Veteran Spurs play smart, cool in fourth quarter, beat Heat 92-88 in Game 1

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First things first: This was fun. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was up-tempo, well played basketball (for the most part) by both teams. After the grind-it-out conference finals, I’ll take six more games like this one, please.

But if you’re a Heat fan you might be a little worried — the Spurs just beat you in your style of game. In your building.

Miami led by single digits most of the way, they shot 50 percent in the first half and were knocking down threes. But the veteran Spurs just hung around. Then LeBron James was held scoreless from the start of the fourth quarter to the the 3:30 mark, Chris Bosh struggled again (1-of-5 in the fourth) and behind Tony Parker the Spurs took the lead and held on for the win. In the clutch, the Spurs were unflappable and made the key plays, the Heat missed shots.

San Antonio took Game 1 92-88, and they have a 1-0 lead in the series. Game 2 is Sunday night in Miami.

As it was last series for the Heat, when LeBron was getting help Miami had the lead, but that dried up in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter when the Heat shot 27.8 percent, and the Spurs took the lead. For the game the Heat shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) from the midrange. The Spurs packed the paint (San Antonio shot just 50 percent on their 26 shots in the restricted area and dared anyone to beat them from the outside.

The Spurs also dared anyone not named LeBron to beat them. The Heat couldn’t.

“They did a good job of putting two guys on the ball,” LeBron James said of the Spurs defense. “When I got the ball, they kind of shrunk the floor and set a guy at the elbow and dared me to pass the ball. I know my guys will be there to knock those shots down the next game. We had some really good looks, especially in the third quarter. Rio had some very good looks. It just didn’t go down.”

LeBron finished with a triple-double — 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. The Heat ran pretty much everything through him in the second half, having some success posting him up. But LeBron himself got his buckets near the paint and was not really knocking down outside shots, and Kawhi Leonard was making him work for his points.

Through it all the Spurs stayed disciplined. They wanted to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands, knowing he is a willing passer. It worked, by the fourth quarter LeBron passed up a couple shots he could have made but passed out.

“It’s difficult,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of staying disciplined against the Heat and LeBron, especially after the Heat knocked down shots in the first half. “One second guesses oneself often in the meat of these games, whether you stick with a certain strategy or change it. We adjusted it a little bit, but we stuck with the basics and found some ways to score. Timmy and Kawhi were great on the boards down the stretch and got us a couple of buckets.”

Tim Duncan just made plays — 20 points, 14 rebounds and he had a key offensive put back in the fourth quarter.

But this is Tony Parker’s team and he was fantastic all night — he had zero turnovers all game. Zero. As the primary ball handler. Then in a tough fourth quarter he made plays — he had 10 of his 21 in the final frame. None more dramatic than his leaner with :05 left in the game. The Spurs were up two and Parker, with LeBron guarding him, dribbled around the entire clock, slipped, held his dribble, got up and went up-and-under LeBron getting the shot of in time by a fraction of a second.

“It felt forever, too,” Parker said of the play. “It was a crazy play. I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn’t work out like I wanted it to. At the end I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in.”

So are the Spurs, who have taken control of this series and shown this is not a coronation for the Heat — if they want to repeat they are going to have to play much better. And as a team. Because you know the Spurs will.

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

 

Report: Dallas picks up option on Yogi Ferrell for next season. As expected.

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When teams sign a guy out of the D-League, or late second-round picks/undrafted guys as you see this summer, they are often announced as “a three-year deal.” The reality, this is a non-guaranteed contract (or at most a guaranteed contract for a short period of time) with team options for future years.

Why teams do that is guys like Yogi Ferrell.

Dallas snapped him up out of the D-League last season when they needed a point guard, and Ferrell proved to be a solid rotation-level player to bring off the bench. With that Dallas now has the option to bring him back at a good price next season, and they will do just that, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources say the Mavs have informed PG Yogi Ferrell that they are picking up his team option for next season, an easy decision after he proved himself capable of being a rotation player after his promotion from the D-League.

Ferrell will make $1.3 million next season, a steal for a rotation player. Dallas needs that, because the cost of keeping Nerlens Noel could push the Mavericks close to the luxury tax.

If Ferrell keeps playing like he did last season, and his big payday is coming in a couple of years.

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.