Posts Tagged ‘Shane Battier’

So Stevenson Wants To Play With LeBron?

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It would be the ultimate form of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Only not as you think.

Remember, it was the pitbull-defense of DeShawn Stevenson who helped the Dallas Mavericks throw a wet blanket over a fourth-quarter-shrinking LeBron James. Those 2011 Mavs still stand as the first and only team to beat LeBron’s Heat in the playoffs.

It was also the last time Stevenson played an integral role in a team’s success. He hit key 3-pointers throughout the title run, but left Dallas a bumbling mess after the championship and headed to the Nets as a free agent before being traded to Atlanta as part of the Joe Johnson deal.

Stevenson, 32, is a free agent again after the Hawks waived him a few days ago, as Stevenson himself let it be known via Twitter:

Stevenson cleared waivers on Sunday and if the above tweet didn’t make it clear where he wants to play a 14th NBA season, in this tweet he actually makes a plea to the team’s best player to get him there:

Hey everybody wants to play with LeBron, including Greg Oden. Shane Battier did. Ray Allen took half the pay to play. Others have said, heck yes, they’d consider the Heat. But Stevenson’s outreach is intriguing (OK, hilarious) on multiple fronts, the least being the Heat’s relative lack of need for him. What’s amazing about the plea to help him get work with the two-time champs is Stevenson’s past loathing of LeBron.

Perhaps you recall this T-shirt Stevenson wore on the Mavs’ way out of Miami the morning after winning the title on the Heat’s home floor?

Of course, Stevenson’s disdain for LeBron goes way back to his days as an antagonist with the Washington Wizards. Back in the good, old days (2008) when the Wizards still actually made the playoffs and when LeBron still played for his hometown Cavaliers.

The best part of this ridiculous little feud between a career role player who started it by calling James “overrated,” is when it really jumped the shark by LeBron saying that responding to a negative comment made by Stevenson would be akin to Jay-Z acknowledging Soulja Boy.

So, of course, Stevenson invited Soulja Boy to Game 3 of their ’08 playoff series, which Soulja accepted. Jay-Z surprisingly countered by quickly recording a little number with lyrics dissing Stevenson and reportedly playing it a hot Washington D.C. night spot.

It is slightly interesting that Stevenson then went on to sign with the Nets, a franchise that boasted a minority owner named Jay-Z until the rapper recently moved into the sports agent arena. So who’s to say that Stevenson now can’t join his former nemesis LeBron in South Beach?

For LeBron, who posterized former Mavs pest Jason Terry after a monster alley-oop slam in Boston last season, surely he’s received hundreds of “LOL” texts on his Galaxy smartphone.

But hey, this is the NBA where amazing happens, like Stevenson wearing 2011 championship bling and not LeBron. And Stevenson should be happy with that because the odds of him joining LeBron in Miami are slightly less than Chris Riley hiring Soulja Boy to play at her husband’s surprise 69th birthday party come March.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

.

Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

.

Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

.

Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

.

Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

The 28 Seconds That Ended The Spurs’ 2013 Championship Chances

.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For Tim Duncan, the enduring image of the 2013 NBA Finals will always be the running hook he missed to tie Game 7 with about 50 seconds to play.

“Probably for me,” Duncan said afterward, “Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

Yet it was Game 6, with the Spurs ahead 3-2 in the series, that will burn in the memories of most San Antonio fans. The Spurs opened the fourth quarter ahead by 10 points. They led by five points with 28.2 seconds to play, a lead they would almost certainly salt away 99 out of 100 times.

Game 6, though, was the 100th time.

“Bad, very bad,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s a tough moment. We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go.”

The improbable unraveling in those 28.2 seconds as a fifth championship was within their team’s grasp — the inexplicable reversal of fortune that ultimately granted the Heat new life and, eventually, back-to-back championships — will be the moments that churn  stomachs in San Antonio for years to come.

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” LeBron James said of the Heat’s 103-100 Game 6 overtime win. “The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad throughout the whole game. To be a part of something like this is something you would never be able to recreate once you’re done playing the game … I’m happy about the way we dug down and [were] able to get a win it didn’t look like we could muster up at some point in the game.”
(more…)

Right & Wrong: King James Earns Title

 

The Miami Heat got the repeat and LeBron James is the undeniable king of the court.

Like it or not, the Heat, established in 2010 to pile on titles, have played for one in each of their three seasons together and they’ve won the last two. It hasn’t been a cakewalk. They’ve been tested along the way and even they acknowledge that their 2013 foe, the San Antonio Spurs, afforded the Heat new life when they couldn’t close out Game 6. For the immortal Tim Duncan, coach Gregg Popovich, the rest of the Spurs and their legion of die-hard fans in South Texas,  94-89 with 28 ticks to the title will be tough to reconcile.

But give the Heat their due. Dwyane Wade put his bad wheel behind him and came to play. Shane Battier brushed off a brutal first five games with two high-impact performances, going 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. His 6-for-8 night in Game 7, making his first five, offset a strange scoreless game for Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller.

And finally, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, 42 years old, has earned two championships. He made an adjustment to his starting lineup, sat Battier along the way, benched veteran Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem as well as Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was so integral in the East finals. He used James to defend Tony Parker at just the right times and ultimately Spoelstra matched the wily Popovich step-for-step through seven wild games.

For one last time, here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in one of the most riveting NBA Finals in years.

Right: LeBron’s fourth Finals started slowly with 18, 17 and 15 points in the first three games, and again the criticism came hot and heavy: Not assertive enough; needs to score more; no killer instinct. Wrong, wrong and wrong. He scored no fewer than 25 in the next four games and at least 32 in three. His Games 6 and 7 totals: 69 points, 22 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals. Yes, his two turnovers at the end of a brilliant fourth quarter in Game 6 looked to be the start of a long summer of LeBron bashing, but his 3-pointer helped to save the day as the Spurs collapsed in those final 28 seconds. He was sensational in Game 7 with 37 points — that included five 3-pointers as the Spurs dared him to shoot it – and 12 rebounds. The four-time regular-season MVP deserved his second Finals MVP averaging 25.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 7.9 apg.

Wrong: Duncan waited six grueling years to get back to the Finals for a shot at a fifth championship. He had never before swallowed defeat and the bitter taste of this loss will linger. Game 6 will burn for a long time, but so will the short running hook he missed with 48.9 seconds left with a chance to tie the game, and the ensuing tip that wouldn’t go. Back at the defensive end, Duncan slapped the floor in disgust and moments later James drilled an open jumper to make it 92-88 Heat with 27.9 seconds to go. He wouldn’t get another shot opportunity. At 37, Duncan had a phenomenal season and a terrific playoffs. His 30 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6 should have been enough to seal the deal and his 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in Game 7 proved he has plenty left to go for it again.

Right: Bad knee and all, Wade left the drama behind and just balled. In the final three games, Wade put up two double-doubles with 25 points and 10 assists in Game 5 and 23 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7 that included a critical first-half onslaught of 14 points and six rebounds.

Wrong: Wade’s counterpart, Manu Ginobili, had his one shining moment in Game 5, but otherwise struggled through a regrettable Finals and postseason. Not that he didn’t put it all out there because Ginobili knows no other way to play. He battled through the good and bad in Game 7 to post 18 points and five assists, but he had four more turnovers to give him 12 in the last two games. All four came in the final quarter and the last one, a wild drive ending in an errant pass with 23.8 seconds to go ended all hope.

Right: Popovich hasn’t been shy about tabbing second-year forward Kawhi Leonard as the future face of the Spurs franchise, and now the world knows why. Leonard, who valiantly took on the unenviable task of guarding James, was everywhere in Games 6 and 7, amassing 41 points, 17 rebounds and four steals. He missed a crucial free throw late in Game 6, but the San Diego State product’s future is extremely bright. As Popovich said after Game 7: “Leonard is a star in the making.”

Wrong: Tony Parker and Danny Green suffered unthinkable free-falls that the Spurs ultimately could not overcome. Parker didn’t use the Grade 1 strain of his hamstring as an excuse and he really couldn’t because he went 10-for-14 from the floor for 26 points in Game 5. But in Games 6 and 7, Parker went 9-for-35, including 6-for-23 in Game 7. In the Spurs’ four losses, Parker shot 32.3 percent (21-for-65). Green was having a storybook Finals, knocking down 25-for-38 from 3-point range through the first five games. He set a new Finals record for most 3-pointers made and he was shooting for the record for most 3s in any playoff series. But the well dried up as the Heat applied great pressure. Green went 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in the final two games. In the first five games he made three, four, five, six and seven 3-pointers. In the last two, he made one in each. After three games he was the leading scorer in the Finals and through five games he had scored no fewer than 10 points. In Games 6 and 7 he scored eight combined.

Right: Mario Chalmers doesn’t always get the job done, which is why Spoelstra occasionally benched the point guard, but the Heat aren’t celebrating today without his gutsy play in Games 6 and 7. Chalmers totaled 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting and 25.3 mpg in the middle three games in San Antonio. In the final two games he totaled 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting and 41.5 mpg while outplaying Parker. He proved especially crucial in Game 6 with 20 points that included 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Wrong: Popovich has earned the respect he receives, but it doesn’t mean he’s beyond reproach. He made strategic decisions late in Games 6 and 7 that didn’t work out and Popovich should explain those moves when asked. That’s how this business works. Late in both games, Popovich put the ball in the hands of the turnover-prone Ginobili instead of Parker, who was taken out of the game for a late possession in Game 6 and was sitting on the bench in Game 7 with 27.9 seconds to go and the Spurs with the ball trailing by four. Ginobili drove, got caught in the air under the basket and tossed an awful pass that was easily intercepted by James. It was Ginobili’s fourth turnover of the fourth quarter. Parker, who was having a rough night shooting, no doubt, is typically quite secure with the ball and had two turnovers all game. After the game, Popovich was asked by a San Antonio reporter why Parker was not in the game: “Because that’s what I decided to do,” Popovich answered. The reporter followed up: “Can you elaborate on that?” Popovich said: “No.” It seems Spurs fans have the right to understand why their All-Star point guard was sitting at the most critical juncture of the season. Even if the coach has earned the benefit of the doubt.

Heat, Spurs Prove The Value Of The 3

.

MIAMI – Add one more to the list of 3-point records set this season.

Stephen Curry broke Ray Allen‘s record for most threes in a single season, hitting 272. The New York Knicks (891) and Houston Rockets (867) each eclipsed the previous record (841) for most 3-pointers by a team, while the Golden State Warriors become the ninth team in NBA history to shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, attempting more threes than all but one of the previous eight. As a whole, the league attempted 4,445 more threes and made 1,251 more than it ever had.

Danny Green almost got the San Antonio Spurs their fifth NBA championship with a Finals record 27 threes. And when the Miami Heat finally got control of Green, Shane Battier shot them to their third title with six threes on Thursday, the most anyone has made in a Finals Game 7. LeBron James, meanwhile, finally made the Spurs pay for their sagging defense by hitting five threes himself.

Yes, 3-pointers are important. Of the 21 “Impact Plays” measured over the course of The Finals, 12 were shots from beyond the arc. And that doesn’t include Allen’s three to tie Game 6 with 5.2 seconds left.

You can have offensive success by taking care of the ball, getting to the free throw line or crashing the boards and giving yourself second chances. But the most important thing you can do offensively is shoot the ball well. And as we learned from the Spurs’ defensive improvement this season, the most important thing you can do defensively is prevent your opponent from doing the same.

The Heat and Spurs ranked second and fourth, respectively, in 3-point percentage during the season. Miami surrounded James and Dwyane Wade with shooters, while the Spurs complemented Tony Parker and Tim Duncan with the same. They opened up the floor and forced defenses to pick their poison. Do you want to let one of the league’s best finishers get to the basket or do you want to leave a deadly shooter open in the corner?

The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies lacked shooters, but ranked first and second in the league at defending the 3-point line. They had the one-on-one defenders and rim protectors that allowed teammates to stay at home on the perimeter. But Tony Allen‘s defense can only get you so far if he can’t make a shot from outside the paint.

You can bet that the Pacers and Grizzlies, along with the Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls — two more contenders that ranked in the bottom 10 in 3-point percentage — will be in the market for shooting this summer. Free agents Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick will be getting plenty of phone calls on July 1.

This is the way the league is going. The Phoenix Suns led the league in offensive efficiency for six straight seasons when they surrounded Steve Nash‘s pick-and-roll brilliance with shooting. The Orlando Magic got to The Finals by putting a bunch of shooters around Dwight Howard and his rolls to the rim.

And now, with most of the league’s best defenses looking to load up on the strong side, it’s never been more important to space the floor. The Lakers had both Nash and Howard, but couldn’t match the Suns’ or Magic’s success with Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace at the forward positions. And the Brooklyn Nets struggled against Tom Thibodeau‘s defense when Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans shared the floor.

The Spurs, with their ball movement and weak-side shooting, were able to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness much more than the Pacers could. And the Heat, with James and his snipers, gave the Spurs tougher defensive decisions than the Grizzlies did.

Until Battier busted out of his slump in the final two games of The Finals, the Heat basically had two guys who could shoot, Allen and Mike Miller. And in the 103 postseason minutes in which those two were on the floor together, Miami’s offense was absolutely deadly, scoring 129 points per 100 possessions (or 115 points per 48 minutes).

James’ attacks and ridiculous bullet passes had a lot to do with that, but Allen and Miller made things easier for the MVP because opponents were afraid to leave them open beyond the arc. Neither hit a three in Game 7, but Battier and James picked up the slack and the Heat finished the season 34-2 (3-1 in The Finals) when they made at least 10 threes.

Miami won the 2011-12 championship without Allen, but they pursued him aggressively last summer, knowing what may be the No. 1 guideline in putting together an NBA team right now. Allen ended up proving his worth in Game 6 and Battier did likewise in Game 7.

In short, you can never have too much shooting.

Challenged Outside, Finals MVP James Goes All-In For Rings, Vision

x

MIAMI – The San Antonio Spurs took a calculated risk early in the 2013 Finals, allowing – almost daring – LeBron James to shoot jump shots, treating it as the least potent of his many poisons.

Turns out, it was one of those slow-acting toxins, taking a full seven games before crippling and finally taking the life out of the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. James, the Miami Heat superstar whose game is the most scrutinized in basketball, adapted and overcame yet again, scoring 37 points with 12 rebounds in 45 minutes in the 95-88 Game 7 clincher.

James boosted Miami to its second consecutive NBA championship, in its third straight trip to The Finals, by launching 20 of his 23 shots from outside the paint. It was the most for him since his ballyhooed move to south Florida in July 2010.

He was perfect on the three he got inside, mind you, but James did his greatest damage from longer distances. His 9-for-20 from outside wasn’t as accurate as what he shot overall this season (56.5 percent) but it was deadly all the same, coming over San Antonio’s defense on shots that the Spurs were prepared to live with, yet could not survive.

James even hit five 3-pointers on his first seven attempts on a night when corner-and-arc specialists Ray Allen and Mike Miller were a combined 0-for-9. Shane Battier was the Miami 3-point shooter who was hot, draining six of his eight, but James was the bonus sniper on the perimeter. So much so that, with a couple more, the nitpickers who have stalked his career for impact and legacy might have complained that he doesn’t mock-shrug nearly as well as Michael Jordan.

“Two-and-half games I watched film, and my mind started to work and I said, ‘OK, this is how they’re going to play me for the whole series,’ ” James said after joining Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players to win back-to-back MVP awards and NBA championships.

“I looked at all my regular-season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game. I shot a career high (40.6 percent) from the 3-point line. I just told myself, ‘Don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under [screens]. Don’t force the paint.’

“Just saying everything you’ve worked on, the repetition, the practices, the offseason training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what’s on the line, just go with it.”

James went with it all the way to his second Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award, becoming the ninth player in league history to win more than one. He joined Jordan (1991-’93, 1996-’98), Hakeem Olajuwon (1994-’95), Shaquille O’Neal (2000-’02) and Kobe Bryant (2009-’10) as the only ones to win that honor in consecutive years.

The hordes who root against James, who pick at any failings in his play at any point in any game, had nothing late Thursday night. It might be a while before they have something again.

“The vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true,” he said, his 37 points the most in a Finals Game 7 since Jerry West scored 42 while losing to Boston in 1969. It bumped up James’ scoring average in Game 7 situations, already a record, to 34.4. The Heat star averaged 25.3 in these Finals, 25.9 in the 2013 postseason.

“I said before the series I was a better player than I was last time I faced the Spurs,” said James, whose Cleveland team got swept by San Antonio from the 2007 Finals. “To be able to come through for my teammates in the biggest moment on the biggest stage makes me more satisfied than anything in the world.”

This second title – they’re at the “not three” point now in their boast of multiple Larry O’Brien trophies – fulfilled a remarkable season in which Miami posted a 66-15 record in the regular season, strung together 27 victories in February and March and went 16-7 in the postseason through two seven-game challenges against Indiana and San Antonio. Winning Game 7, limiting the Western Conference champs to 17 points on six field goals and seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, and making good on the expectations and the hype triggered the expected celebration – and kept a lot of ever-ready critics off their backs for the next five months.

But this was no “Big Three” production. Dwyane Wade, Miami’s veteran and hobbled shooting guard, pulled out a performance from the days when he still had knees, scoring 23 points with 10 rebounds. “All the giddiness is the champagne talking,” said Wade, who gained his third ring (his first came in 2006) but whose future and present were questioned constantly through his gimpy postseason. “This is the sweetest one by far.”

Forward Chris Bosh, however, went scoreless in almost 28 minutes, missing his five shots. Allen and Miller gave the Heat nothing offensively, either, making Battier’s performance so vital as coach Erik Spoelstra shuffled through his deck. And much-maligned point guard Mario Chalmers, maddening at times to teammates and Heat fans, still found ways to torment the Spurs through his 6-for-15 shooting for 14 points.

Not that San Antonio needed any more torment. The Spurs already had been through a mental wringer for two days, pushing away bad memories from Game 6 and their lost failures at its end. They shook those, seemingly, and even took a 71-69 lead with five seconds left in the third quarter. But Chalmers’ buzzer-beating bank shot from 28 feet made it 72-71 and, from there, the Spurs were noble, relentless pursuers – but they never led again.

The desperation and the fatigue appeared to wear on them – the Spurs missed seven of their first 10 shots in the fourth quarter and turned over the ball five times in seven minutes. Manu Ginobili, shakier again beyond his 6-for-12 shooting and four turnovers, was an obvious goat and one of the few San Antonio players who admitted to lingering Game 6 trauma.

But Ginobili had company. Young Danny Green, a Finals record-breaker in hitting 25-for-38 3-pointers through the first five games, went 1-for-11 from that distance in the final two games. With Miami’s defense finally taking him seriously, Green shrunk in the big-game glare. He shot 1-for-12 Thursday, eventually aiming and praying the ball or passing up shots altogether.

Kawhi Leonard stepped up (19 points, 16 rebounds, exhausting defense on James) but Gary Neal and Boris Diaw stepped back. Then there was Tony Parker, who lay claim to being the league’s best point guard during the playoffs’ first three rounds and dominated Game 1 of the Finals, was 3-for-12 for 10 points and scoreless in the final quarter, a victim of James’ defensive mismatch and orchestrated Heat pressure.

Last and assuredly not least, there was Tim Duncan, poised to snag his fifth championship ring and fourth Finals MVP award had the Spurs managed to win but struggling down the stretch. It was Duncan’s turnover off an offensive rebound, trying to reset San Antonio’s possession, that set up Battier’s final 3-pointer to make it 88-82 Miami. It was Duncan forcing and missing a hook shot at 90-85. And it was Duncan missing a chance to tie – a point-blank hook and a tip – with less than a minute left that sealed the Spurs’ fate.

After a timeout, James probed from the outside, then hit – what else? – a 19-footer that made it 92-88. A short while later, after the horn and an on-court celebration that 48 hours earlier nearly had been theirs, it all was a little much for the Spurs’ great big man.

“Tough to swallow,” he said. “Game 7, missing a layup to tie the game. Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane and LeBron. Probably for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

In those moments, the spectre of James likely will loom large, his outside jump shots flying just over Duncan’s outstretched fingers. It happened several times Thursday, a challenge met and defeated, more often than San Antonio could survive.

Shane Battier Stakes His Claim In Game 7

x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacies Truly On The Line In Game 7





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line:

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

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

24-Second Thoughts On Game 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 – Jay-Z comes up with three minutes of funky stuff, coming July 4, at the end of an instant classic first half that sends Twitter and Facebook into a frenzy.
(more…)

Road Ends For Miami, Title Quest Continues

a

Heat-Spurs: Finals Hub

SAN ANTONIO – The road trips end for the Miami Heat on Sunday night when, win or lose in Game 5 of the 2013 Finals against San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, ABC), the Heat will fly and unpack as a group for the last time in 2012-13.

It wasn’t a winding road for the defending champions as much as it was a bumpy road with one big right turn: After going 11-11 in away games through Feb. 1, Miami went 18-1 the rest of the regular season. It is 6-3 on the road so far in the playoffs.

“Our guys have confidence winning anywhere,” coach Erik Spoelstra said at the team’s shootaround session Sunday morning at The Episcopal School of Texas on the northern outskirts of San Antonio. “That’s never really been a concern. Some of our best games have been on the road. You need veteran poise, experienced leaders to be able to do that.

“Now the challenge is, can we play our best game of the series on the road versus a worthy opponent who’s going to come in desperate?”

The Heat players and coachs are tired of the win-one, lose-one pattern into which they have lapsed since the start of the Eastern Conference finals. Several members of their group have said “Enough is enough” to the defensive lapses and slippages in effort or concentration that have turned them into a .500 club for most of the past month.

Yes, the competition has gotten more keen but that’s when champions are supposed to dial up their games, too.

That’s what happened in February after Miami churned along at a .500 pace through its first 22 road games. Focus understandably was a challenge for a team whose season would be defined by what it did in May and June, but the 11-11 start included double-digit road spankings from New York, Memphis, Indiana, Milwaukee and even Detroit.

Defensive letdowns – of the sort that allowed for San Antonio’s 113-77 rout in Game 3 Tuesday – were cleaned up as Miami began to sense the finish line even before it could see it, and the quality of play necessary to repeat. So instead of giving up 97.4 points as they had in those first 22 road games, they limited opponents to 90.7 over their final 19.

Not coincidentally, the Heat’s 27-game winning streak began with a 15-point victory over the Raptors at Toronto. They were just as good on the road as at home (19-1) after that. Miami’s 29-12 road record is as good as or better than any Finals team since the 2008 Boston Celtics. Its 6-3 playoff mark is an improvement from the first two springs of the “Big Three” era, when Miami went 5-5 on the road while splitting a pair of Finals.

“We knew to defend our title, playing on the road was a huge part of it,” forward Chris Bosh said after the regular season of the turning point back in February. “We stopped making excuses and got the job done.”

Through the 11-11 stretch, there were several things that Miami needed to fix and clean up before it could turn the road in its favor. But now, after four-and-a-half months in which they have gone 24-4?

“Hotel food gets old,” backup Shane Battier said, laughing. “That’s all I got. You want something deep and philosophical? Hotel food gets old.”

One more thing about road work in The Finals: San Antonio, which was 23-18 and 7-2 in the playoffs away from home, shouldn’t count on winning Games 6 and 7 in Miami, if it comes to that. No road team has in the 2-3-2 format.