Posts Tagged ‘Erik Spoelstra’

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 5


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard did it all to pull the Spurs through against the Heat in The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — Fifteen years later, it still has to taste as sweet as the first time for San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan and his coach Gregg Popovich.

Feels like the first time, indeed, even though this makes three titles in three difference decades and five total.

Larry O’Brien never looked so good.

The mighty San Antonio Spurs are your 2014 NBA champions, defeating the Miami Heat in five games and three straight breathtaking performances to dethrone the two-time NBA champs.

They did it on Father’s Day, too, a sweet day for their oldest player and proud father Duncan, the backbone of the franchise, and a bittersweet day for its young star, Kawhi Leonard (the youngest MVP of The Finals since Duncan 15 years ago), whose father was shot and killed at the family car wash in Compton, Calif., back in 2008, just as he was becoming a basketball star.

We can talk about LeBron James and the Miami Heat later, but tonight, it’s all about the “Spurs Way,” the blend of the old (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and new (Kawhi … Patty Mills Boris Diaw and the rest) and one of the league’s true dynasties and the fact that team triumphed over talent when it mattered most.

And yes, they avenged that loss to the Heat in The Finals last year in the best way possible (outscoring the champs by 70 points in the five games and winning every game by 15 or more points), better known as …

#TheSpursWay

The “Beautiful Brand” wins out

There will be more converts to come, trust me. There will be more!

All respect due …

They do indeed. And they’ll get it around here.

Leonard’s time to shine is now!

You pick up a pen, write Kawhi Leonard’s name and then hand it to someone. Pretty simple.

#SpursWay

All team, all the time!

A timeless tradition … 

Old Man River Walk


VIDEO: Manu with the nasty lefty throwdown over Chris Bosh

Not the “Framily Plan” 

Low blow alert!

Kawhi-V-P 

There is no choice but to give this quiet warrior his due!

(more…)

Game 5: Duncan close to one for the thumb

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with Steve Smith about being on the cusp of a fifth title

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat played their two best games of the NBA Finals on the Spurs’ home floor. If not for LeBron James exiting the final minutes of Game 1 with cramps, they might have headed home up 2-0. So much has changed since then. The Spurs embarrassed Miami, not once, but twice, to push the Heat to the brink. Miami’s only hope is to regain their form the last time they were here.

The Basics:

Game 5 tips off Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Prior to this year’s format change, the Heat would be playing this Game 5 on their home floor, but considering how lousy they played at the American Airlines Arena, they might feel more at home with their backs against the wall on the road.

They have little to fall back on now. Their 13-game streak of winning after losing is history. The last time they lost three in a row came back in the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, the team that raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Big Three’s first season together. Could a Spurs victory end that era?

It certainly sounded on Saturday as if a Spurs victory will extend that Big Three’s era at least another season. Tim Duncan, potentially headed for a fifth championship and a Finals MVP at age 38, as well as 36-year-old Manu Ginobili, playing so well this entire postseason, gave no indication on Saturday that they plan to call it a career, in fact just the opposite. Adding to that, coach Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s Coach of the Year, said he has no plan to walk into the sunset just yet. However, there’s still the matter or wrapping up a fourth championship with Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker.

The Narrative:

The best player in the world is getting clobbered by criticism and the best team in the NBA the last two seasons is suddenly being downgraded as a group of individuals that don’t play within a team concept. Both accounts are nonsense. Yes, the Heat was built on the backs of superstar talent, but they have always played as a team. James is one of the most unselfish players in the game, often criticized for passing to an open teammate instead of shooting in the final moments. It can’t go both ways.

The fact is the Heat are being beaten by a playing better than they are, by the best passing, most efficient offense the league has seen likely since the 1980s with Magic Johnson‘s Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics. The true weakness at the moment for Miami is that it’s not getting as many solid performances from up and down the roster as are the Spurs. Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade have struggled in recent games and Miami’s role players aren’t delivering with the juice of Spurs players such as Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. (more…)

Morning shootaround: June 14


VIDEO: Fisher discusses the Knicks’ roster 

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan explains Higgins’ exit | Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? | Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo | Cavaliers closing in on coach

No. 1: Jordan explains Higgins’ exit — For years, a lot of casual observers of the Charlotte NBA team (once Bobcats, now Hornets) figured Rod Higgins held his job as president of basketball operations largely because he was a longtime pal of owner/legend Michael Jordan. But in addressing the reason behind Higgins’ abrupt deision to resign – Jordan shifted more responsibilities to general manager Rich Cho – the GOAT made it clear why he valued having Higgins around too. Here’s a peek at veteran scribe Rick Bonnell‘s Jordan exclusive in the Charlotte Observer:

“Rod’s strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team,” Jordan said. “He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I’d work with Rod on that.”
Jordan said he wants Cho, with a background as an attorney, dealing more with budgets and managing the salary cap.
“One of (Higgins’) strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams,” Jordan said. “Sometimes when teams would call (proposing trades), they’d bypass Rod to get to Rich.”
Higgins, with the franchise since 2007, teamed with Cho the last three years. Jordan said that arrangement led to some “confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in.”
That’s when Jordan proposed these shifts in responsibilities, which Higgins considered a demotion. At that point, Jordan said he asked Higgins if they could wait until after the draft to make a change.
“He chose to leave now,” Jordan said.
Higgins, 54, has been a friend and colleague of Jordan’s for roughly 30 years. They played together with the Chicago Bulls in the mid-1980s. Jordan later hired Higgins to help him run the Washington Wizards’ basketball operation. Jordan said that made Friday’s parting extra difficult.
“I had to make a decision about a brother,” Jordan said. “I hope he gets a soft landing and finds (the job) he wants.”

***

No. 2: Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? — Before the 2014 Finals began, the suggestion that Miami might find itself in need of help from erratic forward Michael Beasley would have been seen as an implicit admission that the Heat were headed for trouble against the San Antonio Spurs. Well, they are in trouble, down 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio. And more than a few critics have wondered if Miami coach Erik Spoelstra might look to Beasley as an X factor and counter to Kawhi Leonard‘s offensive impact for the Spurs. Our man Jeff Caplan didn’t necessarily see much of a role for Beasley in the series when they chatted prior to Game 1, but now can offer a look at the maddeningly talented but scatter-careered forward:

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).
Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.
Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.
“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

***

No. 3: Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo — We can assume that, if numbers came up when basketball boss Phil Jackson, new head coach Derek Fisher and GM Steve Mills of the New York Knicks met with Carmelo Anthony and agent Leon Rose Friday in Los Angeles, the Knicks contingent detailed the pay cuts Anthony would be facing were he to leave New York as a free agent this summer. How big would those cuts be? The difference between a nine-figure deal with N.Y. vs. an eight-figure packages from outside suitors, the latest allegedly the Miami Heat in a refurbished Big 4 vision. Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone laid out some of the basics for Newsday:

Phil Jackson led a contingent of Knicks officials into a meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Friday in Los Angeles, according to a league source, and presented their plan for turning the team into a contender.
The current blueprint includes Anthony, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract by June 23 and become a free agent. All indications are that Anthony will do that.
Jackson has said he hopes Anthony will “opt in” and wait until 2015 to become a free agent. But a league source said Anthony hasn’t changed his mind after saying all season that he would become a free agent this summer.
If Anthony were to opt in, it would give the Knicks more flexibility next summer, and perhaps in 2016, to sign multiple stars. The 2015 free-agent class could include LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol. Kevin Durant is the big potential prize in 2016.
Jackson was accompanied by general manager Steve Mills and new coach Derek Fisher during the sit-down with Anthony and his agent, Leon Rose. It was the first time Anthony met with Fisher since he became coach.
The Knicks can pay Anthony more than any other team in free agency. A maximum deal from them would be five years and roughly $129 million. But Jackson also has said that if Anthony re-signs, he hopes he will take less to give the Knicks more room for other moves.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers closing in on coach — Holders of the Draft’s No. 1 pick, dreamers when it comes to LeBron James’ possible return as a free agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are said to be getting closer to assigning value to at lease one of their multiple variables: their vacant head coaching position. Longtime Cavs beat writer Bob Finnan wrote about the narrowing field of candidates: Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue, both assistants on Doc Rivers‘ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers, and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt:

Clippers assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.
Gentry and Lue met with Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert on June 13. It was their second interview with the Cavs.
Blatt reportedly will meet with the Cavs next week. He previously spoke to Cavs General Manager David Griffin about the position left vacant by the firing of Mike Brown on May 12. Blatt told Israel reporter David Pick that he interviewed for the Cavs’ head-coaching job via the phone.
The 55-year-old Blatt announced during a news conference in Israel on June 12 that he was leaving his position as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is believed that he would be joining an NBA team. If he doesn’t get the Cavs’ job, he could join Golden State coach Steve Kerr’s coaching staff as his lead assistant.
However, he’s very much in the mix in Cleveland for the head-coaching position.
Griffin has been doing some background checks on Blatt, and Pick reported that he has spoken to former Cavs’ draft pick Milan Macvan, who played for Blatt in Maccabi. Macvan, a Serbian power forward, was a second-round pick of the Cavs in 2011.
There was a report that Blatt wouldn’t come to the NBA unless he got a head-coaching job. He said on June 12 that wasn’t true.
If those are the three finalists, two of them — the 37-year-old Lue, and Blatt — have never been head coaches in the NBA. The third, 59-year-old Gentry, is considered by some as a coaching retread who has a below-.500 record in 12 years as a head coach. All three coaches are known as offensive-minded, who would take advantage of the Cavs’ personnel.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Ray Allen has at least one of these three R’s in his future: Return, relocation or retirement? … Celtics assistant Ron Adams might wind up on Steve Kerr‘s staff in Golden State, and Julius Randle refutes the claim that his right foot needs surgery. … Tim Duncan has until June 24 to opt in for next season. He, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich all have contracts that run through 2014-15, should they choose to give it one more season. … One more inspiring scrap-heap-to-Finals-star Boris Diaw story. … Can Dante Exum vault into the Top 3 and rock the 2014 Draft? … Sid Lowe goes to the Timberwolves for a third (or is it fourth?) go-around, with Sam Mitchell invoking “country club” privileges next. … Larry Bird tries to help disappointed Pacers fans buck up … We’re not clear as to which trio should feel more disrespected by this, the Heat’s Big 3 or the classic comedic geniuses.

Beasley says season in the background has changed him for the better

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6

Michael Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat’s main characters had taken their spots for media day at AT&T Center on the eve of the NBA Finals. Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade entertained in the interview room. Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and other key cogs answered questions from behind podiums spaced around the perimeter of the floor.

Then there were the others, plopped down in the front row of seats along the corner of the court, just outside the sphere of the media’s interest. It was a fitting foursome: Greg Oden then Chris “Birdman” Andersen then Rashard Lewis then Michael Beasley. All four had signed with Miami within the last two seasons, eager to join LeBron and D-Wade for a championship ride, but also to seek a resurrection of sorts for careers that veered in different directions for differing reasons.

Only Beasley, the troubled, 25-year-old forward, sought something deeper: Salvation.

“I’ve seen him grow immensely, maturity‑wise, as a pro, on and off the court,” said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s rookie coach in 2008 when they drafted the 19-year-old Beasley No. 2 overall. “It’s really been ‑‑ it’s been cool to see.”

Even so, if judging solely by how Spoelstra has used him, it’s fair to wonder if Beasley, his disappointing career already dwindling by a thread, has failed in his pursuit. Some may have even forgotten he plays for the Heat. Few players are perceived so negatively by fans and media alike, with much of the scrutiny coming by way of his own missteps; a self-destructive path of poor decisions off the court and a sliding, seemingly increasingly lazy effort on it through his first five seasons spent with three teams.

Yet despite never realizing a rotation niche this season, and being inactive more often than not during the postseason, Beasley is adamant that this second stint with Miami has served as a vessel for personal growth.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just from LeBron and Dwyane, but from Rashard, Udonis [Haslem], Birdman and Ray, a team full of veterans, a team full of future Hall of Famers,” Beasley told NBA.com from his front-row seat little more than a week ago. “Definitely a great move for my career, more on the mental side of things. I’ve learned a lot: How to do things the right way, how to have fun the right way, not to sweat the small stuff.

“I’ve worked. The thing I’ve learned above all else is how to win, what it takes to win, the attitude and dedication to work. You get tired, but once you get used to it, it’s like your body needs it.”

Those are words that might pique the interest of skeptical general managers as Beasley becomes an unrestricted free agent next month. Last summer, after an underwhelming first season in Phoenix, the Suns bought him out of his remaining two years and $12 million as legal issues swirled around him. It followed a flame-out with Minnesota, the team Miami traded him to for a couple of second-round picks two seasons after drafting him one spot behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose and ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

After the Suns cut ties, Beasley signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract with the two-time champion Heat, a team with established leaders and where Beasley believed he would be afforded the chance to reset his career, and his life, while removed from the daily pressures of the spotlight.

“Who doesn’t have a past? Who doesn’t have skeletons?” Beasley said. “It’s just my skeletons are in the open, not in the closet. So have I been unfairly portrayed? I can say yes, I can say no. Did I bring it on myself? Most definitely. But it’s the growing process in life, maturing, a grown boy turning into a young man.”

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).

Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”

The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.

Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.

“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

Beasley has worked closely with Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard. Unlike past seasons, Beasley is said to arrive early for practice and stays late, cues he said he immediately gleaned from the team’s veterans. He is said to listen intently to coaches and teammates, and he hasn’t uttered a peep about being limited to an end-of-bench role.

He even pays more attention to nutrition when in the past a pregame meal of chicken strips and french fries from the concession stand would do.

“Everything that we’ve discussed privately, everything that we’ve been working on individually and also with other coaches, he’s been grasping it, and he’s been enjoying it and working hard at it,” Howard said. “That right there, that’s how I judge Michael.”

After he signed with the Heat, Beasley hired a new agent. Beasley said he is solely focused on finishing out this season and declined to answer if he’d be willing to sign a deal similar to his current one to remain with the Heat. His agent, Jared Karnes, said there have been no discussions yet with Miami president Pat Riley.

Beasley did make one declarative statement: He will be sticking around in the NBA.

“Definitely,” Beasley said. “There’s still some immaturity about me, but that’s what keeps it light. I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, I like to think so myself anyway. But you’re definitely going to see a different me.”

It’s up to Beasley to make believers.

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

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 4


VIDEO: Old man River Walk (Tim Duncan) and the Spurs looked just as good away from home in The Finals

MIAMI — Didn’t see it coming.

None of us did.

Not like this.

Not from the San Antonio Spurs or the Miami Heat.

Not like this.

In the span of eight quarters the Spurs took the Finals and flipped it upside down and inside out, pushing their lead to 3-1 after Thursday night’s 107-86 thrashing of the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. The best road team in the NBA this season showed themselves to be every bit of the juggernaut away from home that their record indicates they should be.

All that’s left is the close out. It could come as early as Sunday night in San Antonio, provided the Spurs keep this up. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals (0-31). No team has won consecutive road games by 15 or more points in The Finals … until now.

History will be made in this series, one way or another.

But I promise, no one saw this coming.

No one!

The Spurs didn’t.

And the Heat certainly didn’t see it coming!

Revenge of the Spurs

Tony Parker said he likes the term “rematch” better. Call it what you want. But two straight beatdowns on the road gives the Spurs the right to call it whatever they want.

(more…)

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.”

Right & Wrong: Spurs strike back


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Game 3 of the NBA Finals

MIAMI — When you consider that the San Antonio Spurs literally didn’t miss many shots through the first two quarters of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, perhaps it’s not surprising that they came away with a 111-92 win. But in some ways, that nearly 20-point margin is a bit deceiving — during the third quarter the Heat clawed back into the game, and with 1:59 remaining in the third, the Heat were down just 7 points.

But on this night, the Spurs just had too much. Of everything. Particularly of note, they got a star-making performance from Kawhi Leonard, the kind of breakout, big stage game that Spurs fans suspected lurked inside the quiet third-year pro.

Meanwhile, the Heat withstood San Antonio’s flurry of body blows and knockout punches and mounted that second half return, but they just seemed to run out of gas down the stretch.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 3:

Right: Leonard was simply brilliant, on both ends. Offensively, he started quickly, with 10 of San Antonio’s first 18 points. Defensively, he hounded LeBron James all night, and even though the Heat iso’d James repeatedly, Leonard managed to stay out of foul trouble and seemed to relish the challenge of facing James. Coming off of a Game 2 performance where Leonard fouled out and finished with just 9 points, it was exactly the sort of game the Spurs needed from Leonard. “That’s how he’s played all year long,” Spurs coach Gregg 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.” Some things will never change.

Wrong: With Leonard getting after him and the Spurs defense keying on his every move, James finished with 22 points and 5 rebounds, a fine performance for most players but a noticeable drop-off from the 35/10 he posted in Game 2. James also set a Finals record with 7 turnovers, including 5 in the second half. As James surmised after the game, with a rueful smile, “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.”

Right: In Game 2, no Spurs player other than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili managed to break double digits in the scoring column. In Game 3, not only did Leonard go off for 29 points, but Danny Green found his stroke to the tune of 15 points with 5 steals to go with that. The Spurs know they’ll get steady production from their big three, but they also need to rely on their complementary players to be able to win this Finals.

Wrong: Simply put, the point guard play from the Heat in Game 3 was a disaster. Starter Mario Chalmers finished with 2 points (and no field goals), 4 assists, 3 turnovers and 4 fouls in 22 minutes. His backup, Norris Cole, was only marginally better, going 3-for-9 from the floor. While they aren’t often asked to perform as traditional point guards — James spent most of Game 3 initiating the Heat’s offense — defensively neither Cole nor Chalmers made much of an impact, either. “One thing you can’t control in the game of basketball if a shot goes in or not, but you can control how you defend,” James said. “You can control how much energy you bring to the game, how much effort you bring to the game. If our two point guards do that, we can be okay with that. I know our two point guards, they’re very passionate. They’ve got a lot of pride. And I know they’re looking forward to learning from what they did tonight, and trying to be much better in Game 4.”

Right: Popovich juggled San Antonio’s starting lineup, sitting Tiago Splitter and moving Boris Diaw into the five spot. While Diaw doesn’t provide the same traditional interior presence as Splitter, he makes the Spurs a much more fluid offensive team. He finished Game 3 with 9 points, 5 boards and 3 assists. “Boris has been great all playoffs, in the entire playoffs,” Duncan said. “His ability to attack off the dribble, his passing ability. When they collapsed, he made some great passes, made some great plays, and his ability to finish at the basket as well. So just gave us another attack guy out there. Tiago’s been playing great. He’s finishing at the basket and making plays. But to have someone like Boris who can stretch your floor and make plays like a point guard in there and make decisions and punish them for their rotation, it was big for us.”

Wrong: Considering they were playing their first home game of the 2014 Finals, with a chance to sustain the home court advantage they stole with their Game 2 win, the Heat came out curiously flat. You can’t completely fault them defensively — yes the Spurs got a lot of open looks, but still, shooting 76 percent in the first half is unprecedented. Still, Miami never seemed to equal or overshadow San Antonio’s energy or effort until the second half, and by then they reached a point where they just couldn’t sustain the energy needed to complete the comeback. “What it feels like is The Finals, and you have to deal with all the emotions that happen in The Finals, frustration, anger, pain, elation, all of it, and it can swing back and forth,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “It’s a long series. We have to be able to manage this, and it starts with tomorrow owning it. That will be the process that we all have to go through together, not individually. We have to go through that together and somehow collectively come out with a much better response on Thursday.”