NBA Finals Game 4: Heat big three key 109-93 win

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Miami needed a better defensive effort and they got it — San Antonio shot 44.3 percent, the Heat forced 18 turnovers and allowed the Spurs just 5 offensive rebounds.

They needed someone to step up besides LeBron James and they got Dwyane Wade in the hot tub time machine back to 2006 — 32 points, 6 steals, 6 rebounds, 4 assists. LeBron pitched in 33 points.

The result is a 109-93 Miami win that evens the series 2-2. There is a HUGE Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio and then it is back to Miami for Game 6 next week.

And by the way, while it got away at the end this was a thrilling and entertaining game. Television ratings are down which is too bad, this is a great series to watch.

END OF GAME: 109-93 Heat win, and the series is tied 2-2. Much better defensive effort from Miami — keyed by good defense from Bosh — and a lot of points from LeBron and Wade.

1:10 Fourth Quarter: So it is Game 5 that is key and we can all book flights to Miami for Game 6.

2:15 Fourth Quarter: Spoelstra still has stars in, he’s not taking any chances.

3:20 Fourth Quarter: Popovich empties the bench down 15 and throws up the white flag with De Carlo and DeJuan Blair entering the game.

5:05 Fourth Quarter: Wade scooping layup lifts Heat to 15 point lead. I keep expecting a Spurs run but the Heat are making plays and have answers.

6:16 Fourth Quarter: Wade with 30 points on 21 shots, 5 steals, 6 rebounds, 4 assists.

6:57 Fourth Quarter: Bosh lay-in on Wade assist and Heat go up by 11, 94-83.

7:42 Fourth Quarter: Since LeBron went to the bench it is Wade 4, Spurs 4.

8:46 Fourth Quarter: Shane Battier just got called for a blocking foul (ironically on a play he didn’t flop). This is a sign of the end times.

9:34 Fourth Quarter: LeBron getting a rest, he looked tired too.

9:52 Fourth Quarter: Tempo up in the fourth quarter and the Spurs look tired. Well, Diaw always looks tired. 86-79 Heat.

11:24 Fourth Quarter: Parker and Duncan both resting to start the quarter. Green has missed two threes in a row, now he is just 19-28 from three in the Finals. That’s 68 percent. And ridiculous.

START OF FOURTH QUARTER: For those of us who watch a lot of basketball over the course of a season, it’s hard to remember a game that was better played than this one.

END OF THIRD QUARTER: 81-76 Miami. LeBron James has 24, Wade has 22, Chris Bosh has 14 and has had a strong defensive game. Tony Parker did not score in the third but five Spurs are in double figures.

1:37 Third Quarter: But Gary Neal is still hitting them, 76-73 Heat.

2:09 Third Quarter: I just saw Danny Green miss a three. Maybe he is human.

3:10 Third Quarter: Mario Chalmers just knocks down second corner three of the quarter. At other end LeBron blocks Duncan. 74-66 Heat.

3:56 Third Quarter: This needs to be said: Chris Bosh has played good defense this game. The Heat have as a whole, but Bosh is the center of it all in the paint.

3:56 Third Quarter: Leonard catches ball at the arc, hard closeout by Wade so he drives by him and gets and-1 at the rim. 69-66 Heat.

5:19 Third Quarter: Finally Parker with the drive, dish to Green for a three. Followed by a great cut and layin for Allen to spark 7-0 Heat run. 67-61 Heat.

6:43 Third Quarter: Those blown Wade layups, four years ago they would have been powerful dunks. He’s gotten old.

7:00 Third Quarter: Wade has now missed two transition layups. Bosh has two big blocks, the second on Parker, then Diaw blocks LeBron. 58-58.

8:39 Third Quarter: Wade picks up his fourth foul blocking a shot on Tim Duncan in the paint. Spoelstra doesn’t take him out.

8:50 Third Quarter: In the first three games Wade faded in the second half of games (blame the knee) but he is off to a good start in the second half here, gets the and-1. 56-53 Heat.

10:21 Third Quarter: Wade blows a transition layup, LeBron blows the putback, on the other end Diaw scores on a cut. 53-51 Spurs.

12:00 Third Quarter: Boris Diaw starts the second half for the Spurs.

HALFTIME: Can I just say — this is a great game. Like Game 1, this is just a joy to watch being played.

HALFTIME: LeBron James and Tony Parker both on the attack, both with 15 points to lead their teams. Heat have Wade with 14, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh with 8. For Spurs Tim Duncan, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw all with 7.

HALFTIME: Heat 0-3 from three, Spurs 4-7. Spurs with 9 turnovers and zero offensive rebounds.

HALFTIME: On the final play with three seconds to go, Bosh puts on a nice pump fake, Duncan bites and Bosh attacks… all the way to the rim for a dunk after the clock expired. Blown opportunity, halftime score is 49-49.

:12 Second Quarter: Spurs get the block in the paint, Boris Diaw scores on the layup. 11-2 Spurs run and it is 49-49.

:50 Second Quarter: Ray Allen with a nice little runner, he has 8 points in the first half, 49-45 Heat.

2:08 Second Quarter: And as I type that, Boris Diaw hits a three. 47-43 Heat.

2:41 Second Quarter: Spurs don’t have a three point attempt in the second quarter.

4:27 Second Quarter: Mike Miller started, we’ve seen Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem, but not Chris, Birdman Andersen. Big rotation changes for Heat.

5:35 Second Quarter: Heat just have no answer for Parker’s quickness, with or without a screen. They need him to get into the paint, that’s when their offense works. Overall, they are shooting 39 percent (too many jumpers).

5:35 Second Quarter: Duncan has four quick points, and a Parker drive and spin move pass to Leonard cuts it to 41-36 Heat.

6:07 Second Quarter: Seeing the replay now, Bosh flopped to get that last foul on Duncan. That will be $5K. Ginobili has three fouls now, by the way.

6:18 Second Quarter: Wade with 14 points, that would tie his playoff average. Think he’s more aggressive? 8 Spurs tunvoers, 41-32 Heat.

7:40 Second Quarter: LeBron picks up his second foul, both times it was trying to back a guy down in the post. 39-31 Heat.

8:52 Second Quarter: LeBron 6-7 shooting, Wade 5-9. Bosh… don’t ask.

8:52 Second Quarter: Another LeBron layup off a Spurs turnover. 37-28 Heat. Heat’s defensive pressure killing the Spurs ball movement right now.

9:17 Second Quarter: Remember the Spurs were up 10 at one point in the first half, up to a 17-point swing now. 35-28 Heat.

10:17 Second Quarter: Splitter struggling to finish inside, blocked twice in a row, and the Spurs need the points or to stop the Heat. 33-28 Heat.

END OF FIRST QUARTER: 29-26 Heat after 1. Heat shoot 61 percent, Spurs 52.9 percent. LeBron James 11 points, Wade 10, Tony Parker 10.

:35 First Quarter: Shane Battier sells the contact (and there was contact, enough for a foul) to get a foul called on Ginobili. Spurs fans hate it, but that’s Karma.

1:31 First Quarter: LeBron with back-to-back jumpers when defense played off him. Gave Heat lead but Tony Parker with the And-1 around Haslem. 25-24 Heat.

2:25 First Quarter: Heat’s ball movement is more like we saw during regular season. So is Spurs’. 21-21 tie.

3:27 First Quarter: LeBron with back-to-back driving transition layups and it is 19-19.

4:00 First Quarter: With Parker on the bench the Heat have become more more aggressive and trapping on defense. After a couple Bosh free throws it’s 19-15 Spurs.

5:08 First Quarter: Popovich calls timeout after fourth Spurs turnover. He knows if one thing gets the Heat going and back in this, it is more turnovers from his guys. 17-11 Spurs.

5:42 First Quarter: Parker sits, 8 points and 2 assists. So, not so worried about that injury thing.

6:27 First Quarter: LeBron passes to cutting Wade for layup, then LeBron gets transition layup. 15-9 Spurs.

7:10 First Quarter: If LeBron is going to take over, now would be a good time for the Heat.

7:10 First Quarter: Wade passed up the good look elbow jumper there to pass out to a covered guy. He’s in his own head. And knee. Kawhi Leonard hits a corner three and it is 15-5 Spurs already. They are playing beautiful offense and the Heat are scrambling.

9:20 First Quarter: Gary Neal hits a 3, Spurs start 4-4 shooting. Wade 3 makes it 10-5 Spurs.

10:16 First Quarter: Danny Green hits a three, Mike Miller misses his. 7-2 Spurs early.

11:20 First Quarter: Tony Parker’s first possession, little step back jumper over Bosh for 2. Dwyane Wade draws foul on Splitter, so Gary Neal in for Splitter. 2-2

12:00 First Quarter: After the Game 3 disaster, Eric Spoelstra was all about the Heat defense was the problem more than the offense. Mike Miller is a better defender than he gets credit for, but what does switching out Miller for Haslem in the starting lineup say about his thinking?

12:00 First Quarter: Yes, Tony Parker is playing and starting. His health is something to monitor, but just having him out there gives the Heat a lot more to think about.

12:00 First Quarter: Good on the Spurs for bringing this kid back to do the national anthem. There was a number of racist tweets during this last time, this boy is as American as you or me. Good for the Spurs. Plus, kid can sing.

12:00 First Quarter: It’s official, Mike Miller is starting for the Miami Heat in place of Udonis Haslem. There is some real logic to doing this — they need the shooting and the floor spacing more than they need the little defense and rebounding Haslem brings at this point. But I have long said that the first coach to make a major change in rotation or strategy in a series is the one that knows he is beat and is now throwing anything up to see what works. Every once in a while it does, but it is not a good sign if you are a Heat fan.

Hello friends and welcome to PBT’s live blog for Game 4 of the NBA Finals. San Antonio leads the series 2-1 after a Game 3 blowout win and the pressure is on the Heat now — if they go down 3-1 in this series they are toast. And they know it.

I’m Kurt, and I’ll be running the blog tonight, keeping you all up to date, making snide comments, and serving as your bartender for the night. So sit back, enjoy the game and follow along.

LeBron James on Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to Celtics: ‘I’m glad it kind of happened the way it did’

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After two dominant wins in Boston, the Cavaliers appeared on track to cruise into the NBA Finals.

Cleveland responded by getting upset by the Celtics at home in historic fashion.

LeBron James struggled in Game 3, and he even verbally sparred with a fan after the game. But he didn’t sound completely dismayed by the situation.

LeBron:

We’ve got to be a lot better. It’s the postseason. You win some, and you lose a couple maybe. But you want to – how can you be better from game to game? Like I said, they was better today than we were, and we have to figure out a way to be better than them in Game 4.

But we look forward to the challenge. I think it’s great. What happened, I mean, it hurts. It’s a loss in the postseason. But I’m glad it kind of happened the way it did. Let our foot off the gas a little, didn’t keep the pressure on them like we’ve been accustomed to.

But we have to play a lot better. We have to play a lot better in Game 4.

It’s odd to hear a player say he’s glad to lose, especially in the playoffs. But LeBron has a history of strange comments following postseason losses. This wasn’t a season-ender, but but he was so out of sorts last night.

He’s also probably right. It’s better for the Cavaliers, now 9-1 in the playoffs, to experience overcoming a postseason loss now rather than in the NBA Finals. Still up 2-1 on Boston and the better team, the Cavs have the luxury of learning lessons without significant fear they’ll lose the series.

2017 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Is Markelle Fultz really worth the No. 1 pick?

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Markelle Fultz is the best prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft, which is not exactly something that you would’ve seen coming had you known him as a sophomore in high school.

That was the year that Fultz failed to make the varsity team at DeMatha (Md.), one of the nation’s best high school basketball programs. From there, he developed not only into a point guard, but into one of the nation’s best high school players, eventually landing in the postseason all-star games and on the Team USA U-18 roster that competed in the FIBA Americas event.

Fultz committed to Lorenzo Romar early in the process and maintained that commitment, even as he watched a Washington team that failed to make the NCAA tournament lose Andrew Andrews to graduation and Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to the NBA Draft. As a result, and in spite of the fact that Fultz was putting up insane numbers, the Huskies couldn’t even crack 10 wins with Fultz at the helm, and it eventually cost Lorenzo Romar his job despite the fact that the favorite for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Michael Porter Jr., had already signed to play for him.

How will NBA teams weigh that?

Fultz put up ridiculous numbers, but he did it on a team that was the laughing stock of the Pac-12 come February. Is that guy worth the pick?

Height: 6′4″
Weight: 185
Wingspan: 6′10″
2016-17 Stats: 23.2 points, 5.7 boards, 5.9 assists, 41.3% 3PT

STRENGTHS: Fultz is an unbelievably well-rounded offensive player. I’m not sure what there is that he can’t do on that end of the floor. He shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc last year and better than 50 percent inside the arc. At 6-foot-4, he’s big enough — and physical enough — to take smaller defenders into the post and score in the paint or simply shoot over the top of them off the dribble, and he does so effectively. His 6-foot-10 wingspan, huge hands and explosion on the move means that he can finish in traffic, whether it be with a dunk over a defender — his extension in the lane is reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard — or a finish around the shot-blocker; Fultz has terrific body control, and when combined with his length, allows him to finish contested layups at weird angles.

He’s more than just a scorer, however, as he averaged 5.9 assists last season with a higher assist rate (35.4 vs. 31.4) and lower turnover rate (15.4 vs. 18.9) than Lonzo Ball. That’s startling efficiency considering that he played such a major role on a team with so few options around him. Since 2012, only six guards have bettered his usage rate and offensive rating: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Nate Wolters, Erick Green, Kay Felder and Jawun Evans.

Fultz is excellent leading the break in transition but may be even better operating in ball-screen actions — according to Synergy, more than 30 percent of his possessions came in the pick and roll last season, and he averaged 1.011 points-per-possession, which was in the 93rd percentile nationally. He is patient, he’s ruthless if you switch a bigger defender onto him and he has terrific vision, whether it’s driving and drawing a help defender, finding the screener rolling to the rim or popping for a jumper or spotting an open shooter on the weak side of the floor.

Ideally, that’s the role that Fultz would play in the NBA, as a ball-dominant lead guard in the mold of a James Harden or Russell Westbrook or John Wall.

But Fultz is also big enough and long enough to share a back court with a smaller guard — Isaiah Thomas? — because he will be able to defend shooting guards. He’s also a good enough shooter that he would be able to play off the ball offensively in that same scenario, meaning that he not only has the ceiling to be a new-age franchise lead guard in the NBA, he has the potential to be a multi-positional defender.

In theory, he’s everything NBA teams are looking for.

WEAKNESSES: The biggest concern with Fultz is on the defensive end of the floor. While he has the tools to be a plus-defender and has shown the ability to be a playmaker on that end — he averaged 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, many of which were of the chasedown variety — but it was his half court defense that was a concern.

In a word, he was far too lackadaisical on that end of the floor. Whether it was being late on a rotation, getting beat on a close out because his feet were wrong, getting hung up on a screen, switching when he shouldn’t because he didn’t want to chase a player around a screen, failing to sit down in a defensive stance, etc., it’s not difficult to watch tape and find examples of the mistakes that Fultz made. How much of that was playing on a bad team for a coach that didn’t hold him accountable defensively, and how much of that is who Fultz is as a player?

To be frank, my gut says it was more of the former than the latter, but there also is a concern that Fultz’ approach to the game is too casual. He’s the kind of player that needs to grow into a game as opposed to being a guy that takes games over from the jump, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a guy who projects as a lead guard and a distributor.

The bigger issue with Fultz is that he lacks initial burst off the dribble and there are questions about whether or not he can turn the corner against NBA defenders. His game is awkward when you watch him, but that’s because he has this uncanny ability to get defenders off balance. Hesitation moves, hang-dribble pull-ups, splitting the pick-and-roll, euro-steps in traffic. Some might call it crafty or slippery, but the bottom-line is this: Fultz is able to get by defenders because he has them leaning the wrong direction, and once he gets a step on you, his length — both his strides and his extension — make it impossible to catch up.

But he’s not a Russell Westbrook or a John Wall in the sense that he’ll be able to get by any defender simply due to his explosiveness, and that is where the questions about his jumper come into play. If Fultz is going to consistently be able to get to the rim, that jumper is going to have to be a threat, because Fultz’s arsenal won’t be as effective if defenders can play off of him.

On the season, his shooting numbers were impressive, but those percentages took a dip against better competition and on possessions where he was guarded (1.020 PPP, 57th percentile) vs. unguarded (1.636 PPP, 94th percentile), although that may be a result of being on a team that had no other option for offense.

Put another way, Fultz is a tough-shot maker, and there is reason to wonder if he’ll be able to make those tough shots against NBA defenders.

Markelle Fultz is defended by Lonzo Ball (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

NBA COMPARISON: There really isn’t a perfect comparison for what Fultz could end up being as an NBA player. James Harden is probably the most apt considering that they are roughly the same size with the same physical dimensions, they both are ball-dominant scorers that can see the floor, they both likely needed a smaller guard in the back court with them because, despite their physical tools, they both lack that mean streak defensively.

But comparing any rookie to a guy that could end up being the NBA MVP after a season where he averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 boards is probably unfair. Perhaps D'Angelo Russell is more fitting, at least in the sense that it limits some of the expectations.

Whatever the case may be, if Fultz reaches his ceiling, he’ll be a franchise lead guard that has an entire offensive built around him. If he decides that he wants to play on the defensive end of the floor as well, he could one day be a top five player in the league.

OUTLOOK: Fultz has the potential to be the face of a franchise at the lead guard spot. His skill-set — the scoring, the ability to operate in pick-and-rolls, the efficiency — and ability makes it easy to picture him one day ending up playing a role similar to that of Harden or Westbrook or Wall. At the same time, I find it hard to envision a world where Fultz doesn’t one day end up averaging 20 points and six assists. It’s hard not to love a prospect where their floor is a bigger, more athletic D’angelo Russell.

When a player has the least risk and the highest ceiling of anyone in a draft class, it’s no wonder they end up being the consensus pick to go No. 1.

Celtics, 17-point underdogs, record biggest upset in NBA playoff history

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The Cavaliers beat the Celtics by 13 (in a game that wasn’t really that close) and 44 in Boston to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

So, odds-makers did something drastic for Game 3 in Cleveland – make the Cavs 17-point favorites.

Yet, the Celtics pulled the 111-108 upset.

Brian Robb of 98.5 The Sports Hub:

Winning was an incredible feat by the Celtics, and they deserve all credit for the turnaround.

But whether it’s sustainable is a different question.

Boston had a comeback game for the ages. Is it sustainable….

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That was what we needed.

In a playoffs that has felt inevitable and lacked drama, the Boston Celtics gave us a great night. Down 21 on the road with Isaiah Thomas in street clothes, the Celtics did not roll over — they crashed the glass and pushed the pace when they could, their threes started to fall, and the Celtics just outworked the Cavaliers.

Boston now trails 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they can even the series with a win Tuesday in Cleveland.

Don’t bet on it.

What Boston did Sunday was amazing, but it’s not really sustainable. Here’s why.

LeBron James is not going to be that bad again. He had been the best player in the postseason to this point (eight straight 30-point games), then he was terrible on Sunday night: 4-of-13 from the field, 0-of-4 from three, one point in the game’s final 18 minutes. He only had three shot attempts in the fourth quarter and missed them all. This was a game where Kelly Olynyk looked like he could guard LeBron.

“I had a tough game period, not just in the second half. Me personally, I didn’t have it,” LeBron admitted postgame. “My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game and building that lead, but me personally I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”

Boston did a better job bringing help against LeBron and doubling him at times, but even when isolated he just did not look like the guy who carved up Boston (and Indiana, and Toronto) this postseason. It was just one of those nights.

Don’t expect another one of those. Expect LeBron to come out like a man possessed in Game 4.

• Boston isn’t going to hit threes like that again. Kevin Pelton from ESPN summed this up well in one Tweet.

Smart was 5-of-6 from three in the second half (on some tough shots), and as a team the Celtics were 11-of-22 from deep after halftime. Boston is a good three-point shooting team, they attempted the third most of any team in the league and hit 35.9 percent on the season (14th in the league), but for a half they got hot. That’s not sustainable.

Nor am I sold Smart can have another game like that period, he picked up what they were missing from Thomas being out.

• Boston isn’t going to own the offensive glass like that again. In the second half, the Celtics had eight offensive rebounds — they got a second attempt on one-third of their missed shots. Boston has to rebound by committee, and they did that in this game, but part of that was a seeming disinterest from Cleveland on doing the work. Which brings us to our next point…

• Cleveland looked like a team that thought they had it won. They took their foot off the gas and it showed — Boston was dominating the glass and still was out-hustling Cleveland down the court. Credit the Celtics there, they kept working hard and in the face adversity played with even more energy, while the Cavaliers coasted.

The Cavs relaxed on defense and didn’t communicate, which culminated in the miscommunication on the switch with J.R. Smith that left Avery Bradley wide open for the game-winner.

n’t going to play like that again in Game 4. They learned that lesson.

• The one thing Boston can sustain? They’re a better defensive team without Isaiah Thomas.
During the regular season, the Celtics were 8.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Thomas was out of the game. Look at it this way: When Thomas was off the court this season the Celtics defense was slightly better than the Spurs, but when Thomas was on the court they were essentially the Knicks.

Thomas being out doesn’t make the Celtics better, they miss his offense — Marcus Smart was fantastic, but he is not going to be able to play the role of Thomas again — but it does make them a better defensive team. Cleveland, and specifically LeBron, need to be better prepared to deal with that.

I expect in Game 4 they will be.