Game of the night: Paul Millsap goes Reggie Miller and the Jazz beat the Heat

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It is still one of the greatest basketball highlights out there — Reggie Miller scoring eight points in nine seconds against the Knicks.

Paul Millsap kind of looked like Reggie at the end of regulation in the Jazz’s Monday night’s game against the Heat — a much, much thicker version of Miller, but the unbelievable tying of the game felt the same.

Millsap hit two three pointers — the third and fourth of his career — and tipped in the tying shot as the clock expired to send Monday night’s game into overtime, where eventually the Jazz upset the Heat 16-114.

Millsap’s late game heroics are half the story here, the other half is how the Jazz got back into this one. For once, the Miami offense shouldn’t be the question mark, their defense should.

But first this note: Somewhere Wednesday, in some newspaper or some corner of the Internet, a writer is going to say that three losses in their first eight shows that the Heat have been overrated, that they are not that good. That writer will be wrong. This start may be a disappointment to those who expected 72 wins and a waltz to the title, but what it really is about is the reality of learning to play together and win in the NBA. This league is hard.

The Heat have some flaws, particularly on the inside defensively, that a few teams can exploit. But even most those teams need some luck to make it come together. It will take time to come together in Miami.

The Heat came out early in this one trying to make sure the “lost” Chris Bosh found his way — he had seven of the team’s first 19 points. Meanwhile the Jazz players should have had to join a mason’s union for all the bricks they were laying, shooting 2-18 to start. The Heat were up 21 at the half and they seemed to put on the cruise control. Jerry Sloan teams know not of coasting.

The NBA is all about mismatches — players that can create them and teams that understand how to use them. The Jazz understand. They figure out what works and keep pointing on the sore spot.

In this case, that was Millsap and the fact Bosh could not cover him. What kind of night was it for Millsap? The man now has made four three pointers in his NBA career — and three of them came in the fourth quarter against the Heat. He hit 19 of 28 shots but it was not all right around the rim (he hit 7 of his 8 shots there), it was him going 6 of 13 from the midrange and 6 for 6 from 16 feet and beyond.

What’s more, the Jazz started playing much better defense inside the paint, taking away the easy buckets in the paint — Bosh had just 4 points and 3 rebounds in the second half. The Heat became jump shooters.

LeBron put up a triple double, but let’s not call this a great game from him. He was 1-8 shooting from outside the paint and he settled for that jumper too much.

It took all of that for the Jazz to climb back in this one, and they still needed the highly unlikely Millsap goes Miller just to force overtime.

It’s not going to be easy to beat the Heat, but any intimidation factor, any aura of invincibility is now gone.

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.