End of game execution — their best players stepping up in the clutch.
That was the modus operandi Boston’s “big three” of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce for years. They were better than you at both ends when it mattered most. That is why championship banner 17 flies in Boston.
Miami’s “big three” got together this summer for the first time and through the start of the season their end of game execution was ugly. Their execution against the best defenses was ugly. They lost because of it.
That story has flipped.
In the final two games, the Heat big three outscored the Celtics big three 40-9 in the fourth quarter (stat via ESPN’s research team). In Game 5, it was 23-2 Heat big three in the fourth quarter, with the Heat’s trio hitting 8-of-13 to the Celtics’ 1-of-9.
That is why Miami is moving on and Boston is heading home. Not just in the Heat’s 16-0 run to end the game, nor just in LeBron scoring the last 10 by himself. It was evident in athleticism and energy.
When Miami is going well they get their shots inside or they get good look threes. Both are set up off dribble penetration and that’s what the Heat did at the end of Game 5 (stats again via ESPN) — in the final 3:43 they got into the paint for four shots (two dunks). They took three shots from three and hit them all. Those are the efficient shots, it’s taking too many midrange shots that is a team’s undoing (unless that team is the Mavericks).
Boston also only took threes and shots in close in that same time, they just couldn’t hit. That and they had three turnovers. It was a matter of execution under pressure.
The story flipped. This series it was the Heat that owned the end of key games, they won by dealing better with crunch time. Just one of the ways it feels like the torch has been passed from one big three to another.
It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?
Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.
When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.
“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”
That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.
LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)
LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.
Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.
As usual, the devil is in the details.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:
- Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
- Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
- Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them
There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.
Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.
But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.
The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.
The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.
Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.
Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:
Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.
Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.
But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.
Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.
In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.
76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.
Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.
Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”
“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”
“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”
“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”
We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.
Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.
Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.
At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.