Posts Tagged ‘Erik Spoelstra’

Spurs and Heat help prove that defense wins championships


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with the GameTime crew after the championship clincher

SAN ANTONIO – Entering the 2014 Finals, the 2000-01 Lakers were the last team to win a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.

They still are.

The 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs, who — in a season between championships — allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, were one of the best defensive teams in NBA history. The Spurs’ D continued to rank in the top three over the next four years, but could only go downhill after that incredible 2003-04 season. And it proceeded to go downhill every single year for eight years, until it dropped out of the top 10 in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (see table below).

Out of the top 10 is not where you want to be. Over the last 37 years (since the NBA started tracking turnovers in 1977-78), only three teams have won a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. Twice as many champs have ranked outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency.

And though their offense had developed into a beautiful machine that ranked in the top two those two seasons, the Spurs knew they had to get better defensively.

“We thought that’s what was missing against Oklahoma City [in the 2012 conference finals],” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said a year ago, “that we couldn’t make stops when we needed to. We would call them ‘stops on demand.’ In fourth quarters and big games you have to be able to do it.”

You can’t just flip a switch in the playoffs. Habits have to be built throughout the season, so that when the time comes, you can fall back on what you have developed.

“We slipped a little bit,” Tony Parker said, “and we knew if we wanted to get back to the top, we needed to get back to where we were [defensively] when we were winning championships.”

So the Spurs went back to the drawing board in the summer of 2012. And as a team that has embraced analytics, they dug into the numbers and realized that being a great defensive rebounding team (which they were) didn’t matter if you didn’t defend shots well enough (which they didn’t).

“What we found,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told NBA.com last week, “were that teams who weren’t as effective defensive rebounding were still ranking incredibly high in defensive efficiency. The areas that they were focused in appeared to us to be field goal percentage defense. So we felt like we needed to go back to parts of our system that would improve our defensive field goal percentage.”

Basically, they needed to better contesting shots, both inside and outside. Easier said than done, but some shifts in personnel certainly helped. Tiago Splitter had two years in the Spurs’ system under his belt, Kawhi Leonard had one under his, and both have played bigger over the last two seasons.

In that time, the Spurs allowed just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in 1,907 minutes with Leonard and Splitter on the floor, the lowest on-court DefRtg of any two-man pair in the league that has played at least 1,200 minutes together over the last two seasons. The tandem of Splitter and Tim Duncan has protected the paint as well as any big man combination in the league. And Leonard has quickly become one of the world’s best perimeter defenders.

Their teammates and coach were quick to point out the importance of those Leonard and Splitter, but also said that there has just been a better collective focus on the defensive end of the floor over the last two years.

“[It was] just coming in here from day one in training camp and making it a priority,” Duncan said, “making them understand that every game, every film session, everything else, this is what we’re going to hang our hats on.”

“We just worked at it,” Popovich added. “I mean, it’s basketball. There is nothing magic about it. You know, we worked at it and the guys committed to it, and we got better defensively.”

With better defenders and a better focus, the Spurs went from 11th in defensive efficiency in both ’10-11 and ’11-12 to third last season. Not coincidentally, they got back to The Finals for the first time in six years and came within six seconds of winning a championship.

This season, they brought back their core (and the best defensive lineup in the league) with one more year together in their system. Though no player averaged 30 minutes per game, they again ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. And in the Western Conference playoffs, they got those “stops on demand,” holding the offenses of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder well under their regular season efficiency marks and setting up a Finals rematch.

The Miami Heat have gone in the opposite direction in the last two years. After ranking in the top five defensively in their first two seasons together, the Heat ranked seventh last season and 11th this year.

Dwyane Wade‘s “maintenance program” — he played just 54 games in the regular season — had something to do with this year’s regression. But so did bad habits. The Heat’s defensive scheme can overwhelm offenses when it’s sharp, but can also get broken down pretty easily when it’s not. It was inconsistent all season, pretty darn awful at times (especially in January), and finished just outside the top 10.

It got better in the playoffs, but the champs never really put 48 minutes of great defense together. In the conference semifinals and finals, they allowed both the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers to score more efficiently than they did in the regular season. Getting through the first three rounds was about how good the Heat were offensively, especially in the fourth quarter, than an ability to get consistent stops.

That wasn’t enough in The Finals. The Heat finally ran into a team that was great on both ends of the floor. And they got slaughtered.

The Spurs’ offense, of course, was a thing of beauty. And once it got going, the Heat could do nothing to stop it. They didn’t have a great defense to fall back on. They couldn’t get stops on demand.

Their not-top-10 defense, those bad habits and that inconsistency, had come back to bite them.

“We were always trying to conjure something,” Shane Battier told Bleacher Report after Game 5. “But you can’t win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn’t the case for us this year.

“We just didn’t have the fundamentals to stop an offensive juggernaut like the Spurs. And we were exposed.”

But you don’t get the largest point differential in Finals history (70 points over five games) with what happens on just one end of the floor. The Spurs didn’t just eviscerate the Heat defense, they shut down what had been a ridiculously good offense through the first three rounds, particularly in Games 4 and 5, when they held the Heat under a point per possession.

“We felt confident coming into the series that we were going to be able to score,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Maybe not as much as we typically are used to, but coming off of some very good defensive teams and series in the Eastern Conference, we felt we could rely on that. But they shut us out of the paint pretty consistently.”

Don’t let anyone tell you that “defense wins championships” is just a cliché, because it has plenty of evidence — including the result of the 2014 Finals — to back it up. These were two great offensive teams. But only one had been defending at a high level all season.

As a result, they’ll be holding a parade down the Riverwalk.

Spurs defense, Tim Duncan era

Season DefRtg Rank Lg. OffRtg Diff. Playoffs
1997-98 96.2 2 102.0 -5.8 Lost conf. semis
1998-99 92.1 1 99.2 -7.1 Won Finals
1999-00 95.7 2 101.2 -5.6 Lost first round
2000-01 94.9 1 100.2 -5.4 Lost conf. finals
2001-02 96.5 1 101.6 -5.1 Lost conf. semis
2002-03 96.6 3 100.7 -4.1 Won Finals
2003-04 91.6 1 100.0 -8.5 Lost conf. semis
2004-05 95.8 1 103.1 -7.3 Won Finals
2005-06 96.9 1 103.4 -6.5 Lost conf. semis
2006-07 97.4 2 103.7 -6.3 Won Finals
2007-08 99.5 3 104.7 -5.3 Lost conf. finals
2008-09 102.0 6 105.4 -3.5 Lost first round
2009-10 102.0 9 104.9 -2.9 Lost conf. semis
2010-11 102.8 11 104.5 -1.7 Lost first round
2011-12 100.6 11 101.8 -1.2 Lost conf. finals
2012-13 99.2 3 103.1 -4.0 Lost in Finals
2013-14 100.1 4 104.0 -3.9 Won Finals

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

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…)

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 @officialspurs are the 2014 NBA Champions!!!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

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.