NBA Playoffs: Heat advance to the Eastern Conference Finals behind Wade’s 41 points

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Exactly one week ago, Dwyane Wade was held to five points on 2-13 shooting as the Pacers mauled the at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take a 2-1 series lead. Tonight, Wade flipped script on the Pacers, and ended their season in the process as the Heat won game 6 by a final score of 105-93.

Wade was absolutely electric in Game 6 in a way that only Wade can be. When Wade’s mid-range jumper is working, he’s almost completely impossible to stop, and his jumper was working like gangbusters. Wade went glass from mid-range time and time again, and the results were positive, to say the least — Wade made all 8 of his mid-range jumpers from the left side of the court, which allowed him to get into the paint with impunity and completely pick apart the Pacers’ defense. Wade finished with 41 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 17-25 from the floor, and his offensive onslaught is the primary reason why the Heat won Game 6.

LeBron James didn’t match Wade’s output, but he had an excellent game as well, recording 28 points, 6 rebounds, and a game-high 7 assists for the Heat. It’s not often that you’ll see a 3-time MVP put up that kind of a statline in a close-out playoff game and be a complete non-story after the game, but that’s what makes this Heat team so unique.

With LeBron and especially Wade both having great games, the Heat didn’t need much out of their supporting cast, and they got what they needed from the three-point shooting of Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers has been inconsistent throughout the playoffs, and the perpetually banged-up Mike Miller has been a massive disappointment throughout his time with the Heat, but the two combined to make all seven of Miami’s three-pointers on just 11 attempts between them. Miller’s shooting in particular was a pleasant surprise — Miller shot 4-7 from beyond the arc, which is just the third time Miller has made four or more threes in a game since signing with the Heat.

Shane Battier came back to earth in a major way in Game 6 — he was forced to play 40 minutes thanks to Udonis Haslem and only shot 1-7 from the field while allowing David West to score 24 points on 10-16 shooting, but Chalmers and Miller were able to pick up the slack for him and give LeBron and Wade enough support to close out the series.

Outside of strong performances from West and George Hill, who finished the game with 18 points, the Pacers didn’t have much going for them. Roy Hibbert had just 12 points on 8 field goal attempts. Danny Granger shot 6-14. The Pacer bench was outscored by Miami’s. The Pacers are a young, deep, good team that had a serious chance in this series, especially after Bosh went down, but they ultimately simply didn’t have the firepower to keep up with what James and Wade were able to do. This is a very, very, good basketball team, but they might need a lot of things to go their way if they ever want to seriously contend for a championship with their relative lack of star power.

Miami will now move onto the Eastern Conference Finals against either the Celtics or the 76ers, and will almost certainly be sizable favorites against either team, even though early reports indicate that Chris Bosh will not be back for either of the first two games of the series. Miami should feel good about this series victory, and neither Boston or Philadelphia looks all that menacing right now, but this is no time for the Heat to rest on their laurels. They’re still missing the 3rd member of their “big three,” they’re about to go up against one of the 3 best defensive teams in the league this season, and they’re only one home loss in the first two games away from finding themselves on the back foot in the series. And the Heat know better than anyone that any finish other than a championship will be a complete failure for them.

Kevin Durant coming up ‘big’ for Warriors

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DETROIT – Soft. Scared. Cupcake.

Kevin Durant can’t help but hear his detractors.

“They’re trying psychoanalyze me when they don’t know me,” Durant said. “So, it’s like you have more information about the game of basketball than you do me as a person. So, ‘you’re soft,’ ‘cupcake,’ all that stuff comes from trying figure me out as a person, not worrying about my basketball skills. But if you watch me on the basketball court, then you come up with your own observation.”

That on-court observation no longer jibes with the unflattering perception of his mindset.

Durant’s height has long been a fascination. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but he’s almost certainly taller. Durant once said he’s 7-foot when he talks to women. “He’s 7 feet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says plainly.

Durant just didn’t play like it.

He entered the NBA as a finesse player. He couldn’t bench press 185 pounds a single time his pre-draft combine, and he spent his rookie year in Seattle playing shooting guard – as far from the paint as a player so tall could get.

Never mind that Durant improved greatly with the Thunder as a defender and rebounder, skills that require physicality. And never mind that he was a superstar on the perimeter, giving little reason to alter his style.

When he left Oklahoma City – where he settled in at small forward – for Golden State, Durant’s on- and off-court reputations merged to form a single image. Afraid of contact, afraid of competition.

Durant is making it much harder for his critics to paint him that way. He’s playing more like a traditional big than ever.

His 2.1 blocks per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward since Andrei Kirilenko and Josh Smith more than a decade ago (minimum: two games). His 5.3 post touches per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward in the NBA.com database (which dates back to 2013-14).

“Getting in the mix with the bigs a little bit, I think that’s one role that I always wanted to play and always appreciated about my teammates in the past – from Kendrick Perkins to Thabo Sefolosha to Draymond to David West to Serge Ibaka,” Durant said. “I appreciated those guys for doing the dirty work and allowing me to be the player that I am on the offensive end.”

The Warriors are spoiled to have Durant assume this responsibility.

Many of his post touches come on split cuts, an action Kerr popularized in Golden State. A player – often Andrew Bogut when Kerr first implemented the play – posts up while a teammate screens for another teammate on the perimeter. Most teams would kill to have a shooter like Durant set or receive the screen. But the Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to do that. So, Durant serves as the post man, surveying the screen carnage and occasionally just taking matters into his own hands. This video from Eric Apricot of Golden State of Mind excellently shows a few variations:

Defensively, Durant has become more comfortable defending power forwards and centers. Sometimes, he blocks their shots:

Other times, guarding a big just positions Durant to protect the basket:

“He’s just being active,” Kerr said. “When he’s active on the weak side of the play, he’s a devastating defender.”

Durant still just bottles up an opponent in a traditional wing matchup for him and blocks a jumper. He also blocks shots in transition.

But he leads non-centers, non-power forwards with 4.8 shots defended at the rim per game (minimum: two games). His block numbers aren’t telling a misleading story. Durant is doing work in the paint.

It helps that the league has shifted toward small-ball. When the slender Durant matches up against fours and fives, his opponents aren’t as big as they would have been a few years ago.

The Warriors played Durant at center to great effect in last year’s Finals, and it’d be a shock if they didn’t turn to him there again in high-leverage situations.

Make no mistake, though: Durant remains a generational perimeter player. He’s a dead-eye shooter with tight handles and jaw-dropping fluidity. Whatever time Durant spends moonlighting as an interior player, he can always switch into the style that made him a future Hall of Famer in the first place.

His ability to play both ways just makes him even more dangerous.

Still, Durant has made his name as a small forward. He says he has always played the role coaches gave him, but it’s tough to look past the fears of Kevin Garnett, another skilled tall player who worried when he was younger he’d get pigeonholed inside if he were listed as a 7-footer. As we talked, Durant picked up on my line of questioning and interjected.

“You trying to turn me into a four guy?” Durant said.

“Maybe even a five,” I said.

“Maybe,” Durant. “I don’t know. Maybe. That’s the way the league is going.”

Listen to what LeBron James told Lonzo Ball on court (video)

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LeBron Jameson-court conversation with Lonzo Ball after the Cavaliers beat the Lakers last night quickly became a fascination.

With LeBron-to-the-Lakers rumorsfueled by Ball himself – swirling, did LeBron tip his plans for free agency?

Here’s what LeBron said after the game:

LeBron:

I don’t see the reaction, because I don’t get involved in it. I don’t do it to get a reaction.

I do it because he’s said over and over since he was growing up and who he modeled his game after. And who was his favorite player? And it was me, and I was humbled by that. So me wishing him a happy birthday was kind of a salute back to him.

I see all the stupid noise that happens, and I can’t buy a place in L.A. I can’t live in L.A. It’s funny noise. But I don’t get involved in it, because when I post things, I don’t look at comments. I’m so far removed of the white noise and the noise doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me.

Were you mentoring Ball or giving him advice? LeBron:

None of y’all business.

Unfortunately for LeBron, a microphone picked up most of the conversation (hat tip: reddit user IT-3):

LeBron, best I can tell:

Find your zone and just stay f—ing locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day.

It’s white noise to you. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.

LeBron was never going to say something controversial in front of all those cameras. He knows better, especially after attention drawn by his on-court conversation with Dwyane Wade a few years ago.

Unsurprisingly, LeBron’s words directly to Ball mirror what he told the media after the game. There’s no secret plot here – just someone who has been in the spotlight for years trying to help someone going through it now.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard:

Kevin Durant kisses fan hit by ball (video)

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Kevin Durant‘s final line in the Warriors’ win over the Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks… and one kiss.

He has done this before.