Kawhi Leonard’s Playoff Career High Lifts Spurs over Grizzlies
April 18, 2017
Leonard is a perfect 28-28 from the charity stripe, and Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovic praised Leonard for his ability to get to the line and convert at such a consistent clip.
To add to Leonard’s night, he became the second player since 2008 to score 35 points while grabbing ten rebounds, joining the big fundamental himself, Tim Duncan.
First Half – Spurs Dominate
Unlike game one, the Grizzlies got off to a slow start. The Spurs dominated the first quarter and took a 13 point lead into the second. Marc Gasol propelled the Grizzlies in game one, but he couldn’t get much to drop for him last night. Gasol would start off the game missing his first six shots, and finished with only four made.
In the second quarter, the Spurs would continue to increase their lead. They would go up by as many as 26 before the Grizzlies managed to cut it down to 19 at the break. The Spurs held Memphis to 33 percent shooting during the first half, while the big three of Leonard, Aldridge, and Parker combined for 39 points in the half.
One of the stories in this one was the chippy play of 40 year old Vince Carter. Kyle Anderson appeared to trip Carter during the second quarter, which is bound to upset any player. But when your team is getting blown out, tensions are bound to flare.
Second Half – Memphis Climbs Back
This is where the game got interesting. The Grizzlies narrowed the gap to 10 points at the end of the third quarter after a beautiful step-back three right before the buzzer. Memphis held San Antonio to 19 third quarter points In the fourth, the Grizzlies would pick up the pace.
At the 10:08 mark in the fourth, Marc Gasol would finish at the basket while getting fouled. Gasol would hit the freebee to bring the game within four. And With just a five-point lead with 6:42 remaining in the game, Popovich had seen enough.
San Antonio would start their fourth quarter run with a Danny Green three pointer, followed by a fast-break layup for Leonard and a Pau Gasol three. With the Spurs now up ten, there was no turning back from this point. The Spurs would go on to win 96-82 to take a 2-0 series lead over the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies got strong performances from Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, but their efforts weren’t enough. Memphis is still without their best perimeter defender in Tony Allen, who isn’t expected to return for the remainder of the series.
Fizdale’s Postgame Rant
As a team, the Grizzlies shot a total of 15 free throws between three players. Kawhi Leonard himself took 19 free throws. This is bound to frusturate any coach, but David Fizdale took it personally. In his first year as a head coach, Fizdale felt disrespected by the refs, saying that his rookie head coaching status played into the officiating. Not only did Fizdale believe his coaching experience played into the officiating, but he also believed the Spurs just get more respect as a team due to their championship history, and more notable players on their roster.
Fizdale is bound to receive a fine from the NBA for criticizing the officials, but his opinions speak volume. You can hear the short version of his post-game interview here.
A Look at Florida’s Defensive Line
The Florida Gators have been a top notch defensive program for over a decade now. When Florida brought in Jim McElwain to be their head coach, they were hoping for improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Florida got what they wanted, but the in the end, it’ll always be a program known for their defense.
Last season, the Gators defense ranked sixth in the nation, only allowing 17.9 points per game while limiting opposing passing attacks to under 160 yards per game. The area where they struggled was defending the run, allowing nearly 150 rushing yards per game to opposing teams. This will be the main area to improve on the defensive side of the ball, and the Gators will have to do so with a line filled mostly with underclassmen.
With Spring football coming to an end, it’s time to take a look at the the defensive lineman who need to step up with the loss of Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, and other former Gators.
Looking at the defensive ends for Florida, they have a good amount of returning players from last season who made an impact. Two of the names that stick out are Jabari Zuniga and Jordan Sherit. As a Redshirt Freshman Zuniga played in all 13 games for the Gators, earning the start in three of those games. He totaled 25 tackles on the season, including one forced fumble, 8.5 tackles-for-loss and a team-best 5.0 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
Sherit, the lone senior on this defensive line, appeared in 10 games last season and recorded seven starts. Sherit’s main issue was injuries which cause him to miss a few games last season. When healthy, Sherit is a dominate force on the field. In his limited time, he recorded 38 tackles, 5.0 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries.
However two players in particular are ready to make names for themselves as elite players on an elite defense. Those two being Antonneous Clayton, and Keivonnis Davis.
Clayton hasn’t quite lived up to his 5-star billing, and he is fully aware of that. Despite playing in only five games during his freshman season, Clayton says his potential is endless. In those five games in 2016 he totaled three tackles, three quarterback hurries and one recovered fumble. It’s almost a tradition that the defensive linemen who come to Florida will eventually end up on NFL rosters. They are all aware of it coming in, and Clayton says he and the rest of the group are ready for those expectations.
Keivonnis Davis appeared in all 13 games for the Gators and started five during the 2016 season. He totaled 27 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, five quarterbacks hurries and one forced fumble. Davis’ five QB hurries was tied for second on the team, while his 2.5 sacks tied for fourth.
Last season, Caleb Brantley led this group on and off the field. He showed clear NFL talent during the 2016 season, thus declaring for the NFL draft. With the loss of Brantley, someone from this unit will have to step up. Luckily for the Gators, they have four guys who can do so. These players include Cece Jefferson, Khairi Clark, Taven Bryan, and Jachai Polite.
Jefferson is clearly one of the Gators’ best defensive linemen and will have a central role in 2017. He played every defensive lineman position last year, but excelled on the inside. With Brantley gone, Jefferson will have the biggest challenge of anyone on this defensive line. In his 12 games in 2016, Jefferson started in six, totaling 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
Khairi Clark is one of the “veterans” on this roster. Clark is going into his Redshirt Junior season, meaning this will be his fourth year as a Gator. With that in mind, Clark believes that the younger players can really learn from him, not only as a player, but as a teammate.
Last season, Clark started in three of the 13 games for the Gators. He totaled 16 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one sack and was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. Those numbers don’t stick out to many, but Clark says he has improved tremendously during the spring.
Taven Bryan is another Redshirt Junior for the Gators. During the 2016 season, Bryan only started two games, but appeared in all 13. Bryan totaled 17 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. Not only that, but he led the team with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…
Jachai Polite played in 12 games throughout the 2016 season as a reserve defensive lineman. He totaled 11 tackles with 3.5 of those being tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.
This defensive front is much younger than what the Gators are used to having on their roster, but with the leadership from the upperclassmen Jefferson, Sherit, and Clark, this Gator defense should continue to dominate the SEC and all of college football.
North Carolina Earns 6th National Championship with Win Over Gonzaga
April 4, 2017
Just one year removed from being sent home at the buzzer in the National Championship, the North Carolina Tar Heels would get their revenge. One of the most heartbreaking losses in recent sports memory would be forgotten would be forgotten just after midnight. UNC would go on to defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65 to capture the school’s sixth championship, and third under Head Coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels returned most of the same roster from last years team, and the experience was evident during the final moments of last night’s game.
For the unaware, last night marked the first time Gonzaga had played in a National Championship game. The Zags came out strong, leading by as many as seven with just under four minutes left in the first half. Josh Perkins came out of the gates strong to pour in 13 first half points, but wouldn’t get much done from that point on. UNC would start to cut into the lead at the end of the first half, with Gonzaga taking a 35-32 lead into the break.
Here’s where a roster filled with players who have been in this position before comes in handy. The Tar Heels would start the second half on an 8-0 run forcing Gonzaga Head Coach, Mark Few, to call a timeout.
This would spark a run of their own for the Bulldogs. After going scoreless during the first three minutes of the half, Gonzaga would retake the lead after a 6-0 run. However, Gonzaga Freshman Zach Collins would pick up his fourth foul with nearly 16 minutes remaining.
The Story of the Night
From that point on, foul trouble would be the story of the game. Both teams were in the bonus with 14 minutes left in the second half. Collins would end up playing only six second half minutes before fouling out, while Przemek Karnowski picked up his fourth around the eight minute mark. The Tar Heels would experience some foul trouble of their own with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks finishing the game with four fouls.
Despite a sloppy second half with the amount of fouls and rough shooting night from both teams, someone had to be crowned a champion. There were 11 ties and 12 lead changes during this one, but the Tar Heels would close the game on a 9-2 run, clinching another title for North Carolina. Joel Berry II would lead the way for North Carolina with 22 points, earning him the most outstanding player award. Berry had been dealing with a number of injuries throughout the tournament, but those clearly didn’t slow him down.
- Joel Berry II (UNC) – 22 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds
- Isaiah Hicks (UNC) – 13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks
- Justin Jackson (UNC) – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 0-9 from three
- Nigel Willams-Goss (GU) – 15 points on 29% shooting
- Josh Perkins (GU) – 13 points (all in first half)
- Przemek Karnowski (GU) – 9 points, 9 rebounds, 4 fouls
Looking Ahead for North Carolina and Gonzaga
It seems that North Carolina is one of the pre-season favorites to advance far in the NCAA Tournament every year. However, the Tar Heels are losing their two big men in Hicks and Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson is already a projected lottery pick. Besides that, their roster should remain intact with the exception of the incoming freshman.
That said, North Carolina will look to not only repeat as champions, but make it to a third straight National Championship game. With Roy Williams coaching and Joel Berry II leading the way as a senior, it should be a surprise to no one to see them back in the same position next season. And according to Coach Williams, there is no greater feeling then watching his guys hoist the trophy.
For the Bulldogs, losing Przemek Karnowski will hurt. It’s not every day that a college program has a 7-foot, 300-pound man with a finesse style of play such as Karnowski’s. On the bright side, Zach Collins has shown clear NBA talent in his freshman season, and Nigel Williams-Goss should return for his senior season. Williams-Goss was one of the premiere players in all of college basketball this year, despite some minor struggles in the NCAA Tournament.
No matter who returns for this Gonzaga ball club, it should be clear to everyone that this team means business. With this being the teams 20th appearance in the big dance and first time in the championship game, Coach Mark Few and company have officially put Gonzaga basketball on the map. But for now until this time next season, the North Carolina Tar Heels will be known as National Champions.
“They wanted redemption… one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough and I think this group was tough enough” – Roy Williams pic.twitter.com/x5lHHIC6d1
— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) April 4, 2017
Cavaliers Drop to Second Place in the Eastern Conference in blowout loss to Spurs
The defensive woes for the Cleveland Cavaliers continue in their 103-74 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. And to be honest, it was a clear struggle on both side of the ball for the Cavs. 74 points marks Cleveland’s worse scoring quarter this season, shooting 37% from the field and only 15% from three.
The loss drops Cleveland to second place in the Eastern Conference, with Boston taking a half game lead and the first seed. The last time Cleveland wasn’t the top seed in the East was November 5 2015. Cleveland has lost four of their last six contests, but with nine games left on the regular season schedule the battle for the first seed is just getting started.
The Spurs lead the Cavaliers by ten points after the first quarter and never looked back. With the game very much up for grabs the Spurs started heating up in the second quarter which turned into a 24-8 Spurs run. Just before the run started, Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovic was given a technical foul, which put a fire under his players. During this run, the Spurs shot 64% from the field.
Cleveland couldn’t get anything to fall against one of the best defensive teams in the league, shooting under 40 and 20 percent from the field and behind the arc. LeBron James finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists, while Tristan Thompson was the only other Cavalier in double-figures with 11.
Kyrie Irving finished the game with just 8 points on 4-13 shooting from the field. This performance ended his 21 game streak of 20 or more points scored in a game. Irving’s performance prompted him to get shots up after his worst game since the All-Star break.
Kyrie remained on the court after the game, practicing his shot and clearing his mind after the @cavs' tough night. pic.twitter.com/tDjda8mkxK
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) March 28, 2017
Kevin Love, who is still getting used to in-game action after missing 13 games with a knee injury finished the game with 9 points to go along with 7 boards.
What’s Next for the Cavaliers?
Cleveland currently sits half a game out of first place in the Eastern Conference with nine games left to play this season. In this month alone, the Cavaliers have played 16 games, with two more coming on Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia.
According to LeBron, who was forced to leave last nights game after getting elbowed in the back, the schedule isn’t an excuse to their poor play this month.
Three of Cleveland’s next four games are coming against teams with a record under .500, but after that stretch they only play teams that are in the Easter Conference playoff race. One of those matchups include a meeting with Boston, who as I mentioned before, is ahead of the Cavs for that top spot in the East. After Boston, Cleveland close off the regular season with two games against the Atlanta Hawks, on the road in Miami, and a home matchup with the Toronto Raptors.