Posts Tagged ‘Shane Battier’

Retired Battier isn’t eyeing a comeback

VIDEO: Inside Stuff with Shane Battier

The immortal baseball player Satchel Paige once said don’t look back, because something might be gaining on you.

The indefatigable Shane Battier says the only reason to look in the rearview mirror might be to check out his backswing.

Let the Cavaliers, Spurs, Bulls and Clippers chase the aging sharpshooter Ray Allen to bolster their championship hopes, Heat style. The 13-year veteran Battier, who retired after last season with Miami, says he’s having too much on the golf course to even consider a comeback.

Battier, who averaged 8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, was a defensive specialist and won a pair of championships (2012, 2013) with the Heat, told Shandel Richarson of the Sun Sentinel that he wouldn’t nail the door shut, but it would “take a lot” to get him to lace up his sneakers and return to the court.

It’s not just giving up the physical grind at age 36 that is good, but also breaking out of the confining, narrow mindset that it takes to be a successful pro athlete that has Battier enjoying life:

“In this business, you get so caught up in the next shootaround, the next game, the next practice, the next play,” Battier said. “You have a very myopic view of the world. The most fun part is just talking to people … and just having amazing conversations.”

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

Morning Shootaround: June 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bulls looking to make blockbuster move | Report: Sixers taking extended look at Wiggins | Orlando a big fan of Smart’s intangibles | Report: Heat’s Allen mulling retirement | Nowitzki makes pitch for Anthony

No. 1: Report: Bulls looking to make deals to upgrade lineup — If the just-completed 2014 Finals have taught other NBA teams anything, it’s that building a team like the Spurs — one replete with superstars and solid, dependable depth — is the way to go in today’s NBA. The Chicago Bulls have apparently taken notice and are willing to part with just about anyone not named Derrick Rose, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player — and not by choice.

“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.

But the source said it was “doubtful” whether that meant the long-rumored departure of coach Tom Thibodeau could come into play.

Carmelo Anthony is still Plan A as the Bulls and the rest of the NBA await to see if the Knicks forward will opt out of his contract. But the Bulls are more active in their pursuit of Kevin Love than initially rumored. Also, don’t rule out LeBron James coming into play again if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal.

(more…)

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.

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.

Morning Shootaround — June 11


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard gives Spurs a preview of their future | Hollins still hoping for coaching gig | Report: Lakers meet with Scott again | Nowitzki: Chances ‘slim to none’ he’ll leave Mavs | Battier a master at stealing play-calls

No. 1: Leonard gives Spurs an early look at their future Through the first two games of The Finals, Kawhi Leonard was a virtual non-factor as he had just 18 points in the series and was being outplayed by his matchup, LeBron James. The Heat’s star had another solid game (22 points), but Leonard broke out of his funk in a major way in Game 3. He poured in 29 points and powered San Antonio’s rout and as our Steve Aschburner notes, gave the Spurs a good look at what the team might look like when Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker hang it up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Though the specifics were cloaked, the message seemed obvious.

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

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

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


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Kawhi Leonard’s monster Game 3 (more…)

Film Study: Spurs get good looks inside


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tim Duncan, Game 1, NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs suddenly have turned into the Houston Rockets.

Through their first 17 playoff games, the Spurs took 30 percent of their shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), the most inefficient area of the floor. That rate is higher than the league average (27 percent) for the postseason.

But in their last two games (Game 6 of the conference finals in Oklahoma City and Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday), the Spurs have attempted just 12 percent (19/162) of their shots from mid-range, a rate that’s very Rockets-like. Since Game 2 of the Oklahoma City series, the Spurs have attempted 27 3-pointers per game. And on Thursday, they shot 13-for-25 from beyond the arc. They also shot 24-for-35 (69 percent) in the paint, their second-best percentage of the postseason.

All 10 of Tim Duncan‘s shots were from inside the paint. He made nine of them to lead the Spurs with 21 points. Tiago Splitter shot 5-for-6 in the paint. When their teammates were able to get them the ball, the bigs were able to finish.

“It’s where my shots come,”  Duncan said Friday. “We have a lot of shooters and I’m not going to stretch the court in that respect. Every once in a while I get a jumpshot from 15 to 18 feet, but mostly my effective range is in there right now. I’m going to pick‑and‑roll and try to get to open spots and try to take advantage of the rotation if they’re trapping.”

The Spurs committed 22 turnovers in Game 1, 14 of the live-ball variety. The Heat’s rotations were on point most of the night, but the Spurs were also very sloppy, failing to connect on some simple passes. But they executed well enough to score 110 points on 95 possessions. And much of that execution resulted in layups for their big men.

Pick, roll, and finish

Duncan’s final basket of the game, one that gave the Spurs the lead for good, was a simple pick-and-roll with Manu Ginobili on the left sideline. Chris Andersen stepped out to contain Ginobili, and Dwyane Wade gave him just enough space to deliver a pocket pass to the rolling Duncan…

20140606_roll1

And when Duncan made the catch, the only person between him and the basket was little Ray Allen. When a team is faced with this …

20140606_roll2

… the Spurs either have a layup or a wide-open Danny Green in the corner. Duncan chose the layup.

Four of Splitter’s five layups were pick-and-rolls, with him scoring over a smaller Miami help defender. San Antonio is smart, putting a guard in the weak side corner, so that it’s his man – a Miami guard – who’s rotating over to help on the roll man. That makes it easier for the Spurs’ big to finish over top.

“That’s by design,” Shane Battier said Friday. “We know it. And if we’re sharp in our rotations and meet the roller early, it can mitigate some of that.”

Drag, swing and drive

Layups don’t necessarily come one pass after the pick-and-roll. And the Spurs are the best team in the league at keeping the ball moving until the open shot can be found.

Duncan’s first basket of the second quarter was a result of a drag screen from Boris Diaw, which Tony Parker used to pull Rashard Lewis out to the sideline and give him a long distance to recover back to Diaw…

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Diaw drove past Lewis’ close-out, drew Chris Bosh‘s attention, and fed Duncan under the basket.

Pick-and-seal

Duncan’s second bucket of the game was a result of a pick-and-roll, but wasn’t him scoring over a guard. Instead, it was him refusing to let Bosh get back into position.

Bosh came out high on a Parker/Duncan pick-and-roll out of the corner…

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When Bosh recovered, Duncan got his body between his defender and the basket and pushed Bosh out to the foul line. The Big Fundamental executed a perfect seal.

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It was just a matter of getting him the ball. Green’s pass allowed Bosh to get back between Duncan and the basket, but Duncan still had good enough position to get a good look.

Around the front

The smaller Heat mostly front the low post, forcing their opponent to make difficult passes. This scheme works very well against the bigger Pacers, because the Pacers are bad passers.

But the Spurs have guys that can find the right angle on entry passes. One of those guys is Ginobili.

Here, Duncan got a cross-screen from Kawhi Leonard, but Lewis was still able to beat him to the block.

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A more timid passer would swing the ball to the other side. Ginobili found the proper angle…

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… and thread the needle for a Duncan layup. Duncan got another on a similar play late in the second quarter.

He’s good. Know where he is.

A couple of Duncan layups where just a result of a lack of recognition from Bosh. The Spurs’ first basket of the game came when Bosh had his head turned after getting back in transition. And another in the third quarter came when Bosh was on the weak side block and was astoundingly slow in recognizing Duncan’s cut to the basket.

The Heat defense certainly could be better. They need to be more aware, they need to pressure the ball to make those passes more difficult, and their help defenders need to meet the roll man farther from the basket.

“It starts with ball pressure,” Battier said. “I thought they had a lot of straight-line passes into the paint, which is really death for us. If you put two on the ball, you have to affect the tempo and the timing of the pass. We didn’t do that well enough. And B, we have to trust the rotator.”

“We have to do some things better, more committed, five‑man against a very good passing team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra added. “They’re well schooled. Some things that we need to adjust on. That’s what we’ll figure out in the next couple of days.”

The Spurs’ could certainly execute better, too. Their offense was a feast-or-famine situation in Game 1. And they won, because the fourth quarter, when they shot 14-for-16 (6-for-6 from 3-point range), was mostly feast. They may not shoot as well in Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but they can certainly cut down on the turnovers and keep Miami from easy baskets on the other end of the floor.

Cramps cut down The King

VIDEO: Tim Duncan and the Spurs beat the Heat — and heat — in Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – LeBron James probably has had 140 or so “podium games” in his NBA playoff career (he’s played 154). And then, finally, in Game 1 of The 2014 Finals at the AT&T Center Thursday he had …

A sodium game.

Dehydration from an overheated arena with a broken-down air conditioning system led to severe cramping for the Miami Heat superstar, and the cramping sent James to the bench at pivotal moments in the fourth quarter, a quarter won by the San Antonio Spurs 36-17 as they grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship round.

Grabbed it and were lucky not to have it squirt from their hands, from the perspiration.

“As the game started, I was like, ‘Wow, it feels nice and warm in here. I’m feeling good,’ ” said Miami guard Ray Allen, the leanest and probably best-conditioned player on the floor. “Then when we called the first timeout, [Dwyane] Wade was drenched. And LeBron said, ‘He looks like he played the whole game already.’ “

Playing the whole game was a problem, particularly for James. Temperatures in the building, high at tipoff, only rose with a sold-out crowd of 18,581, the bright lights of network TV coverage and the intensity on the court.

James said he downed a bunch of fluids at halftime and even changed his uniform “to get the sweat up off of you.” Both the Miami and San Antonio trainers gave their players ice bags and cold towels on their respective benches. It was managed as well as it could be, until the mercury rose further and adrenaline mattered less than electrolytes.

“I got all the fluids I need to get,” James said after getting more delivered intravenously in the postgame locker room. “I do my normal routine I’ve done and it was inevitable for me. … I lost all the fluids that I was putting in in the last couple of days out there on the floor.”

The Spurs’ Tim Duncan had noticed James subbing out a couple of times in the second half and assumed he was tired, same as the rest of them. Only it was worse than that. The Heat star had battled cramps before – he had famously returned from a bout with them in Game 4 the 2012 Finals against Oklahoma City to hit a crucial shot – and he was seizing up Thursday night like never before.

The worst of it came deep into the final quarter after James subbed back in with 4:33 left. He drove hard to the rim for a layup and kept going into the baseline area, pulling up, testing his leg and finally just stopping. Was it an ankle injury? Nope, more like his left hamstring and calf muscles caught in a vise grip. He was, in that instant as the Spurs pushed the ball toward the other end, helpless. He had to be hurriedly half-carried to the bench, lest the Heat get charged with a timeout.

“The best option for me to do was not to move,” he told a pool reporter late Thursday. “I tried and any little step or nudge, it would get worse. It would lock up worse and my muscles spasmed 10 out of 10.”

It was not just James’ left leg but, he said, “damn near the whole left side.” Down 94-92 when the cramps stopped James, Miami got outscored 16-3 from over the final four minutes.

To their credit, the Heat didn’t dwell on James’ condition as an excuse for their unraveling. “I was worried about him,” Allen said. “But at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about it as much as what we needed to do. We did let go of the rope a little bit. We gave up stuff defensively and offensively, we didn’t get to our stuff. We had some empty, open possessions we didn’t convert and they did.”

Allowing the other team to shoot 58 percent and turning over the ball 18 times can undercut grumbles about a thermostat.

Still, it was bizarre seeing a Finals opener being decided with James sitting out right in camera range, planted on the bench not by foul trouble but by the body that has been so good to him in this instance betraying him.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra made the decision to shut him down for the night. “Look, at one point he was getting up with 3½ minutes to go,” Spoelstra said, “and I looked at him and said, ‘Don’t even think about it. You can’t even move at this point.’ ” Instead, James was dispatched to the locker room and, minutes later, the Heat were simply dispatched.

Afterward, a few especially creative conspiracy theorists tried to float the notion that the Spurs somehow arranged for the AC breakdown, calculating James’ propensity for cramps. But Rod Thorn, NBA president of basketball operations, considered the circumstances little more than another hot game, like a bunch of other hot playoff games through the years.

“What you are looking for is to make sure that the conditions on the court are fine, and in this case there was no one slipping,” Thorn said. “Once the game starts, it’s in the hands of the referees. Had the referees felt at any time – or I had felt at any time, I was sitting the second row midcourt – that the game should not be continued, then they would have come over and said something to me. Never did.”

Both coaches used nine players, but ran them in and out more like hockey shifts.

“Players were pretty dead,” San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich said. “So we tried to get guys in and out a little bit more than we usually do. Kind of screws up the rhythm but it was mighty hot out there.”

Said Spoelstra: “We’re used to having the hotter arena at this time of year.”

Unpleasant as the temperature in the building was, most of the players had experience performing in similar conditions. Heat forward Shane Battier likened it to his time at Duke, playing in that campus’ famous Cameron Indoor Stadium in its pre-air conditioned days. “It was a huge, huge, homecourt advantage. Ten thousand people on you, no AC – it brought me back,” Battier said.

Allen and James flashed back to their high school gym. San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said: “We never have AC in Europe, so it didn’t bother me at all.”

Thorn said the NBA believes “very strongly” that the air conditioning issue will be fixed by Game 2. Both the AT&T Center and James have until Sunday evening to get right.

“I need it, I need it,” the Heat star said, adding that he and the training staff would start replenishing his fluids Thursday night.

Allen, a fitness maven, offered a more detailed recovery plan for his teammate. “Obviously it starts the day before, coming into the game, just refueling and resting,” the veteran guard said. “But when you’re out there, you’ve got to get that salt back into your body. You’re dispensing so much of it. For him, we’ve got to find a way to keep getting Gatorade into him while he’s on the bench, just to make sure he stays hydrated.”

Technically, James’ endorsement deal is with Powerade. But it wasn’t a night to remember for the sports drink folks, either.

VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses the impact of LeBron’s cramps on Game 1

Dislike? Nope, so Heat, Spurs will try to whip up extreme absence of like


VIDEO: Duncan discusses Finals clash with Heat

SAN ANTONIO – With all the yammering about shared respect and mutual dynasties heading into these 2014 Finals, you might expect to find the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, some night this week, strolling hand in hand along the Riverwalk on a moonlit night.

Veteran Miami forward Udonis Haslem made it clear Wednesday, that ain’t happening.

“Just because this series may not be as physical as the Indiana series or may not be as physical as a [past] Chicago series,” Haslem said, “does not mean we like these guys any more.”

An absence of like might not be the same thing as an active dislike, but it’s a reasonable starting point for a potentially long, best-of-seven series that might lend itself to emotions and subplots in ways the 2013 Finals did not. It would take some doing – the Spurs don’t typically seek out headlines, the Heat see no one on San Antonio’s roster who can play the Lance Stephenson knucklehead/pest role.

But if the series is low in vitriol, it still will be high in competition, both sides’ dials cranked hard to the right to take rather than give.

“Sometimes the game is played a little different between the lines,” Haslem said. “Sometimes it’s more physical. Sometimes it’s faster, sometimes it’s slower. Doesn’t change the mindset. We’re in the Finals. We can’t afford to be trying to make new friends right now.”

Again, not making friends isn’t quite the same as butting heads with rivals. Miami has been targeted for four years now, with East opponents such as Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn eager to topple them and, presumably, everything they stand for. Over time, fueled by hard knocks, strains of resentment and disdain began to show.

Not so with the Spurs, who happen to be catching the Heat in their more-established, less-shortcutting third and fourth postseasons.

“I don’t think it’s animosity,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “Indiana wants what we have – and you could tell, there was animosity on their part. We didn’t give much credence to that, and it wasn’t reciprocal. The Spurs are different. They’ve had serial success over a decade and a half. They want what’s out there and we want what’s out there. It’s not so much they want what we have or we want what they have.”

Last year’s Finals wasn’t exactly gentlemanly, but it didn’t deteriorate into barroom tactics. The Spurs set a Finals record for fewest fouls committed in a seven-game series (118). Correspondingly, the Heat shot the fewest free throws in a seven-game series of any Finals team in history (118). Read that again: LeBron James‘ team shot the fewest free throws in a seven-game series of any Finals team ever .

(The records for the most fouls and free throws? In the 1957 Finals, Boston fouled St. Louis players 221 times, resulting in 341 free throws. Scintillating to watch, no doubt.)

So this one will have to muddle through without bad blood, personal histories or old scores to settle (besides the outcome). Two teams, both driven and fiercely competitive, went at it for seven rounds last June and didn’t even merit a technical foul for defensive-three seconds after Game 4.

“I think that’s why this series was so great last year: It was about basketball,” Battier said. “It wasn’t about talk. it wasn’t about controversy. It was an awesomely officiated series last year – there were no refereeing controversies. There were no technical fouls, no flagrant fouls. It was about basketball.

“How novel for the NBA Finals to be about basketball. I expect the same sort of respect, and it being about the game, as it should be.”


VIDEO: Battier talks Spurs and Finals

Heat defense still a question


VIDEO: The Starters: Heat’s journey to Finals

SAN ANTONIO – It’s the difference between a team that has done enough to get by and a team that will win a third straight championship.

Defense is the big variable for the Miami Heat and has been all season. It comes and goes. And whether they win or lose, defense is usually the reason why.

The Heat’s fourth season with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was their worst of the four on the defensive end of the floor. After ranking in the top seven in defensive efficiency each of the last three years (and in the season before James and Bosh arrived), they ranked 11th in 2013-14, allowing 102.9 points per 100 possessions.

The highest the Heat defense ranked in any month was seventh, and that was in November. They finished with the second best record in the Eastern Conference and knew that they could get a playoff win on the road when needed, but for most of the year, they did just enough to get by.

They held the Charlotte Bobcats under their regular season offensive numbers in a first round sweep. But Charlotte’s offensive threats consisted of Kemba Walker and a hobbled Al Jefferson.

The Brooklyn Nets had more guys who could score, and after taking a 2-0 series lead, the Heat didn’t do much to stop them, allowing the Nets to score more than 114 points per 100 possessions over the final three games of the series. But they took care of business with offensive execution and big fourth quarters in Games 4 and 5. Again, they were doing just enough to get by.

Then, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, they played one of the worst defensive games we have ever seen them play. In the first game of the series, there was little incentive for the Heat to bring their best. They had three more chances to get the road win they needed and their lack of urgency was clear.

“I don’t know if we’ve been that poor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the next day, “certainly in the way we’ve graded it, since we put this team together. Across the board, that was about as poor as we’ve played defensively. And all aspects of it. It was the ball pressure. It was the commitment on the ball. It was the weak side. It was finishing possessions. It was doing it without fouling. It has to be much better, a much more committed effort, across the board.”

LeBron struggles on defense

At the center of a lot of the breakdowns was James, who couldn’t handle the obligations of defending one of Indiana’s big men. His pick-and-roll defense was poor, he got beat back-door more than once, and he even got bullied under the basket by Lance Stephenson.

A year ago, James was upset about finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. But if he wanted to win the award this season, he didn’t show it. He had what was clearly his worst defensive season since before he was ever an MVP.

Maybe the absence of Wade for 28 games put more of a burden on James offensively. Maybe three straight trips to The Finals had taken their toll. Or maybe he wasn’t in peak shape at the start of the season. Whatever the reason, the Heat’s defensive regression started with their best player.

Things got better after Game 1 in Indiana. James went back to defending perimeter players (sometimes the Indiana point guards), Rashard Lewis took on the West assignment, and the effort all around was more consistent. The Heat got the road win they needed by getting stops in the second and fourth quarters of Game 2. It wasn’t a complete game, but again, it was enough. (more…)