Spurs edition: NBA Finals Game 6 Recap

June 20, 2013

Previously on Armchair 3, we brought you an 800-word recap on Game 6 of the NBA Finals from a Miami perspective. Now, we flip to the road team — how did San Antonio let the championship trophy out of their grasp and what can they do to win the NBA’s most coveted honor for the 5th time since 1999.

San Antonio’s probably kicking themselves after Game 6, a game they really should have won in Miami. But the Heat prevailed in overtime, 103-100, and so it’s on to Game 7. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are 4-0 in NBA Finals appearances, one of which (2005) they won in a Game 7. So let’s not be naive and assume San Antonio blew their opportunity Tuesday. This series is far from over.

Wait, how was San Antonio in this one in the first place?

Consider these stats. Manu Ginobili had almost as many turnovers (8) as points (9) in 35 minutes of play, in which the Spurs were a dreadful -21. Tony Parker finished with 8 assists, but shot 6-23 from the field, his second-worst shooting performance of the postseason; he was 3-16 in the Spurs’ Game 6 closeout win over Golden State. In the second half and overtime, Tim Duncan amassed all of 5 points.

San Antonio played about 40 minutes of really efficient basketball, but to say their performance was even among their best postseason would be an overstatement. Sure, Duncan was fantastic in the first half, with 25 points and 8 rebounds. Sure, Parker had his moments, including 5 straight points late in the 4th that almost put this NBA season on ice. Sure, Kawhi Leonard, 22 points, contributed his best scoring night since April 6.

My point: There’s plenty of adjustments San Antonio can make for Game 7. To start, Pop could force more 1-on-1 block touches for Duncan, back to the basket against Chris Bosh. Miami had absolutely no answer for this early. Less isolation ball from Parker, especially when he’s guarded by the league’s best perimeter defender in LeBron James, could also help, though that was only a problem late in regulation and OT. And more open 3-point looks — San Antonio was 5-18 in Game 6; coming into Game 6, Danny Green was averaging 5 3’s per game himself.

The Spurs, the league’s most creative offensive team, only assisted on 13 of the team’s 37 field goals in Game 6. Like I said, room to improve.

Things San Antonio’s needs to carry over to Game 7…

Until LeBron decided to go cray early in the 4th, the Spurs were fantastic in defending James and Dwyane Wade. Pack the lane, force the mid-range jumper. In fact, the strategy was so effective Miami’s run didn’t come until Wade was on the bench in the fourth, with LeBron and Bosh surrounded by shooters in Mario Chalmers (20 points), Ray Allen (9) and Mike Miller (8). The Heat were -15 in Wade’s 37 minutes.

I’d be curious to see Pop’s lineup moves come Game 7. Does he continue to give Boris Diaw big minutes? Diaw played 23 effective minutes, particularly on the defensive end, where, unless he’s catching the ball on the move, LeBron continues to struggle. Tiago Splitter, you would think, is the odd man out — in his 8 minutes Tuesday, the Spurs were -13. With Udonis Haslem out of Miami’s rotation, Splitter’s by far the least athletic player on the floor. He’s a mess offensively, despite 5 points last night, and he can’t match Miami’s speed defensively.

S.A. needs something — I’d say at least 20 combined points — out of Gary Neal and Danny Green. The two combined for only 8 in 65 minutes in Game 6; in Game 3, they scored 24 and 27, respectively. Aside from Leonard, with Manu struggling from deep — he’s 22% this series and 30% these playoffs — these are San Antonio’s only threats from the outside, and thus the only obstacles to doubling Duncan on the block.

Why you’d be crazy to count San Antonio out…

The Spurs are 4-0 in the NBA Finals in the Popovich era. In 2005, the Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons, then the defending champs boasting one of the top starting units in league history, in a Game 7. Yes, that game was in San Antonio, but the point being Pop, Duncan, Manu and Parker have all been here before. The only player on this Heat team to play in an NBA Finals Game 7 is Ray Allen, who was 3-14 at Staples in the Celtics’ 2010 loss.

I picked San Antonio in 7 before the series started. I’m certainly not flipping now.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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Spurs up 3-2, cue more LeBron hate!

June 17, 2013

What. A. Game. With only a few hiccups, San Antonio played 48 minutes of fantastic offensive basketball. From the opening tip, with Gregg Popovich starting Manu Ginobili over Tiago Splitter, the Spurs went small — and beat Erik Spoelstra’s Heat at their own game. The outcome: 114-104 and a 3-2 series lead for San Antonio.

The pace, on San Antonio’s end, was phenomenal. At one point, the ESPN telecast pointed out a possession where Tim Duncan received a pass in the paint with about 20.5 seconds left on the shot clock … after a made free throw. Tony Parker, 5 assists, and Manu, 10, facilitated with ease. The Spurs shot 60% from the field — against a defensive until that held teams to 44% shooting in the regular season and 43.2% thus far this postseason — compared to Miami’s 43%.

San Antonio’s ‘Big 3’ > Miami’s ‘Big 3’ … in Game 5

First, a quick recap of this series. Game 1 was the Tony-Parker-spinning-banker game, Game 2 the LeBron-James-block game, Game 3 the Gary-Neal-Danny-Green-go-nuts-from-3 game and Game 4 the Dwyane-Wade-travels-back-to-2006 game. Game 5 was Manu Ginobili’s game.

Once Pop inserted Manu into the starting lineup, you had the feeling he was due, especially after the intense media criticism in the 2 off days. Ginobili hit a step-back jumper on the game’s opening possession and then added 2 quick assists. Less than 5 minutes in, he had 8 points — though that was later knocked back to 7 with the opening shot ruled a 2, not a 3, after replay — right near his series average of 7.5.

Ginobili finished with 24 points on 8-14 FGs, Parker scored 26 on 10-14, and Duncan, in his best game since the series opener, chipped in 17 on 7-10 and 12 rebounds. Three days after his game-worst -22 +/- in 26 minutes, Manu netted a game-best +19 in 33 minutes. So, to recap, from San Antonio’s ‘Big 3.’

  1. 54 points, 21-48 FGs
  2. 27 points, 10-33 FGs
  3. 25 points, 10-23 FGs
  4. 40 points, 14-31 FGs
  5. 67 points, 25-38 FGs

On Miami’s end, I thought LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh came out with the necessary energy and, collectively, put together, for the most part, another solid outing. James faded a bit in the second half — I would’ve liked to see more offensive aggression, ala Game 4 — but still managed 25 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. Bosh was a very efficient 7-11 for 16; the Heat were +7 in his 38 minutes, a team-best. And Wade, once more, was perhaps the best of the three — 25 points on 10-22 and 10 assists. Their numbers this series:

  1. 48 points, 20-47 FGs
  2. 39 points, 18-40 FGs
  3. 43 points, 18-46 FGs
  4. 85 points, 37-64 FGs
  5. 66 points, 25-55 FGs

The stats say it was their second-best performance of the series, and I think the naked eye would agree. Wade’s mid-range inside-out game was working. My one critique of James was his inability to take advantage of mismatches against the much slower, less athletic Boris Diaw, who Pop played 27 minutes.

About those role guys…

Overlooked in this series is the effectiveness of Ray Allen — he’s scored at least 13 in every game but one (a 4-point effort in San Antonio’s blowout Game 3 win). In Game 5, he scored 21 on 7-10 from the field and 4-4 from 3, and was the only reason Miami made it kind of interesting in the final minutes. (Who knows how much more interesting if another of his 3’s had not been negated by a LeBron moving screen.)

Right now, Ray Allen is the only non-‘Big 3’ player Spoelstra can trust. I mean, he converted 2 4-point plays in Game 5, which is, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via the ESPN telecast) the first time that’s been done in NBA Finals history. Allen played 63 minutes in Games 4 and 5; he logged 65 in Games 1-3.

Udonis Haslem, -20, was a 9-minute disaster; Mario Chalmers was again in foul trouble and mostly ineffective, save for a pair of 3-balls; Norris Cole was held scoreless in 7 minutes and destroyed by Tony Parker in the paint in the second quarter; and Mike Miller, after making 9-10 3’s in Games 1-3, has not scored a point since Spo inserted him in the starting lineup for Game 4. In fact, he’s only attempted 2 shots in 46 minutes.

Spo might have found his mojo late — LeBron, Bosh, Wade, Allen and Miller/Battier. Aside from LeBron, Bosh, Wade and Allen, the Heat scored 17 points, and 7 of those came from Battier. I would expect to see more of this lineup in Game 6 (and potentially 7), with some Chris Andersen, potentially in place of Haslem; Andersen was a DNP – Coach’s Decision in Games 4 and 5.

For the Spurs, Pop cut his bench minutes, leaving Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner (each 1 minute of garbage time) out of the rotation and Splitter, just removed from the starting lineup, 10. Diaw’s crafty play-making was an asset, especially in the first half, and he surprisingly held his own defensively. Gary Neal only scored 2 points, but gave San Antonio 21 quality minutes, enough to keep Manu, 33, and Parker, 36, fresh.

Oh, and it’s almost an afterthought at this point, but Danny Green dumped in 24 more points, hit 6 3’s to break Ray Allen’s Finals record for most 3’s in a series and played terrific transition defense (3 blocks).

On to Miami for Game 6 on Tuesday. A bit of history: the Lakers won Games 6 and 7 at the Staples Center over the Boston Celtics in 2010 to overcome a 3-2 hole. In 2011, Miami went home, losers of Games 4 and 5 in Dallas, down 3-2 and lost by double digits in Game 6.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Dribbles: Analyzing the NBA Finals, tied 1-1

June 10, 2013

Miami pulled even with San Antonio last night in the NBA Finals, using a 33-5 second-half run to pull away from the sloppy Spurs and win 103-84. Now, we’re all tied up at 1 and headed to San Antonio for 3, with ample time between now and Tuesday to complain about the Finals’ 2-3-2 homecourt format.

San Antonio’s stars stumble

What if I told you, headed into Game 2, Mario Chalmers would score more than Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, combined? That’s what happened. Duncan was 3-13 for 9 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes, Ginobili was 2-6 for 5 points in a mere 18 minutes (Danny Green was making shots), and Tony Parker, the hero of Game 1, was 5-14 for 13 points. Ginobili, 3, and Parker, 5, had double (8) the combined turnovers the entire Spurs team had in Game 1.

The Spurs were -14 with Duncan on the floor, -23 with Ginobili and -27 with Parker. Miami was +29 with LeBron James on the floor, +30 with Mario Chalmers and +27 with Ray Allen.

The only reason the Spurs were in this game — don’t forget they were up 1 deep into the third — was the play of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Green finished 6-6 from the field and 5-5 from 3 for 17 points, and Kawhi played another terrific defensive game on LeBron and outsmarted the MVP on the boards — finishing with 14, 8 on the offensive end, and some easy putbacks.

Cory Joseph was fantastic in limited minutes, as well. Despite not playing in the first half, Gregg Popovich inserted Joseph for Parker early in the third, and the Spurs seemed to feed off his energy. The result: a 7-0 run that put San Antonio up one — a lead that obviously didn’t hold. The Spurs were +12 in the 9 minutes Joseph played — most of which came in garbage time — and he finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds (2 offensive) and an assist.

A white hot team effort by the Heat

All the talk today is on that 3rd-quarter sequence in which LeBron blocked Tiago Splitter at the cup, found an open Allen for a corner 3 and, following a Mike Miller steal, put the game on ice with a 2-hand fast-break slam. And it was every bit as incredible as it sounds.

But Miami got contributions from a lot of players. Chalmers led the way with 19, LeBron had 17, Chris Bosh had 12 (and didn’t spend the whole night camped behind the 3-point line), Allen had 13, Dwyane Wade had 10, and Chris Andersen and Mike Miller each finished with 9. In all, Miami hit 10 3’s, shot close to 50% from the field and only had 6 turnovers — against a Popovich-coached defense.

On to San Antonio

Now, the series shifts to San Antonio. In the Popovich era, the Spurs are 9-2 in home NBA Finals games. The last loss came on June 21, 2005, against a Detroit Pistons’ team that was facing elimination and boasted one of the most complete starting fives in NBA history. Due to the 2-3-2 format, Miami must win at least one game to send this series back to South Florida for a Game 6.

Of course none of those teams — the ’99 New York Knicks, ’03 New Jersey Nets, ’05 Detroit Pistons or ’07 Cleveland Cavaliers — could stack up with these Heat. (Only one had LeBron James, but also started Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden and Sasha Pavlovic.)

Back to the Heat. In the 2 games in Oklahoma City in the 2012 Finals, Miami’s bench tallied a combined 20 points — and 10 of those came from a still-limp Chris Bosh in Game 1; Bosh started Game 2. Miami’s bench scored 57 in the 3 games in Miami — though that stat’s slanted from Erik Spoelstra’s increased use of Norris Cole, a DNP – Coach’s Decision in Game 1, and Mike Miller’s 23-point eruption in Game 5.

Aside from Allen, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer, sniper and new addition to Miami’s bench, can Miami’s role players travel? Will Andersen impact the game on both ends? Will Cole, Miller and, should he play, Shane Battier, a starter on last year’s Finals team, hit open shots?

Then, of course, there’s Chalmers, whose 25 points in Game 4 vs. OKC is perhaps the only reason Russell Westbrook’s 43-point outburst came in a losing effort. ‘Rio scored a combined 15 points in Games 1 and 2 last year.

On San Antonio’s end, the Spurs need something out of Ginobili, who struggled to handle the ball last night. Manu’s failed to reach double-figure scoring in 7 games this postseason, including 5 of his last 8.

Oh, man, this should be fun.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: MIAMI HEAT

February 18, 2013

The defending-champion Heat are, barring a freak injury to LeBron James, odds-on favorites to repeat as NBA champions. LeBron, 28, continues to improve and appears to be nearing his prime; he’s averaging 27.3 points per game, his highest mark since departing Cleveland, and career-highs in rebounds, 8.2, and assists, 6.9. His field goal percentage is an absurd 56.5%, also a career-high, as is his 42% 3-point mark, a 6-point improvement over 2011-12, previously his career high. His 31.5 player-efficiency rating is tops in the league, leading Kevin Durant by 2+ points.

LeBron’s playing unreal basketball right now. As a fan who watched him in Cleveland, he always amazed me with how good he was so early — I mean, he took a Cavaliers team that started Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson and Sash Pavlovic to the NBA Finals — and how easy he made a triple-double look. He’s always been the best driver and finisher since he stepped on the floor in 2003. His mid-range game is a threat, thanks to improved shot selection, and he’s such a streak shooter, that when he gets going from outside, there is absolutely no way to stop him. In his last 10 games, LeBron is averaging 31 points on 62% shooting. Whether it is the confidence he’s gained from winning a championship, his natural progression or both, he’s in line for a 4th MVP award and 2nd ring.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Miami, 36-14 and firmly in control of the East’s top seed, is every bit as good as last year’s championship team, with the additions of impact players Ray Allen and Chris Anderson. Dwyane Wade’s scoring, 21 points a night, is his lowest since his rookie year, but he’s playing efficient ball, with a 50.5% FG shooting that’s a personal best. Wade’s 23.83 PER is 8th-highest in the NBA and tops among 2-guards. And Bosh, the team’s third All Star starter (thanks to Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL), is clocking in with 17.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and a team-leading 1.3 blocks, all while shooting 55.5%. Bosh is 19th in efficiency at 21.4.

Miami has surrounded James with floor-spacers, much like Danny Ferry tried to do in his final years in Cleveland. The Heat shoot the 3 at a 38.6% clip, which trails only Golden State and Oklahoma City. Allen, a 41% shooter, makes 1.6 3’s a game; Shane Battier, a 40% shooter, makes 1.8; Mario Chalmers, also a 40% marksman, makes 1.4. Rashard Lewis, 42%, and Mike Miller, 38%, are also threats from deep when on the floor.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The one (and probably only) concern with Erik Spoelstra’s team has to be defense and rebounding. At 103.2 points per game, Miami has the league’s 5th-ranked scoring offense, but has fallen to 12th in scoring defense, at 96.8 points per game. The Heat are 30th in total rebounding, but a less alarming 19th in differential, -1.4. Spoelstra’s squad is 8th in opponent’s field goal percentage, but 19th in 3-point percentage, largely due a slower Allen. (When Allen and his opponent play 25+ minutes, Miami’s lost the head-to-head efficiency battle 14 of 24 times; in games when Allen’s more efficient, the Heat are 8-2, but when he’s less efficient, the Heat are 7-7.) Last year, Miami only alloted opponents 92.5 points per game, though they also scored 4.7 points less.

The Heat’s rebounding woes can at least be partially attributed to their smaller lineups, when they push James or Battier to the 4, or sometimes even the 5. That’s the main reason I was not really high on the Allen signing this summer, as I thought Miami would be better served to bring in another bruiser. At least until the Anderson signing, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony, the latter of whom is extremely limited offensively, were all the Heat had in that category. (And Haslem only scores 3.7 points per 19.1 minutes, though his jumper at least deserves some respect.)

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Miami’s 3-0 against Brooklyn, but a combined 1-6 against Boston, Indiana, Chicago and New York, two of which will probably see the Heat in the postseason. In their 2 games, New York used its hot shooting, but Indiana and Chicago are each capable of dominating Miami’s smaller frontline. (We forget Indiana had Miami on the ropes in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, up 2-1.) If Derrick Rose returns healthily this season, Chicago could pose a serious threat; Indiana’s run came when Miami was minus Chris Bosh. Miami’s 6-2 against the Western Conference’s top 5 teams, with the only losses coming at Los Angeles and at Memphis in November.

I would be very surprised if Miami did not hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy each of the next 2 years. LeBron is just playing at that dominant of a level right now. But whether Pat Riley can keep this core together past 2013-14, when every player on the team, minus Norris Cole, either has an expiring contract or a player option, remains to be seen. LeBron will be 29 and still in his prime, but Miami’s arguably not the best option for him then, with Battier, Haslem, Allen, Miller and maybe even Wade, now 31, looking at the final years of their career.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — HOUSTON ROCKETS

LeBron’s been linked to the Lakers and Cavaliers, the former of which will be eying its heir apparent to Kobe Bryant and the latter, near his hometown of Akron, will have a young core, headlined by Kyrie Irving, that has serious appeal as a supporting cast. Both teams will be flexible enough financially to throw whatever dollars at him he so desires, at least up to the CBA-dictated max.

But Miami fans do not want to think about that just yet, and rightfully so.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL COVERAGE: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30 SERIES


Dribbles: Garnett trade rumors & Kyrie v. Bosh.

February 4, 2013

A quick look at a few NBA headlines on this Feb. 4.

Clippers reportedly covet Kevin Garnett

In the midst of a 8-game road trip and 2-game losing skid minus star Chris Paul, nursing a knee bruise, L.A. is sliding; in fact, the Clippers, who earlier this season held the NBA’s best record, have slipped to No. 3 in the Western Conference and are only 3.5 games up on the No. 6-seeded Denver Nuggets. So what’s the team with the league’s No. 2-ranked scoring bench to do? Well, stock up on more talent.

Reports surfaced yesterday, with the Clippers actually playing in Boston, that L.A. is interested in Kevin Garnett, potentially offering up a package of Caron Butler, due $8 million this year and next, and young energy-two Eric Bledsoe. A deal shipping Garnett away would give the Celtics some cap relief — Garnett’s due $23.5 million over the next 2 years — and a young stud in Bledsoe to pair with Rondo for years to come. Bledsoe is averaging a career-high 9.3 points a night in 21 minutes, shooting an incredible 45% from the field with freakish athleticism and ability to get to the rim for a 6’1″ guard. Bledsoe, with an 18.77 PER, is 46th in the NBA, only 4 spots behind Garnett.

RELATED: 30 IN 30 — BOSTON CELTICS

But the deal also doesn’t make sense. Garnett has a no-trade clause, and I’m not sure he’d be eager to leave Boston to likely come off the bench behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, though the Clippers could use some reserve frontcourt help. Boston already has a mishmash of displaced guards, namely Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley, who’ve struggled, at least before Rondo’s injury, to find their role in the offense. Garnett, an All Star starter, is still a decent value at $11-12 million a year, and though the deal could help the Celtics avert the luxury tax, Danny Ainge would take on Butler’s $8 million next year.

Boston apparently has received the memo, as recent reports Monday morning say such an exchange is unlikely before the Feb. 21 deadline. (The move’s prospects are also dampened by the fact that Jared Sullinger, an effective rookie PF who was giving the Celtics 20 quality minutes each night, is out for the season after undergoing back surgery Friday.)

Spoelstra likely to start Bosh over Irving in All Star Game

Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat coaching staff are set to coach the Eastern Conference All Stars Feb. 17 in Houston, and recent reports say Spo is favoring starting Chris Bosh over Kyrie Irving as Rajon Rondo’s injury replacement. Such a move would give the Heat 3 of the team’s 5 starters — Dwayne Wade and LeBron James being the obvious other 2 — and probably bump LeBron to point guard.

The Heat staff have earned this luxury by amassing the East’s best record at the season’s midway point, of course, but the numbers do not back his reported decision. Irving’s been the best point guard in the East, if not the NBA (though Chris Paul would likely debate), this season, with a 12th-ranked PER (Bosh is 24) and 24 points per game (Bosh averages 17.3 as the third option) to show for it.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst tweeted there are “several reasons” Spo likely won’t start Irving over Bosh, prompting Conrad Kaczmarek of the great Cavaliers’ blog Fear the Sword to speculate one of those “reasons” could be rumors of a LeBron return to Cleveland should he opt out in 2014. Whatever the case may be, Irving deserves the start on talent alone, and if Spo needs any reminder, I’d show him this clip of Irving’s 13 in the 4th to close out the Oklahoma City Thunder two nights ago.

Yeah, you should start Mr. 4th Quarter, Spo.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — ATLANTA HAWKS

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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