New Orleans Hornets v Miami Heat

Game of the night: A tale of two halves, and the Heat won the last one

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Two such different halves (well, really more like 32 minutes and 16 minutes rather than even halves). One where the Heat fell right into the Hornets’ well-executed game plan. One part where the Heat stopped playing along, the Hornets started missing shots and then it was on for Miami.

The 16 trumped the 32 and Miami won its ninth straight game by double digits, 96-84.

The first half, it was the blue print teams are going to use to beat the Heat this season — you’re going to see variations of it until they are eliminated from the playoffs or David Stern hands them a trophy.

New Orleans did a good job of slowing the tempo down, taking away the transition baskets that have fueled the Heat’s run. On offense that means either making your shots or being such a force on the offensive boards that the Heat have to dedicate more resources to it and they can’t just run. The Hornets did both those things.

One of the few times the Heat did run — a baseball outlet pass to Dwyane Wade — Jarrett Jack was there with the hard foul to stop a breakaway dunk. And sorry, that foul did not deserve a technical.

On defense, the Hornets packed the paint and just dared Miami to take the midrange jumper — and the Heat were too happy to settle for that shot for long stretches of the game.

Here’s the problem with beating the Heat — the Hornets did everything they wanted and they were up just one point at the half. Miami has that much talent. Wade kept the Heat in it during the second with 9 straight at one point oh his way to 24 points in the first half.

In the second half the Hornets shooting woes returned — as a team they shot 17.9 percent in the second half and they were 0-7 from three. It looked like a lot of their games from the last few weeks. I’ll grant you that Miami played a little better defense, but the Hornets are fully capable of shooting that poorly unguarded right now.

Not that the Heat didn’t focus on some things defensively — they did a good job on defending Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll. Which is not easy. But bigs showed and recovered and they took away the simple baskets for the Hornets. In the first half the Hornets hit those harder shots, in the second they missed everything.

The Heat focused on the rebounds — there were plenty to get (Chris Bosh led the way with 11) — and that fueled the transition game. LeBron James started taking on more of the offense in the second half (he finished with 20) and pretty soon there was a late third quarter 6-0 Heat run followed closely by a 12-2 run near the start of the fourth. Then it was over.

It was another game where the Heat’s talent wore the opponent down and they eventually got the style of play they wanted. It is the fourth straight game where Chris Bosh, Wade and LeBron combined to score 75 points or more. It was how they should play nightly. For the Hornets, Chris Paul and David West remain a dangerous pairing but if you can force them to go to option number three there really isn’t a good one. Paul is so good, West such a good fit it can work for them, but only can take them so far.

Too much Stephen Curry, too many threes bury Thunder in Game 7, Warriors win 96-88, advance to Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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For seven games the athleticism and improved defense of the Oklahoma City Thunder smothered nearly everything Golden State tried to do inside the arc. The Thunder length and aggressiveness had them dominating the glass much of the series. Oklahoma City played Golden State below the arc all series long.

But the Warriors owned the three ball.

After a rough shooting first half, the three balls started to fall for Golden State in the second half — many of them contested, the Thunder defense remained stout. The Warriors opened the game 2-of-6 from three, then hit 12 of their next 24 — 10-of-20 in the second half — while the Thunder missed 13 straight at one point.

The Warriors made 10 more threes than the Thunder in Game 7 and — just as it was in Game 6 — that proved to be the difference. The Warriors came from down 3-1 to win Game 7 96-88 and take the series.

Golden State will host Cleveland in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

It took the best run of games these Warriors have put together in two-plus seasons — those are seasons that ended in a championship and included 73 regular season wins — to get that chance to go back-to-back. The Thunder played their best ball in years and forced the Warriors to find another gear.

Stephen Curry, who finished with 36 points and hit 7-of-12 from three, was the difference as he played like the MVP version of himself. That version had been held in check much of the series by the Thunder’s defense, and likely a lingering knee issue (although he would never admit that). All series long Curry had struggled to beat the Thunder bigs who switched onto him off picks, but not in Game 7 when he hit four threes over those bigs, and blew by them and into the lane a host of other times.

Kevin Durant was giving up the ball early in the game, trying to get teammates involved, but late in the fourth he put together a personal 7-0 run that made it a four-point game inside three minutes. Durant was a beast and finished with 27 points to lead the Thunder. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 13 assists.

Early on it felt like it might be the Thunder’s night. It was a disjointed start to the game (as often happens in Game 7s), which helped Steven Adams get a couple of buckets and had the Thunder trying to move the ball. Both teams had jitters and guys are trying to do a little too much, evidence by Curry starting 3-of-8 and Thompson 0-of-4. What OKC did was get six offensive boards in first quarter, which had then up 24-19.

In the second, Waiters came in and played a little out of control but proved to be a spark that had the Thunder pushing the lead up to 13. The Thunder also got solid play early from Enes Kanter, who had eight points and four rebounds in eight minutes. Meanwhile, the Warriors were missing their twos — started 6-of-20 inside the arc — but unlike Game 6 they were missing their threes as well. Play Thompson started 0-of-7.

Then Thompson hit three in a row from beyond the arc, the Warriors’ energy returned, and they went on 11-2 run to make it a game again. Thunder responded with 7-0 run of their own. Then Warriors have 7-0 run to get it to five. By the half, it was 48-42 Oklahoma City.

Golden State came out gunning from three to start the second half and behind a few Curry threes went on a 15-4 run and the Warriors were up 57-54. The Thunder hung around but got sucked into the wrong style of play and they missed 13 consecutive threes at one point. The threes were falling for the Warriors, the Thunder could not buy a bucket, it was a 29-12 third quarter for the Warriors and they were up 71-60. The Warriors felt in control.

But the Thunder played too hard and too well this series to go quietly into that good night. They defended with heart and Durant made plays down the stretch. Just not enough.

Because the Warriors threes kept falling no matter what.

Stephen Curry goes high off the glass at the buzzer just before the half

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Golden State hadn’t shot well all first half — 38.6 percent — and Stephen Curry was 4-of-10 with time running out in half.

Then Curry hit this high, high off the glass to end the half and bring Golden State within six at the break, 48-42.

Notice that Curry grabbed his knee after the shot. He was out for the start of the second half.

Draymond Green pulls Steven Adams down on him in latest tangle between rivals (VIDEO)

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The double personal foul call by the officials here was a cop out.

Either you call Steven Adams for falling on Draymond Green. Or, better yet, you call Green for hooking the arm of Adams and pulling him down on top of him (which could have led to a dislocation).

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Or — my preference — you make it a no call and move along.

But the officials looked at the latest tussle in the Green/Adams rivalry and gave them each a personal foul.

I will add, I think the officials have generally handled this game well and let the players play in a Game 7.

Can Pat Riley convince Hassan Whiteside to take a little less to stay in Miami?

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat reacts after a call against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Miami has a lot of key free agents this summer — Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire — but at the top of the list of guys they want to keep is Hassan Whiteside. Pat Riley said re-signing Whiteside is the Heat’s top priority. The shot-blocking center is at the heart of the style Erik Spoelstra wants to play because of his ability to protect the paint on defense, run the floor, and get buckets at the rim.

He’d fit with a lot of other NBA teams, too. Which is why he is going to get paid a max or near max contract (that and the salary cap spike that means a lot of teams have money to spend). While Whiteside reportedly likes Miami, the challenge for Heat is they do not have his Bird rights so they need to use cap space re-sign him. In an ideal world, Riley could work his magic and get Whiteside to take a little discount, but would he? Barry Jackson laid it out at the Miami Herald.

My understanding, reiterated in recent days, is if all things are equal financially, Whiteside wants to re-sign with Miami. He likes living here and likes the organization.

But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.

But if Miami offers, say, $2 million less per year than max offers elsewhere, what would Whiteside do?  That decision hasn’t been made and it won’t be an easy one.

My guess is the Heat will max out Whiteside if that’s what it takes to keep him. Maybe he would take a discount, maybe not, but in the end, the Heat need him and can’t replace him (Al Horford is a free agent and would cost more, and there isn’t another center nearly as good out there). Are the Heat going to let Whiteside walk and take a significant hit on the court over just a couple million? Probably not.

But with Whiteside and Wade in the fold (they aren’t letting him leave, either, even if it costs them $20 million a year) it’s likely Deng will land elsewhere. Probably the same with Johnson, unless he is willing to take a steep discount to stay (and I wouldn’t bet on that).