Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat - Game Three

NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 3: The Triad have found the nexus


In Miami’s 91-86 win over Oklahoma City Sunday night, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade scored 35 points on 34 shots. That’s a bad ratio. It would indicate that LeBron James (29 points on 23 shots) carried the team. But that’s off, you have to consider everything. The metrics, the plays, the context of the series, the matchups, everything. You have to see the whole board to identify what we saw in Game 3, and in this series.

And what we see is the Triad finding the nexus of their talents, playing together, playing well, and playing at the apex of their potential together, in terms of execution. The shots aren’t falling? That’s fine. The process matters more than the results in the course of a seven-game series ( as long as you win, right?).

What we saw in Game 3 was Dwyane Wade using the pick and roll and the Thunder’s adaptation to push the defense to the perimeter to find Chris Bosh inside for all three of his buckets. That forced the defense to adapt. That opened the perimeter for James to create inside. Their offensive rebounding forced adaptations. And James cutting inside, forcing the defense to slide to help, the doubles they forced, the intensity and execution created more and more opportunities.

But it was the defense that did it.

From the beginning, this Heat team was built on the concept that they had to play amazing defense to win. They had learned from losses to Boston and Orlando that the path to the title was through their defense, that their best use of their athleticism and talent was to extend and control the game defensively. This is a team that outshot the Knicks, outmuscled the Pacers, and outran the Celtics. Now they are grinding OKC down, behind the efforts of the Triad.

Chris Bosh had the best 3-12 game you’re going to find. 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He posted a -7, but that stat doesn’t cover the late game impact he had. Bosh has also created a ton of possession for Miami by diving on the floor. He’s set the tone.

And that shouldn’t be overlooked, here. The Miami Heat are no longer “too good to try” in terms of these loose balls. They’re getting to the 50/50 balls and outworking the young guys. They look hungrier, more poised, and tougher. Those are nebulous things, but we see it with certain plays. Gone is the indecisiveness. When Wade works in isolation, LeBron’s no longer standing on the perimeter when Wade launches. He’s crashing the offensive glass. Wade’s no longer coasting possessions when LeBron works in the post. He’s cutting to the rim. They’re creating extra possessions and attacking early in the shot clock.

The uneasiness of how to make these players fit is gone, and much of it is seen in an approach that simply has stopped trying to out-think the opponent. The Heat aren’t waiting to make sure things are perfect. They’re using their talents, executing, and forcing things. Defensively, they’re attacking, attacking, attacking and the result in Game 3 was a Thunder team on its heels. There are times when it just seems too much, with Bosh making the smart play, Wade making the aggressive play, and James making the best play, often on one possession. It’s not dominant. It stalls at times. But they are close, so very close to that point where there’s just no way to beat them.

Still, the Thunder hang, hitting tough shot after tough shot, which is to their credit. And in Game 4, everything can be reversed, the Triad can go back into the mud, and it can end just like that. But in an ugly game, the Big 3 are creating what they need to, producing what they need to, building the team they want to.

They’re two games away from a championship.

Whether they stay here in the nexus may decide if those two wins are attainable.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the NBA.com player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.