Spurs -Clippers Preview

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Given his passion for wine, it’s no surprise that Gregg Popovich has such a deep appreciation for the graceful way Tim Duncan is aging.

Duncan will turn 39 shortly after Friday night’s Game 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers, but the oldest player in these playoffs still looks capable of carrying the load for the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA’s lone series that’s even after two games.

With Tony Parker ineffective for a second straight contest Wednesday before leaving with a right Achilles injury, Duncan turned in a vintage performance in a 111-107 overtime win. Neutralized for much of the opener by DeAndre Jordan, the two-time MVP had 28 points and 11 rebounds while playing the final eight minutes with five fouls.

“He was spectacular,” said Popovich, who spends much of his offseasons in Oregon and is an investor in a winery there. “He continues to amaze me with the things that he is able to do. He knows he had to stay on the court and he figured out a way to do it. He continued to be aggressive, which is pretty amazing.”

While Duncan’s effort helped the Spurs avoid their first 0-2 hole under the three-time coach of the year, Parker’s injury could eventually lead to San Antonio’s summer starting sooner than expected. He’s probable Friday but could be hampered throughout the series.

“(I’m) very concerned,” Duncan said. “I hope he’s able to play and play well for us. We need him for that. He’s a big part of what we do, obviously. So him not at 100 percent hurts us.”

Patty Mills made sure Parker’s absence wouldn’t haunt the Spurs in the short term Wednesday, hitting the tying free throws with eight seconds left before scoring eight of his 18 points in overtime after Manu Ginobili had fouled out.

“They are battle-tested,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “They lose Parker, Mills steps in. Manu is out, (Danny) Green steps in. That is what they do. You have to tip your hat to them.”

Curry Saves the Day

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr made his NBA living as deadly outside shooter, and then, after his playing days, as someone who could offer lucid explanations for the seemingly most insignificant basketball minutiae.

However, not even Kerr could understand exactly what just happened Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center in the Warriors’ improbable 123-119 overtime playoff victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Golden State grabbed an imposing 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 set for Saturday night in New Orleans.

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 123, PELICANS 119 (OT)

RELATED: Watch Curry send game to OT with crazy shot

How did his team overcome a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit?

How did guard Steph Curry unleash a miracle 3-pointer from the left corner over the outstretched arms of forward Anthony Davis, the NBA’s best shot-blocker, with 2.8 seconds left to send the game into overtime?

How did Golden State outscore the Pelicans 39-19 in the fourth quarter, swallowing up 10 offensive rebounds and scoring 16 second-chance points?

How?

“I’m going to have to watch the tape,” Kerr said, smiling as if he didn’t believe what he just saw. “I’m not sure what happened. I’m as startled as everyone else.”

A shaken New Orleans coach Monty Williams said, “We have to take ownership of it. We can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now.”

The man with the shovel was the frail-looking Curry, the guy with a crooked smile and an assassin’s heart.

Curry scored 17 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and even though he didn’t have a “heat check” shooting night — he was just 10-for-29 from the floor overall — he made every big shot he needed as Golden State outscored New Orleans 39-19 in final period to force the overtime.

Curry’s game-tying shot actually came courtesy of a blown defensive assignment by the Pelicans, who were leading 108-105 with 9.6 seconds left and wanted to foul Curry before he had a chance to bury them.

Kawhi Leonard Defensive Player of the Year

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San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has been named the NBA defensive player of the year.

The league announced the award on Thursday. Injuries limited Leonard to just 64 games this season. But he still managed to make an enormous impact, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

Leonard is just the sixth forward to lead the league in steals per game since the NBA started tracking the statistic 42 years ago. He averaged 2.3 steals per game and helped the Spurs finish third in defensive rating with 99.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.

Leonard garnered 333 total points in the voting, including 37 first-place votes. Golden State forward Draymond Green finished a close second with 317 points, including 45 first-place votes.

Brittney Griner in Trouble

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One of the best women’s basketball players in the world is in trouble with the law.

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was arrested early Thursday morning on suspicion of assault and disorderly conduct, according to Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, per The Arizona Republic. Griner’s fiancee, Glory Johnson, was arrested on the same charges, according to the report.

TMZ reported that the two were allegedly attacking each other.

Johnson also plays in the WNBA as a member of the Tulsa Shock.

Griner was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft and made an immediate impact. She helped the Mercury win the 2014 WNBA title. She’s a two-time WNBA All-Star and won the league’s defensive player of the year award.

Prior to the WNBA, Griner was one of the most dominant players in college basketball history, as she was a two-time All-American and three-time Big 12 player of the year at Baylor.

Rondo Done in Dallas??

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In a development that hardly could be considered shocking in light of everything that has transpired since his trade to the Dallas Mavericks, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Rajon Rondo might be as good as gone next season.

Wojnarowski, who rightfully observes that the situation in Dallas with Rondo has devolved into a “toxic” environment, writes that given the away his tenure with the Mavericks has played out, Rondo’s expected “free-agent fleeing” to Los Angeles and the Lakers reasonably can be viewed as “inevitable.” He adds that this eventuality becomes a certain one if head coach Rick Carlisle returns for an eighth season as Mavericks head coach.

There doesn’t appear any reason why Carlisle’s ouster would occur, even if the Mavericks are ousted out of the first round by the superior Houston Rockets, which right now appears to be the case. Carlisle also is only a few seasons removed from leading the Mavs to an NBA title, something that should work in his favor, no matter the outcome of this postseason. 

The situation in Dallas has deteriorated significantly ever since Rondo arrived on the scene and probably reached the point of no return when the point guard was benched during Tuesday’s 111-99 loss and a two-games-to-none deficit to the Rockets.

Rondo played just a shade under 10 minutes before being exiled to a ride on the pine early on the in third quarter, notching as many personal fouls as points scored, in both cases a disappointing four.

Cryptic comments from Carlisle after Tuesday’s game regarding Rondo was simply a continuation of what he had to say about an on-court run-in with the guard during a game in February, a confrontation that led to a similar benching.

Scott Brooks Fired

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The Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, and that cost coach Scott Brooks his job.

The team announced that it had parted ways with the coach after seven seasons. He led them to a 45-37 record after Kevin Durant missed much of the season with a foot injury

“This is an extremely difficult decision on many levels. Scott helped establish the identity of the Thunder and has earned his rightful place in the history of our organization through his seven years as a valued leader and team member,” Sam Presti, Thunder executive vice president and GM said in a statement.

Durant, the reigning most valuable player, started 27 games this season.

“As we all know, this past year we had unique and challenging circumstances and as I have conveyed, not many people could have accomplished what Scott and this team were able to,” Presti said. “Therefore, it is very important to state that this decision is not a reflection of this past season, but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain. We determined that, in order to stimulate progress and put ourselves in the best position next season and as we looked to the future, a transition of this kind was necessary for the program. We move forward with confidence in our foundation and embrace the persistence and responsibility that is required to construct an elite and enduring basketball organization capable of winning an NBA championship in Oklahoma City.”

Golden St. up 2-0

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr likes to say his team teeters on “explosive and careless” basketball, pulling off an astonishing play one moment and a perplexing one the next. 

Kerr saw both extremes Monday night. 

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 97, PELICANS 87

Davis had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Gordon scored 23 points for the Pelicans who played with more poise and passion against than they did in the series opener.

In the end, the Warriors were just better when it mattered most.

RELATED: Playoff schedule, results

“We still get excited at times and do some crazy things. I kind of like the fact that we walk that line,” Kerr said. “It’s what makes us who we are.”

The top-seeded Warriors fell behind by 13 points in the first quarter after a strong start by Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon quieted an announced sellout crowd of 19,596 wearing golden yellow shirts. But a big burst before halftime pushed the Warriors ahead, and their defense clamped down in the closing moments to put away the pesky Pelicans.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday night in New Orleans.

Davis had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Gordon scored 23 points for a Pelicans team that played with more poise and passion than it did in the series opener.

“We just have to stick with it,” Gordon said.

“We’re playing the best team in the league and we’re fighting tooth and nail,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams added. “Our guys are grouping up on the fly.”

In the end, the Warriors were just better when it mattered most

M’s Drop Another

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Luis Valbuena expects to play well, even this well.

The Houston third baseman hit a pair of solo home runs, including a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning, to give the Astros a 7-5 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

It was the Valbuena’s fifth home run in the past seven games and second career multiple homer game. Since April 11, the career .229 hitter is batting .323.

”I’m not surprised,” said the 29-year-old with his fourth big league team. ”That’s how I’ve worked in the cage and in the practice. That’s how I work, I try to bring to the game. I try to hit ball hard every at-bat.”

Valbuena, who started the scoring with a drive in the first inning, opened the eighth with a shot to right on 1-1 pitch from Danny Farquhar (0-1), the first homer allowed by and Astros reliever this season. That broke the 5-all tie.

”I was looking for a cutter. He threw me that pitch,” he said. ”I try to be aggressive with that pitch.”

Jed Lowrie added an RBI single in the inning.

Colby Rasmus also connected, on a 2-0 pitch from starter Hisashi Iwakuma in the fifth.

Tony Sipp (1-0), who worked the seventh and eighth, picked up the victory.

The Astros had nine hits, six for extra bases.

”It’s nice to have some big hits. We’ve got to mix in some singles here and there,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. ”We’re pretty good with extra-base hits.”

The Mariners had come back twice behind the middle-lineup strength of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. They went a combined 6 of 12 with four doubles, three RBIs and four runs scored.

Over the last seven games, those 3-4-5 hitters have have combined to hit .452 with eight doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBIs.