Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Four

The Spurs need more from Manu Ginobili, but can he provide it?

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There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s just get right to it: Manu Ginobili is having, for his standard, an awful NBA Finals.

The Spurs’ super-sub who’s a charter member of their vaunted “Big 3” simply doesn’t resemble the player who has, for years, struck fear into the opposition with explosive scoring outbursts and sustained overall excellence.

Beyond what our eyes are showing us, the numbers back this up. Through four games of the Finals, Ginobili is averaging 7.5 points on 34.5% shooting (18.8% on threes), 1.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.8 turnovers in 24 minutes a night. Compared to the regular season — where he played nearly the exact same minutes per game — these numbers (save for the turnovers) are all down dramatically.

Further, these individual failings negatively impact the team’s performance when Ginobili is on the floor versus when he’s off it. Per NBA.com’s stats tool, the Spurs are scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions while holding the Heat to 89.7 while Ginobili is on the bench. But when he comes into the game, the Spurs offense suffers, dipping to 101.2 points per 100 possessions while their defense falls off a cliff to the tune of allowing 123.9 points per 100 possessions.

Some of these numbers are obviously related to who Ginobili is coming in for when subbed into the game. When Manu gets his number called, it’s almost always for either Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard, two of the Spurs’ better defensive players and, in the case of Green, one of their best offensive players this series. Any Spur replacing either of these players will see a dip in the team’s effectiveness simply because they’re removing one of the Spurs’ best performers.

However, while we can attempt to explain away why the team is performing so poorly when Ginobili enters the game, it doesn’t erase his individual struggles. Ginobili can’t buy an outside shot but is also having trouble converting at the rim, making only 5 of his 11 shots in the restricted area. And while he’s done a good job of avoiding the types of long two point shots that could drag down his efficiency even further, if he can’t knock down the three point shot and can’t finish in the paint, that’s a real problem.

Where Ginobili has been good is in creating shots for others and in generally running the offense when Tony Parker is on the bench. Manu still has the instincts and flair of a matador when handling the ball in the pick and roll and has done well to dodge the blitzing Heat defense while picking out shooters on the wings and his roll man diving to the cup with equal effectiveness.

But Ginobili needs to be more than a great passer to make an impact on the game; he needs to find a way to score some points. After game 4, Tim Duncan said that the Spurs needed Ginobili to be “more selfish” in looking for his own offense and while that may lead to more misses, if it also allows him to establish a good rhythm the Spurs will likely live with those results.

Ginobili is a proud player and has been a warrior over the course of his career. He’s made his name not just through his stellar play, but by raising his game in the biggest moments, even carrying the Spurs for long stretches and winning games almost single handedly. You never want to count out a player like that — just look at Dwayne Wade to see that can turn out — but right now the doubt he can significantly raise his game is real.

The fact is, however, is that the Spurs will probably need at least one vintage Manu performance over the course of this series if they’re to claim the championship. The problem is that he’s done little to inspire confidence that he can reach that level.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.