2012 NBA Finals Game 3: 20 observations as the series shifts to South Beach

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Here are twenty observations about the 2012 NBA Finals through two games as the series shifts to Miami for a three-game set.

1. First, and really, this can’t be stressed enough, the 2-3-2 format is horrible. I get why. I do. You don’t want the Finals dragging in for an entire month. But here’s the thing. And you don’t want to put teams on a two-day travel schedule during the Finals, even though you just got done putting them through the same for the Conference Finals, but whatever. Here’s my issue. If you went to the same schedule as a normal playoff series, only with adding an extra day in for travel, the series, if carried out to seven games, which is rare, would end on the 28th. Yes, that’s the same day the draft is scheduled. But that’s in an outlier lockout year. This same schedule for the Finals applies every year.

Having homecourt advantantage in a series is just that, you’re supposed to have a slight edge by having one more home game. But the 2-3-2 effectively rewards the higher seed by giving them an extra home game and punishes the other team by saddling them with a three-game set at home. Winning those three in a row is nearly impossible. The NBA would do well to fix this thing. It’s just not worth the impact on the series.

2.  This, considering context, is one of the most amazing blocks I’ve ever seen.

Which almost makes the twelve pumfakes Ibaka fell for and the half dozen rotations he missed totally fine.

3. The Thunder have an interior rotation problem, and it’s not just Kendrick Perkins, though he’s been especially bad. The gap between Perkins on and off court for OKC is wideer, but the Thunder are still better with Ibaka off than on as well, a +6.9 mark to +5.4 with him on. Even Nick Collison struggled in Game 2 with his usual brand of low-stats, high-impact performance.

A lot of it, honestly, is Chris Bosh. Bosh, for all the grief he’s taken, is still a pretty good player, and when he’s giving the kind of effort he has in these playoffs, both before and after his abdominal injury, he’s a tough cover. Perkins gets blown by by Bosh, Ibaka loses him on the pump fake or can’t maintain his spacing to contest the mid-range jumper, and Collison winds up fouling him. Ultimately, this may just have to be something the Thunder live with. We thought interior play was going to be a big advantage for OKC. Not so much.

4. It says a lot about the state of the positional revolution sourced by Free Darko that this series exists. You have two teams throwing small-ball lineups at one another for long stretches. One thing that does bug me is this description of Shane Battier as playing power forward. To say that Battier is playing the 4 because he winds up guarding a big is lost, because there are so many switches and cross-matches in this series that everyone winds up guarding someone they have no business guarding. In reality, Battier is playing combo forward alongside James, he’s just handling different responsibilities thereof.

5. He’s also shooting the freaking lights out, something no one expects to hold over the course of this series. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Thing is, guys will often have series where they simply cannot miss. You want an example? Against the Blazers in the playoffs last year, DeShawn Stevenson shot 40 percent from 3-point-range in 12 minutes per game. Against the Lakers, 35.7 percent in 13 minutes per game. Thunder? 23.8 percent in 20 minutes. Against the Heat, one of the best defenses in the league last year? 56.5 percent in 20 minutes. These things happen. You have to live with them, sometimes. Battier will probably plummet back to Earth. But don’t think for a second that this is some crazy outlier. Happens every playoffs.

6. When LeBron James asserts himself inside, the Thunder have absolutely no one who can adequately defend him without bringing at least two help defenders. Seeing James work in the post against Durant is like watching a sapling try to guard the Monstars. Dude bounced off him like a pinball. In Game 2, James took just four shots outside of the paint. So expect in Game 3 for him to shoot more than half outside, because he never sticks with what works.

7. Durant’s fourth-quarter shooting exploits have been the stuff you always read about and watch on retrospective videos. It’s like watching a legend happen before your eyes. This team is simply never out of a contest because of Durant’s range and scoring ability.

8. And what should be even more amazing here is that Battier has played tremendous defense on him. Outside of a few blown rotations and over-helps, Battier has stuck him all series, and stuck that hand in his face like Durant hates on every jumper. It just doesn’t matter. If the Thunder wind up winning this series on the strength of what we’ve seen from Durant the first two games, Battier and Craig Ehlo should go hang out.

9. You know what I’m not excited about as we go to South Beach? The crowd. And jokes about the crowd. And vitriolic responses from Heat fans about jokes about the crowd. And “They have fans?” jokes about the fans who are vitriolic about the jokes about the crowd. Just show up so we can let this go, Miami. You were there and loud for Boston Game 7. Treat every game like that.

10. Traffic is far and away he worst excuse by teams with weak showings from fans. Everywhere has traffic. There are degrees, but everybody has to leave work early. Come on, now.

11. LeBron James has talked a lot about getting back to having fun playing basketball this year. But since Game 6 of the Boston series, there has been no fun. No fun at all. The man is 100 percent business, and it’s kind of cool to see. No excessive dancing, no silliness. He’ll likely ruin this at any moment, but it’s been cool to see a player’s public persona evolve. He continues the be the most fascinating and divisive story in sports.

12. If you really think that the problem in Game 2 for the Thunder, a game in which they scored 105 point per 100 possessions and 115.9 in the second half, was Russell Westbrook’s offense, I’m betting you caught maybe three Thunder games before the playoffs. It takes a complete misunderstanding of the Thunder offense to put this on Westbrook, and it’s a shame that he’s getting scapegoated (LeBron’d, if you will) like this. His defense in Game 2 was one of the things that kept the Thunder in it.

13. This series is about the Thunder defense and anyone who thinks differently is caught up in the trees trying to find the forest.

14. The blue-then-white cross-sections for OKC in Game 2 were genius and it created a really cool effect. White-outs are the worst, but blue-and-white-outs are pretty cool, it turns out. Created kind of a haze.

15. Battier may revert to form, but Chalmers is likely to step up and hit some big shots. Don’t sleep on Little Brother, he’s got some tricks in him.

16. I still find it incredible that Miami didn’t play Joel Anthony or Ronny Turiaf at all in Game 2 and still won the rebounding battle.

17. As much as I warned people off overreacting to Game 1, the same has to occur with Game 2. The Thunder can and will win at least one on the Heat’s home floor. This series is just getting started.

18. That said, the pressure dynamic has completely switched. If the Heat take the next two, they go into Games 5 and 6 in the “must win all the time no mistakes ever” mode which is really hard to maintain for two games, let alone three. If the Heat drop Game 4, but take Game 5, they’ve reacquired momentum headed into OKC where they know they can win. Losing Game 3, though, sets a whole different dynamic. If Miami comes out of South Beach with only one win, OKC will have broken their confidence. The series will end in 6 if that happens.

19. Well, the lockout and the legal battles and planking and greed and misery were nice, but I guess a highly entertaining series where the fourth quarter is always close and superstars are putting in superstar performances is OK, too.

20. Seriously, how much fun is this?

Nikola Jokic’s third straight triple-double leads Nuggets over Spurs, 122-119

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists before fouling out, Wilson Chandler had 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 122-119 on Friday night.

Jokic has a triple-double in three straight games and six this season, but didn’t stick around for the finish. He was called for five fouls in the fourth quarter and fouled out on a charge with 1:46 left.

Gary Harris scored 23 points to help Denver win its fourth straight and seventh in its last eight.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 36 points and Patty Mills scored 20 for San Antonio. The Spurs lost for the sixth time in seven games despite the return of Aldridge, who missed the last two games before the All-Star break to rest his sore right knee. He looked strong Friday, hitting 13 of 23 shots and 12 of 14 free throws.

The Spurs rallied from down nine in the fourth to take a two-point lead late in the game. They were 14 of 17 from the line in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on.

With the game tied at 114, Harris made a layup to put Denver up for good. Mills made a free throw and Harris scored on a step-back jumper and then a dunk with 45 seconds left to make it 120-115.

After Aldridge hit a jumper to cut it to three with 33 seconds left, Mason Plumlee‘s dunk with 10 seconds to play sealed it.

 

Mavericks don’t use scandals as excuse for poor play vs. Lakers

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long week for the Dallas Mavericks. First Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for saying on Dr. J’s podcast that he told the team they would be better off losing. That was quickly overshadowed by the bombshell report of sexual harassment run rampant — starting with the team CEO — and a corporate culture on the Mavericks’ business side that allowed it this behavior to flourish. Then on Friday, Mavericks’ star rookie Dennis Smith Jr. was named in a report about players who took money from agents while in college.

Did all that bleed over to the slow start and ultimate 124-102 blowout loss to the Lakers Friday night?

“I don’t know, we had some good looks…” Dirk Nowitzki said of the impact of the scandals, adding the rust from the All-Star break may have impacted the team’s play more. “Once you’re out there, you don’t necessarily really think about what is going on off the floor. You’re in a zone, you play, you compete with your team, we just didn’t play hard enough, compete hard enough at times.”

“I’m not going there, I think this is just a situation where Los Angeles jumped on us and we didn’t have enough answers,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, also blowing off the idea of the scandals getting in the players’ heads. “The guys we have in this locker room, we just have to show up the right way, and our level of force was not there.”

It’s difficult to say if the Mavericks did feel any impact from the controversies swirling around the team — they were already one of the worst teams in basketball (18-41, and they have been outscored by an average of 3.2 points per 100 possession). They have a bottom 10 offense and defense. A bad outing vs. the Lakers isn’t necessarily tied to everything outside the locker room, especially for a team in the middle of the Tankapaloza going on around the NBA (their owner said as much). Put simply, Dallas was already bad before the waves of controversies hit.

Cuban was right, even if it cost him — this team should tank, lose a lot of games the rest of the way, and work to get a better draft position.

The code words for that is “developing younger players.” Which Dallas is and should be doing.

They are also trying to evaluate their free agents coming up this offseason — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — to see if they are part of the future. How does Carlise divide up the minutes over the final stretch of the season to help make those decisions?

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete. Last year’s team went through a tough year, won 33 games, and was one of my favorite teams to coach because of the character of the guys — but this year’s probably been even more fun. All these undrafted guys are so grateful to be here, they want to get better, and do compete hard, and that’s an exciting thing….

“Nerlens won’t play tonight (Friday), won’t play tomorrow, but will be available Monday and I want to get him out there and see how he plays with some of our other younger guys. We’ve got to look at what this could potentially look like, because some of these guys are free agents and decisions will have to be made.”

The Mavericks also will learn how those players deal with scandals.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 26, Bucks beat Raptors 122-119 in OT

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TORONTO (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks felt extra good about getting a rare win against the Toronto Raptors.

Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Milwaukee snapped Toronto’s seven-game win streak with a 122-119 overtime victory Friday night.

“We haven’t beaten them in a while so the win feels a lot better, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said. “They’re a great team, too.”

Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton each scored 21 points as the Bucks won the opener of an eight-game stretch against teams in playoff contention. Jason Terry scored 14 points, and John Henson and Thon Maker each had 12.

“It’s a big gut-check and a big win for us,” Middleton said. “This is the best team in the East and we proved that we could beat them on the road.”

DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points for the Raptors, who had won five straight home games against the Bucks, and 15 of the past 17 meetings.

Toronto also eliminated Milwaukee in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. The teams will not meet again in the regular season.

Serge Ibaka had 18 points, and Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam each scored 17 for Toronto.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They outworked us, the outplayed us, they outthought us. Whatever adjective you want to use, they did it to us tonight.”

Jonas Valanciunas‘ buzzer-beating dunk for Toronto sent the game to overtime. He finished with 10 points.

Toronto suffered its first home loss since Jan. 26 against Utah. The Raptors are an NBA-best 24-5 at home.

“It’s good to have a tough loss like this,” Lowry said. “It kind of re-focuses us. We can get beat on any given night and we’ve got to come out there and play hard every night.”

The Raptors trailed 110-108 with 3.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Middleton split a pair of free throws. Following a timeout, Toronto inbounded the ball to Valanciunas, who paused before driving for the tying dunk.

Toronto scored the first five points of the extra session, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Terry and Middleton capped an 8-0 Bucks run, giving Milwaukee a 118-115 lead with 1:58 left.

Valanciunas stopped the run with a dunk, but Antetokounmpo’s jumper with 13 seconds left put the Bucks up 120-117.

DeRozan cut it to one with a dunk but Terry answered with a pair of free throws in the final second. DeRozan’s long inbounds pass to C.J. Miles was knocked away at the buzzer to give the Bucks the win.

 

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.