Jazz 118, Spurs 112
Gregg Popovich didn't put much thought into San Antonio's playoff streak when it was rolling along.
He's not thinking about it now, either.
The Spurs' record-tying run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is over, and the longest season in team history — almost 300 days from the first game to the last — is also, strangely, over earlier than the NBA is used to seeing. The final outcome was a loss to Utah on Thursday night, a game that was meaningless in the standings.
“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”
Rayjon Tucker had 18 points for the Jazz, who finished with eight players in double figures and used their regulars either sparingly or not at all. Jarrell Brantley and Georges Niang each added 13 for the Jazz and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell had 11 points in just 11 minutes in his final tune-up before the playoffs.
“You can't say enough about the Spurs," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They've been the premier franchise in the NBA for a long time."
Keldon Johnson scored 24 points to lead seven Spurs in double figures. Marco Belinelli and Luka Samanic each had 16 for San Antonio.
The Spurs were officially ousted when Memphis beat Milwaukee, and Phoenix completed an undefeated eight-game run in the NBA’s restart bubble with a victory over Dallas.
Those games went final shortly before San Antonio-Utah started. The Spurs needed the Grizzlies or the Suns to lose to have any chance of getting into the West play-in series that begins Saturday to decide the NBA’s final postseason berth.
“It's tough," Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “It's more so tough putting your faith in somebody else's hands."
Popovich's routine seemed normal. He met with assistants to discuss strategy before addressing players during timeouts. When someone needed a little 1-on-1 instruction, he approached and offered a word or two.
It looked just as it always does. Only this time, it was very different.
For the first time since April 1997, the Spurs played a game knowing that the playoffs were out of reach. The 22-year run of playoff spots tied the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise for the longest in NBA history. The 76ers, starting as the Syracuse Nationals before moving to Philadelphia, went to the playoffs every year from 1950 through 1971.
With San Antonio out, the longest active postseason streak now belongs to the Houston Rockets. They’ll be in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year starting next week.
This is how long the streak went: David Stern wasn’t even halfway through his 30-year run as commissioner when it started. The Charlotte Bobcats — that’s what today’s Hornets went by then — were still 6-1/2 years from playing their first game. Pat Riley was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.
And now, for the first time since 1981, the playoffs will happen without either Riley or Popovich as head coaches.
The Spurs won five championships during the streak. They played 284 postseason games over those years; the only franchises within 100 of that were the Lakers (218), Miami (196) and Boston (192). And the Spurs won 170 playoff games in that span; only seven franchises have more playoff wins in their entire history.
All 170 of those wins for the Spurs came under Popovich, a total that gives him more career playoff victories than any two current coaches combined. There were 102 players who got into at least one Spurs playoff game during the streak, including current NBA head coaches Jacque Vaughn, Steve Kerr and Monty Williams.
The Spurs came into Disney as playoff long shots and felt the eight games they were guaranteed of playing during the restart would be ways to have young players grow from competition. They made it to the last possible day of contention.
“At this point, it’s been a huge success for our team and our young players, the development that we’ve talked about from the beginning,” Popovich said. “We’re very happy with what’s gone on here.”
He has given the restart rave reviews, both on and off the floor.
Popovich — an Air Force Academy graduate and the coach of USA Basketball’s men’s national team — wore a shirt pregame that read “Vote Your Life Depends On It.” He has remained outspoken on the need to end racial injustice and police brutality during the Spurs’ time in the bubble, talking about that perhaps as much if not more as he has about basketball.
“It's important to bring these up, painful as they are," Popovich said. “Some people talk about getting tired of hearing about it. But that’s the point. It has to change.”
This was the first losing season for the Spurs since 1996-97, the year that Popovich became coach 18 games into the season — and just before Tim Duncan went San Antonio as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft.
Grizzlies 119, Bucks 106
With their season on the line, Jonas Valanciunas and Ja Morant teamed up to make history and keep the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff hopes alive.
Valanciunas and Morant had triple-doubles, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points and the Grizzlies beat Milwaukee on Thursday to wrap up a spot in the play-in tournament that will determine the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
This marked the first time in franchise history that two Grizzlies had triple-doubles in a game. The team effort helped the Grizzlies bounce back after losing six of their first seven games since the NBA returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff.
“I'm happy that we responded,” said Valanciunas, who had 26 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists. “We showed character. We're not going home. We're going to fight until the last second."
Dillon Brooks added 31 points as Memphis never trailed while capitalizing on the fact Milwaukee was missing Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP was serving a one-game suspension after head-butting Moritz Wagner in a 126-113 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies (34-39) tied for ninth place in the Western Conference with Phoenix, which beat Dallas 128-102 on Thursday. Memphis advances to the play-in round because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Phoenix.
Memphis now faces Portland (35-39), which earned a spot in the play-in round by edging the Brooklyn Nets 134-133 on Thursday night.
As the No. 9 team, Memphis must beat Portland two straight times to advance to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Memphis hasn’t been to the playoffs the last two years after making seven straight postseason appearances from 2011-17.
“It’s great to see in a meaningful game that our guys just stuck with it,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We’re going to need that on Saturday - even more and more and better and better.”
Valanciunas earned the game ball after getting his first double-double in his 559th career NBA game. The 28-year-old Valanciunas' previous career high in assists was five.
“I'm definitely going to keep that ball for a long time to show my kids that Daddy did it,” Valanciunas said.
Morant had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
This marked the first time two teammates posted triple-doubles in the same game since Miami's Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler did it Dec. 10 in a 135-121 overtime victory over Atlanta. Valanciunas and Morant are the 12th pair of teammates to post triple-doubles in the same game, including the postseason.
Brook Lopez scored 19 to lead five Bucks in double figures. Frank Mason had 18, Donte DiVincenzo collected 17, Khris Middleton 14 and D.J. Wilson 12.
This game was meaningless for the Bucks, who already had clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for a second straight season. But it meant everything for the Grizzlies and Jenkins, who was an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer's staff last season and previously worked for him in Atlanta.
It was quickly apparent which of these two teams had the most incentive. Memphis led by as many as 23.
“You’d have to be head in the sand really deep to not understand everything that was at stake today,” Budenholzer said. “Taylor and his group have done such a great job this year. They earned it. They played well today. They were sharp. Guys really stepped up.”
Morant ended the regular season averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 assists. The only rookies in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven assists are Oscar Robertson (1960-61), Magic Johnson (1979-80), Isiah Thomas (1981-82), Damon Stoudamire (1995-96), Allen Iverson (1996-97) and Trae Young (2018-19).
Middleton shot 5 of 13 and was just shy of becoming the ninth NBA player to finish a season shooting at least 50% from the floor, 40% from 3-point range and 90% from the foul line. He ended up shooting 49.7% on field-goal attempts, 41.5% on 3-pointers and 91.6% on free throws.
Trail Blazers 134, Nets 133
Damian Lillard sent Portland into the NBA's first play-in series with 42 more points and a crucial steal, helping the Trail Blazers escape with a 134-133 victory over Brooklyn.
The Trail Blazers secured the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference only after Brooklyn's Caris LeVert, who scored 37 points, missed a jumper just before time expired. Portland will play ninth-seeded Memphis on Saturday. If the Grizzlies win, the deciding game would be Sunday.
The winner of the play-in series gets the final spot in the West and a first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland came into the day in eighth place but would have fallen out of playoff position with a loss, thanks to victories earlier Thursday by Memphis and Phoenix. Had the Blazers lost, the Suns would have inched ahead of them into ninth.
But Lillard wouldn't let the Blazers fall, following his games of 51 and 61 points in the previous two games not only with more sensational scoring but also with a huge defensive play.
He chased down LeVert for a steal with Portland clinging to a two-point lead with 1:12 to play, setting up CJ McCollum's free throws that made it 134-130. LeVert came back with a three-point play and had a chance to win it after Carmelo Anthony missed a 3-pointer, but his jumper was off.
Unlike the Grizzlies and Suns, who romped in their afternoon games, the Blazers needed to go all the way to the wire to beat the Nets. Portland scored 73 points in the first half but led by only six after Brooklyn shot 59%.
LeVert then scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, part of what became a 17-3 run as Brooklyn turned an eight-point deficit into a 91-85 lead. A 3-pointer by Luwawu-Cabarrot extended the lead to 102-92 with 1:46 left in the period and the Nets took a 104-97 advantage to the fourth.
Lillard then hit a couple of 3s — one with a foot touching the logo near midcourt — during a 12-4 surge that wiped out a seven-point deficit and put Portland back on top 112-111.
Brooklyn would later go back on top by five before the Portland pulled it out.
McCollum had 25 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Blazers, who went 6-2 in the seeding games.
Joe Harris and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each scored 19 points for the Nets, who finished 5-3. They were already locked into a first-round series with defending champion Toronto but played their starters as if they needed the win.
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts confirmed that McCollum is battling an injury but wouldn’t offer many details. “He has the issue with his back, he’s playing through it and that’s about all I can say,” Stotts said.
General manager Sean Marks, in an interview with Yes Network, said re-signing Harris will be at the top of the team’s list this summer.
“Priority No. 1. It’s that simple, yeah,” Marks said. “Joe, I think we’ve talked about plenty of times. We’re obviously very proud of where Joe has come from and where he is today. And he still continues to get better. Still wants to work on his craft. So yeah, signing him and seeing him with this group will certainly be a priority for us.”
Magic 133, Pelicans 127
Nikola Vucevic scored 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the floor and Orlando tuned up for the postseason by beating New Orleans to snap a five-game skid.
Both teams were missing many of their top players in a regular-season finale that carried no playoff implications.
Orlando was locked into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in a first-round series beginning Tuesday. New Orleans already was out of playoff contention, so its season ended.
Frank Jackson scored 31 points for the Pelicans.
Suns 128, Mavericks 102
Devin Booker scored 27 points and Phoenix rolled past Dallas to keep its playoff hopes alive and finish as the only unbeaten team in the restart.
Dario Saric scored 16 points and Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson each added 15 for the Suns. They will qualify for the play-in series that starts Saturday if Portland loses to Brooklyn later Thursday.
Dallas was already locked into a playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, so the starters played limited minutes. Luka Doncic had 18 points in just over 13 minutes. Boban Marjanovic, Dallas’ 7-foot-4 reserve center, had 18 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
Kings 136, Lakers 122
Buddy Hield scored 28 points, including a 3-pointer that capped Sacramento’s streak of 11 consecutive baskets the third period, and the Kings beat Los Angeles.
Bogdan Bogdanovic had 27 points as the Kings won for only the third time in the NBA restart. The Kings made 21 3-pointers, with Hield going 8 of 14.
The Lakers had their focus on the playoffs. Most Lakers starters were held out, but LeBron James had 17 points in 15 minutes, all in the first half. Dion Waiters led the Lakers with 19 points. Markieff Morris had 14.
Los Angeles locked up the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed three games into the restart.
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