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.

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by the team).

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.