NBA Playoffs: Heat’s lack of discipline ends their season

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The Miami Heat were the most talented team in the NBA this past season. They were two fourth-quarter collapses away from sweeping the NBA Finals. None of that matters after they lost Game 6 by a final score of 105-95, and the series by a final score of 4-2.

Miami’s losses in Game 2 and Game 4 can be directly traced back to atrocious late-game execution on both ends of the floor and inexcusable performances from LeBron James. Miami had chances to win Game 5, but that game was ultimately decided by a red-hot Dallas shooting performance that the Heat had little hope of matching.

So what happened in Game 6? The Heat, a team capable of doing anything, failed to do the most basic of basketball tasks throughout the night, and their lack of fundamental execution ultimately ended their season.

Miami looked nervous all game long, and while their offense didn’t go stagnant because of too much one-on-one play, it did often evolve into a game of “hot potato,” with the Heat forcing passes left and right and committing a series of turnovers that ultimately destroyed them. Miami gave the ball up 17 times on Sunday, and those turnovers led to an incredible 27 points for the Mavericks. Miami was supposed to be the best fast-break team in the league, but Dallas punished the Heat in transition all series long thanks to their superior discipline.

Miami’s lack of discipline didn’t only show up when they tossed the ball away. With the pressure on them, the Heat failed to do one of the most fundamental and simple tasks in basketball: make free throws. Miami had Dallas in foul trouble for nearly the duration of the game, but missed a stunning 13 free throws, which turned a 15-free throw disparity into only eight extra points for the Heat.

On both offense and defense, the Heat repeatedly simply gave up possessions that they should have treated like the most important things on the planet. Wade, who had carried the Heat through the first five games of the series, was on tilt in Game six, forcing up inexcusable deep jumpers and trying to attack the basket wildly when the lanes weren’t there for him. LeBron James tried, but he had some inexcusable turnovers of his own, most of which were the result of over-passing or trying to force a drive instead of taking an open jumper.

The Heat also let their tempers flare up when they should have been focused on the task at hand. Directly after an impressive 14-0 run that dug Miami out of a 12-point deficit in the first half, Udonis Haslem allowed DeShawn Stevenson to engage him in an altercation, and Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony both made things work by coming into the conflict. Dallas had already called a time-out, but the extra delay and Dallas technical free throw that resulted from the fracas sapped all the momentum that the Heat had going for them. A Wade technical on a charging call that didn’t go his way later in the game made things even clearer: Miami was clearly rattled after losing three of its past four games and having fourth-quarter leads in all of them.

The Heat also failed to box out at key times, and while the Mavericks only ended up with one more offensive board than the Heat did, several of those offensive boards came in the fourth quarter, when the Heat desperately needed to get the ball and try and get their offense going.

In the end, what did the Heat in wasn’t a poorly-constructed roster or proper offensive and defensive strategy. It was their mentality. With the Heat’s talent, they should have coldly and methodically carved through the NBA all season long and put Dallas away when they had the chance to win an NBA championship. Instead, they allowed themselves to have a roller coaster of a regular season marked by poor late-game execution and losses to elite teams, gritted through the first three rounds of the playoffs thanks to stifling defense and heroic late-game play, and blew the NBA Finals.

The Heat have the right roster pieces to win the championship next season, assuming it occurs. Spolestra is more than capable as a coach. Their stars have shown that they are capable of playing together on both ends of the floor. But if they want to reach their ultimate goal, they are going to have to tighten things up next season. They can’t forget to play defense on the nights their offense is rolling. They can’t let teams back into games by committing silly fouls. They can’t try to get caught up in macho posturing in an NBA Finals elimination game. They can’t throw the ball away when it matters most. They can’t miss free throws.

In 2011, the Heat showed that they have enough talent to win a champions. In 2012, the Heat will have to show that they have the maturity and discipline to be champions.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

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Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.

Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee undergoes surgery to fix core-muscle injury

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DENVER — Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee underwent surgery to fix a core-muscle injury.

The team said Plumlee had the procedure performed Thursday morning by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

Plumlee is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and be ready for training camp in the fall. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed out on the postseason.

The 28-year-old Plumlee was acquired by Denver as part of a deal in February 2017 that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Nuggets last September.