomplishment this year, even for an outfit that has done just about everything else imaginable when it comes to winning …

4 – Reasons, the reasons that we hear, The reasons that we fear, Our feelings a-won’t disappear

3 – Game recognize game. And truly elite players know the MVP when they see him …

2 – Great point … even though I think the circumstances are dramatically different. But great point …

Because …

1 – These three words …


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs got in a flow early and never let up on the Trail Blazers