Pat Riley on Heat: “Our small ball team is who we are now”

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The Miami Heat won a title going small. It worked. You can bet next season you are going to see a whole lot more Chis Bosh at the five and LeBron James at the four. The Heat will be going small.

And Pat Riley is okay with that. Mostly.

Riley was on with friend of this blog Orlando Alzugaray — The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami — and talked pretty frankly about how he is not totally comfortable with the evolution of the NBA to more of a small-ball league. Riley said he worries about the lack of size more than anyone in the organization because he played with Wilt Chamberlain and coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing and he knows what a great center can do for a team.

That said, Riley also said he used to play some small ball as a coach — with the Lakers he used to used Bob McAdoo and Mychal Thompson as centers for stretches.

“I’m a small ball guy if you have guys like LeBron, or James Worthy and Magic Johnson, guys who are 6’8” 225, 230 (pounds) and are very versatile,” Riley said. “You can put that guy at power forward so to speak and surround him with perimeter guys and a non-scoring center. That’s the nature of today’s game. The game has evolved over the last 10 years away from the dominance of any one big man, that team because almost obsolete and archaic unless you had someone who was just truly great, and there’s only three or four of them in the league now.

“Our small ball team is who we are now, I just want to have both.”

Riley added that the small ball trend is playing out in the Olympics.

“It’s changed dramatically and I think we’ll see in the Olympics exactly how this all plays out because Spain is playing big.” Riley said. “They play Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol together, so they have 7’1” and 7’0” and they are starting with a conventional backcourt and small forwards. We’ve got Tyson Chandler, then we go down to Kevin Love who is about 6’9” and he’s playing a power forward at center. So we’ll see. If it comes down to it, if Spain and the USA are in the gold medal game then it is going to be small against big and you’ll see who probably wins out in that one.”

Some other highlights of the conversation:

• Riley on coach Eric Spoelstra:

“I’m different than Erik. And I’m different in a way that’s bad to his being different in a way that’s good. He’s as intense as I am, so we both carry that intensity. But I was more of an in-your-face guy every single day for 30 years….

“In today’s game you can’t do that. I think Spo has a perfect demeanor with the players. His confidence and how he handles them in practice, talks to them in team meetings, handles them in games. And I know for a fact if he has to get up in a player’s face he’ll do it in a way they will both get something out of it.”

• “First off, we don’t have guys like that, who are always going to challenge the coach. But we have players who will challenge philosophies and ideas and situations and I think that is where he collaborates very well with all of our players….

• On Spoelstra’s growth as a coach:

“So when we got the big three and we went to the finals the first year, he had to take a hard look at himself. Just like some of our players did. About what he had to do the next time he was in that situation. And I coached a little bit so I know what is going on out there on the court. To watch him evolve this year, like in Indiana when there was a tough situation and a confrontation with Wade. I mean he stepped up and handled that over the next two days.”

• On recruiting to Miami:

“The fact that we have LeBron and we have Chris and we have Dwyane (Wade), that’s a pretty good arsenal to bring to a negotiating table with any NBA player, especially after we won a championship. So there is not any magic words that come out of my mouth…

“But a player will make a decision based on how comfortable he feels about the organization. Whether or not it’s an organization that is going to waste his time or is he going to have a chance to win. And I think in the end that usually plays out. Going after Ray (Allen) and going after Rashard (Lewis), they both knew what they wanted and that was to play with us. So it was sort of an easy thing for us at the end because they wanted to be here.”

• “I am actually amazed anybody on this Olympic team thinks they could come within 10 points of the Dream Team. But I would love to see it. It would be speed against size because back then we had some big guys.”

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.