Celtics-Heat Game 5: Erik Spoelstra vs. the depths of pressure

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The thing you have to understand is that I don’t think you can really study Erik Spoelstra and think he’s a bad coach. His preparation, his devotion, his work ethic, his approach, most of his tactics, and his overall intelligence make it pretty hard to validate what so many people say about him, just because he’s at the head of a team they hate, one he didn’t assemble, ask for, or prematurely celebrate with.

And he seems like a genuinely great guy.

Which is why it’s really hard to write this, and I take zero pleasure in it. Spoelstra’s spent his entire career in pro basketball in Miami. He worked his way up from video guy sleeping in the tape room to head coach of the most talked about team in the world.  So the fact that he may wind up being the fall guy is just brutal.

But there’s just no way around it. Erik Spoelstra has gotten worked in this series. Now, that’s no terrible damnation. Phil Jackson was worked by Rivers in 2008. Stan Van Gundy in 2010. Rivers is a brilliant motivator who has also gotten really incredibly good at tactical adjustments. But in a series like this you look at what cost Miami a game they could have won. And Spoelstra’s decisions account for a lot.

For starters, Joel Anthony was a DNP-CD Tuesday night. Anthony wasn’t going to make a huge difference in the game. But in a game where the Heat were slaughtered late by offensive rebounds and Kevin Garnett inside, Anthony might have helped. Instead, Spoelstra elected to play Udonis Haslem heavy minutes, despite Chris Bosh saying he was ready. They needed a presence inside, Spo turned to reliable, safe Haslem, who the Celtics funneled the ball to and watched him drop it. This isn’t Haslem’s fault, he’s not an offensive weapon (and surely Anthony would have done no better at catching and finishing), but he’s also out-sized. Spoelstra wanted a small lineup to battle the Celtics’ small lineup, not factoring that with KG, their small lineup was bigger than Miami’s.

Since Game 2, Spoelstra hasn’t been able to counter the Celtics’ use of Garnett and Boston’s counter to the Heat’s front. When the Celtics adjusted to the Heat fronting Garnett, Spoelstra did not throw different looks at them. He did not switch up his coverage. He just did more of it. And watched the 900-year-old Garnett decimate them. Garnett has played his face off in these Conference Finals, beyond what he’s done all year and is an all-time great. The Heat also opened up a welcome sign for him in the paint.

And then late, he’s running plays with LeBron James standing in the corner. Some of this is on James. But even looking back to last year’s semifinals when James nailed key three-pointers over Boston, they were off the dribble, gauging the defense. Spot-up? Not so much. But those were the looks James got in the fourth. They needed to activate their MVP, create space by any means necessary. Instead they let Wade trying and slice through four Celtics defenders. Another fail.

The motivation matters, too. Spoelstra told Doris Burke on ESPN in the interview before the fourth that Boston had “got into (Miami’s) mind a little bit.” He actually said this. On national television. In the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not that he said it, it’s that he was so obviously wrapped up in it happening. The Heat were frustrated and falling apart and Spoelstra couldn’t pull them out of it. That matters. Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe they should be able to on their own. But he’s part of it.

So Spoelstra has been worked over, and it’s a crushing assessment of a guy who never asked for this. But he’s here, it’s his responsibility, and if someone is likely to take the fall this summer should the probable happen and Boston close them out in Game 6, it’s going to be Spoelstra. Spoelstra didn’t collapse, the Heat did. But Spoelstra just hasn’t done enough to help the Heat win this series. Someone has to be held accountable.

And we know it won’t be LeBron.

Check out the 100 best crossovers of last season (VIDEO)

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Do you have 22 minutes to watch the 100 best crossovers of last season? It’s Monday, of course you do. It’s either that or work.

Here they are, as compiled by the fine folks at NBA.com. Enjoy. And don’t be shocked that Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook have the top spots.

And if you must go into the comments and complain that technically not all of these are crossovers, go ahead, but it doesn’t change anything. It’s like saying there is only one way to make a proper matzo ball soup — there are a lot of variations (I like it with dill in the broth), and they all can be delicious. Just enjoy it.

Cavaliers name Koby Altman full-time general manager

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CLEVELAND (AP) The Cavaliers have named Koby Altman their full-time general manager.

Altman’s promotion had been expected for days and was made official on Monday. The 34-year-old has been serving as Cleveland’s interim GM this summer after David Griffin parted ways with the club following the NBA Finals.

Altman has been with the club since 2012. He will be the fifth GM for owner Dan Gilbert since 2005.

Gilbert said he’s been impressed with the job Altman has done over the past five weeks and said he “has the credentials, knowledge, experience and instincts to be an outstanding general manager. … I am confident that Koby is equipped and prepared to lead and succeed in this dynamic environment.”

Altman is taking charge during an interesting juncture for the Cavs. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving recently asked to be traded and LeBron James is heading into his final season under contract.

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

Report: Derrick Rose commits to sign with Cleveland Cavaliers

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It looks like former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Rumors have been swirling all week about Rose, who could be a backup or big-minute replacement for Kyrie Irving, who reportedly wants to be traded away from LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

According to reports released on Monday from Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, Rose has committed to sign with the Cavaliers after completing a physical. Rose will be paid $2.1 million on a one-year contract.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers have had one of the weirder offseasons, and while adding Rose isn’t necessarily the strangest thing they have done, it could be a larger signal for the rest of the league with regard to what direction the team is going to go.

Rose played OK in New York last season, and would be well suited as a backup bench spark for a contending team if he found the right fit. The Cavaliers will likely try him out in lineups with Lebron, but how he fits in as of the end of July isn’t quite clear. Will he be a backup? Will he be the de facto starter if Irving is no longer on the team come opening night?

The 2017 NBA offseason has been endlessly interesting, and this move is another in a long series of twists and turns.

Report: Spurs paying Pau Gasol about $16 million each of next two years

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The Spurs got Pau Gasol to decline his $16,197,500 player option, allowing them to chase major free agents. They didn’t take advantage of that flexibility, so they’re re-signing Gasol to make him whole – and then some.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Sources: Free agent Pau Gasol’s deal to return to Spurs: three years, $48M with a partial guarantee on final year

If Gasol’s 2018-19 salary is guaranteed – strongly implied by this report – this is a bad contract.

The 37-year-old Gasol, still a nice player, isn’t worth $16 million this season in a tight center market. It’s fine to pay him that much given the circumstances of his opt out. But to guarantee him a similar amount – salary-cap rules dictate his 2018-19 salary be within 5% of his 2017-18 salary – at age 38 is an awful choice.

Especially for San Antonio, which was shaping up to have massive flexibility next summer.

The Spurs can still have significant cap room if LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and/or Rudy Gay opt out. But then they wouldn’t have Aldridge, Green or Gay. So, the more space to upgrade, the better. San Antonio just cut about $16 million from that maneuverability.

Kawhi Leonard is a 26-year-old superstar who has proven his ability to thrive deep into the playoffs. Instead of aggressively working to add talent to chase another championship, the Spurs are surrounding him with the status-quo declining-veteran supporting cast.

That was acceptable this year, once Chris Paul chose the Rockets. But to commit about $16 million toward a similar team in 2018 is a major mistake.