Posts Tagged ‘2014 Finals’

For Miami, frustration, humility, speculation and always drama


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade talk about the Heat’s loss in The Finals

SAN ANTONIO – The trek from the court back to the visitors’ dressing room at the AT&T Center is longer than most in the NBA. It requires Spurs opponents to slip through the tunnel at one end and then head down, beneath the stands, almost to the other end. A basic salt-and-pepper, industrial-strength mat shows them the way, behind a little iron railing.

On nights like Sunday, in the moments after their Game 5 elimination from The 2014 Finals, it’s way more perp walk than red carpet.

One by one, the Heat players, coaches and staff trod along that path, San Antonio’s on-court celebration revving up and booming through the building. LeBron James walked fast, head high, a phalanx of cameras and reporters tracking each step. Dwyane Wade came a few beats later, bare-chested, his Miami jersey gifted at some point after the final horn. They were stone-faced, revealing nothing beyond the harshness and letdown of the outcome.

Ray Allen strode by with purpose, inscrutable, deep in thoughts that surely didn’t include cheeseburgers. Then Pat Riley, looking almost wistful, resigned or ground down by the 70-point differential between his team and the Spurs (the fattest cumulative margin in Finals history). Chris Bosh paused, turned and shook hands with Heat assistant Bob McAdoo. Shane Battier spied a friend, smiled briefly and pantomimed a golf swing, a sign of his impending retirement.

None of them looked happy, obviously. None of them, however, was brought to his knees.

That, after all, is social media’s job, along with the rest of this what-have-you-done-for-me-five-minutes-from-now culture. It musters no patience, offers no comfort and certainly treats nothing sacred, particularly with this team, whose critics outnumber its fans 10-to-1, maybe 100-to-1.

However unceremonious its march into the offseason, Miami had wrapped up four consecutive trips to The Finals. The first, against Dallas in 2011, brought hard lessons and a little humility. The next two produced Larry O’Brien trophies, just like they all had pictured it. This one, three straight beatdowns still hanging in the air, had been telegraphed by slippage in the Heat’s defensive ranks and the loss (via amnesty) of Mike Miller from last year’s team.

This one carried with it some payback from the Spurs, who had been on the other side last June,and it naturally brought a skidload of questions, speculation and uncertainty.

Because this was the Heat and that’s how they roll.

So, Erik Spoelstra, have you guys underachieved? That’s how it went and that’s how it will go for days and weeks and months, now that the ol’ smoke-and-lasers pep rally back of July 2010 (“Not one, not two, not three…”) officially has stopped at two, at least temporarily.

Spoelstra referred to it as “the exaggeration that’s out there.”

“Even as painful as it feels right now, you have to have perspective,” the Heat coach said. “Even the team we’re playing against has never been to the Finals four straight years. You can’t be jaded enough not to appreciate that.”

Wanna bet? Only two other franchises – Boston and the Minneapolis/L.A. Lakers – ever had made it to four Finals in a row. But this was supposed to be about rings, not runners-up. It’s the life they chose, once James, Wade and Bosh conspired to sign with Miami four years ago and gild their resumes through a strength-in-superstar-numbers approach. (more…)

Spurs are one game away from redemption


VIDEO: San Antonio dominates Heat for second straight game to move to 3-1

MIAMI – This isn’t a five-point lead with 28 seconds left, but it’s close.

The San Antonio Spurs waited 12 months and played eight hoping to get back to this point, the place they’d reached last June when they had an NBA championship within their grasp. Only this time, of course, they’d grab it and hold tight.

It didn’t go that way a year ago when Ray Allen hit that shot in Game 6 and LeBron James shoved them aside in Game 7.

So the Spurs have lived ever since knowing they came closer to winning a title, only to lose it, than any other team in league history. Now they’re poised to fix that, to re-write the ending, to redeem themselves so completely that it might soothe the sting and heal any psychic scars. A real double-or-nothing opportunity, even if the Miami Heat haven’t signed off on handing over any rings.

Or…

The Spurs could do over three more games between now and next Friday what they crammed so miserably into that fateful half minute and all that followed. No team in Finals history ever has opened a 3-1 lead after four games and not gone on to win the championship. The record is clear: 31 teams have led 3-1, 31 teams have closed out successfully.

The Spurs and their fans dare not think about failing now. Heck, against the two-time defending champions and the world’s best basketball player, they dare not even breathe.

There might be no coming back from that sort of trauma. So the best thing for San Antonio to do might be to stay locked in from the moment their flight touches down back in Texas right through their next 48 minutes against the Heat.

Stay focused, stay driven, stay hungry, no pondering or calculating allowed, right?

“If you think about it last year, we had two opportunities to win,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Now we have three. It’s not that different. So now we’re going to have one opportunity at home and we just have to think about that being the last opportunity.”

Uh, OK. He means Game 5 Sunday at the AT&T Center, right?

“That’s a Game 7 for us,” Ginobili said.

Enough with the pondering and calculating, Manu.

All the Spurs need to do to keep their sneakers on Miami’s throat and close this series out is to show up Sunday as big a moving target as they did for Game 4. The way they had shot in Game 3, the way they had hung points on the Heat at home and had blown them out, well, even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich labeled it an anomaly. Not gonna see that again anytime soon, players and coaches on both sides agreed.

They were right. What they got in Game 4 Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena was even more incongruous, outlandish and unexpected. It was an outlier of its own, a surprise even Malcolm Gladwell might not have seen coming.

The Spurs grew more dominant, not less, by shooting a little worse but defending better.

The Heat lost their way completely after a second consecutive punched-in-the-mouth start.

This time, instead of making a run that had the Spurs sweating when their lead dwindled to seven, the Heat squandered a brilliant third quarter from James (19 points) and never got closer than 13. San Antonio countered every thrust, matched every move and pumped its lead bigger by the start of the fourth than it had been at halftime.

If not for four missed free throws by Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in Game 2… actually, the Spurs and their fans dare not go there either. Already the best team through four games, San Antonio needs one more as near-flawless as the pair it played in Miami. But the sort of babbling and projecting Ginobili did above is asking for trouble. It’s the first sign of a team letting go of the rope, something the Spurs want no part of. Miami is too dangerous, even in its current flummoxed state. James might be back in Cleveland mode, having to do too much, but until his team is six feet under, he might as well be Michael Myers.

“I’m glad that they performed as well as they did while we’ve been in Miami, and that’s about as far as it goes,” Popovich said. “Now we’ve got to go back home and play as well or better.”

Said Boris Diaw, the Vive la difference forward whose upholstered physique belies his ball skills and awareness: “We are not going to make the mistake to think it’s going to be an easy game because we’re playing at home. We know they’re going to play for their lives.”

That sounds right – except that Miami was supposed to have been playing for its life Thursday, after the beatdown it took in Game 3 48 hours earlier. But the urgency never showed up. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his players were gracious, talking about how well San Antonio played. But 28 points from James and just 28 more from the other Heat starters won’t get them back in this series, never mind winning it.

The contrast in styles, not just in how they play and spread the responsibilities around but in how their rosters were built, was on full display Thursday. San Antonio might as well have been wearing sepia-toned uniforms the way it was working five-as-one, swinging the ball side to side and staying patient not just for the extra pass but the extra extra pass.

Miami, or at least its fans, kept looking for a star to fix the growing mess. James? Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh? The team built around big names didn’t get enough boost from its main guys or enough bump from its role players.

The Spurs, meanwhile, purred. They were throwback-Thursday good, the audiophiles’ equivalent of vinyl over cold, bloodless digital. It’s that jazz thing that makes basketball better than other sports, five players working in concert, improvising off each other, the magic coming in the seams and the pauses rather than on the melody.

It’s important, naturally, not to overstate anything here. Miami somehow has managed to get to four Finals in a row and win two of them, this third one still pending. A victory at the AT&T Center in Game 5 should shift everything, including momentum, right back to the AAA. There were glimpses when James and Wade didn’t look good or very resilient during the game, but afterward neither seemed beaten or ready to spit out the bit.

“They’re able to throw it in another gear, and they’re going to do just that,” Duncan said. “They don’t want this to be done. They’ve already won on our [court] so they feel they can do it again, and we don’t want to give them any life.”


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks about the Spurs’ Game 4 performance

Miami Heat focused on Game 4


VIDEO: Heat-Spurs Game 4 preview

MIAMI — Being down 2-1 in the NBA Finals is nothing new for the Miami Heat. Just one year ago, the Heat were blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals, 113-77. In the aftermath of that loss, Heat president Pat Riley famously showed up at Miami coach Erik Spoelstra‘s hotel room bearing a couple of bottles of wine and spent a late night breaking down film. The end result was Miami bouncing back for a Game 4 win, 109-93, which evened the series.

With the Heat getting worked in Game 3 of the 2014 Finals, losing 111-92 to fall behind 2-1 in the series, history did not repeat itself, at least in the run-up to the game.

“No, [Riley] didn’t come over to my house last night with a case of beer,” Spoelstra said, hours before the tip of Game 4. “We all went our separate ways and watched film and met in the morning. There was nothing dramatic. I’d love to give you guys a great storyline — Pat came over at 3 a.m. — or a great analogy.”

Methods aside, Spoelstra said the Heat have had good “prep days” leading up to tonight’s Game 4: “We understand the outcome, or how many points you lose by in one game, doesn’t dictate at all the next game. You have to get on to this next opportunity.”

And with the new 2-2-1-1-1 Finals series home-court schedule, the Heat can’t rely on a another shot at home in a Game 5. So the Heat say they are fully focused on tonight’s Game 4.

“Yes, this is a must win,” noted Chris Bosh, with a thin smile as if to acknowledge that sure, every game is must win. “We cannot go to San Antonio down 3-1. That is out of the question.”

“We’re not talking about Game 5, that’s not even on our mind,” said Spoelstra. We’re not there. That would be an absolute waste of thought and energy if we’re thinking ahead or thinking in the past. All we’re thinking about is this is a great opportunity tonight, at home, and what do we need to do to get the job done.”

Game 4: Miami’s 1st ‘must win’ of Finals


VIDEO: What’s in store for Game 4 of The Finals?

MIAMI – The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs have played 10 June games against each other in a little more than a year. They’re 5-5 so far. In fact, San Antonio has outscored Miami 1,001-964, an average of 3.7 ppg. But the Heat players, coaches and front-office staff have all the rings based on last year’s Game 6 turnaround and Game 7 Finals clincher.

The Basics:

Game 4 tips off Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

The Heat get a second chance to do the home-court thing right, after suffering their first home loss of the postseason. They’re 8-1 after falling two victories short of the NBA record for most consecutive home triumphs in a single postseason.

Thanks to the revived 2-2-1-1-1 format, a pre-1985 configuration, Miami only has this one additional shot at home before the series shifts back to Texas, perhaps never to return. Then again, the Heat have history on their side, as in, they’re tenacious about not losing two in a row come playoff time. They have backed up their last 13 postseason defeats with a victory, in a streak that stretches back 48 games; you need to go back to the 2012 East finals, when Miami lost Games 3, 4 and 5 before pulling that series out in seven.

The Narrative:

The Spurs weren’t happy with their Game 2 performance, specifically down the stretch when they spoke afterwards about the basketball “sticking” in their offense, resulting in too many one- or two-pass possessions. That allowed Miami’s defense to zero in on the man with the ball, which is like Rottweilers zeroing in on a T-bone steak. So coach Gregg Popovich fixed that in a big way to start Game 3 — a big, big way that resulted in San Antonio scoring 41 points in the first quarter, 71 in the first half, and setting a Finals record for the hottest shooting first quarter ever (86.7 percent, 13 of 15). The Spurs led by 25 early and were able to manage that to their 111-94 victory.

Just like that, they grabbed back home-court advantage. But the Spurs know this series has merely followed the pattern established last June, when they enjoyed a blowout victory in Game 3 only to get thumped again in Game 4. Miami eventually would be fine if the script to this sequel hews closely to the original. Remember, Game 4 was the one last year when LeBron James caught fire, scoring 33, 25, 32 and 37 points the rest of the way. James had a familiar sort of intensity and resolve when he spoke to the media Wednesday.

The Subplots:

Big 3 vs. Big 3? Not so fast. San Antonio got its biggest offensive boosts from non-traditional sources. Kawhi Leonard set a career high – regular season or playoffs – with 29 points, attacking Miami every which way (perimeter, drives, 3-pointers, dunks) and shooting 10-of-13 overall. Danny Green, meanwhile, surprised the Heat by putting the ball on the floor more than they’d seen and getting inside the Heat defense. In 21:19, Green hit 7 of his 8 shots, scored 15 points and only hoisted two 3-pointers (hitting one). Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker? They totaled 40 points, fewer than James and Dwyane Wade (44).

Chris Bosh had played so well. He was hushing up his critics and asserting himself again in the Heat’s pecking order, and then … nine points. Bosh got just four field-goal attempts, getting neglected in Miami’s scramble to whittle down the deficit. The Heat got as close as seven points, but might have been too frantic about it because Bosh made every shot he took and the offense didn’t find him. If it’s not James going strong from the get-go, expect to see Miami serving its lanky power forward/center with early offense.

X’s and O’s:

James’ tendency of letting a game come to him, allowing it to breathe so he can assess the situation and summon the particular skills needed on any given night, experienced a rare backfire because Game 3 got out of hand so quickly. There was only one mode for James and the other Miami players to play in: catch-up mode. He would do well to impose his will and his powers on Game 4 from tipoff, and 22 points won’t be nearly enough against a hot Spurs team that can capitalize on mistakes.

What sort of mistakes? The Heat turned over the ball 20 times, leading to 23 of San Antonio’s 111 points. The Spurs had a 17-point edge in points off turnovers, in fact, and won the game by 19, so those things matter.

Popovich made a starting lineup change in the most recent game, using Boris Diaw in place of Tiago Splitter. Diaw’s deft passing skills and vision lubricated the San Antonio attack by, specifically, getting the basketball moving from one side of the floor to the other. That ball movement and the spread in the Spurs’ spacing created maximum room for them to attack, using the Heat players’ aggressive close-out attempts against them by occasionally putting the ball on the floor as a Miami guy rushed by.

Who’s Hot?

Wrong question in Game 3, at least for San Antonio, at least in the first half. Better and simpler to have asked Who’s Not? When a team hits 19 of its first 21 shots, there’s nothing but hot hands in the rotation. Those who have sustained it the best, though, are Duncan (64.5 percent in the series so far), Green (63.6), Splitter (66.7) and Leonard (59.3).

Prior to this spring, James’ most accurate postseason came in 2009, when he sank 51 percent of his shots. But he’s at 57.0 percent in the 2014 postseason and 60.4 through the first three Finals games. He wasn’t wild about his seven turnovers in Game 3, though, or the 15 he’s had so far in this series.

Whatever happened to …

Mario Chalmers’ confidence has been dropping faster than South Beach revelers’ sobriety and standards after midnight. Always a pest, Chalmers has been reduced merely to that through the first three games. He has scored only 10 points, missed several open looks and invariably made the wrong decisions time and again. His backup Norris Cole hasn’t been much better, especially compared to his contributions in the East finals against Indiana. Then there is Shane Battier, who in this new Heat order has logged only 15 minutes through the three games.

Splitter’s contributions might be sliced if Diaw continues to start in his spot for the Spurs. Keep an eye on Marco Belinelli, a deep threat who has hit half of his eight 3-point attempts but is 0-for-3 inside the arc.

Bottom line:

Some of us in the media, while wishing no ill on the Heat and their three-peat ambitions, are awfully curious to see how they would respond to a two-game deficit in a best-of-seven. It’s been so long, y’know? Would their championship pedigree emerge in full and save them? Would the predicament be too dire for a team that might not be as good as the ones that grabbed rings in 2013 and 2012? It’s more of a gawker’s wish, eager for a different sort of drama than we’ve seen out of Erik Spoelstra and his crew lately.

But the truth is, Miami’s championship pedigree is the very thing that has enabled it to avoid two-game deficits in the playoffs since its loss to Dallas, four games to two, in 2011. Not getting burned doesn’t mean you don’t know how to work the stove – it actually means the opposite, and that’s how the Heat have rolled through the past three postseasons. The odds and the experts favor them to keep that going in Game 4.

Chalmers’ crisis of confidence contributes to Heat’s concerns


VIDEO: Mario Chalmers at the Heat’s shootaround the day of Game 3

MIAMI – Oh joy, Mario Chalmers soon might have LeBron James yelling at him again.

Actually, James offered that possibility with the very best of intentions, as a tactic to jar Chalmers – the Miami Heat’s often-irritating, widely criticized point guard – out of a confidence crisis here in The 2014 Finals.

Through three games, Chalmers was averaging 3.3 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 turnovers in 23.4 minutes. He has been called for 12 fouls, including a flagrant 1 when he jammed his elbow into Tony Parker‘s ribs in Game 2. The sixth-year guard has taken 12 shots and missed nine of them, including four of his five from 3-point range.

Neither he nor backup Norris Cole has risen to the moment, not so much undermining what the Heat have tried to do but not making anything easy, either. Which is what the Miami point guards are expected to do, given their second or third level of responsibility in the team’s pecking order.

That’s why James was talking about going back to an old approach with Chalmers, who traditionally has been more of a kick-in-the-rear than pat-on-the-back guy.

“Obviously, it’s weighing on him,” James said Wednesday on the series off-day at AmericanAirlines Arena. “It’s in his head right now, I think. He hasn’t said much. … But he can’t lose confidence in himself.

“As a leader, I’m going to give him as much confidence as I can, and I’m going to stay on him. Maybe I need to get back on him like I used to do in the past, when you guys used to see me really get on him. I’ve kind of laid off of him. Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do.”

We’ve all seen that. It was as much a part of Heat culture in the Big 3 era – which Chalmers predated by two seasons, by the way – as LeBron’s headband/hairline watch and breathless updates on Dwyane Wade‘s knees. It was James or Wade or both airing out Chalmers for some on-court mistake, bossy big brothers pointing out their younger sibling’s mistakes.

Chalmers always took it, and the two Heat stars seemed to back off recently, either figuring he’d learned from their lessons or because they got tired of repeating themselves. The bottom line wasn’t bad, by the way: Four straight Eastern Conference titles, two consecutive championships with a shot now for a third.

But now Chalmers has regressed. He averaged 31.6 minutes in the 2013 Finals, along with 10.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.6 turnovers while shooting 38.8 percent overall and 40.6 from the arc. During an inconsistent 2013-14 season, his corresponding stats: 29.8 minutes, 9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 45.4 percent shooting and 38.5 percent on 3FGs.

San Antonio has noticed, but just to be safe is treating any decline in Chalmers’ play as a fluke. “We know that when he has a big game, usually Miami wins,” Parker said Wednesday. “So he’s a big X-factor, and we talked about it. Coach [Gregg Popovich] challenged me to make sure I have big games defensively, because last year he had a couple of big games and they won those games.”

Chalmers and the Heat would happily take one such performance now.

“Yeah, we have trust in Rio,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t want him to shoulder the full responsibility.”

Trouble is, Chalmers sounds as if he does. That and more, in fact, based on his impending free agency and the likelihood that his struggles now will hurt his market value more than his two rings boost it.

It doesn’t help that Chalmers is handling this different than his big brothers would. James, when feeling heat or a need to lock in, unplugs from social media and, lately, talks openly about his belief that he is the “easiest target in sports.” Chris Bosh does what he can to ignore criticism and tell himself it doesn’t matter.

But Chalmers goes home after Game 3 and stays up until 5 a.m., going over video of the three games so far in this Finals and parts of all seven of the 2013 edition.

“To figure out attacking points and what I’m doing wrong,” Chalmers told a few wave of reporters who found him during the Heat’s media availability Wednesday, far from the podiums or lecterns. He was seated near some Heat deep reserves in the bench area, obscured from view by the folks standing near him.

So what did Chalmers see that has been lacking? “Just my energy, really, that’s the main thing,” he said. “I need to bring more energy to the game. [Last year] I was disruptive on the defensive end, which led to more breaks on the offensive end, more opportunities.”

This year, Chalmers has mostly just fouled, a pest running into Spurs players in the open court in a bad habit he’s developed though the years. For a guy who has been described as cocky at times in his career, seeing and hearing how rattled he is is a bit disconcerting.

“This is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever been through,”Chalmers said. “It’s actually very tough right now. But I’ve just got to keep believing. I know my teammates trust in me, the coaching staff trusts in me. I just have to keep believing in myself.”

Chalmer said Bosh, in particular, has tried to lift him out of his funk. “Sent me a text message [before Game 2] since I was on the first bus,” he said. “Y’know, ‘Let everything go. Stop thinking so much on the court and just play the basketball you’ve been playing your whole life.’ “

Easier quoted than done at this stage. As eager as his Heat cohorts are that Chalmers get going, the Spurs are committed to him sputtering.

James and Spoelstra talked for a while about Miami’s efforts to build up Chalmers, remind him of the good times and get him going within the team concept. Either it’s going to get better for him and his team or, with the series zipping by, it’s going to get worse.

“You can give a guy as much confidence as you want,” James said, “but when a guy loses confidence in himself, it can be all downhill.”

Spurs’ ‘future’ hands them a present


VIDEO: Leonard’s career night helps Spurs take 2-1 series lead

MIAMI – Kawhi Leonard, the presumptive future of the San Antonio Spurs, was sorely needed in the present, lest these 2014 Finals slip too quickly into his and the Spurs’ past.

So the future was now in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, Leonard scoring a career-high 29 points and shadowing LeBron James into the sort of mere-mortal game San Antonio will need if it hopes to do this year what it couldn’t do last.

Leonard was jerked out of his foul-plagued funk in the two games in San Antonio by some pep talks and tough love from the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan as if he was, oh, Roy Hibbert. And he responded, mostly by ignoring the circumstances of these games and playing as if this were January.

Offensively, Leonard attacked Miami from the start, hitting all five of his shots in the first quarter and scoring 16 of the Spurs’ 41 points that period. Defensively the 6-foot-7 forward with the pterodactyl wingspan and Wolverine hands helped limit James to 22 points, just eight over the final three quarters when San Antonio’s fat lead cried out for something special after halftime.

Leonard had been outscored 60-18 by James in Games 1 and 2 combined, but he had the edge this time by seven. By relaxing, by seizing the moment while forgetting how momentous it was, Leonard sparked the Spurs to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and stuck Miami with its first home loss of the postseason (8-1).

“That’s how he’s played all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s got to be one of our better players on the court or we’re not good enough. That’s just the way it is.

“You know, it’s the NBA Finals. You can’t just be mediocre out there if you want to win a game, and everybody’s got to play well, and he did that.”

San Antonio wouldn’t be here now without Leonard, who took a strong next step in his third season. His value has risen each year, so much so that without Leonard in 2013-14 – he missed 14 games with a broken hand, one after a dental procedure and one to rest – the Spurs were an ordinary 8-8. With him? Try 54-12.

Leonard’s still just 22 (his birthday is June 29) and it’s fine for Popovich to weave him into a punchline, as he did after the forward’s 17-point, 11-rebound performance in the Game 6 clincher against Oklahoma City. “He’s the future of the Spurs,” the coach said, “partially because everyone else is older than dirt.”

But there could be no waiting around for Leonard in this series, no leaving it to the team’s past/present of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Much like Rajon Rondo forced his way into Boston’s Pierce-Garnett-Allen Big 3 a few years back, Leonard’s learning curve is ascending faster than the Spurs old guys’ is descending. He’s integral to what they do now, indispensable on nights they don’t.

So for Leonard to score nine points in the opener, nine more in Game 2 and get on the floor for only 55 minutes total due to early fouls one night and a disqualifying six the next, that wasn’t going to get it done for the Spurs no matter what sort of throwback games his elderly teammates mustered.

“He wasn’t down. I wouldn’t call it struggling either,” forward Boris Diaw said. “The fouls, especially in the first game, quick fouls early, didn’t let him be as aggressive as he is … and defense gives him some adrenaline for offense.”

Popovich acknowledged that he and others within the team had talked with Leonard in the two off-days before Game 3, though he declined to share. “Family business,” the Spurs coach called it.

Though the specifics were cloaked, the message seemed obvious.

“We just wanted him to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Popovich said. He said Leonard “overreacted” to the fouls called against him and “became very cautious.” “And he doesn’t play like that,” the coach added.

Said Duncan: “We’ve been on him about continuing to play.”

Leonard’s defense has gained traction swiftly through three seasons – he and James butted heads in last year’s Finals, with the Miami star shooting just 44 percent when they were on the court together. This season, the native of Riverside, Calif., earned a spot on the NBA’s all-defensive second team. The Spurs still rely on gang tactics but Leonard set career highs by averaging 6.2 rebounds, 1.73 steals and 0.76 blocks. His steals were the most by a Spurs player since Ginobili averaged 1.77 a decade ago.

James’ stats were modest for him – except for his seven turnovers, one of which came via a Leonard steal. “I was in a pretty good rhythm,” the Heat star said. “I just turned the ball over way too much.”

Leonard knew he had underperformed and, in his understated, man-of-few-words way at Tuesday’s shootaround had hinted he would give a better showing.

“Yeah, for Game 3,” Leonard said at the end of the night. “But the series is not over yet.”

Don’t let him shrug off the moment. Said Miami’s Ray Allen: “He attacked us.”

Leonard’s 29 points weren’t just his NBA career high – they apparently were the most he’d scored since high school. He had 26 for San Diego State as a freshman in a game at Wyoming, Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reported, and 26 in an April game against Memphis this season. He’s the first player to set his personal scoring high in a Finals game since the Nets’ Kenyon Martin went for 35 in Game 4 against the Lakers in 2002.

Leonard scored 20 points or more only three times in the 2013-14 regular season but he did it twice more in the West semifinals against Portland. He had five games among his 66 this season in which he led San Antonio in scoring, but he has done it three times now in the 21 playoff games.

No longer a bonus, his offense now ranks as a Spurs need.

“He has many ways of scoring,” Ginobili said. “His handles are good. We don’t give him the ball to play a pick-and-roll, but he can do it. … He has a great 3-point shot, everybody saw it. His percentages during the season were great. He can post up, [he has] mid-range game.

“So he’s young and he’s on a team where it’s not we go at him every time. So he does have great potential but it’s going to depend on him, as always, of not being too satisfied with what he’s doing now, working at it and develop.”

Leonard has been developing for three years, his rookie season cut short by the 2010 lockout. Duncan got his first glimpses of him then, when Leonard showed up and worked out in San Antonio while waiting for the games.

Duncan wasn’t impressed.

“I thought he had a lot of work to do,” Duncan said. “He wasn’t shooting the ball like he does now. But Pop and the guys saw something in him and they allowed him to kind of develop and find his own way.

“Last year I thought he really got his confidence and understood what he had to do, and he continues to evolve year after year. This year, you can see when he gets in a groove like that, he can be special.”

Never mind the “can be” stuff. San Antonio needs Leonard strictly in the present tense.

For Spurs, Game 3 win not only about offense


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s lockdown defense helps stifle LeBron, Heat

MIAMI — For the San Antonio Spurs, Game 3 wasn’t just about a dominant offensive performance. The Spurs paired their 111-point explosion with a balanced defensive effort, holding the Heat to a series-low 92 points.

The Spurs forced 20 turnovers from Miami, a series high, which led to 23 points for the Spurs. And with the Heat playing from behind for most of the evening, the turnovers seemed to come at crucial times for the Heat.

“The turnovers definitely flattened us out and came at various points either to start the game to get them rolling, the pick sixes,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, mixing his metaphors a bit. “And then throughout the course of the game the timely ones that either we were starting to shift the momentum and that just got the momentum back in their favor with the turnover. It’s a big time possession series both ways, so you have to be able to take care of the basketball, you have to be able to rebound. You have to hopefully force the other team into mistakes. They won that battle clearly tonight.”

“I think we were more aggressive,” said Manu Ginobili. “Our hands were much better. The help was a little earlier rather than late, so we forced them to turn the ball over a little bit more. But I’m pretty sure we didn’t force them to turn the ball over 20 times. Probably the same way that they didn’t force us in Game 1 to turn the ball over 23 times. So it’s one of those games that it happens. They played an average game at most, and we were pretty good, so that’s why the difference.”

In some ways, the Spurs’ terrific offense keyed their defense. By shooting a scorching 59 percent from the field, the Spurs didn’t give Miami many transition opportunities — the Heat finished with just four fast-break points — which allowed the Spurs to set their defense and force the Heat into playing against a set half-court defense.

“When you make shots it helps because, you know, our defense can get back and we can set whatever we want to do,” explained Tony Parker. “So you just try to stay in front of them, and they’ve got great players. They’re a great team, and we know they’re going to make some runs and find some ways to score. But overall, we did a pretty good job to stay in front of them.”

With the Heat frantically trying to mount a second-half comeback, the Spurs were able to allow the Heat to play themselves into vulnerable positions and create problems for Miami on the offensive end, as Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs forced LeBron James into a Finals record seven turnovers.

“I just turned the ball over way too much,” James said. “I had two at halftime, I had five in the second half, and some of them were trying to make some plays to my teammates, and some of them were just overdribbling at times. So I’ve got to do a better job with that for sure.  It’s not surprising that I have a Finals record for something I don’t want to have, you know, so there we go. It’s a new storyline for LeBron.”

But not the type of storyline that anyone in Miami wants to celebrate. Still, the numbers don’t lie: For a team that averaged 102.2 points in the regular season, the Heat have yet to break 100 points in a game during the Finals.

If the Heat want to complete their three-peat, something’s got to give. Just don’t expect it to be San Antonio’s defense.

Spurs, Heat growing as mutual irritants


VIDEO: The GameTime crew previews Game 3 of The Finals

MIAMI – Familiarity breeds…

“Another game,” Chris Bosh said, blowing the old saying but offering perspective all the same on the Miami Heat’s ongoing clash with the San Antonio Spurs. With Game 3 of The 2014 Finals Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat and the Spurs will have played their 10th consecutive Finals game against each other.

That’s something that hasn’t happened since 1997 and 1998, when the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz played 12 straight head-to-head. The Bulls and the Jazz had seen more than enough of each other by that point, thank you. And though Bosh didn’t complete the saying with “contempt,” it would seem that after nine games against the same guys, two Junes running, the Heat and the Spurs might be getting their bellies full of each other.

“Hell yeah,” the Miami forward said after his team’s morning shootaround Tuesday. “I know we’re on their nerves. They’re on ours. So it’s part of the game. Going through shootaround, you know every single play that they’re running – but you still have to go over it. It’s a part of the grind. But we’re building confidence in our defensive coverages as we go, so that’s really helping us.”

It’s too soon to say if the Spurs and the Heat are working up a good dislike of each other. LeBron James said the other day a rivalry might exist if they faced each other four times in the regular season rather than two, as dictated by East vs. West scheduling. Still, this best-of-seven championship series did seem to gain some edginess Sunday.

That’s when Miami point guard Mario Chalmers jammed an elbow into Tony Parker as he drove to the basket for the series’ first flagrant foul. Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard fouled out, limiting his time (31:32) and his impact.

That’s also when Tim Duncan and James were slapped with the series’ first technical fouls. Last year in their seven-game chess match, there was nothing more wayward than a defensive three-second call.

Also, Game 2 was only the third time in the nine games that San Antonio committed at least 20 fouls, and only the third time the Heat shot more than 20 free throws. And if you want to break it up this way – the Spurs have lost three of their last four against Miami, with James averaging 32.3 points – that’s the sort of stuff that starts to chafe. Ditto this: The winner of  Game 3, when The Finals has been tied 1-1, has gone on to win the championship 30 of 36 times (83.3 percent).

So for all the mutual respect flowing between the clubs, each stands in the way of the other. Same guys over and over. Great competitors and irritating too, Chalmers admitted. “Definitely. Second time around,” the Miami guard said. “Both teams want it just as bad. Now they’re trying to leave everything out there to get it.”

Silver confident Sterling mess is ‘over’


VIDEO: Adam Silver talks to the media about the Clippers sale

SAN ANTONIO – Adam Silver wasn’t ready to, er, dunk the basketball – it wouldn’t do for the NBA commissioner to be spiking the football under any circumstances – but he stood before a media throng Sunday calm and confident that the Donald Sterling/racist comments fiasco soon would be over.

Six weeks and one day earlier, Silver had faced the first serious challenge of his rookie year as commissioner – Sterling’s offensive remarks had blown up on April 26 and Silver held two news conferences in rapid succession: the first an impromptu session in Memphis for damage control and awareness, the second just three days later to announce the sanctions against Sterling and his eventual banishment from the league.

Fast-forward to Sunday: The Clippers are being sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a jaw-dropping $2 billion (nearly quadruple the largest franchise price in NBA history) and Shelly Sterling, Donald’s wife, has indemnified the league against any lawsuit brought by her husband, which of course he has.

As Silver fielded questions before Game 2 of The Finals, he or any of his constituencies – the owners, the players, even the fans – hardly could have hoped for a swifter, more satisfying outcome.

Though, to be completely accurate and cautious, the deal and the departure of Sterling as embarrassment and antagonist is at the rim, not quite through the net (see, can’t use goal line imagery either).

“We’re almost there,” Silver said. “There is this last piece, and that is the lawsuit that Donald brought against the league and me personally.”

That’s where the indemnification part comes in. “In essence,” Silver said, “Donald is suing himself and he knows that. While I understand he is frustrated, I think it’s over. It’s just a matter of time now and then we will move on to better topics and back to The Finals.”

The topics Silver had to deal with Sunday mostly alternated between Sterling updates and more info on the loss of air conditioning at Game 1 of Miami-San Antonio series Thursday at the AT&T Center.

Regarding the Sterlings, Silver shot down reports that Shelly Sterling might have some sort of ongoing role with the Clippers after Ballmer’s purchase is complete. She would dedicate some of the proceeds of the sale to a charitable foundation over which she would preside, but “that’s her money,” Silver said. It won’t be affiliated with the basketball team.

Silver said the other penalties against Sterling – his ban from even attending NBA games and a $2.5 million fine – definitely remain in place. He said he spoke to the disgraced Clippers owner in a phone call soon after the sanctions were announced April 29 and described Sterling as “distraught” and “not remorseful.”

As for Sterling’s professional history – he had been charged with racially discriminatory practices more than a decade ago in housing disputes and in his dealings with former Clippers GM Elgin Baylor – Silver was non-committal on the NBA failing to act in those instances. He said the league monitored the civil cases brought against Sterling, the investigations by the Department of Housing and Department of Justice and the eventual settlements (without admission of guilt) or, in the Baylor case, no judgment against the billionaire.

“It’s a fair point that in hindsight possibly we should have done more,” Silver said. “Certainly if I had to do it again, maybe we would have done more. But our eyes are open going forward.”

Regarding the extreme heat of Game 1 once the cooling system malfunctioned – and the cramps that sent LeBron James from the game in the final minutes, seemingly sealing Miami’s loss – Silver acknowledged it as “not one of my prouder moments in my short tenure as commissioner.”

But he was at the game, too, and felt that he and Rod Thorn, the league’s head of basketball operations, had the best available info from the AT&T Center maintenance crew. “There was never a point where we were considering either postponing or cancelling the game,” Silver said.

He added: “I’m glad this isn’t single elimination; it’s the best of seven. So it’s too early to say how this Finals will be remembered.”