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?

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.