Can anyone beat the Spurs?

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Can anyone beat the Spurs?

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs mowed down another opponent, using their guile under pressure to close out another perfect playoff series. Tim Duncan scored 21 points, Tony Parker added 17 and the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Clippers 102-99 on Sunday night to win their second-round matchup 4-0 and advance to the Western Conference finals. "They played great, they made it tough on us," Parker said. "The last 2 minutes we got the stops we needed. Everybody did something." The Spurs extended their winning streak to 18 games and their playoff record to 8-0, tying the third-best postseason streak in franchise history. "Until we go all the way, I can't compare this team," said Parker, who has won three NBA titles with the Spurs. "We're just trying to stay focused." Danny Green and Gary Neal added 14 points each, and Manu Ginobili and Thiago Splitter had 11 each. "We needed a game like that. It arrived at the perfect time," Parker said. "We battled. We executed our plays, made big baskets." San Antonio could find out as soon as Monday night who it will play next. Oklahoma City leads the Lakers 3-1 in their series, with Game 5 on Monday. "We haven't done anything yet. We've won two rounds," Duncan said. "We haven't done anything so you can't qualify or classify our team as anything other than that we've gotten this far." The Spurs trailed much of the fourth until tying the game twice in the final 3:32 before their 30-something trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili took over most of the scoring. "Their experience showed with their execution," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. "Tim looks great and the rest of the guys are feeding off that." Chris Paul had 23 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin added 21 points, and Eric Bledsoe had 17 for the Clippers, who blew a six-point lead in the fourth quarter when Paul faltered in the final two minutes, usually a time when the All-Star guard is at his best. "We had our opportunities and we couldn't convert," Del Negro said. "We made our mistakes at some key moments and that was the difference." Both nursing injuries, Griffin and Paul combined to score 21 of the Clippers' 28 points in the third quarter when they took their first lead of the game. In the fourth, Bledsoe came up big, scoring 11 in a row, to extend the lead to 90-85 with 5:38 remaining. After Reggie Evans missed two free throws, Green hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 92. Duncan's hook put the Spurs in front 96-94 before Paul tossed up a one-handed shot that rose to the top of the backboard before dropping straight in as he crashed into a baseline photographer. He made the free throw to put the Clippers ahead by one. Parker scored consecutive baskets and the Spurs regained the lead, 100-97, with 1:47 left. Paul's two free throws drew the Clippers within one. After a timeout, Paul drove the basket and lost the ball. He fouled Green, who made the first and missed the second to keep the Spurs ahead for good. "I messed up, bad decisions," Paul said, holding his 2-year-old son on his lap. "I should have shot it and I missed the shot, all on me." Paul then missed another shot, and Mo Williams fouled Parker, who missed the first and made the second with a second left. "To let my team down in that situation is probably the toughest part of the season," Paul said. "We scrapped, we played hard. At the end of the day, playing hard isn't always enough. You got to execute. On that last play, at least we could have gotten a shot off and I turned the ball over." DeAndre Jordan added 10 points. Paul had best performance of the series after sub-par efforts in the first two games. He'd been playing with a strained right hip, while Griffin has a sprained right knee, an injured left hip and got stitches for a cut lip in the first half. Neither team led by more than five points in the third period. Duncan had 10 points for the Spurs. Bledsoe's putback slam dunk gave the Clippers 75-74 lead going into the fourth. The Spurs stretched their lead to 12 points with Duncan sitting out the opening 7 minutes of the second quarter. The Clippers closed on a 14-6 run to trail 51-47 at halftime. Paul got it started with a 19-foot jumper and ended it with a 3-pointer. Early in the spurt, Griffin ran into Ginobili's shoulder, fell and one of his top teeth went through his lip. He left the court with 2:20 remaining to get two stitches on the inside and outside of his lip. Los Angeles began the game on a 9-4 run before San Antonio scored 14 unanswered points, reminiscent of its 24-0 third-quarter spurt Saturday that led to the Spurs' eventual 10-point victory in Game 3. Notes: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili played in their 130th postseason game together, the most played as an active trio in the league. ... Duncan finished with nine rebounds, just short of notching his 135th career playoff double-double. ... The Clippers have lost all seven of their playoff series after losing Game 1. ... The Spurs had a 40-36 edge on the boards, while the Clippers outscored them in the paint, 56-50.

NBA Playoffs observations: Officiating, Draymond Green, LeBron James

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NBA Playoffs observations: Officiating, Draymond Green, LeBron James

The officiating has overshadowed some bad basketball and some really great finishes to start the second round of the playoffs.

I’ve never seen a finish like the last 13 seconds of Game 2 with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where there were so many violations and missed calls, the league almost issued an apology for it.

Manu Ginobili embellished the contact from Dion Waiters on the start of the wild finish, but there shouldn’t have been contact in the first place. His reputation could’ve hurt him...

Or it was truly possible the official wasn’t looking at Waiters’ upper body, only counting off the five-seconds.

I talked to numerous officials in the aftermath, with each in agreement they’d never seen a play like that before, from start to finish.

We as viewers have the benefit of replay. The officials don’t have that luxury in the moment, and therefore it makes us as the public more skeptical about what we see compared to what they call.

By and large, though, the NBA refs do a pretty good job of catching calls, while also understanding nobody wants a whistle-fest for 48 minutes of basketball.

And we say we want the refs to swallow their whistle and not to decide the games, well, they did that in the finish of San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

After all that controversy, it’s hard to remember the Spurs beat the brakes off the Thunder in Game 1...remember?

Russell Westbrook catches a lot of flak that should be aimed in the direction of his coach, teammates and front office. Yes, that includes Kevin Durant.

But I’m not sure you can truly “win” with Westbrook, given his style of play doesn’t lend itself to late-game execution because he can’t slow down.

But being frenetic is what makes him special, right?

Who cares if Draymond Green is a superstar or not, he certainly is extremely valuable to Golden State, which maximizes everything he does so well. Green doesn’t make other players better in the traditional sense, but he enhances what you do well, which is just as important.

Winning Game 2 should buy the MVP, Stephen Curry, an extra few days of recovery before pushing him back to action over the weekend.

Nights like Game 2 between the Warriors and Trailblazers make me rethink my voting on Defensive Player of the Year.

My ballot was Kawhi Leonard, Green, and Atlanta’s Paul Milsap.

But speaking of Atlanta, I can’t see them challenging the Cavs for anything beyond a game in this series.

It looks like the Cavs realize that, too. And it should be a sweep. Why? The Hawks just don’t have enough. On the floor or the sideline.

With Kyle Korver’s struggles, one should know the easiest thing in the NBA to find is perimeter shooting, and no team should be married to it in the form of one player or another (Hint, hint, Chicago Bulls management) 

During the season, I talked to a personnel man in Los Angeles, who said the Cavaliers wouldn’t win a title unless LeBron James took a step back from doing everything and allowing others to flourish.

By “others”, he meant Kyrie Irving and made the comparison about Dwyane Wade deferring to James starting in 2012, which lead to the Miami Heat winning two titles.

More on Wade in a moment.

Would James’ ego and game work without being a high-volume, high-usage player, especially ceding a spot in the hierarchy to the likes of Irving? That’s the most interesting development that will come out of the Hawks-Cavs second-round series.

Moving back to Wade. Whenever you think he’s done, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat—and the Heat look poised for a meeting with the Cavs in the conference finals.

If there’s a team to truly challenge Cleveland, Miami’s length on defense and shot blocking could be an interesting antidote to Cleveland’s high pick and rolls.

Not only with Wade but Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson, the Heat has three supreme shot creators down the stretch of games, who can facilitate, get to the rim and make free throws.

That makes them beyond dangerous. 

Not as dangerous as Chris Bosh seems to be to his own health. He desperately wants to play, but the Heat won’t give him clearance.

Think about how rare that is, a team that desperately wants to win, but will not put a player in danger to do it. Sounds simple and humane, but think how many franchises in all facets of sports would try to take every precaution but letting a player make his own decision about playing.

I commend Bosh for wanting to play so badly, he’s going to the union so he can risk his life, potentially.

Think about how that sounds.

With his health situation sprouting in two straight years, one wonders if Bosh should even think about playing beyond this playoff run.

That said, the Heat almost gave one away to the Raptors, a team nobody believes in for good reason.

A team led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry seems like it has a very low shelf life—the second round.

Speaking of Lowry, it’s past time to call him a playoff underachiever. He’s played over 30 playoff games and isn’t shooting 40 percent for his career.

That desperation triple that sent game 1 into overtime was three of his seven points.

That desperation triple shouldn’t have counted considering he stepped out of bounds before picking up his dribble.

The officials will get another round of derision after the NBA releases its two-minute report Wednesday.

One wonders how bad the Bulls feel watching the Raptors, a team they’ve dominated the past two years, being in the second round while they’re at home.

Lowry’s probably still shooting in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre after hours.

And it probably won’t help.

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

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Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

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Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

The Cubs look to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11 a.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33)

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