Spurs' Duncan, Parker, Green celebrate after the Spurs defeated the Heat during Game 1 of their NBA Finals basketball playoff in Miami

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

47 Comments

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.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
3 Comments

The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
1 Comment

2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in 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)
Leave a comment

There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.