The Spurs and Cavs just played some great basketball

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photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Last night the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers played a meaningful game in early January, with the Spurs pulling out hard earned 99-95 win.

The NBA Regular Season is long… probably too long, and it’s rare that one gets to see teams, especially veteran contenders like these two, come at each other with playoff level intensity in early January.

The Cavaliers are heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference this year. They were coming into this game on an eight game winning streak, on the heels of a great overtime win against the Mavericks on Tuesday night. They’ve been on the road for the past couple of weeks and have a huge game coming up next Monday against Golden State. You could forgive Cleveland for playing a little sluggish in this one, and yet LeBron and company came out of the gates swinging. James made a point to get to the basket early and often, scoring from close and setting up good looks for Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. The Cavs took an early lead and never trailed in the first half.

San Antonio grabbed an early second half lead by turning up the heat on defense and mercilessly attacking the paint. Tony Parker was the head of the spear, playing as well as I’ve seen from him in years. He finished the game with 24 points on 11-18 shooting, and was a magician in the paint. Parker is having one hell of a season. He’s coming off a 31 point game on Tuesday and is shooting at 53 percent for the season, a season in which most basketball minds thought he was going to fall off dramatically.

The Spurs got a ton of mileage by picking on Kevin Love in the second half. Tim Duncan hit a couple of huge shots down the stretch with Love trying to man him up one-on-one. It’s no secret that Love is a huge minus on the defensive end for the Cavs, a minus that can be hid against most teams, but when playing a team with as many talented bigs as the Spurs, it’s a mismatch that is going to be exploited time-and-time again.

The biggest boost to the Spurs in the second half came from Kawhi Leonard. After a poor shooting first half he finished the night with 20 points, 10 rebounds a slew of disruptive plays on defense Then there was this dunk late in the fourth quarter that was – well – see for yourself:

 

Leonard is the player that makes the Spurs newfound, defense first philosophy work. No loose ball is safe when he is within 10 feet of it. Coach Popovich has the luxury of throwing him at the likes of Stephen Curry and LeBron James knowing that he can hold is own without the need for double teams. Chuck said that Kawhi is the best player in the league right now, and while I think Curry and LeBron are still better, more polished players, it’s hard to argue that Leonard is not at very least the most disruptive player in the game.

The Spurs have now won 10 straight, and sit just 2.5 games behind Golden State. They have the best point differential in NBA history at the moment and against the Cavs they showed that they can put the clamps on one of the league’s best offenses. This was the biggest game of the regular season so far, and the Spurs played like a team hell bent on winning one more title.

Some Notes:

  • Has anyone else noticed that 90 percent of Matthew Dellavedova is driving down the right side of the lane and throwing a lob to whichever big man Cleveland has closest to the basket? Sure he can also hit an open three or two, and play gritty – read, dirty – defense, but the fact that Delly plays so many minutes for a championship contender is astonishing to me. The only player who irks me more by his very presence on the court is Austin Rivers, but I can at least see the – flawed – reasoning for him getting so many minutes on a contender.
  • It’s always fascinating to watch how Pop works in some of his less experienced players into these big regular season games. Kyle Anderson and Jonathan SImmons both got some run tonight, and both ended up positive in net +/-. San Antonio is like a factory that produces nothing but players that can contribute to a winning team.
  • It was so nice to have a game like this to distract me from the parade of hatred and stupidity that was the GOP debate. Coming to the game late gave me a good reason to stay off Twitter, thus giving me a reprieve from all of the foolishness.
  • My reaction to seeing Jimmy Butler’s stat line in the Bulls 115-111 OT win over the 76ers:

 

The NBA’s BIGGEST Big Three

 

chart via – NBA Reddit

I haven’t had a ton of time to watch Cavs games in the past couple of weeks, but it looks as if things have gotten interesting since Kyrie Irving has come back from his injury. Everyone has made a lot of noise (including me, just scroll down) about the Warriors lineup of death, and for good reason, but it seems as if Cleveland has it’s own trident of doom (copyright pending).

I have to admit that I was flabbergasted when I saw this chart. Obviously we are dealing with a relatively small sample size here, but it’s not very often you see trio of players have a plus minus of almost 18 points in 17 minutes. It makes you wonder what would have happened last year if Love and Irving would have stayed healthy throughout the playoffs.

LeBron James has been pretty consistent

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via NBA Reddit

While we are spending this season talking about how amazing Stephen Curry is, and for good reason, it’s always good to take a step back and remember just how awe inspiring LeBron James game has been year-after-year.

I wish I was half as consistent of a writer as this guy is on the hardwood. I have a good reason for not writing the last couple of days, but I will talk about that more when the time is right. For now, enjoy the hoops tonight and I’ll talk to you all soon.

Spurs Special Forces 3

This video has been making the rounds online today, and boy it it great. The premise is that Phil Jackson has held up Spurs Head Coach, Greg Popavich in a hotel room in order to sabotage San Antonio’s chances of signing free agent forward LeMarcus Aldridge. It’s up to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, who are actually part of an A-Team like force, hiding in plain site as the most boring team in the league, to save the day. Rest assured, hijinks ensue, and the Spurs take care of business in their usual Spursian way.

Big shout out to Matt Hill for putting this video together. It definitely won the internet today.

 

Cam Netwon is your 2015 MVP

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Cam Newton was at it again this week in Carolina’s 38 to 0 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons. Newton threw for 265 yards on 15/21, with three touchdown passes and zero interceptions in a performance that is starting to feel like deja vu.

The Panthers are now a head scratching 13-0. With one more win they will lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Carolina is second in the NFL in both points scored and points allowed. It seems like they are dropping 30 points on everyone they face. And they are doing all of this with the likes of Tedd Ginn Jr., Jonathon Stewart and Devin Funchess in supporting roles.

The Carolina Panthers are the NFL’s version of grit and grind. Their offense relies on a heavy dose of running the ball, and a few big plays coming off of play action. Cam Netwon’s statistics don’t jump off the page, he doesn’t lead the league in passing or passing touch downs, but Superman is capable of making all of the throws as he showed off against the Falcons.

He has also mastered the forgotten art of the read option. There have been a slew of QB’s who have fallen in and out of stardom over the past few years trying to bring the read option over from the college ranks – RIP Collin Kaepernick and RG III – but Newtons ability to make accurate deep throws and take a beating have made him the perfect prototype for a read option QB in the NFL.

The constant threat of Netwon and Jonathon Stewart ripping off big runs, has made it possible for second and third rate receivers like Ginn Jr. and Jericho Cotchery to find openings down field.  Ginn Jr. had touchdown catches of 74 and 46 yards in todays win.

A lot of the credit for the Panthers dominance this year has to go to their defense. They are currently second in the NFL in defensive DOA. They are stifling against the run and relish the opportunity to get to the QB. In today’s game they got to Matt Ryan five times, caused two turnovers off of fumbles and had two picks.

When you pair a great defense with an efficient offense good things can happen in the NFL. This years Carolina Panthers has the same kind of look that the 49ers/Seahawks have had as the best teams in the NFC over the past five seasons. It’s yet to be seen whether or not the Panthers have enough talent to make a championship run, but they have the right quarterback to make this team great.

Superman is the league’s MVP.

 

When you spend $200 on league pass and can’t watch NBA TV games online

First off I would just like to say how much I love NBA League Pass. I’ve had the service now for three years and it’s been a staple of how I spend my winter nights. Being able to watch almost all of the Warriors games during their current streak has been exhilarating.

This weekend you can watch all of the games on League Pass for free. They are having multiple promotions like this all year and I applaud the NBA for giving prospective customers multiple demos of their top shelf product.

That all said, the Golden State Warriors are currently losing to the Milwaukee Bucks going into halftime, and I can’t watch the game because it is blacked on League Pass do the game being aired on NBA TV. That’s right. The Association -which owns NBA TV – blacks out games on League Pass – which is also owned by the NBA.

I understand that the league gets a whole lot of money for selling it’s product to the cable giants, and thus means it has to blackout games on ESPN and TNT, but it boggles my mind that they could not find a way to workout a deal to be able to show their own games on their own streaming product. It would be like Nike only being able to sell it’s shoes in third party retailers and not on its own site. It’s crazy making.

So now I’m left with the devils choice of either not watching the game until tomorrow, when one of the most impressive streaks in the history of sports could potentially be snapped, or finding a less than legal streaming option to take in the game.

I’m not the kind of guy who pirates digital goods anymore. I’m not going to hunt down some underground European streaming site to watch the game in extremely low IQ, but part of me wants to do so just on principle.  I realize this is a petty complaint, and I should be thankful to be able to afford League Pass at all. But this is history man, you would think the league would want as many people seeing these games as possible.

Not cool NBA. Not too cool at all.

Ends rant. Have a good Saturday night everyone!