Posts Tagged ‘Udonis Haslem’

For Heat to succeed, Miami needs big performances from Little 12

By Lang Whitaker,

VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra speaks with the media after Heat practice (April 22)

MIAMI — You probably know all about the Big Three, Miami’s terrific trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Those three form the Heat’s power base. But for the Heat to three-peat as champs, they also need big performances from what Shane Battier says the players refer to as The Little 12.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has referred to his bench as a bullpen for a few years now, borrowing some baseball terminology. On Sunday, Spoelstra revived this trope when referring to James Jones, who made a somewhat surprising appearance off the bench in Game 1 against Charlotte and came up huge. After the Heat’s practice Tuesday, Spoelstra stressed that the bullpen parallel was simply a way to get players to understand what they were working toward.

“This year is different than years before,” Spoelstra said. “Look, it’s not an -ism or anything like that. It’s something they can wrap their minds around. It’s something that’s been done before. Because of the way the season went on and the makeup of this group, we have a lot of guys that can contribute, and we’ll need those contributions, but it might be different game to game, series to series, quarter to quarter, and it’s a little bit different than the way this team was before. And the quicker we’re able to wrap our minds around it and adapt to that, I think the more we can play to our strengths. Hopefully.”

Spoelstra has shown that he’s not afraid to make bold moves with Miami’s bench rotation. Last season, Battier didn’t play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but in Game 7 he scored 18 points in 28 minutes. During those same Finals, Mike Miller went from the bench into the starting lineup, getting the nod in the final four games against San Antonio.

While Miller is the only one of Miami’s top 11 rotation players departed from last season’s team, this season Spoelstra has juggled minutes up and down the bench. In February, Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis combined to play 17 minutes for the month. Against Charlotte on Sunday, Haslem started, and he and Lewis combined to play 21 minutes.

Spoelstra said that having this loose collective of versatile players is something the Heat have been trying to compile for a few seasons, noting they’ve played 14 deep three straight years: “Our first year, we did not have enough depth. That wasn’t the reason why [we lost in the 2011 Finals] — Dallas beat us, fair and square. But we had injuries, and we got to that point and we were very flat. That was the first step of doing it, but it’s constant sacrifice. Constant acknowledgement of that sacrifice. It’s not easy. Everybody says, in life, in business, and in pro sports, ‘Yeah, I’ll sacrifice.’ But it’s always easy to sacrifice when you’re not the one sacrificing. As long as it’s somebody else sacrificing, everybody buys into the sacrifice.”

“Look, every player wants to play,” Battier said. “Once you get to this league, we’re all here for a reason. But you have to have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. And although you don’t agree with it, for the betterment of the team, you suck it up, you cheer your guys on, and you produce when your number is called.”

According to Haslem, having other teammates go through similar journeys makes it more relatable for the rest of The Little 12.

“You never really know what a guy in that situation is going through until you go through it,” said Haslem. “But there’s other guys who are going through it with you. So what we did is we kind of formed a pact, the guys who weren’t playing. We made sure we kept each other encouraged, we kept each other ready, we played pick-up games with each other, three-on-three, four-on-four, whatever we could do. We got shots up together, we did conditioning together. You know, it’s a lot easier when you got guys that are in the same position going through it with you.”

On Sunday, with Miami up 35-34 with 4:19 to play in the second quarter, Spoelstra brought in Jones, earlier than he usually looks for him.

“I was a little surprised,” Jones said after the game. “Not surprised that he called my name. I was surprised he went to me early. But not so surprised that I wasn’t prepared. We’ve said all along, we have 15 guys who can play. Most nights we only play nine. Which nine play? We don’t know. But we don’t need to know. We just need to know that whichever nine go out there will commit and perform.”

Jones had announced he was “definitely thinking” about retiring … back in 2012. He did not, though this season he logged just a combined 70 minutes from November through January, and didn’t play a single second in February. He also didn’t play in any of Miami’s four regular season wins against the Bobcats. And yet Jones posted a plus-9 player rating in just over 4 minutes of action in the first half. By the time he’d totaled 12 minutes of court time, it was up to a plus-17. He finished with 14 minutes of action and a plus-18 rating, to go along with a dozen points.

“We learned this from early on, that he is a unique guy,” Spoelstra said of Jones following Game 1. “He is one of those unique players that you can pull out of your bullpen and not many guys have that type of mentality — patience to understand the big picture, willing to sacrifice, and don’t have an ego in that regard, yet having incredible confidence when they do play. That’s a tough balance to achieve and he understands the big picture. These are small opportunities but he makes the most of it.”

“We said it early in the year,” noted Wade. “If we want to win a championship this year, we’re going to have to do it a little different. Last year, Rashard Lewis didn’t play as much, or James Jones didn’t play as much. This year those guys are going to have to be a huge part of it.”

So if Spoelstra signals down the sideline during the rest of the postseason, he may well be calling for a lefty reliever or a groundball specialist from his tried and tested ‘pen, although Battier said the “bullpen” analogy is mostly reserved for Jones, who had an uncle who was a major league baseball player.

“He’s the Joe Nathan, the Rivera if you will,” Battier said. “When we can’t make a shot, he’s the guy who you signal for the righty, and bring him in. It’s a metaphor for the rest of us. We call it The Little 12. Bullpen, Little 12, call it what you will.”

Just so long as you call them.

Can Leftovers Make A Free-Agent Dish?

HANG TIME, Texas – OK, let’s say it’s the middle of August, we just won the entire Powerball lottery and, in a grand farewell gesture, outgoing commissioner David Stern says he’ll let us buy a new NBA franchise.

We can play our home games on Maui or Mars. We can have our team wear those tight-fitting jerseys with sleeves, just like the Golden State Warriors or even sprint up and down the court wearing Capri pants, if we choose.

There’s just one catch. The only players available to fill out our roster are those still dangling on the list of unsigned free agents. Now that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko and even Greg Oden are long gone, is it too late to put together a respectable team? Or even one that could outperform the infamous 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers or the 7-59 mark of the 2011-12 Bobcats?

So for all those last-minute bargain hunters who don’t start their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, here are the Leftovers:

Antawn Jamison, Forward – The 37-year-old veteran is coming out of the lost season with the Lakers where he played 21.5 minutes per game and showed that he can still shoot enough from the wings to score in double figures. After 15 years in the league, he’s still a reliable enough producer and ranks higher in efficiency rating than even two regular members of the starting lineup for the two-time champion Heat (Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier). The Leftovers will have to put points on the board somehow.

Lamar Odom, Forward – You’ve got to have faith that Odom hasn’t simply lost the spark and lost interest after his past two dismal years. Following the horrible flameout in Dallas, last season was supposed to be a shot at redemption as a key role player and solid influence in the locker room with the Clippers. Odom was particularly ineffective in the first-round playoff loss to Memphis. The birth certificate says he won’t turn 34 until the start of next season, but the odometer has racked up more miles than an old pickup truck. The Leftovers will keep believing that you don’t simply forget how to pass, rebound and do the little things and give Odom another chance.

Cole Aldrich, Center – After being taken with the 11th pick by New Orleans in 2010 and traded to OKC on draft night, Aldrich has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a space eater at the end of the bench for the Thunder, Rockets and most recently the Kings. Aldrich finally got onto the floor for 15 games in Sacramento at the end of last season and pulled down a respectable four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time per night. He’s the epitome of the old adage: “You can’t teach height.” That’s why he’ll keep getting chances and the Leftovers are hoping that this is the one that will pay off.

Mikael Pietrus, Guard – We’re going to plug the swingman into our lineup in the backcourt and hope to ride that streaky outside shooting and penchant for playing in-your-face defense for production at both ends of the court. He played just 19 games last season with the Raptors before tendinitis in his knee forced him to the sidelines for good in the middle of March. But he’s too young (31), too athletic, too active, too disruptive on defense and potentially still too good not to have him on our side.

Sebastian Telfair, Guard – In a league where it has become increasingly critical to have an elite level point guard running the offense, you don’t simply find them in the discount bin. There’s a reason why the Clippers have gone from pretender to contender and his name is Chris Paul. From a free agent list that ranges from 35-year-old Jamaal Tinsley to 25-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, we’ll split the difference and take the 28-year-old Telfair. He’s never lived up to the advance hype because though he’s quick and small, he can’t finish at the rim and has only recently become dependable as a mid-range shooter. His size hurts on defense, but he puts out the effort and when you’re a Leftover that’s good enough.

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 Try To ‘Stay In The Moment’


MIAMI – Game 7 of The Finals is not just any other game, but the Miami Heat are trying to treat it that way. They want to “stay in the moment” but not get caught up in it, if that makes any sense.

So Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did nothing special at Thursday morning’s shootaround. There was no talk about the consequences of winning or losing Game 7 (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

“You can’t focus on the victory,” Spoelstra said. “You can’t focus on the reward. The only thing you can focus on is the task. So this morning, all it was was the shootaround, prep. It wasn’t anything more. There was no special words or speeches I gave them. The most important thing they can do now for the next eight or 10 hours is get off their feet.”

Spoelstra believes his team is prepared to stay undistracted and focus on the task at hand, because they’ve dealt with quite a bit of outside noise since putting together the big three three years ago.

“Probably the world we’ve lived in has helped us prepare for that more than anything else,” Spoelstra said. “From the first time we came together, it was about everything else. And we had to learn how to compartmentalize and stay in the moment. That’s helped us build some discipline of mind.”

And Chris Bosh doesn’t want to think about what the next 48 minutes of basketball mean to the big three’s legacy.

“We’re not thinking about the grand scheme of things,” Bosh said. “All this legacy stuff and the era, we leave that all to the barber shop talkers and the sports critics and let everybody sum that up. We just come out there and play basketball.”


Spoelstra hinted that Udonis Haslem would see action in Game 7 after giving Haslem a DNP in favor of Chris Andersen and small lineups on Tuesday.

“It was probably one of the tougher things I’ve ever done. That wasn’t necessarily the notion. The game just didn’t present itself. But he’ll be ready and the opportunity will be there tonight. He’s right there on my mind, so likely he’ll get his chance tonight.”

24-Second Thoughts On Game 6


24 – So, LeBron James hit the court two hours early to get his pregame work in, huh? That says the man recognizes the magnitude of this moment and has prepared himself properly to man up to it. As ridiculous as it sounds to criticize the four-time MVP and the world’s best player, LeBron knows he has not left his mark on this series. If the Heat go down tonight, it won’t be without a desperate fight from LeBron, which is exactly the way it has to be when you are the best player in the game. Season on the line, you have to show up and set the tone from the start on both ends.

23 – I love that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck with Mike Miller in his starting lineup. As much as you need a defender in the game to slow down “Dancin’ “ Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs’ other shooters, you need shot-makers on the floor in an elimination games. Miller is aggressive early, which exactly what the Heat need him to be in this situation.

22 – Kawhi Leonard is absolutely fearless. Goes at LeBron on the break, ‘bows him out of the way and finishes with the hoop and the foul. Drains a corner 3-pointer two possessions later. The Spurs are aggressive early, Leonard and Tim Duncan in particular, showing absolutely no hesitation.

21 – Dwyane Wade bangs knees with Ginobili with 7:42 to play and you could see it was a Ginobili’s knee cap smashing the inside of Wade’s left knee. We have to see how bad it was for Wade, who clearly took the worst of the collision. If they win tonight and force a Game 7, how does that blow impact Wade for the finale?

20 – Kawhi “Captain Corn Rows” Leonard just posterized Miller on a sweet feed from Tony Parker. I’m not sure what’s more impressive: Leonard’s eight early points or the fact that he’s the last man in the league still rocking corn rows (and doing it without any fancy designs or anything special; just straight ol’ school, straight-to-the-back corn rows). The 70s are proud of you, young fella! BTW, the Spurs are up two and DDG hasn’t even taken a shot yet.

19 – Duncan is working on a perfect night right now (6-for-6, 12 points and 3 rebounds). I wonder how history will remember Duncan? It certainly seems like we all take him for granted in the present. We don’t appreciate the greatness of his game and fact that he’s more than just the most fundamentally sound power forward to play this game, perhaps ever. He won’t have the flashiest highlight video to look back on in 20 years. But there aren’t but a handful of players who will be able to say they played at an elite level for as long as he did during his Hall of Fame career.

18 – Heat pulling out all the stops tonight; Chris “Birdman” AndersenMario Chalmers and even Shane Battier‘s 3-point bankshot to tie the game. It’s going to be that kind of night, I can feel it. ‘Rio already has 10 points in the first quarter and is 4-for-5 from the floor. If he’s aggressive like this all night, the Spurs are going to have to figure out a way to keep him from duplicating the work he did in Game 2.

17 – Chris Bosh was wrong … DDG is still getting open looks from deep. Still knocking ‘em down, too.

16 – Duncan has 25 before halftime with a hand in his face on every possession. The Spurs are 14-2 in closeout game since 2003 for a reason.  His nickname is The Big Fundamental! He’s 11-for-13 and dominating the Heat in every facet of the game right now. He’s putting on an absolute showcase right now, outscoring Miami’s Big 3 by his lonesome, 25-21. The rest of the Spurs matched his 25 first half points and they lead by six at the break.

15 – The Spurs’ 17-4 run to finish the second quarter might very well be the most impressive stretch by either team in this entire series. Duncan, Boris Diaw, Leonard … unreal effort, unbelievable mettle and just a complete demolition of the Heat on both ends during the run. The Spurs own the Heat inside with a 32-12 scoring edge in the paint in the first half.

14 – Where you at LeBron? Nine points (on 3-for-9 shooting) is not going to get your team to a Game 7.

13 – Third quarter starts without Wade. Ray Allen is out there for him. It has to be that knee. No word from the Heat PR staff until after the game, per Doris Burke’s sideline report.

12 – The Heat’s night in a nutshell to this point: LeBron has Parker guarding him in the low post, Heat swing the ball all around the floor until Bosh gets it on the opposite baseline bricks a jumper off of the far side of the rim. The Heat are completely out of sorts on offense right now. The only thing saving them right now is that they are turning the Spurs over (courtesy of Ginobili, whose Game 5 magic has worn off completely).

11 – Leonard is having the sort of bully-ball game you expected LeBron to have. The Spurs’ 11-0 run here late in the third quarter is one of those backbreaking stretches in a game like this. The Heat’s inability to slow them down is startling. Credit the Spurs for sticking to what they do best, and that’s unleashing all of the weapons in their arsenal to take away what you do best. The Heat are being overwhelmed on their home floor the same way they were in 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks in a Game 6.

10 – Wade is on the bench changing his shoes with 10.3 seconds to play in the third. Maybe he has an extra pair for LeBron, because if they Heat don’t come up with something to change the momentum in this games in the next six minutes, the Spurs are going to break them down the stretch with their execution and claim title No. 5.

9 – “Shoeless” Mike Miller with the 3-point dagger to cut the lead 77-73. Spoelstra imploring his team to “trust each other” at this stage of the season sounds a bit strange. But the message seems to be working. The comeback is officially on, with the Heat’s rally lineup (LeBron, Miller, Allen, Birdman and Chalmers) on the floor. Granted, the Heat’s rush has come with both Duncan and Parker resting on that Spurs bench.

8 –  Bully LeBron has finally come alive and he’s ridiculous force of nature when he plays like this. He’s overpowering Leonard, Duncan, Ginobili and whoever else gets in his way around the rim. Desperate times call for desperate measures, apparently. A block on Duncan under the basket triggers a break the other way and LeBron ties the game at 82-82 with a layup at the 6:37 mark. Allen gives the Heat the lead on a reverse layup with 6:03 to play. Crazy turnaround for the Heat and it’s all been fueled by the man without the headband, who is in full blow attack the rim mode right down the stretch. Heat on a 22-7 run right now and LeBron has 11 points during the run.

7 – Wade comes back for Miller with 3:48 to play, taking away the other long distance shooter (along with Allen) who caused the Spurs so much trouble during the comeback. Those shooters forced the Spurs to cover the perimeter and leave lanes for LeBron to drive to the rim and change the entire flow of the game for both teams. We’ll see if that substitution comes back to bite the Heat in these final minutes.

6 – Duncan and Parker are scoreless in the fourth quarter inside the final dos minutos of the biggest game, so far, of the Spurs’ season. How they are within three points is beyond me. It’s a testament to the system and all of the cold-blooded role players on that roster.

5 – Parker with the step-back 3-pointer over LeBron to tie the game with 1:27 to play erases all doubts. He’s going to snag his second Finals MVP trophy if the Spurs win this thing. Huge turnover by Chalmers and Parker converts on the other end, shades of Game 1 dancing through the building, Spurs up 91-89 with 58 seconds left. This is nuts.

4 – LeBron turnover under the basket, Spurs on the break and Ginobili is fouled with 37.2 left. Sinks both free throws and a 93-89 Spurs lead. Unreal. Another LeBron turnover and Ginobili is fouled again and drains the second of two free throws. 94-89 with 28.2 left. LeBron goes from the goat to the hero and now back to the goat in the final seconds. I say that Wade-for-Miller substitution changed the flow for the Heat. Could very well cost them this game.

3 – LeBron bricks a 3-pointer and gets the ball back after a wild scramble and drains the 3-pointer that cuts the lead to 94-92 with 20.1 to play. Money time for both teams here and Duncan is not on the floor (gotta have your best rebounder on the floor, Pop! I don’t care what is going on …). Leonard misses the first of two free throws but sinks the second with 19.4 to play. Oooohhhhhh!!!!!!! Allen drains the corner 3 to tie it up with 5.2 to play. Winning time, with LeBron on Parker and TP air balls the  last shot of regulation. Unreal finish to the first 48 minutes. Allen might not have the Finals 3-point record anymore, but it was his shot that keep this game alive. Five more minutes of what has turned out to be the best game of the entire season. I’ll take it.

2 – Overtime is like a mini-movie of the entire series in five minutes, complete with turnovers, big shots, clutch rebounds, timely blocks, stunning mistakes, star turns from everyone from Duncan, Parker and Leonard to James, Wade and Bosh, whose work rebounding and on defense help propel the Heat to a Game 7.

1 – Fitting end to a fantastic game. Allen knocks down two free throws for the winning margin and Bosh comes up with the clutch block on DDG at the buzzer. All those Heat fans booing Bosh earlier in this game can thank their lucky stars they had him tonight because he did the dirty work (rebound and kick to Allen was as clutch as the block at the end) down the stretch to help deliver the Heat. Allen with nine points in the fourth quarter and overtime, doing exactly what a future Hall of Famer is supposed to do, helps save the Heat, as well. But if LeBron hadn’t come alive in the fourth the Spurs would be popping bottles in their locker room right now. Game 7 here we come!


Right & Wrong: Ginobili, Green Deliver


SAN ANTONIO – With Manu Ginobili‘s 24 points and 10 assists in the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 5 win Sunday night over the Miami Heat, each member of each team’s Big Three has now had a big moment.

In Game 5, LeBron James (8-for-22 from the floor), Dwyane Wade (10-for-22) and Chris Bosh (7-for-11) didn’t shoot great, but they did combine for 66 points, 16 rebounds and 19 assists. Sounds like a winning formula just as the statistics of the Spurs’  Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and surprise starter Ginobili do: 67 points, 15 rebounds and 16 assists.

With such even production, what was the difference in the Spurs’ 114-104 win in Game 5?

The role players.

San Antonio’s continue to come up big. Danny Green hit six more 3-pointers and scored 24 points. Kawhi Leonard went 6-for-8 from the floor for 16 points, plus eight rebounds and three steals. Boris Diaw used his girth to make James uncomfortable for much of the game.

With Ginobili in the starting lineup, the Spurs’ first five all scored between 16 and 24 points. For Miami, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers combined for seven points on 2-for-11 shooting.

RIGHT: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich‘s decision to insert the struggling Ginboili into the starting lineup paid tremendous dividends. Playing alongside Parker more often allowed Ginobili to play off the ball more with less defensive attention — and often with Miller on him — and he was aggressive with his drives. He knocked down his first two shots early in the first quarter and dished a couple of assists and confidence that had been so elusive rushed back. Ginobili finished with a season-high 24 points and 10 assists and the Spurs moved to 23-2 this season when Ginobili has at least six assists.

WRONG: One reason Popovich put Ginobili in the starting lineup is because Heat coach Erik Spoelstra changed up his starting lineup for Game 4, going for offense with a smaller lineup that included Mike Miller instead of rugged forward Udonis Haslem. Off the bench, Miller was on fire, canning 9-for-10 shots from the beyond the arc. In two games as a starter, Miller is a combined 0-for-2 from the field (both shots from 3-point range) for zero points in nearly 46 minutes.

RIGHT: A few days ago Danny Green said he’s still waiting for someone to pinch him and wake him up. Yeah, well, the Spurs would like for that person to stay away for at least one more win. Green is on an historic hot streak and after he dropped another six 3-pointers in Game 5 on 10 attempts, he’s 25-for-38 (65.8 percent) from beyond the arc. He surpassed Ray Allen with the most 3-point baskets ever in an NBA Finals — and it’s only Game 5. He’s hit four, five, seven, three and six 3s in the first five games. Remarkable.

WRONG: The Heat’s defense on Green. As Parker said after Game 5, how in the world is Green open, ever, beyond the arc at this point in the series? Now, as Green said, he’s not actually open every time, he’s hitting contested 3s as well. The Spurs move the ball so well that it’s impossible to contain Parker, Ginobili and Duncan and still protect the 3-point arc. If the Heat want to stay alive for a Game 7, they’ll have to figure this out.

RIGHT: Dwyane Wade has really dialed back the clock. He had the huge 32-point, six-rebound, four-assist, six-steal Game 4 and followed it up with 25 points and 10 assists in Game 5.

WRONG: Have the tables turned for the Heat? Should we now be saying Wade can’t do it alone? James had his struggles in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 8-for-22 shooting, which included a ghastly 2-for-11 in the second half and 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter with just one free throw attempt in 10:54.

RIGHT: Another example of Pop pushing the right button at the right time was his use of Boris Diaw in Game 5. Diaw logged nine and 11 minutes, respectively in Games 1 and 2 and didn’t play at all in Game 3 before logging another 11 minutes in Game 4. In Game 5? Diaw played 27 minutes and much of that time was spent putting his weight on James, who finished 8-for-22 from the floor.

WRONG: Another example of the Heat getting nothing out of a role player is Chris “Birdman” Andersen — not that it’s his fault. He’s become a victim of Spoelstra’s small-ball lineup. A significant contributor in the East finals against Indiana, Birdman didn’t miss a shot until Game 7 of that series. He played the first three games of this series until Speolstra inserted Miller into the starting lineup and starting bringing Haslem off the bench. So not only have the Heat gotten no scoring out of Miller, they’ve kept their energy guy on the bench.

Can Spurs Crank Up The 3-ball?


SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs are a remarkable 34-for-68 from beyond the arc in the last three games. But the number that stands out more is 16. That’s how many 3-point attempts they took in losing Game 4, which equaled the number they made in winning Game 3.

Attempting 16 shots from 3-point range isn’t enough for a team that averaged 21.0 in the regular season and can bury an opponent with an avalanche of 3-balls.

“They have a great defense, you have to give them credit,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker said of the Miami Heat’s ability to close-out on 3-point shooters and take away shots. “We just have to play better.”

Tonight’s Game 5 (8 ET, ABC) is critical for both teams. But it could mean do-or-die for the Spurs, who will have to play Games 6 and, if necessary, 7 on the road. The Spurs know they can squeak out a win if the 3-pointer isn’t falling — they took Game 1 in Miami going 7-for-23 thanks largely to just four turnovers — but they’re far more deadly when the long ball is falling and the home crowd reaches a fever pitch.

A key tonight is how well San Antonio moves the basketball, keeps Miami’s trapping defense scrambling, avoids turnovers and creates those open looks for its 3-point shooters. In the two games San Antonio has won, it has committed 17 total turnovers. In the two losses, the number is 36.

“We need to be efficient just with our execution more than anything,” said Danny Green, who is 19-for-28 (67.9 percent) from beyond the arc in the series. “It would be nice to make shots, but if we execute defensively and offensively, move the ball and continue to run our sets the way we’re supposed to and not turn it over, it will give us a better chance.”

Other items of note:

  • Parker said he has received virtually round-the-clock treatment on his ailing right hamstring. “I feel pretty good,” he said. “Hopefully I can play two halves at the same level.” Parker scored 15 points in the first half of Game 4, but went scoreless in the second half and played just three minutes in the fourth quarter. He described his hamstring as feeling “weak” in the second half.
  • Spurs forward Tiago Splitter has had a forgettable series to this point, averaging 5.8 ppg and an anemic 2.8 rpg in 21.3 mpg. He’s gone from shooting better than 63 percent in both the second round and conference final to 38.1 percent against Miami, an awful percentage for any player, but especially one who spends most of his time around the basket. That’s also where he’s been rejected more than once. There was the LeBron James stopper at the rim in Game 2 and Splitter embarrassingly found himself getting blocked by Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier in Game 4. “Miami’s had a lot to do with that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’ve done a good job on him and he hasn’t been able to finish. He’s done what he always does, but he hasn’t finished the same and it’s because of Miami’s defense.”
  • Heat coach Erik Spoelstra shook up his starting lineup for Game 4 going with shooter Mike Miller over rugged forward Udonis Haslem. Will Popovich follow suit? Splitter’s weak play in Game 4 led to him logging just 14 minutes, his second-lowest mark of the playoffs, and to taking a seat to start the second half. Boris Diaw got the call, but Popovich said Sunday morning that he as of now he plans to stick with his usual starting five. However, he did leave himself some wiggle room: “That could change.”

Bosh Clears Mind, Roars Loud In Game 4



SAN ANTONIO – If only we could climb a ladder and crawl through Chris Bosh‘s ear and into his head. Oh, the things we might find. Forget Khloe Kardashian and the flaky Lamar Odom, reality TV deserves a relatable, emotional human character such as the sensitive, sympathetic and cerebral Bosh.

Who wouldn’t have a complex always being told you’re the third wheel or you more resemble the dopey, leaf-eating sauropod rather than the roaring, carnivorous T-Rex everybody wants you to be, ripping opponents’ heads off and devouring basketballs straight off the backboard?

When Bosh struggles as he has during this roller coaster of a Miami Heat playoff run — one that now has them two wins from back-to-back championships and two losses from a summer of sharp-stick criticism for twice failing to win titles in three tries — it so often seems his troubles ignite between the ears, where he can submerge himself in self-doubt, a sure form of self-sabotage.

Dwyane Wade chuckled when asked if Bosh is the kind of guy that can stress himself out before stepping onto the floor.

“Well, I think he said it best — overthinking,” Wade said. “As a player we start overthinking too much, you know, you get in your own way. We’ve all done it. It’s times myself and and Chris do it a little too much.”

Wade and Bosh are neighbors and Wade has been known to stop by his teammate’s house to talk, to help ease his mind, help keep him as loose as Bosh can be loose.

“Loose?” Wade answered rhetorically when asked if he makes concerted efforts to keep the 6-foot-11 forward-center from overthinking himself into a mental ditch. “Chris is not a loose guy. He’s quiet and to himself. The biggest thing was just trying to let him know how important he is, how important he was going to be to us winning [Game 4]. He responded in a good way, but we got to continue to respond if we want to do what we did last year, and that’s win a championship.”

For a team that won 27 consecutive games during the regular season, the Heat haven’t won two in a row since clinching the Chicago series and opening the East finals with LeBron James‘ buzzer-beater against Indiana. Bosh, averaging 12.7 ppg in the playoffs, four fewer points than his regular-season average, and hitting just 46.2 percent of his shots, down from 53.5 percent in the regular season, has found more consistency in the Finals with his first postseason string of three consecutive double-doubles.

The Heat’s 109-93 Game 4 win to even the series, though, was his best performance since the second round and the most dominating by The Big Three. Bosh rolled to the rim, hit mid-range jumpers, swatted away would-be layups and crashed the boards. All told, he racked up 20 points (on 8-for-14 shooting) for only the second time this postseason and 13 rebounds, his high since May 10 when he posted 20-and-19 in Game 3 against the Bulls. He had two steals and two blocks.

“I want to play well every game. I want to play to the best of my ability, and sometimes that doesn’t happen,” Bosh said. “You’re going to have bad games in a long stretch, especially during the playoffs, and that’s when you really have to trust your game and trust what got you here. I think before I was really just trying to force some situations, thinking of how I can really get going, and it doesn’t work like that. I just have to really trust my instincts, trust my teammates and just continue to play and let things happen.”

Initially, it didn’t look as if it was going to happen for him in Game 4. Bosh started 1-for-4, missing his jumper and seeming tentative, like one of those giant, long-necked leaf-eaters stumped by which tree from which to begin his feast.

Bosh started to get rolling in the second quarter, then went 5-for-6 from the floor in the second half as Miami widened its lead. For chunks of Game 4, Bosh served as Miami’s lone big man on the floor. Coach Erik Spoelstra started shooter Mike Miller over rugged forward Udonis Haslem and Chris “Birdman” Andersen never got off the bench.

The small lineup boosts Bosh’s responsibilities at both ends of the floor, attacking offensively and defensively jousting with Tim Duncan as well as being the last line of defense and a primary rebounder.

“There’s no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “When we play with those lineups, he’s the last man there. I mean, we do have some hybrid wings, you saw Dwyane and LeBron back there as well.  But we need Chris to be big and to do so many different things and wear a lot of different hats. We play him offensively everywhere on the floor. But defensively battling against a Hall of Famer and then helping us clean up the glass really gave us a boost.”

Maybe Game 4 is the boost Bosh needed to clear his crowded mind and bring out the best in his game for as many as three games left in this title-or-bust season.

“It’s just the disposition, first of all, with myself and then everybody else. Those things are going to follow,” Bosh said. “I don’t really pay too much attention to the numbers. It’s just how I’m doing, the energy and effort that I’m giving out there, and everything else falls into place.”

Panic Not In The Heat’s DNA

MIAMI – You don’t throw around words like “panic” and “desperation” when you are as resilient as the Miami Heat have been this season, not even after surrendering home court advantage after Game 1 in The Finals.

It’s not in the Heat DNA to panic after a loss, regardless of how big of a game it appears to be. The Heat are 17-3 after a loss this season (4-0 in the playoffs) and they haven’t lost two straight games since Jan. 10.

They’ve won their last 10 games after a loss by an average of 19.9 points (and by no fewer than 11). Their offense has scored a scorching 116 points per 100 possessions in those 10 games, and their defense has allowed a paltry 93.

That would explain their decidedly measured approach to the challenge that awaits Sunday night in Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, ABC), by all means a must-win game for the reigning champs with three straight games in San Antonio on the schedule next week.

With 48 hours to mull over the mistakes, rewatch the film over and over again, the Heat always seem to figure out a way not to repeat the same mistakes. It’s a trait that has served them well thus far and will have to continue if this series is going to get back on the track they want it to.

“You probably heard all of us say it’s just owning up to our mistakes in the game,” Dwyane Wade said, trying to explain how the Heat rebound time after time, “really going upstairs, with Coach putting the game plan out for us, showing us what we did wrong, showing us some of the things we’ve done well, and coming back and being a mature team and trying not to make the same mistakes twice. I don’t think we’ll make the same mistakes we made in Game 1. That’s what we always try to do, to come out the next game and be a different team. We always feel like, as the series goes on, we get better and stronger as a team.”

For Wade and LeBron James, the Heat’s two biggest stars, the collective resolve has been an evolutionary process that began three years ago when they failed to compartmentalize their mistakes and lost in The Finals to a Dallas team that was not only better but certainly more mature and tougher mentally.

Still, having two days to stew after a loss that came with breakdowns on both ends of the floor in the final eight minutes makes the recovery a challenge.

“There’s pros and cons with having 48 hours in between games, especially after a loss,” James said. “You think about it a lot and it eats away at you. But at the same time, it allows you to really pinpoint ways you can get better in the next game. So the time helps. And the communication between the players and the coaches has to be receptive and open and honest in order for the game plan to work, because we have to have everyone on page from the coaching staff to the players once we get on the floor, because the game is so fast.”

The Heat’s focus between Game 1 and Game 2 isn’t just schematic, particularly for the role players. They have to take the mental and emotional aspects of what transpired into account and check themselves before taking the floor again. For all of the problems Tony Parker and Tim Duncan caused them in Game 1, the self-inflicted mistakes deserve just as much attention.

“We have to make adjustments and play with a sense of urgency,” Norris Cole said. “We have to play with that same spirit we had the first three quarters, before that final eight minutes when things went crazy. We don’t take anything for granted. Every time we step out on the floor we want to take advantage of the opportunity and win the game. We don’t want to let anything slip away. And nobody really needs to say anything, even though guys do, because that’s the type of personalities we have on our team. We have direct communication as a group. With our brotherhood, we can take it when guys have to say something. But this is The Finals. No one has to say anything. If you don’t understand that you can’t go down 0-2 on your home court, then you shouldn’t be playing this game.”

That’s the sort of understanding of the process that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been preaching to his team for years, a clear and sober realization that nothing happens at this point in a season by chance, that your fate is what you make it and that your energy, effort and execution determines whether or not you have a chance to prevail every night out.

That also means that failures have to be absorbed, processed and discarded accordingly. Whatever residue exists from Game 1 needs to be recycled into actions that don’t lead to a repeat performance. It’s a lesson the Heat have learned the hard way during their Big 3 run, one that has fueled them this season more than ever.

“There’s a maturity with this group,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not a guarantee. We don’t take that for granted. But our guys get angry. They own it. We all own it together. And then we just work together to try to get better.”

They need to get even this time if they don’t want to face the prospect of Sunday night being their last home game of the season.

Miami’s New Challenge? Slowing Parker


MIAMI – There should be no doubt what priority No. 1 for the Miami Heat is when The Finals tip off Thursday night (9 ET, ABC): they must contain Tony Parker.

Parker is the driver of the Spurs’ offense. Via points, assists and turnovers, he has used 31.0 percent of the Spurs’ possessions when he’s been on the floor in the postseason. That’s up from 28.0 percent in the regular season and is higher than LeBron James‘ playoff usage rate (29.1 percent). That number doesn’t include plays where he gets the defense moving, the Spurs get a basket after two or three passes and he doesn’t get credit for the assist.

Simply, the ball is in Parker’s hands a lot. He creates shots for himself and others, and he just tore up the No. 2 defense in the league, averaging 24.5 ppg and 9.5 apg in the Spurs’ sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies to support argument that he’s the best pick-and-roll point guard in the league.

Parker has always been a strong finisher at the rim, consistently shooting about 64 percent in the restricted area over the last 10 seasons. But he has become a much bigger threat to pull up from mid-range this season. He shot 47.2 percent from between the paint and the 3-point line in the regular season, up from 38.7 percent over the previous three seasons. (He’s 55-for-119 — or 46.2 percent — from mid-range in these playoffs.

So, he can do this pretty well …


With Parker, great ball movement, and a bevy of (other) shooters, the Spurs have the formula to counter the Heat’s aggressive D. They rank first in assist rate, third in turnover rate, and second in 3-point percentage in the playoffs. When the Heat trap or hedge hard on pick-and-rolls, San Antonio should be able to take advantage. (more…)