San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7

Old-school Spurs earn extra measure of respect in defeat.

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Youth may ultimately have been served, but age earned a lot of respect.

Yes, the younger and more athletic core of the Miami Heat won another NBA title, but the older core of the San Antonio Spurs reminded everyone just how beautiful well played team basketball can look like. And how far it can take you. They reminded everyone what a great organization looks like. They no doubt have Hall of Fame players on the roster, but it really works because those guys play their roles just like everyone else. They are a coach’s dream.

They remind us of why we love the game — not the dunks and the ankle-breaking crossovers, but the extra pass and the smart cut. Why we love basketball the sport, not just it’s parts.

Yet somehow and all too often, the Spurs get overlooked. They get counted out. “They’re too old, this is the year it all fall apart.”

Despite San Antonio’s four titles from 1999 to 2007, somehow we tend to look right past the Spurs these days. They are not the sexiest team in the room and too often as fans we focus too much on players and teams who haven’t accomplished 1/10th of what San Antonio has.

However, in these Finals they reminded us they were one of the best. Even in defeat.

“That was the toughest series we have ever been in,” Heat coach Erik Speolstra said.

“For our part, I couldn’t love our guys more,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “What they accomplished this year is something nobody would have ever expected. And they showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

What the Spurs did for much of this series — and almost did in Game 7 — is withstand the runs of the Heat. San Antonio showed real mental toughness. Miami’s athleticism is too much for every other team in the league for stretches, yet the Spurs never wilted like everyone before them. The Heat tried to get runs going in Game 7 — Popovich said LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played Hall of Fame games — but each time the Spurs answered. Until at the closing moments of the last two games their legs just had nothing left.

Yet don’t discount that they were there, right in it.

Tim Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds just two days after a 30-point showing. He torched Chris Bosh with counter moves and reminded everyone he is the greatest power forward ever. Manu Ginobili played much better than his game 6, with 18 points, but he had couple key turnovers late. Tony Parker was clearly slowed.

More than their stars, the Spurs front office always finds the guys who can step in and step up. There was 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard scoring 19 points while having to cover LeBron. Danny Green had huge games earlier in the series. Gary Neal hit some big shots, including a ridiculous banked three pointer in Game 7. I’m sure he called bank on that, but this is not a game of H-O-R-S-E.

By the end of Game 7 the Spurs were gassed. It was obvious. Parker had to sit; Duncan missed a bunny to tie the game. Their legs were gone and Miami’s weren’t.

“Well, I thought they gave everything,” Popovich said. “That was a tough Game 6. And I think they showed a lot of poise, a lot of mental toughness to come back today and play as hard as they did.

“I don’t think we played very well, but we played hard. We gave it everything we had. They did a pretty good job of forgetting what we let go in Game 6.”

A number of Spurs players after the game talked about Game 6, where they led by 10 points to start the fourth quarter and by 5 with: 28 seconds left. That’s the game that they felt they let slip away (they did). That’s very understandable. A bounce here, a break there and they could have been celebrating.

But it was not to be.

Right after a loss like this one, saying they earned a new measure respect sounds a little hollow. But it’s not. This is one of the great teams, great core groups of its era. In an age of lob for dunks making the highlights, the Spurs showed everyone what good, clean basketball looks like and why it is most likely to take you all the way to the NBA Finals.

The Spurs were not flashy, they were just smart and tough, with a nice mix of chemistry on the side.

We should appreciate that for how rare and special it is. We should give the Spurs their due.

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.