Posts Tagged ‘Tiago Splitter’

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)

Nene mends ways with Brazilian team


VIDEO: Rose, Davis lead U.S. to 95-78 win over Brazil

Getting booed at United Center was better than getting booed at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.

At least it was for Nene. Last October, when the Washington Wizards played the Chicago Bulls in Rio in one of the NBA’s preseason global games – and the first staged in South America – the Wizards big man took loud and cutting heat from the sellout crowd. No matter that he was the first player from Brazil to participate in the NBA – people were unhappy that Nene had played only twice for the country’s national team since he was drafted in 2002.

It mattered little to them that the 6-foot-9, 260-pound fellow – listed on the official roster in last Saturday’s game vs. the United States by his full name, Maybyner Rodney Hilario – had aggravated a foot injury in the 2012 Olympics that lingered into the regular season. Nene also reportedly had been at odds with the program over insurance policies and other decisions.

So the fans in Rio booed him pretty much from start to finish. Legendary Brazilian player and Hall of Famer Oscar Schmidt criticized him, and Nene bristled back – and clearly was rattled – on that awkward night in October.

What he heard Saturday then, by comparison, was a breeze. Nene was booed during the introductions for Brazil’s game against Team USA, the first tuneup for both squads for the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament that begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And that reaction was driven by respect from Bulls fans who recalled his work (17.8 ppg, 54.8 percent shooting, a one-game suspension for headbutting Jimmy Butler) in the teams’ first-round series last spring, won by the Wizards in five games.

But that was it. The rest of the evening was straight basketball, with Nene scoring eight of his 11 points in the first half, to go with five rebounds, three steals and one block in 19 minutes. Even after Brazil lost 95-78, the big man was effusive as he came off the court.

“It doesn’t matter if they have big men or not, they still sharp outside,” he said of his fellow NBA players on Team USA. “They’re so athletic. So talented. But it was a good game to have an idea.”

What, Nene was asked, did he think of Anthony Davis, the young New Orleans center who dominated (20 points, eight boards five rebounds) at both ends?

“He looked like Dhalsim,” Nene said.

Who?

Dhalsim. The street fighter. Like a cartoon. With both hands. He was catching everything. Yeah.”

It was a disappointing night for Brazil, which lost the street fight. It wasn’t able to flex what some figured to be an advantage up front, with Nene lined up in various combinations with Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao, two more proven NBA bigs. Davis went MMA underneath and Kenneth Faried, who backfilled in Denver after the Nuggets traded Nene to Washington, added 11 points and nine rebounds.

Team USA had superior wings and guards, but the onus will still be on Brazil’s front line when, after playing France in its World Cup opener Aug. 30, it faces Spain – and the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc – two days later.

Having Nene – who will turn 32 on Sept. 13 and has two years and $26 million left on his Wizards contract – clearly is better for Brazil than not having him. His NBA buddies made that clear when talking to the Wizards’ Monumental Network during their squad’s stay in Chicago.

“Nene’s a guy who’s very talented, very strong, who knows how to play the game,” said Splitter, San Antonio’s second big next to Tim Duncan. “Every day you get better playing with him and of course he’s learning our system too. That’s important for him.”

Varejao told the network: “Nene’s been great. He had a great playoffs this last season. He’s a big piece of the Brazil national team. He’s a guy who can defend, who can score, who can be a leader on the court too. When you have a guy like Nene on the court, the other team has to always worry about him, what they’re going to do to try to stop him.”

This much is clear: Not having a guy like Nene on Brazil’s roster is worse. Then he’s the one worrying about how he’s perceived, and how he’ll be be received, back home. In the U.S., players such as Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and other stars opting out of the competition have wiggle room because of the depth of talent. For Nene, opting out in the past meant squirming, not wiggling.

Boris Diaw won’t miss chance to repeat

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Boris Diaw earned his three-year deal with his stellar showing in the 2014 playoffs.

The multifaceted Boris Diaw earned his three-year deal with his stellar showing in the 2014 playoffs.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Most Versatile Man in the world doesn’t want to miss out on one of the rare opportunities in the world: The repeat.

That’s right, Boris Diaw will re-sign with the newly minted champion San Antonio Spurs. Diaw, the 6-foot-8 power forward, small forward, point forward, shooting guard, whatever, announced via Twitter on Sunday evening that he’ll be hanging around for a few more years.

That’s music to the ears of Spurs fans who fretted that Diaw might seek (and find) a larger payday elsewhere after his magnificent, all-around performances in the NBA Finals. Instead, Diaw will remain with the team that in many ways resurrected his career when it plucked him off the Charlotte Bobcats’ trash heap in March 2012.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Diaw and the Spurs reached an agreement on a three-year deal worth $22.5 million.

The Spurs have managed to reach agreements with two critical players off a bench that made San Antonio arguably the deepest team in the league. Last week the Spurs came to terms with backup point guard Patty Mills, who will miss a chunk of next season because of surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. They get both players on reasonable deals, securing the services of both for the next three seasons at around a combined $11 million per year.

Contracts cannot be officially signed until the league’s moratorium comes to a close on July 10.

Diaw provides Gregg Popovich‘s team tremendous versatility and it was on full display during the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then in the NBA Finals in the Spurs’ five-game triumph over the Miami Heat.

Diaw scored 26 points in 36 minutes of the series-clinching Game 6 of the West finals when point guard Tony Parker was lost for the second half with an ankle injury. Popovich inserted Diaw into the starting lineup starting with Game 3 of the Finals after Miami’s smaller lineups took Game 2 in San Antonio.

Diaw, 32, replaced the bigger, less mobile Tiago Splitter, and put together three memorable performances in Games 3, 4 and 5 — all Spurs blowout wins — averaging 7.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 6.0 apg.

According to Wojnarowski, the third year of Diaw’s deal is not fully guaranteed. Diaw will be guaranteed $18.5 million over the first two years of the deal.

While the Spurs are keeping their own, they will continue to pursue free-agent center Pau Gasol. San Antonio is limited to offering its full mid-level exception of $5.3 million.

Otherwise, the champs will look very much the same when they open training camp in October. Before the start of free agency, Tim Duncan opted into the final year of his contract, and Manu Ginobili put off retirement for at least another year.

Still in the crosshairs of this club that has won four championships with the Big Three going back to 2003 is celebrating in back-to-back seasons.

Diaw apparently didn’t want to miss out on such an opportunity.

Ginobili’s in; World Cup could feature more than 50 NBA players


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili Exit Interview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Tony Parker was happy to remind everyone that he’d be taking the summer off after winning his fourth championship. Tim Duncan made his feelings regarding FIBA known after the 2004 Olympics. But Manu Ginobili couldn’t resist making one more run with his national team.

After The Finals, Ginobili was unsure if he’d take part in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. But he announced over the weekend that he’ll represent his native Argentina one more time, with the blessing of his wife. He’ll join fellow NBA players Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola to put Argentina in the mix for a medal.

When they’re at their best, no national team plays prettier, Spurs-like basketball than Argentina. And Ginobili’s presence is obviously a big boost to what was one of the top offenses at the 2010 World Championship. The Bucks’ Carlos Delfino has expressed his interest in playing for the 2004 Olympic champs as well, but is coming off two surgeries on his right foot that kept him on the sidelines the entire 2013-14 season.

Though Parker won’t be representing France and injuries will keep Al Horford (Dominican Republic) and Andrew Bogut out, there could be more than 50 current NBA players representing 16 different countries at the Basketball World Cup. That list includes five more Spurs: France’s Boris Diaw, Brazil’s Tiago Splitter, the U.S.’s Kawhi Leonard, and Australians Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.

Diaw and Splitter will meet in Group A, which could have as many 20 NBA players representing Brazil (four possibles), France (seven), Serbia (three) and Spain (six). Spain, the tournament’s host and silver medalist in each of the last two Olympics, is obviously the biggest challenger for the U.S., which will compete in Group C and which has won 36 straight games under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

In January, the U.S. named 28 players to a preliminary roster for the next three summers. They have commitments from Kevin Durant and Kevin Love to play in the Basketball World Cup. They could also have a healthy Derrick Rose and the Finals MVP.

The U.S. will open a five-day training camp in Las Vegas on July 28. They’ll also train in Chicago and New York before making their way to Spain. The Basketball World Cup tips off on Aug. 30 and concludes with the gold medal game on Sept. 14.

In addition to the 50-ish current NBA players, there could be more than 20 former NBA players and several more players whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams.

Spurs belong with all-time elites


VIDEO: Tim Duncan on the court after winning his fifth championship in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – If you ask the San Antonio Spurs about the greatest sports dynasty of our time, they’ll probably caution you not to rush to judgment.

After all, they might not be finished.

When the Spurs put the finishing touches on the destruction of the Miami Heat on Sunday, with one last whipping in Game 5 of The NBA Finals, maybe the only thing more impressive than their sheer dominance of the two-time defending champion was the simple fact that the Spurs, inexorably, keep on winning.

Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ taciturn forward who was named The Finals MVP, was only 7 years old when his teammate Tim Duncan raised the same trophy over his head in 1999, when the Spurs won their first title by beating the New York Knicks. Through the interim, the Los Angeles Lakers have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again, and now lie in a ditch so deep they might need more than a long rope to climb out. The Boston Celtics resurrected their past glory for a few shining seasons but have now fallen on hard times. The would-be contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, have changed cities and, in one case, changed names.

The Spurs have changed, too, from a deliberate, rugged team built on a foundation of tough, unyielding defensive chops to a work of offensive artistry that emphasizes quickness, ball movement and 3-point shooting.

What’s stayed the same is an organizational philosophy that promotes professionalism, selflessness and sacrifice. It is those core beliefs, and the way they have been carried out over so many years, that have produced the five championships that solidify San Antonio’s case as one of North America’s greatest sports dynasties ever.

When asked by ESPN’s Stuart Scott the biggest difference between the two titles, 15 years apart, Duncan gave the simplest and most accurate answer: “Fifteen years, probably?” (more…)

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

Spurs’ redemption makes game better


VIDEO: Spurs storm past Heat for their fifth NBA title

SAN ANTONIO — It was a season that the Spurs attacked like the world was their piñata, determined to keep hitting and hitting it, smacking and banging it until one day it would burst open.

When the prizes finally fell at their feet on Sunday night, it was relief and release and redemption.

“It makes last year OK,” said Tim Duncan.

He hugged his two kids. He wrapped Manu Ginobili up in a bear hug. He clamped a headlock on Kawhi Leonard. And he practically swallowed Gregg Popovich up in a grin that was as big as Texas.

Twelve months ago, there were the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan’s own missed put-back in Game 7, followed by a year that probably seemed longer than a journey across purgatory on a lawn mower.

It drove them, but not to distraction. It pulled them along, but never pushed them over the edge. It, OK, spurred them with just enough sharp pain in their flanks to know they never wanted to feel that again.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” said Tony Parker.

It was a relentless, astonishing campaign of atonement through artistry, reshaping that ugly lump of lost opportunity into the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

The Spurs won a league-best 62 games during the regular season and then sculpted a playoff drive that only got better as it went on and culminated with this jaw-dropping masterpiece against the two-time defending champion Heat.

In the process, the Spurs reintroduced the world to what it means to play the game at its purest form, the linear descendants of the 1960s Celtics and the 1970s Knicks, who share the ball and take away the breath of anyone who has ever loved the game.

Quite fitting that the culmination came on the opening weekend of the World Cup. So often called “the beautiful game,” futbol looks like a faded starlet with too much mascara when compared to these Spurs.

There are more passes in an average Spurs offensive possession than a singles bar on a weekend night, more cuts than a butcher counter, more bodies moving than in an earthquake. Their style of play practically comes with a musical score you can hear in your head.

They are the 38-year-old Duncan spinning in the paint to knock down turnaround jumpers, the 36-year-old Ginobili reaching into his past and rising up to throw down a thunderbolt dunk over Chris Bosh and the 32-year-old Parker conducting the symphony.

Now the Big Three have the 22-year-old company of Leonard as Finals MVP for a franchise that has stretched excellence over 15 years with five championships.

“Great coaches, persistence, drive and a love for the game,” said Duncan.

They wanted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh and the rest of the South Beach spectacle that are the Heat precisely because they were the ones who benefited from the Spurs’ mistakes a year ago and that loud backdrop would make the brushstrokes of the Spurs’ collaborative game practically leap off the canvas.

This wasn’t a mere beating of Miami. They couldn’t have pulverized the Heat more by using a mortar and pestle.

The Spurs were the black velvet jeweler’s cloth that shows off the flaws in a low-grade diamond. They shot the ball better than any team in Finals history against a team that prides itself in playing a disruptive, smothering defense. They won all four Finals games by 15 points or more and it was an NBA-record 12th time in their 16 playoff wins with such a margin.

After dominating the first quarters of the first four games of the series, the Spurs devilishly spotted the Heat a 16-point lead in the clincher and then stepped on their throats.

James battled valiantly with his 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but he might as well have been a lamb taking on a pack of wolves. By the middle of the third quarter, if his teammates were any deader there would have been guys in white coats standing around waiting to harvest organs.

The plight of the four-time MVP James trying to carry the entire Heat cause on his shoulders was in direct contrast to the Spurs roster that is deeper than a philosophy class at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

They had Boris Diaw doing sleight-of-hand passing, rebounding and taking his turns playing defense on James. They had Tiago Splitter mixing it up under the basket and doing throwback Larry Bird impersonations with touch passes in the lane. They had Patty Mills from halfway around the world, the first Indigenous Australian to reach The Finals, slinging in killshot 3-pointers. They had the flinty Popovich to keep them looking ahead even while feeling the sting of the past like lashes on their backs.

With the exceptions of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, they were all there a year ago in Miami when the dagger went in and the blood of remorse first rose up their throats and gave them a hint of what rejuvenation, reinvention, redemption might taste like.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” said Ginobili. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty.

“Last year made us stronger.”

Now the game is better for that.

Film Study: Spurs on a string


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Finals Game 4

MIAMI – The 2014 Finals have turned into a thorough beatdown. The Miami Heat have won a game by two points, while the San Antonio Spurs have won games by 15, 19 and 21.

They got help from LeBron James‘ cramps in Game 1 and had a flukey shooting performance in Game 3, but were still the better team through the first 144 minutes. And Game 4 was their most complete performance yet.

Except for a couple of ugly quarters, the Spurs’ offense has been humming all series. On Thursday, they were just as good on defense.

James scored 28 points in Game 4, but 19 of those came in the second half, when the Spurs had the game well in hand. They held the Heat to just 36 points on 43 possessions in the first half and basically shut down James’ supporting cast … until James Jones hit four straight shots in garbage time. It was Miami’s worst offensive game of the postseason.

The Heat are the best finishing team in the league. In the regular season, they led the league by shooting 68.0 percent in the restricted area. Through the first three rounds, they were shooting even better than that at the basket and they were solid in the paint through the first three games of The Finals.

But in the first half on Thursday, the Heat had almost as many turnovers (7) as points in the paint (8), where they shot a miserable 4-for-15.

On a string from the start

The first possession of the game foreshadowed exactly what was to come for the next 48 minutes. It was five guys on a string helping each other, closing off the paint, recovering out to the perimeter, keeping the Heat from getting an open shot, and, eventually, forcing a turnover.

The possession started with a Mario Chalmers/LeBron James side pick-and-roll, with Kawhi Leonard sitting back at the foul line, where he can help on Chalmers, but also get back to James. Every other Spur was ready to help…

20140613_poss1_1

After Chalmers swung the ball to Dwyane Wade, he got a sideline screen from Rashard Lewis, and there was Tim Duncan, at the block, cutting off the paint…

20140613_poss1_2

Wade squeezed by Duncan under the basket, but had no shot on the other side of the rim, because Leonard sunk down to prevent it…

20140613_poss1_3

When Wade kicked the ball out to James, Boris Diaw rotated out from the corner. James saw it coming and immediately got the ball to Chris Bosh, but there was Leonard again, closing out…

20140613_poss1_5

Bosh attacked the close out and got by Leonard, and there was Duncan again…

20140613_poss1_6

And when Bosh tried to slip a pocket pass to Wade, Leonard had recovered and got his big mitts on the ball.

It was a supreme effort by Leonard, who was all over the place over a span of 15 seconds. But it was also an example of perfect synergy from all five Spurs. There was no miscommunication and no hesitation in their rotations. When one guy got beat, another guy stepped up and everyone else reacted quickly and appropriately. (more…)

Right & Wrong: Spurs take control


Video: GameTime: Is the series over?

MIAMI — While the Spurs grabbed the lead in Game 3 of the 2014 Finals as a result of an historic first half of shooting, Game 4 was a more measured blowout, if there is such a thing. In Game 4, the Spurs jumped ahead early, leading 13-10 halfway through the first quarter, and never looked back. The Spurs led by 9 after the first quarter, led by 19 at halftime, by 24 after three, and won by 21. Miami closed to within 13 in the third quarter, but the Spurs never seemed to even come close to losing control of the game.

And they did it by playing a controlled, complete brand of basketball. Offensively, the Spurs moved the ball with ease, finding the open man for simple shots on play after play. Defensively, they took a page from Miami’s book and switched many pick and rolls, keeping Miami out of the paint and forcing the Heat to rely on the outside shot.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 4:

Right: For a second consecutive game, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard carried the load for the Spurs. After fouling out of Game 2, Leonard went for 29 points and 4 rebounds in Game 3, and then 20 points and 14 boards in Game 4. While Leonard seemed tentative early in The Finals, he’s been all-in in both games in Miami. While other players on the Spurs have played important roles, to be sure, no San Antonio player has changed the tenor of this series as prominently as Leonard. Also, his missed dunk attempt on Chris Andersen late in Game 4 nearly broke Twitter.

Wrong: Miami’s Big Three was missing two key parts. After going 4-4 in Game 3, Chris Bosh went for 5-11 in Game 4, contributing just 4 rebounds in nearly 40 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade had his worst performance of the series, lacking lift near the rim and missing 7 shots in the paint. Wade finished 3-13 from the floor. “Yeah, I just missed them,” he explained. “You know, I’m a very accurate shooter, so I don’t like missing. I’m not used to missing around the basket. But law of averages, man. The ball just didn’t go in. But I’ll take those same opportunities next game for sure.”

Right: The Spurs were playing The Beautiful Game on Thursday night, moving the ball with poise and precision, and no player better exemplified that than Boris Diaw. The Frenchman almost messed around and got a triple-double, finishing with 8 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, Including a brilliant touch pass to Tim Duncan, as well as a stunning behind-the-back dish to Tiago Splitter. “You know, Boris pretty much does the same thing every night as far as helping us be a smarter team, at both ends of the floor,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He knows what’s going on most all the time. At the offensive end he’s a passer. He understands mismatches. He knows time and score. At the defensive end, he knows when to help. He’s active. So he just helps the whole team have a better IQ, I think.”

Wrong: The Heat point guards followed up a lackluster Game 3 with another rough night. Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers combined for 8 points (with no three-pointers) and 6 assists in almost 48 minutes of play. They also did little to limit Tony Parker, who finished with 19 points and seemed to get to every spot he aimed for on the court with little resistance.

Right: Considering how much went wrong for the Miami Heat, we should note the complete game LeBron James turned in. After two early trips to the locker room — one a restroom stop, one to get an ankle re-taped — James finished with 28 points (including 19 in the third quarter), 8 rebounds and 8 assists, leading the Heat in all three categories. He didn’t get help from anyone else, but any blame for the Miami loss shouldn’t fall at James’ feet. “If it’s not helping us get into the game, it didn’t mean nothing,” he said. “I tried to will us back into the game, but they continued to execute. I continued to make shots. I had a huge third quarter, but it meant nothing.”

Wrong: Rashard Lewis probably shouldn’t be expected to carry too heavy of a load, but scoring 2 points in almost 16 minutes and not making any three-pointers isn’t doing anything to help space the floor or carry the Heat. Lewis, who also seemed to be a liability defensively, finished with a -17 plus/minus rating in those 16 minutes.

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.