Breaking down the Heat’s Game 6 comeback over Spurs

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MIAMI — For all intents and purposes, the game was over. Except that it wasn’t.

The Heat trailed Game 6 of the Finals by five with under 30 seconds to play, and fans in Miami began streaming for the exits. Arena staffers in yellow shirts lined the baselines and the court across from the team benches, holding a yellow rope that would be used to close off access to fans once the championship trophy presentation was underway for the Spurs.

But a furious Heat comeback, along with a collapse by the Spurs and some borderline coaching decisions canceled all that, and now we’re looking at a Game 7 on Thursday that will decide the championship once and for all.

Let’s take a look back at exactly how it happened over the final couple of minutes of regulation.

89-89, 1:27 — The three-pointer that Tony Parker hit over LeBron James — a step-back, high-arcing rainbow that caught nothing but the bottom of the net — that tied the game for his Spurs would have gone down as one of the all-time great shots had his team hung on for victory. Parker set it up beautifully with a hesitation dribble, and James wisely defended the drive, yet still managed to get out and contest.

91-89 Spurs, 0:58 — Parker continued to try to take over, first by stealing a pass in the lane from Mario Chalmers on the defensive end, then by using his wizardry to score inside. Parker drove, spun, and hit a shot from about 10 feet out that put his team up two, and sent the Miami faithful in the building into a state of stunned silence.

94-89 Spurs, 0:28 — LeBron James turned it over on consecutive Heat possessions, and Manu Ginobili made three of four free throws to give San Antonio the five-point lead. The second of these from James was particularly egregious, as he floated a high lob at the rim intended for Chris Bosh, except that Bosh didn’t bother to jump for it, and even if he had, it would have been an extremely difficult play to convert given the trajectory of the pass.

94-92 Spurs, 0:20 — This is when the Heat went into desperation mode, but the Spurs’ lineup choices ended up helping Miami’s chances. James launched a three that rimmed out, but with Tim Duncan on the bench in favor of Boris Diaw and the defense he could provide on LeBron (along with the fact that the plan late was to switch on all screens, which makes Duncan a liability), the Spurs were short on big bodies to secure the defensive rebounds that could have sealed the game. Dwyane Wade was able to get in there and keep the ball alive, and the sequence ended with James getting another crack at a three that he was able to get to go this time.

“It’s what we’ve done all year,” Duncan said afterward. “In a situation where we were going to switch a lot of things, and it’s just unfortunate the way it happened. We got a stop, and we got a bad bounce, and right out to Ray Allen for a three. Just situational. But there’s no questions there. It’s the plays we’ve been making all season long.”

“Me personally, I trust Pop,” Parker added. “Whatever decision he makes.”

95-95, 0:05 — After the Heat fouled to stop the clock, Kawhi Leonard converted only one of his two free throws, leaving the door open for Miami’s fantastic finish. James missed an open look at a three, but once again with the Spurs having a shortage of big men on the floor with Duncan on the bench, Chris Bosh was able to secure the rebound, and kick it to Ray Allen for the incredible game-tying shot.

James was open and screaming for the ball once he saw his teammate get the rebound, but he was obviously fine with the play’s end result.

“If it’s not me taking the shot, I have no problem with Ray taking that shot, man,” James said. “He’s got ice water in his veins. Ray can be 0‑for‑99 in a game and if he get an open look late in the game, it’s going down. That’s just the confidence he has in himself. It’s the preparation that he prepares for every game. It’s the confidence that we have in him. We’ve seen it before.”

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty:

Owner: Hawks will ‘make every effort imaginable’ to re-sign Paul Millsap

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Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox called re-signing Paul Millsap this summer the team’s “priority.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler went a step further.

Ressler, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“We love Paul Millsap,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are trying to re-sign him. We want him to stay here. We think he is a really special player and a special person that we want on our team and in our locker room and we are going to make every effort imaginable to keep him.”

There’s certainly one effort I can imagine: Offer Millsap a max contract, which projects to be worth $205 million over five years.

That’s not necessarily a wise investment. As excellent and underrated as Millsap is now, he’s 32. He’ll be hard-pressed to maintain anywhere near this level of production over the next five years. And what’s the upside for Atlanta enduring such risk, especially late in his contract? A chance at a playoff-series victory each of the next couple years? The trade-off would make more sense for a team that can accomplish something more meaningful now.

The Hawks seem conflicted about their direction. In the last year, they’ve traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver but also signed Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s starting lineup is split by a glaring age divider – Millsap (32) and Howard (31) on one side, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), Dennis Schroder (23) and Taurean Prince (23) on the other.

Do the Hawks want to rebuild or win now? It almost depends when you ask, and by the offseason, there might be a different answer. But the owner so strongly endorsing re-signing Millsap speaks volumes. Everyone in the organization, including president/coach Mike Budenholzer, answers to Ressler.

Of course, Millsap will hold the cards as an unrestricted free agent. He might prefer to leave Atlanta for a team closer to title contention or any other reason.

But the Hawks can make offer that would be darned hard to refuse.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.