Dallas finally runs out of comebacks in Game 3 of the Finals

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The Mavericks have made a living off of big comebacks to get to this point in the postseason, but at some point, constantly fighting back from behind gets to be too much.

That point may have been reached in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday, when Dallas, for the second consecutive game, erased all of a 14-point Miami lead in the second half, but couldn’t finish the job as the Heat held on for an 88-86 victory that put the Mavericks at a two games to one disadvantage in the series.

Instead of trailing big late and making a startling comeback as they did in Game 2, the Mavs were seemingly behind all night long, and had to make multiple runs to close the gaps.

“I really believe the fact that we were digging out of holes all night was something that, you know, it was difficult to overcome,” Rick Carlisle said afterward, in a press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com.

On this night, it proved to be impossible.

Dallas saw a seven-point deficit at the end of the first quarter increase to 12 early in the second. They cut it to five a few minutes later, and then Miami ran it up to 14, before Dallas shaved it down once again to five by halftime.

The Heat opened the second half on an 8-0 run to push it back to 13, before Dallas was finally able to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Mavericks’ lead — the team’s first of the game since there was 3:28 to play in the first quarter — lasted exactly one possession, and was followed by back-to-back three-pointers from LeBron James and Mario Chalmers which quickly gave Miami yet another cushion.

The Heat’s lead reached as many as seven again in the final period before Dallas made its final run, and found itself down two with possession and 4.4 seconds remaining. Dirk Nowitzki got the ball as time was winding down, but went up for a tough fadeaway from 16 feet out that was heavily contested, and he threw it away trying to pass it off as time expired.

There’s no question that Dallas had its chances late, and in a game decided by just two points, there are a lot of things you can point to as reasons you came up short. But constantly having to battle back from behind all game long is physically and emotionally draining, and may have had a real effect on the missed open looks down the stretch.

“We can’t always fall down behind,” Nowitzki said. “I think we’re always reacting.  We did in the first quarter, we fell down big.  Third quarter we came out slow, fell down big.  Obviously it takes a lot of energy for us to fight back.

“We all understand that basketball is a game of runs.  We have to stop the runs a little quicker.  We can’t go down 15 all the time and battle back.  You can get like a five, six‑point swing here and there.  We can’t always get in a deep hole like that.”

As always, there are plenty of tangible reasons that the Mavericks lost Game 3. Dwyane Wade was spectacular for the second straight game, and he got plenty of help from James and Chris Bosh, as well as some critical minutes from Mario Chalmers off the bench. Meanwhile, Dallas struggled to get anywhere near efficient production from anyone not named Nowitzki. The only other two Mavericks in double figures, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, combined for 25 points, but needed 25 shots to get there.

Dallas has shown they can compete with Miami in this series. We can sit here and pick apart the Mavs’ woeful team offense beyond Dirk, and lament the fact that Wade and James got into the paint for easy opportunities seemingly at will, especially in the first half. But the bottom line is, it was a one-possession game in the final seconds, and the Mavs had the ball in the hands of their best player with a chance to tie or win the game at the buzzer.

I think if you told either team beforehand that’s how things would play out for them, they’d like their chances. The Mavericks have to like theirs as the series continues, but only if they can find a way to turn things around, and put the Heat on the wrong end of those early-game deficits.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?