Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game One

NBA Playoffs: Heat move ball, make shots, play defense, draw first blood

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Coming into the NBA Finals, everyone was expecting a battle between Dallas’ smooth, sweet-shooting, ball-movement heavy offense and Miami’s aggressive, swarming, athletic, grinding defense.

Not only did the low-scoring game go the way the Heat wanted it to, but the Heat flipped the script on the Mavericks and beat them in the areas Dallas was supposed to have the biggest advantage in: ball movement and three-point shooting. The result was a 92-84 Heat win.

Right from the beginning of the game, it became apparent that the Mavericks haven’t seen a defense like Miami’s in this playoffs, and that it’s going to be a struggle for them to get easy baskets in this series. Miami swarmed the ball-handler, set good traps, brought hard doubles at Dirk Nowitzki whenever he had the ball, overloaded the strong side and recovered back to the weak-side shooters at an impossibly fast rate.

Overall, the Mavericks never got the space they needed to be effective on offense, and only shot 16-45 (35.6%) on two-point jump shots. The Heat didn’t play great offensively either, failing to crack the 40% mark from the field, but they managed to survive by winning the battle on the boards, moving the basketball, and knocking down three-point shots as well as they have all playoffs long.

Every team’s defensive strategy against the Heat is to pack the paint and force Miami to beat them from the outside, and Miami’s shooters have had mixed success when they’ve been asked to knock down the open shots created by Bosh, James, and Wade. Against Dallas and their zone defense, moving the ball and knocking down threes is even more important for Miami than it was against Chicago and Miami, and Miami’s shooters were up to the task.

Mike Bibby made some Miami fans nervous early by missing all four three-point shots he took, with three of those four misses coming in the first quarter, but his teammates were there to pick up the slack. Mario Chalmers came off the bench to pour in three three-pointers without a moment’s hesitation. Mike Miller, who has looked like a completely new man since his breakout game against Chicago, showed no hesitation whatsoever and hit half of his four threes.

LeBron made four of his five threes, with two of those threes coming off the dribble and one of them being a ridiculous 25-foot fadeaway drifting right that took the Heat lead from one to four as the third quarter came to a close. Wade pitched in two threes of his own, including a tough fadeaway with just over three minutes to go that put the Heat up by nine and essentially ended the game.

Miami needed to make Dallas feel their defense and work for every one of their points, and they did. On offense, they needed to move the ball and hit shots to beat Dallas’ zone, and they did. It was only one game, and the Heat didn’t even shoot 40%, but they successfully set a blueprint for what they need to do in order to get past the Mavericks and win LeBron James and Chris Bosh their first rings.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.