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Game 4 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs

Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are on the brink of elimination, writes Ben Nadeau

Benny Nadeau

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What has transpired in the Western Conference is, in no uncertain terms, unfortunate. The San Antonio Spurs were poised to give the Warriors their first competitive series of the playoffs before Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury in Game 1. Since then, a potentially thrilling showdown between the conference’s two best franchises has been relegated to a mere afterthought.

Now a week removed from Leonard’s injury, the Spurs are just one game away from being swept out the playoffs. After falling to the Golden State Warriors by a score of 120-108 in Game 3, legendary head coach Gregg Popovich is nearly out of answers. Of course, to make matters worse, the Spurs started the series without Tony Parker, promptly lost Leonard and then forfeited David Lee to injury two minutes into his stint during Saturday’s game.

Losing three rotation players — much less the best two-way athlete in the league — against any playoff team would be a tough pill to swallow, but against the Warriors, it means certain death. On this particular night, it was JaVale McGee’s 16 first half points that anchored Golden State long enough to take control against the beaten down Spurs. Even with Draymond Green’s foul trouble and a staggering 21 team turnovers, the result was never in question for Golden State after the break.

Kevin Durant scored 19 of his 33 points in the third quarter and added 10 rebounds on 11-for-19 from the floor to lead the No. 1 seed one game closer to their third straight appearance in the NBA Finals. The Warriors hit 40.7 percent of their three-point attempts (11-for-27) and the starters finished with a strong plus-minus of 84 on the road, which all but spells doom for San Antonio.

As well-coached as the Spurs are, there’s just not enough firepower remaining to take down one of the league’s elite offenses, particularly so four times in a row. Manu Ginobili performed valiantly in defeat, turning back the clock once again for 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench, but that was as good as it got for the Spurs. As Popovich continues to tinker with his lineup in hopes of finding a desperation Hail Mary, Kyle Anderson got the start and tallied six points, nine rebounds, five assists and a block, but Patty Mills’ struggles (2-for-10) counteracted those positive signs of life.

If there’s a silver lining for the Spurs to take from this series, it may as well be Jonathon Simmons’ continued emergence. Ahead of his first-ever payday this summer, Simmons has performed fantastically both off the bench and as a starter for San Antonio. Simmons’ 14 points in Game 3 has bumped his series total to 48, mostly in the absence of the aforementioned Leonard.

For San Antonio to make Game 4 competitive, they’ll need more from LaMarcus Aldridge, who continues to take heat for his non-aggressive playstyle. Although Aldridge finished with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting, he’s left a lot to be desired as the go-to player without Leonard on the court. Going toe-to-toe offensively with a team like Golden State is tricky, but when your first option struggles to break double digits at times, that’s not exactly a recipe for success.

While the Spurs will hope that Leonard can return for Monday’s do-or-die Game 4, the damage has already been done. As Ginobili succinctly put it to reporters during the postgame pressers: “For us to win [Game 4], we have to play at a 10, and [the Warriors] have to play at a 7.”

Well said, Manu.

Who Wins Game 4?

Until Leonard is officially announced as fit and ready, the Warriors will convincingly keep their edge in this series. The Spurs and their scrappy group of veterans still have a chance of winning a game at home, particularly so if Leonard can return. But if Leonard is hobbled or remains out, then not much will change in Game 4 and the Warriors will almost assuredly sweep their way to the NBA Finals.

Benny Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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