2013 NBA Playoffs

How Long Does The Heat Big 3 Last?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They haven’t even had the parade yet and all anybody wants to know is if the Miami Heat’s Big 3 is ready for an encore or the end of a fruitful three-year run together?

LeBron James isn’t going anywhere, Heat boss Pat Riley cannot let that happen. And Dwyane Wade is already the most decorated and beloved player in franchise history. He should be and probably will be allowed to leave on his own terms, whenever he gets to that point in his career.

That leaves Chris Bosh, the oft-maligned third member of the crew, the one who went scoreless in that deciding Game 7 of The Finals, the one who always seems to be at the center of trade rumors when the topic of what the next act is for this Heat outfit. If Bosh is the one member of the group that is expendable, the time to strike and make a move could be upon us this summer.

Free agency is around the corner, July 1, and if the ongoing escapades between the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics have shown us anything, it’s that there are teams out there ready to risk franchise and limb to either remain or make themselves relevant in the championship picture.

Only Riley knows how long the Heat’s Big 3 lasts. It’s going to be his call, no matter what anyone else says about it. And in the immediate aftermath of the Heat clinching their second straight title, he didn’t seem inclined to touch a hair on the head of his masterpiece:

“I just want this thing to keep going,” the 68-year-old Riley told ESPN.com after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of an epic Finals. “I’m at an age now where I’m ready to just fly off somewhere. But I’m not going to because the Good Lord has blessed me with a team that’s allowed me to grab onto its coattails for as long as they want to be together.”

But it’s obvious that the gap between the Heat and the rest of the pack is closing. We saw that in the playoffs, when Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and then Tim Duncan took turns exposing the Heat’s tender underbelly inside.

A “stretch 4 or 5″ like Bosh is a luxury for a team that is head and shoulders above the competition, a team with a healthy James and Wade to lean on night after night. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has often referred to Bosh as his team’s most important player, though I’m still not sure how much of that is honesty and how much of it is posturing to keep Bosh’s fragile confidence intact. But this three-year grind the Heat have been on has taken its toll on Wade (knees), and even LeBron looked mortal dealing with the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the Eastern Conference finals and The Finals, respectively.

There’s a reason Bosh, an eight-time All-Star and self-professed future Hall of Famer, was reduced to pedestrian numbers this postseason. As the quality of the competition increased, Bosh’s performances didn’t increase along with it. Sure, he mustered a couple inspiring performances along the way and played a huge role at the end of the Heat’s pivotal Game 6 overtime comeback win.

But Bosh’s critics, and there are plenty of them, would point to the fact that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had Duncan on the bench when Bosh grabbed that critical offensive rebound and found Ray Allen for the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation.

In theory, that is work that a younger and perhaps much cheaper big man (names like DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love have been floated for months now) can do.

The company line, however, tends to favor at least one more year of this holy hoops trinity. James, Wade and Bosh all have opt-outs in their contracts that come up after the 2013-14 season, giving any one of the three the option of bolting from this championship experiment for the fruits of free agency. And James and Bosh are young enough and healthy enough to command the full max-salary available from any team capable of paying that price.

Wade, who has spent his entire career with the Heat, believes in the future of the Big 3, as my main man Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

“Our first year together, we tried to make it work,” Wade said. “But we weren’t the team that we needed to be to gut out a Game 6, to win a game like that. Everybody can’t get to the Finals and win six [championships] in a row — and not lose one like Michael Jordan. But we are excited about the future of this organization. We are still a good team, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we stay competitive.”

But in some ways, they remain a work in progress. While Riley said before the playoffs that he envisioned the Heat being like the Spurs, who kept Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for a decade, Wade said he, Bosh, and James haven’t spoken as a group yet about how they’ll approach their contract options after next season.

“This organization doesn’t rest on trying to make sure we can put ourselves in a position to have a trophy like this,” Wade said as he sat next to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. “So we’ll be back next year again, looking to do it again. We’re living in this moment right here, and it’s a sweet moment. It’ll be sweet to be able to have a long run like the Spurs, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.”

Three years, three straight trips to The Finals and two straight titles … is it just the beginning or is this the beginning of the end?


Shane Battier Stakes His Claim In Game 7

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MIAMI – “Reports of my demise were premature. That’s my opening statement.”

Coming into the 2013 NBA Finals, if you had to choose a member of the Heat most likely to reference Mark Twain to lead off a postgame press conference, brainy Duke alum Shane Battier probably would have been the choice.

But if you were looking for the Heat player to shatter the NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers made in a Game 7, at least after his Eastern Conference finals showing, it almost surely wouldn’t have been Shane Battier.

Battier’s value to the Heat throughout the regular season was found mostly in his defense, particularly drawing charges, and in stretching defenses by draining 3s. He shot 316 treys in the regular season and knocked them in at a 43 percent clip, good for sixth in the NBA among qualifiers. But during the first two rounds of the playoffs, as Miami dispatched Milwaukee and Chicago, Battier went 12-for-46 (26 percent). In the Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers, Battier’s minutes shrank as he fell out of the rotation, and he made just two 3s in the entire series.

At the time, Battier handled questions about his reduced role with a somewhat poetic turn of phrase, noting, “Sometimes you’ve got to eat a turd sandwich. Makes the ribeye taste better next time.”

But as the NBA Finals progressed against the Spurs, Battier’s role increased almost game by game. In Game 5, he notched a then-series high 17 minutes, making two 3-pointers. In Game 6, with the Heat fighting to stay alive, Battier had his biggest game yet, hitting three treys in a dozen minutes, including one that banked in off the glass.

“I believe in basketball gods,” Battier explained. “I felt that they owed me big time. I had a bunch of shots in San Antonio that went in and out. So when that banker went in, I said, ‘You know what? They owe me.’ But it was the start of a pretty good streak there.”

Was it ever. Battier came off the bench early in Game 7 and ended up scoring 18 points in 28 minutes, hitting 6-for-8 from three-point land and setting an NBA record for most triples made in an NBA Finals Game 7.

“Honestly, I felt good the last couple of games. And I made a couple of threes last game, and so I felt really confident tonight. I think that our starters were going to be pretty tired after Game 6 — it was an emotionally and physically draining game. I only played 12 minutes. So I felt great.”

If his offensive contributions weren’t enough, with just under a minute to play and the Heat up only two, Battier got caught defending Tim Duncan in transition, and had to guard him solo in the post. Duncan went to a running hook that missed, and then got his hands on the rebound but couldn’t convert, with Battier battling him the entire time.

“I’m 215 pounds, 6’8”,” Battier noted. “I’m obviously giving up major weight and height to Duncan. So I was just praying that he missed it. To be honest with you, I don’t think I affected the shot that much. I was just trying to make his shoot over the top. And that’s a shot Tim Duncan usually makes eight out of 10 times. For whatever reason, that shot didn’t drop right then. I’m very thankful. It wasn’t because of my defense. Just missed it.”

Battier may have tried to downplay his contributions, at least defensively, but his Heat teammates weren’t having it. Dwyane Wade called Battier “one of my favorite teammates of all time,” and Wade couldn’t minimize Battier’s offensive show.

“Shane ain’t hit a shot since … I don’t know when,” said Wade. “But tonight, he was unconscious. And he’s just a big-time player. You want that for Shane so bad. You wanted to see those shots go in for him because of everything he stands for.”

Most of the Heat’s important long-range marksmen couldn’t find the range Thursday night — Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers were a combined 1-for-13 on 3-pointers. But in the end it didn’t matter, as Battier seemed like he couldn’t miss. And now, with his second NBA title in hand, he’s ready to trade in that sandwich for a steak.

“Tomorrow I hope my wife cooks me a nice ribeye,” Battier said. “I’m looking forward to my ribeye tomorrow.”

24-Second Thoughts On Game 7

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24 – Not sure who I’m going to miss more this summer, Julia Dale or Jesse Williams (who needs to stay out of Dwyane Wade‘s closet. #NBAStyle). Excellent work you two, but onto the game now … finally!

23 – So much for the Spurs’ Game 6 hangover. Just as I suspected, they’ve got the adrenaline pumping, starting with Tim Duncan, who converted his first coast-to-coast, one-man break with a dunk since he was at Wake Forest. I love Game 7s, love the drama, energy and the competitive fire it brings out of great players. Spurs up 11-4, by the way, bringing it to the Heat without so much as a care about Game 6. Better step it up Heat, because the Spurs plan on leaving the building with Larry O’Brien.

22 – These officials (whose names shall not be written here, don’t want to jinx it) are allowing a staggering amount of physical contact on both sides early on here. I have to admit that I love it. I’d rather they blow fewer whistles in a game like this. They’ve probably missed a few fouls (like this one) but you have to give up something to get a game like this called the right way. They are setting a tone right now and making sure both sides realize that they are going to have to decide this thing and not rely on selling calls to gain an advantage. This is how it should be done.

21 – As TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal would say, “Birdman … Birdman!” Chris Andersen making his presence felt with pure energy on both ends. Two big 3-pointers from Shane Battier help spark the Heat’s 8-0 run late in the first quarter. First 12 minutes a bit sloppy on both sides but so what, “both teams played hard my man.” #RasheedWallace 

20 – Battier’s revenge! Knocks down his third 3-pointer of the night and making his case for extended minutes tonight. You had to figure he was going to resurface at some point after going underground earlier in this series.

19 – Spurs battle right back with a mini-run of their own, fueled by the turnovers they are causing as the Heat rush toward the basket time after time and get balls stripped or tapped out from behind. This is the pace Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about all the time.  The “old and crusty” Spurs look like the much more effective team in transition right now, just as they have to me for much of this series.

18 – Six quick points for LeBron with the small-ball lineup of Mario Chalmers, Birdman, Mike Miller and Ray Allen. First bucket was a coast-to-coast drive and the foul, one of those moves only LeBron makes. And then the Spurs dare him to shoot a long jumper and he dribbles it out and steps back and drops a 3-pointer over Danny Green to stretch the Heat lead to six, 33-27. This is the same group that went on that 33-5 tear in Game 2, the group that went wild with Wade and Chris Bosh on the bench.

17 – I don’t care what Kawhi Leonard‘s driver’s license or birth certificate says, he’s a man beyond his years. He’s got 10 rebounds already and is going at LeBron on both ends. His work in this series has been a revelation, even for the folks who watch the Spurs on the regular. Surely, no one expected this young cat to play like this on this stage. A young star has been born folks.

16 – Wade matches his Game 6 output before halftime, scoring 14 points in 18 minutes by going back to Flash mode. Heat lead 46-44 at the break on Wade’s third pull-up wing jumper. The Spurs are sagging off of both Wade and James, daring them to beat them with anything but plays at the rim. They’ve picked their spots to attack and when to step back and knocked down shots. They scored 20 of the Heat’s final 21 points of the half, a sloppy but beautifully chaotic first half that has featured all of the energy we could have asked for from both sides in a Game 7. Wade is shutting up his critics by gutting it out and playing like the future Hall of Famer he is on the biggest stage.

15 – The Game 7 crucible is costing us some aesthetics in this game, but honestly that’s what I expected. Lakers and Celtics did this same thing in 2010, when the action was scattered all night and the Lakers needed a late-game rescue from of all people my main man  Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). I’m wondering what non-megastar in this game is waiting in the wings to play hero tonight?

14 – Leonard is seriously in danger of stealing The Finals MVP award for the Spurs if they find a way to win this game. as good he was in the first half he’s been even better since then, attacking offensively and scoring in a variety of ways. He gets basically whatever he wants with those umbrellas for hands. He does it all without ever so much as single change in expression … he might be a suitable heir to the no-nonsense throne Duncan has occupied for years in San Antonio.

13 – Party is over for DDG. He’s 0-for-7 and appears to have lost all confidence in the past six quarters of this series. Never saw a guy shoot the lights out the way he did in the first five games of this series. Never seen that spark disappear as quickly as it has for a guy who made it look so easy for so long.

12 – Right on queue, DDG snaps his 0-for-8 streak and drains the corner 3-pointer for a 57-56 lead with 5:08 to play in the third. Good thing Pop coaches the Spurs and not me, because I’d have taken DDG out long before that shot.

11 –Another 3-pointer for LeBron, that’s four tonight. Phil Jackson told me on Episode 122 of the Hang Time Podcast that this is exactly the way you have to defend LeBron. But he just measured up another one and nailed it for a 62-57 lead. Not sure if this plan is going to work if he shoots 5-for-7 on his next seven attempts from deep.

10 – Spurs come right back with a run of their own. Boris Diaw makes you wonder what might have been if he was in just decent (not necessarily superior) shape. Could you keep him out there on LeBron for an extended stretch and let Leonard eat someone else alive on the offensive end? Great game either way and anyone who assumed we wouldn’t get an epic Game 7 out of these two outfits (and all of the competitive warriors on both rosters) better sit back and enjoy the rest of the last and best game of the season.

9 – Manu with the cold-blooded driving layup with 5.2 seconds to play in the third gives the Spurs a 71-69 lead. And Chalmers answers with a running 3-point heave at the buzzer that kisses off the glass and goes in for a 72-71 Heat lead with what should be the 12 best minutes of the season left to play. Drop the mic Game 7. #InstantClassic!

8 –  Battier is 5-for-5, nails another corner 3 on the sweet pass from LeBron. Shades of Artest 2010, folks.

7 – Ginobili giveth and then he taketh away with his driving layup sandwiched between two costly turnovers. If looks could kill, Pop would be in the Dade County lock up already. Meanwhile the Spurs keep daring Wade and LeBron to beat them with jumpers and you guessed it, they keep beating them with jumpers. The Spurs won’t abandon the plan and it could end up costing them this game and title No. 5.

6 – Manu giveth … again!

5 – Battier with another 3 on a feed from LeBron and the 88-82 lead. He’s playing redemption’s song for the awful stretch of basketball he played earlier in this series. He’s kept Miller and Allen on the bench for the duration here. But Duncan comes right back with a layup and foul (a horrible call on Bosh for his fifth), sinks the free throw and makes it an 88-85 game with just over three minutes left in a game that should make you forget about the instant classic that was Game 6.

4 – Leonard has yet another answer for you LeBron with the wing 3-pointer. This kid has played the game of his life on the global stage. Unreal effort.

3– If you can’t tie the game with the greatest power forward to play the game being guarded by a completely overmatched Battier at the rim, then maybe it’s just not your night. The Spurs couldn’t have asked for a better set up and Timmy just missed the bunny.

2 – Just 39 seconds and two points separating the Heat from a repeat title. And LeBron gives us another swished jumper for his 34th and 35th points of the night. A four-point lead in this game and this series means nothing with 28 seconds left. Remember Game 6?  But it helps when you make the steal on the Spurs’ next play, get fouled and sink both free throws for the 94-88 lead with 23 seconds to play. Get the confetti ready Miami, it’s party time.

1 – Not one, Not two … LeBron and Wade silence their critics with masterful performances. Two titles in three years together and to do it in dramatic fashion this time. The stars come out in Game 7 and the Heat’s biggest stars showed up. Battier was spectacular and the Spurs will be haunted by the final 28 seconds of Games 6 and 7, when their execution failed them.  Great game, great series and a deserved champion has been crowned. Props to the Spurs and Heat for treating us to a series for the ages and finishing the 2012-13 season in style. LeBron’s second straight title and second straight Finals MVP is well deserved.

jh

NBA Won’t Allow Celtics-Clippers Deal



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics don’t have to worry about finalizing their on-again, off-again trade for Celtics star Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers.

NBA rules won’t allow it, so for the second time in three days, this proposed deal is dead.

Both sides were reportedly informed days ago that the league would not sanction such a deal, per Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, and NBA Commissioner David Stern has weighed in as well:

In a radio tour in the hours before Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, commissioner Stern appeared on several programs and put this saga out of its misery. His strongest comments came on ESPN Radio in New York, where Stern said, “The teams are aware that the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t authorize trades involving coaches’ contracts.”

The only incentives other than player contracts that are permitted in NBA trades, Stern said, are draft picks and cash.

“The teams know that,” Stern said. “It has been confirmed to them. … It can’t be gotten around by breaking it up into two transactions.”

Stern said — and a person familiar with the communication between the league and the teams confirmed — that there is no separating the two deals at this point because it is obvious all the pieces are part of the same negotiation.

“If you think those, at this point — having been all over the media for the last week — are separate transactions … I have a bridge that I would very much enjoy selling to you,” Stern said.

Stern’s words make it clear that it’s time to throw dirt on this deal and bury it under fantasy basketball trade scenarios that will never see the light of day.

And the league’s concerns are valid. Since when can coaches, whose salaries and true value cannot be adequately gauged or accounted for under the collective bargaining agreement, become a part of a negotiated trade?

It remains unclear whether Rivers and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have come to an understanding about a mutual parting of the ways. Reports out of Boston had them meeting Wednesday evening and possibly today to discuss the future of the franchise and the rebuilding process that could be on the horizon and what role Rivers would play, if any, in that reboot.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have kept their coaching search going (reportedly narrowing things down to Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins in recent days) through all of the rumors about Rivers joining them to coach not only Garnett but prized free agent Chris Paul.

Where this drama goes next is anyone’s guess. But the Commissioner has made it clear to all involved that the rumored deal, in whatever form it’s in right now, will not pass league muster.

Legacies Truly On The Line In Game 7





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A champion will be crowned after the dust has settled on tonight’s winner-take-all Game 7 of The Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Legacies also are on the line for the coaches and main players on both sides. Heat star and four-time MVP LeBron James might have the most riding on the outcome of this game, but he’s certainly not the only one with a reputation to continue building.

The basics:
Game 7 tips off Thursday night at 9 ET on ABC.

The Heat have plenty of numbers on their side, courtesy of home-court advantage. The home team is 14-3 in Games 7s in Finals history, the last road team to win was Washington over Seattle in 1978. They need whatever they can get after coming within seconds of not even making it to a Game 7, trailing by five points with 28 seconds to play in regulation of Game 6 before Ray Allen forced overtime with a clutch 3-pointer from the corner. The Heat are trying to repeat as champions, becoming the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers did it in 2009 and 2010. That 2010 title was secured with a Game 7 win over Allen and the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.

The Spurs are attempting to become just the fourth team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road. And they’ll have to shake off the stench of blowing their chance to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy in Game 6. The trophy was being wheeled out to the court for the championship ceremony as the Spurs fumbled away their lead in the final seconds. The Spurs are chasing title No. 5, for Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, No. 4 for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. So they are playing the legacy game, too.

The Heat haven’t won back-to-back games since the end of the conference semifinals and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, while the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games with their Big 3 in the lineup since December. Something has to give tonight.

The narrative:
James, headband free, had to dig down in his deep reserves to find the energy to change the tempo in Game 6 and the put the Heat in a position to even have a chance to come back. So what does he have left for Game 7 with so much at stake? It needs to be a lot, because Dwyane Wade is operating on two busted knees and could be limited in Game 7 the way he was in Game 6. Chris Bosh came through with some clutch rebounds and a block at the end of Game 6, but he also has to play much better. The Heat need their Big 3 to show up again the way they did in Game 4, when they combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals, nine assists and five blocks.

Role players from each side have stepped up tremendously throughout the first six games of this series, but Game 7 is about the superstars showing up and assuming their designed roles. If the Spurs get another 30-point, 17-rebound effort out of Duncan and Parker shoots it better than he did in Game 6 and Ginobili cuts his turnovers in half and produces like he did in Game 5, the Spurs’ Big 3 will have done their part.

And that leaves the always important wild card position open for Allen or Mike Miller for the Heat and for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for the Spurs. If any one of those guys goes off the grid and plays out of his mind in this setting, he could swing the momentum of this game in his team’s favor.

The subplots:
Popovich took a beating for his late-game rotations that did not include, for at least a stretch of the fourth quarter, Duncan and Parker on the floor with the Spurs trying to hold a lead. He didn’t take a timeout with seconds to play, allowing Ginobili to dribble the ball up the court at a critical time while Parker sat on the bench. And when the Spurs needed to rebound the ball in those final 28 seconds, Duncan was not on the floor as the Heat scrambled to tie the game. Not that he cares, but all eyes will be on him if things are tight down the stretch.

So much has been made about the Spurs’ mental and emotional recovery from Game 6, which was aided by a late-night,  clear-the-air team dinner and the realization that they have one more chance to finish what they started in Game 6. But what about the emotional recovery for a Heat team that was floored by the reality that they were seconds away from watching a team celebrate a championship on their home floor for the second time in three years? They have to come back to earth after that game as well.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decides to do if Wade clearly doesn’t have the bounce and energy needed to impact the game in the way we’ve seen him do it earlier in this series? The Heat’s fourth-quarter rally in Game 6 came with James attacking the rim with sharpshooters Allen and Miller spreading the floor and the Spurs’ defense out. With Wade on the floor James doesn’t have the same room to operate and the Spurs can pack the lane. Spoelstra might have to make a choice between benching Wade and trying to do the impossible with him on the floor.

Xs and Os:
There will be plenty of opportunities for both coaches to tweak their teams in this game, but only once the action starts. After six games against each other, there are no surprises left. All of the punching and counterpunching we’ve seen — from the altered starting lineups and the insertion of certain role players at ideal times in the series — Game 7 should not come down to a modification from either Popovich or Spoelstra.

This is a game that the players will decide with their energy, effort and execution of the same game plans that have been in place since the start of Game 1.

The Spurs want to play at their pace, keep the Heat off-balance in transition and impose their will inside with Duncan and make sure Parker is attacking and his shooters are in place to take advantage of the inside-out game when the Spurs pick-and-roll game is in a groove.

The Heat want to play at their breakneck pace, with James and Wade in attack mode and the floor spread just enough to keep those driving lanes open and keep the Spurs guessing about where the next strike is coming from. And if Spoelstra is determined to stick with Wade and James on the floor together, one of them has to be prepared to play in the post to keep the floor spaced properly.

Who’s hot?
Allen scored just nine points in Game 6, but all nine of them came in the fourth quarter and overtime, the most critical times in the game for the Heat. Experienced in the clutch, he has more Game 7 minutes on his resume, by far, than anyone else in this game.

He’s been in the Spurs’ shoes before, trying to win a Game 7 on the road, and that experience will serve him and the Heat well in an environment that should be as wild as anything we’ve seen in the NBA this season.

“As a competitor you love it, because you know you have an opportunity and it’s up to you,” Allen said. “We have a chance in our building to make something great. All of our legacies are tied to this moment, this game. It’s something our kids will be able to talk about that they were a part of. Forever will remember these moments, so we want to not live and have any regrets.”

Whatever happened to…
Green went from the favorite to win Finals MVP before Game 6 to a complete non-factor by the end of Game 6. He shot just 1-for-7 from the floor and managed just three points in a game where, as Bosh promised, he did not see as many open looks as he had previously.

If the Spurs are moving the ball well to make space for their shooters, Green’s opportunities should increase dramatically in Game 7. And that should allow him to add to his already impressive Finals record for 3-pointers made.

Bottom line:

Throw out the trends of this series and the teams alternating wins and neither one of them being able to come up with back-to-back exemplary performances, and strap yourself in for what should be a wild 48-minute (or more) ride with two heavyweight contenders swinging until one of them drops.

“You know what, it’s all about just winning the title. It’s not about situation or what has led up to it,” Duncan said. “It’s a great story for everybody else, but we’re here for one reason, one reason only: It’s to try to win this game. We have had a very good season thus far, and I think we just want to get to the game more than anything. We just want to see what happens and be able to leave everything out there.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 122): Game 7 Preview Featuring Phil Jackson

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Are we in store for an epic finish to an epic series? 

If Game 6 of The Finals is any indication, you have to believe the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have saved some of their best drama for the final 48 minutes of what has been a wildly entertaining roller coaster of a series that could literally go either way once they hit the floor at AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night.

With four guys — Tim Duncan and Tony Parker for the Spurs and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James for the Heat — as well as fellow future Hall of Famers Manu Ginobili of the Spurs and Ray Allen of the Heat, there is bound to be a few legacies on the line in a winner-take-all contest like Game 7.

Few people on the planet understand the inside of what goes on for all of the players and coaches involved in this game the way Hall of Fame Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson does. He’s got the 13 rings (11 as a coach and two from his playing days with the New York Knicks) to prove it, in case you didn’t already know.

How would he defend LeBron in Game 7? What does he think of the current coaching carousel going on around the league? Why doesn’t Brian Shaw have a head coaching job yet? Is he interested in getting back to where Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra are right now? And is it true that Rick Fox ranks ahead of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on his all-time favorite players list?

The Zen Master joins us on Episode 122 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Finals Game 7 Preview … 

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Playing Games: The Tao Of Pop

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It was two weeks ago when the Spurs wrapped up their final practice before the start of The Finals and I had just walked out of their training facility on the northwest side of San Antonio when a shiny Mercedes-Benz pulled up along side of me in the parking lot.

The automatic window slid down on the passenger side and a voice yelled out: “Hey, could you answer a question for me?”

When I bent down to look in, Gregg Popovich pulled off his sunglasses and asked several: “Could you please tell me why I’m driving to the airport right now? Could you tell me why I’m making this trip to Miami? Could you tell me why I should even bother wasting my time with a foregone conclusion?”

When I smiled, he kept on going.

“I don’t know what everybody expects out of us, out of me. I mean, I’ve got Timmy Duncan. He’s 37 and a broken down old man. I’ve got another old man with Manu Ginobili, who’s always falling apart. I’ve got this skinny French kid Tony Parker. And then just a bunch of guys.

“They’ve got LeBron James. He’s the greatest player in the league right now, maybe the greatest of all time. And they’ve got Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This is lopsided. This is unfair. This is ridiculous.”

So the Spurs have a 3-2 lead and a chance to clinch the fifth NBA championship in franchise history tonight at American Airlines Arena.

This, of course, is why we play the games and don’t settle them on paper or in the minds of the so-called experts. Otherwise, we’d already be joining in the James’ proclamation from the summer of 2010: “Not one, not two, not three…”

Standing in the Texas swelter that afternoon in the parking lot, the daunting image of the defending champions rose like the shimmering heat off the blacktop, the team that had a league-best 66-16 record and won an incredible 27 consecutive games — second-best streak in NBA history — in the regular season.

But that was all before a 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard stoically accepted the challenge of matching up with the best player on the planet and began to do everything he could to keep him from blowing like the top off a volcano dome. He’s making shots inside and outside. He’s rebounding. He’s passing. All while having primary responsibility on the series’ biggest threat.

The Spurs have used a smothering, suffocating, double- and triple-teaming effort to keep the cork in James’ bottle and have held him to 21.6 ppg in The Finals, down from 29 in the Eastern Conference finals and down from 25.6 ppg for the playoffs. He is shooting just 41.2 percent. James has certainly made his presence felt, but not as an unstoppable force who can take over a game singlehandedly. Rave over all those 3-pointers by the Spurs, if you must. It says here that Leonard is the MVP to date, along with the coach who entrusted him.

That was all before the Spurs had for the most part kept Wade from hitting their beach like a tsunami. Before Danny Green became the reincarnation of “Mr. Clutch,” Jerry West. Before Popovich lit a fire under the struggling Ginobili by inserting him into the starting lineup for Game 5. Before Parker hit his iconic “up-off-the-knees” banker to win Game 1. Before Duncan showed just how much professionalism a 37-year-old big man can still deliver. And before the Spurs have been able to match Miami’s small-ball lineup effectively and thereby kept the nuisance effectiveness of Chris Andersen chained to the bench.

That was all before the Spurs have done what they’ve always done — kept their heads down and focused solely on the task at hand, never doubting themselves and never wavering, even in the six years that it’s taken them to get back to The Finals.

They’re too old, too worn out, too overmatched by the high-flying marquee names of the Heat. Until they’re not.

All I can think of is leaning into the window of Popovich’s car, while wondering why the floor in front of the passenger seat is filled with dozens and dozens of empty plastic water bottles.

“Is this an eco-friendly green machine that you bought from Al Gore or are you just a slob?” I asked him.

Pop finally stopped his rant.

“The truth is I’ve been looking for a recycling center for weeks now, but I can’t find one,” he said. “You know what? That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll just keep driving around town until I find a place to dump all of these bottles instead of going to the airport.

“I mean, really, what’s the point of going to Miami if you’re the San Antonio Spurs? What can happen there?”

He pushed the sunglasses back on his nose, shifted the car into gear, gave a wave and drove away, grinning.

24-Second Thoughts On Game 5

24 – Manu Ginobili making Gregg Popovich look like the genius he is by starting him (much the same way Mike Miller made Erik Spoelstra look like a hoops Einstein by starting his veteran shooter in Game 4). Manu’s energy and effort early on will likely set the tone for the Spurs, who need a spark after getting handled the way they did in Game 4. Bald spot or not, Ginobili remains a champion and will show a champion’s heart in this game. Guaranteed.

23 – Tim Duncan and Chris Bosh are absolutely going at it in the post. You have to wonder how this series might have gone for the Heat if Bosh had played like this in Games 1, 2 and or 3 … he doesn’t have to get the better of Duncan. He needs only make Duncan work overtime (they are trying to front him on every offensive possession) for his offensive touches and put the pressure on him to defend Bosh in a similar manner on the other end of the floor.

22 – The Spurs’ balance is ruling the day early. They open a 10-point lead late in the first quarter bolstered by said balance and some great defensive work … make that a 12-point lead after another fantastic stop and scramble that results in a Kawhi Leonard dunk with 60 seconds to play. Their 29-17 lead was really 5-on-3. The only Heat players to score until the final seconds of the quarter were Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Ray Allen scored the Heat’s only other basket

21 – Leonard has been exposed as a no-frills performer, rivaling Duncan for the title of the most boring (in a good way) player in this series. But how anyone can watch this guy work on both ends of the floor and conclude that he’s anything other than a star in the making is beyond me. He’s been spectacular working against LeBron basically the entire series. His 3 from the corner pushes the lead to 32-19 at the end of the first quarter.

20 – Danny Green for 3 … again. Welcome back to The Finals roller coaster folks. This series swings so wildly in one direction or the other on a given night that it’s impossible to get a feel for which team has any real rhythm. I don’t know if that’s a credit to the team that’s hot or an indictment of the team that’s getting torched. Either way, it makes for spectacular viewing. Green has tied Allen’s record for 3-pointers made in The Finals (22), with a shot over Allen, and we’ve got more than six minutes until halftime.

19 – The Spurs have absolutely no one who can cover LeBron in the post consistently, just as the Heat have no one who can cover Duncan in the post consistently. At least no one can single-cover either one of them on a regular basis. If we get another close game it’ll be interesting to see if Popovich or Spoelstra goes there on a final play.

18 – Parker with a sweet drive and finish to wrap up a breakneck first half for both teams. Spurs are shooting a wicked 62 percent in the first half with four of the five starters in double figures already and the fifth (Leonard) has nine. Loving the bounce back on both sides. Pop says it best, “this game is a big boy game.” The fact that both coaches continue to implore their guys to crank up the tempo is perhaps my favorite part of this series. It’s rare that you see teams willing to play to what could be the others strength on purpose. Supreme confidence on both sides. Splendid.

17 – Jay-Z comes up with three minutes of funky stuff, coming July 4, at the end of an instant classic first half that sends Twitter and Facebook into a frenzy.
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Spurs’ Eggs Are In Ginobili’s Basket

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SAN ANTONIO — There was a time a few weeks ago when Gregg Popovich was ready to cook him breakfast.

Now the Spurs coach would like actually to light a fire under Manu Ginobili himself.

The player whose game most closely resembles an omelet — a little bit of this, a dash of that — has been walking on eggshells since the start of The NBA Finals.

That is, when he’s been walking at all.

Too many times through the first four games against the Heat, Ginobili has been stumbling around the court, struggling to keep his dribble, failing to accelerate past his defender and get all the way to the hoop, badly misfiring on his jumper.

Things had gotten so bad in the second half of Game 4 Thursday night that the Baseline Bums — the loyal, rabid group of Spurs fanatics that has loudly supported the team since back in the old ABA days — chanted “Don’t shoot!” when the ball came into Ginobili’s hands. As someone said, it was like the moment that Al Gore lost Tennessee, an utter loss of faith.

The question, of course, is whether all those ticks on the game clock, all those nicks and bruises and torn tendons and stretched hamstrings from all those games around the globe for the Spurs, the Argentine national team and four professional seasons in Italy have finally caught up to him.

The irony is that Ginobili, who’ll turn 36 next month, says he’s feeling his fittest since training camp. Yet he has made just 6-of-18 shots and scored only five, seven and five points since the Spurs won the opener of the series in Miami. In reality, these Finals are just a continuation of his worst playoff season ever, shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 29.8 on 3-pointers.

“I wish I could score more, but it’s not happening,” Ginobili said. “I have to do other stuff. I don’t have to force the issue.”

That is a topic of debate up and down the banks of the famous San Antonio Riverwalk and in the Spurs’ locker room. While it is one thing for an individual player not to blow up the chemistry lab, Ginobili’s knack through his first 10 seasons — and three previous championship runs — has been to do the unexpected.

In fact, other than a brief stretch in the very first game of the playoffs against the Lakers, Ginobili’s only real positive stamp on the playoffs for the Spurs was when he topped off a horrible 5-for-20 shooting night by draining a 3-pointer at the end of double-overtime to beat the Warriors.

Teammate Tim Duncan wants to see more of that unpredictable, aggressive Ginobili.

“I think he’s trying to be incredibly unselfish,” Duncan said. “He’s trying to make the right play at the right time instead of looking more for his own.”

“Yeah, we definitely need Manu,” said point guard Tony Parker. “I think everybody needs to help him get his confidence going. But I have a lot of confidence in Manu. I’m sure he’s going to break out of that slump.”

The talk sounds very similar to the encouragement on the Miami side before Dwyane Wade’s breakout in Game 4. There were the whispers and his age and the wear and tear on his body after all the years of throwing his body all over the court.

Then Wade went out and seemingly willed himself to turn back the clock to become The Finals MVP star who carried Miami to a title in ’06. Sometimes it’s not about trying to fit in or run with the rest of crowd, but racing out in front and challenging your teammates to keep up. Wade’s turbo-charged performance right from the start pulled LeBron James back into his MVP orbit.

“I don’t have to force the issue,” Ginobili insists.

But that’s just it, he does.

Either Manu goes back to being the guy Popovich wants to make breakfast for or all of the Spurs are cooked.

Spurs Simple Solution: Take Care Of Ball

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SAN ANTONIO — We have a silly tendency to overreact, overanalyze and make skyscrapers out of molehills.

Had LeBron James lost his mojo? Has Manu Ginobili lost his entire game? Will Tony Parker be able to run freely for all four quarters with his sore hamstring? Would Dwyane Wade ever be able to zoom around the court again like the Flash?

So after eight days and four games under the intense pressure of the NBA Finals, it was time to come up for air and both teams took the day off Friday to get rest and perhaps give the media a new opportunity to make things complicated before the pivotal Game 5.

You can talk about lineup changes, whether it’s wisest to go over or under on the pick and roll or the price of crude oil on the open market.

Then again, to twist a phrase: It’s the turnovers, stupid.

The Spurs tied a Finals record by committing just four turnovers and were able to win Game 1. Since that time, they’ve coughed the ball up 49 times in the past three games and that, more than anybody’s attitude or horoscope reading is why the Heat have been able to tie it up at 2-2.

“For us it’s been the same during the entire season,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Oftentimes or most of the time, the great majority of the time, it’s about turnovers. It’s about not taking care of the basketball. Because it’s not just that you gave them another possession. But people forget you lost your possession. You might have scored one, two or three points, or four, I guess in rare situations. But you didn’t score and the other team oftentimes  especially the better the team you play, like Miami, you turn it over and they’re going to score. It’s basically a dunk or a layup at the other end of the court.

“So it’s always a swing of four points, at least. And that’s what really takes its toll. That’s why we were so happy after Game 1 when we just had four turnovers. Since then we’ve been plagued. Largely due to their outstanding defense. “

It’s the style the Heat have adopted and established as a snarling, hungry pack of attack dogs that can go for the throat at any time, creating havoc, making steals, getting the ball into the open court where James and Wade are virtually unstoppable. When the Spurs treated the ball as tenderly as a newborn baby in the series opener, they stifled Miami. Their Game 3 win was simply a product of making a Finals record-tying 16 3-pointers and that is not something San Antonio can count on happening again. The Heat just want to sink their teeth in and draw blood.

“Our focus has been getting to our identity, which is an aggressive, disruptive defensive team,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “And you’re trying to do it against the best passing precision execution team in the league. Who gets to who more often? Sometimes the margin for error is a centimeter difference of our activity and their precision.”

So forget about the intricate Xs and Os. Never mind with the advanced metrics.

Just keep your eye on the ball and whether the Spurs can hang onto it. Nothing complicated here. It’s about the turnovers.