Darren Collison, Dwyane Wade

NBA Playoff Preview: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (2 seed)
Indiana 42-24 (3 seed)

SEASON SERIES

Miami Heat 3-1, although the Pacers won the last meeting (during Miami’s March slump) and in the second to last it took Dwyane Wade heroics in overtime to get the Heat the win in a game the Pacers rightfully think they could have won. The first two games Miami ran away and hid.

KEY INJURIES

While there are bumps and bruises on both sides, neither team has a serious enough injury that will cause a player to miss games. Which is pretty amazing for this time of year.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Miami: offense 106.6 (8th); defense 100.2 (4th)
Indiana: offense 106.7 (7th); defense 103.1 (9th)

THREE KEY HEAT:

Chris Bosh: As one of the “Big Three” you kind of always expect him to be one of the key players, but in this case it’s about the defensive end of the floor — Miami likes to go small with Bosh at the center spot, but that will match him up with 7’2” Roy Hibbert. Bosh is going to have to get some defensive stops and help the Heat win with their fast, small lineup.

LeBron James: He was the best player in the first round of the playoffs — 27.8 points per game with 6.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists. But the Pacers will provide a tougher test, where he will be asked to guard former All-Star David West a lot, which is a more complex task than people realize. People are overlooking the Pacers, who are good, but what they lack is a guy LeBron — or anyone who can stop him.

Mike Miller: He could see a lot of minutes in this series with a mismatch — the Pacers like to hide David West on defense and Miller could be the matchup, which means Miller may get some quality perimeter looks. Also, The Pacers are going to try and make this a grind-it-out, slow series and if they do get the Heat in the half court and clog the lane Miller’s ability to get points from beyond the arc will be key.

THREE KEY PACERS:

Roy Hibbert: Size is the key for the Pacers in this series — Miami doesn’t have anyone who can guard 7’2” Roy Hibbert inside (Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony are too small) and he can play right over the top of them. He had 15 points and a dunk on LeBron in the Pacers regular season win and he is key one of the keys to making their offense work against the Heat.

David West: He is the other key to making this work for the Pacers. He’s the guy that sets the screens for point guard George Hill, but then he likes to slip them early and slide inside. What makes him dangerous is he can shoot — either at the rim or with a very good midrange game — plus he is an excellent passer. When he gets the ball inside and kicks out (and the Pacers are knocking down their shots) they are hard to stop. Miami has athletes but they can’t run as fast as the ball is passed.

George Hill: He is the guy that makes the Pacers offense go since taking over the starting point guard role, but he (and Danny Granger) are going to be severely tested at both ends in this series because of the athleticism the Heat bring to the table. If the Pacer perimeter players get away from the game plan and the Pacers stop playing inside out they are toast in this series. Size is the Pacers advantage. Hill has to keep the Pacers on task.

OUTLOOK

Big vs. small. Up-tempo vs. grind it out. This series is a contrast of styles and interesting matchups, and if Heat fans think they will roll through Indiana like they did the Carmelo-led Knicks they are in for a surprise, the Pacers are a better team and present a lot more challenges.

Indiana runs its offense through Hibbert and West, both by getting them the ball in the block or getting the ball to West rolling after he sets the pick for George Hill. Both are not easy to defend for the Heat and if you bring the double on West (and Hibbert) they will pass out to open three point shooters who can knock down shots. Miami has athletes who can disrupt and create turnovers but the Pacers are more disciplined than the Heat and if they don’t turn the ball over and grind it out they can win games.

The flip side of that big lineup is that Hibbert is in trouble trying to guard Bosh 15 feet from the hoop, and the Pacers do not have guys who match up well with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Danny Granger will try but he is going to struggle with Wade and Granger — the Pacers leading scorer in the regular season — may find points hard to come by.

In the end, the Heat are going to learn how to impose their small-ball style on this series and make enough defensive plays to win. It will not be a cake walk but they are the better team.

PREDICTION

Heat in six. Miami wins but the Pacers gain respect.

Kevin Durant entering free agency on sour note

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hugs Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors after losing 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)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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The superstar free agent enters the offseason with three straight playoff losses, a once-promising season ended in devastating fashion.

Kevin Durant? Yes.

LeBron James in 2010? Also yes.

Will Durant follow LeBron’s lead and leave the team that drafted him?

Those Cavaliers didn’t beat the 67-15 Spurs. They didn’t push the 73-9 Warriors to a Game 7. They didn’t have Russell Westbrook.

And, of course, Durant isn’t LeBron.

But the Thunder must feel sick about letting this opportunity slip away – not just a trip to the Finals, but a chance to remind Durant of their virtues. Golden State – a leading suitor for Durant – undid so much of the progress Oklahoma City made in the postseason with this comeback from down 3-1, capped with a 96-88 win tonight.

“We just lost like 30 minutes ago,” Durant said. “So, I don’t have any thought about it.”

For much of the playoffs the Thunder did everything they could to convince Durant to stay. They carved up the Mavericks, overpowered the Spurs and outraced the Warriors through the Western Conference finals’ first four games. It seemed no team could offer Durant a better situation.

Now, it’s as tempting as ever to imagine Durant with Golden State.

Durant must weigh what joining the team that beat him would do to his image, but there’s no doubt that the Warriors are better than the Thunder. There can’t be after a 16-win difference in the regular season and these last three games. Oklahoma City might flip the script next season if Durant re-signs, but he must also assess how much better Golden State would be with him. At minimum, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson not guarding him anymore.

The Thunder didn’t do their part to send Durant into free agency on a high note, but he did all he could. Unlike LeBron in 2010, Durant didn’t shrink from the moment of his high-pressured closeout game with free agency looming. Durant scored 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting against those elite defenders, including a late personal 7-0 run that cut the deficit to four points.

Then, Stephen Curry scored six straight – drawing a foul on a 3-pointer and hitting a 3-pointer – to put the game out of reach. These Warriors are special. Durant has to see that.

Not that he’s focused on Golden State (or the Spurs, Celtics, Rockets or…). This loss is too raw.

“It hurts losing,” Durant said. “It hurts losing, especially being up three games to one.

“It sucks to lose. It sucks.”

How long will that feeling last, and how strongly will Durant associate it with Oklahoma City? The Thunder can offer more money, but one of their biggest selling points is their team success – and that seems like a distant memory. Right now, Oklahoma City is on a three-game losing streak that won’t be snapped before Durant signs somewhere.

Durant will weigh the prudent details, but his will be an emotional decision. Where does he feel most comfortable?

There’s plenty of time to decide. Free agency begins July 1, and he’ll surely want to meet with teams before finalizing a choice.

The Thunder have done him well for years, and they’d remain elite with him.

But they can’t feel good with this being Durant’s final image of their season – victorious Warrior after victorious Warrior hugging Durant and consoling him on Oklahoma City’s third straight failure.

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 owning the paint and dominating the glass much of the series. Oklahoma City outplayed Golden State below the arc all series long.

But the Warriors owned the three ball.

“They beat us from the 3-point line the last two games, we beat them from everywhere else,” Kevin Durant said after Game 7.

After a rough shooting first half (again), the three balls started to fall for Golden State in the second half of Game 7 Monday — 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.

“I knew we were ready for the moment,” Stephen Curry said after the game. “I knew we were a mature basketball team that tried our best to not listen to the noise outside. Six or seven days ago when we were down 3-1 everybody thought the wheels were falling off and it was the end of our run, but not the locker room. The talk was positive, it was let’s figure this out, let’s go out and take it one game at a time, claw our way back into the series, and see what happens.”

It took the best run of games these Warriors have put together in two-plus seasons — a stretch that included a championship and 73 regular season wins — to get past OKC and back to the Finals. The Thunder’s improved defense and great scoring  forced the Warriors to find another gear.

But Golden State always had the three ball to bail them out. Look at their shot chart from Game 7.

Warriors Game 7 shot chart

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 and finding teammates early in the game, trying to get others 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. They just didn’t have the threes to keep up with the Warriors.

Early on it in Game 7 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. Durant made his push, they crashed the glass, they defended with heart and 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).

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

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.