Heat beat Spurs in epic Game 7 to win 2013 NBA title

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat are the 2013 NBA champions. And the Spurs made them earn every last bit of that second straight title.

In a game fitting of what we’ve come to expect from these two teams in this series, LeBron James put on a jump-shooting display that resulted in his scoring 37 points, and being named the Finals MVP in leading the Heat to the championship in a dramatic 95-88 Game 7 win over the Spurs.

“It was odd, all year he had been the best perimeter jump shooter in the league, even though he’s an attacker and got to the rim, to the free‑throw line,” Erik Spoelstra said of LeBron’s outside shooting. “By the numbers he was phenomenal from 15 to 22 feet, and even from three. But their game plan was to really keep him out of the paint at all costs, and that meant giving him wide‑open looks. That was the case, and it probably messed with us a little bit. It takes you a little bit out of your normal rhythm. But eventually he was able to figure it out.”

James opened the game hitting just one of his first five shots, but finished it 12-of-23 from the field. Only three of his makes came in the paint, while four came in the range Spoelstra mentioned, and the last five were good from three-point distance.

The game opened with both teams a little tight, and the play was uneven and sloppy for a bit, perhaps due to the magnitude of the contest. The first quarter featured just 34 total points and seven combined turnovers, while neither team was able to shoot better than 37 percent from the field over the first 12 minutes.

Miami trailed 15-10 early, before Shane Battier hit three three-pointers to ignite an 11-1 run that seemed to get his team going. Battier finished with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from three-point distance, and this from a player that didn’t play due to a coach’s decision in his team’s last Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers.

“I believe in the basketball gods, and I felt that they owed me,” Battier said.

The Heat got 23 points and 10 rebounds from Dwyane Wade, who has been up and down this series due to dealing with a deep bone bruise in his knee. He was especially active in the first half with 14 and 6, and was especially thrilled at the postgame podium afterward.

“All the giddiness is the champagne talking,” Wade said. “This is sweet.  This is the sweetest one by far because of everything we’ve been through, everything I’ve been through individually and to get here to this moment, to have that kind of performance, that kind of game, help lead my team, it’s special, man. So special.”

The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair, with the Spurs erasing Miami’s lead of five points and getting up by two before the period’s final possession. But Mario Chalmers banked home a three-pointer from about 30 feet out at the buzzer to send the Heat into the fourth with the lead, 12 minutes away from the title.

Twice in the fourth, jumpers from James pushed the Heat’s lead to six, and a three from Battier did the same with 3:19 to play. But Tim Duncan immediately answered with an and-1 play on the other end, and a three from Kawhi Leonard a couple of possessions later had the Spurs back within two with two minutes remaining.

It began to feel like the reverse of Game 6 was happening to the Heat, who came back so furiously and so quickly to prevent the Spurs from winning the championship 48 hours earlier. Mario Chalmers missed two free throws, and the Spurs had a couple of chances to tie or take the lead, the closest coming on a play where Duncan spun past Battier in the lane and missed a close one, before missing the chance at the put-back, as well.

Duncan was understandably crushed by the game’s result, and said afterward that missing this chance to tie the game in the final moments would be something he’d think about for quite some time.

“Missing a layup to tie the game,” Duncan said. “Probably for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

Then came the dagger from James, and fittingly, it was a midrange jumper that sealed it.

With the clock winding down to under 30 seconds remaining in the game, James dribbled at the top of the three-point arc. After a pseudo-screen from Chalmers briefly caused some defensive uncertainty between Tony Parker and Leonard, James found himself open from about 18 feet out on the right side. He collected himself, and just as he had done for the majority of the night, he buried the shot.

After it was all over, while flanked by both of the trophies he had just earned, James dissected his incredible shooting performance.

“I looked at all my regular season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid‑range shooters in the game,” he said. “I shot a career high from the three‑point line. I just told myself, don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under [on the screens]. Don’t force the paint. If it’s there, take it. If not, take the jumper. Just stay with everything you’ve worked on, the repetition, the practices, the off‑season training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what’s on the line, just go with it. And I was able to do that.”

James is the best player in the game, and he played like it in Game 7. Really, he did that for the majority of the series, in a Finals that was played at one of the highest levels that we’ve ever seen by both teams.

The accomplishment was made that much more special given all that the Heat had to overcome to repeat as champions.

“Last year when I was sitting up here with my first championship, I said it was the toughest thing I had ever done,” James said. “This year I’ll tell last year he’s absolutely wrong. This was the toughest championship right here, between the two.  I mean, everything that we’ve been throughout this postseason, especially in these Finals.

“We were down — we were scratching for our lives in Game 6 down five with 28 seconds to go. To be able to win that game and force a Game 7 is a true testament of our, I guess, perseverance, and us being able to handle adversity throughout everything. It meant a lot for us to be able to do that and force a Game 7 and be able to close out at home.”

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

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In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

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Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.