Spurs get a little revenge, along with season’s signature win in takedown of Heat

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In the first meeting of the season between the Heat and the Spurs, Miami had little trouble securing victory in the Finals rematch, in large part due to the fact that the Spurs were cobbling together a lineup that didn’t entirely feature the team’s best players.

The rematch of the rematch, however, saw the Spurs essentially at full strength.

That lineup from top to bottom proved too difficult for the Heat to deal with at this stage of the season, and behind 23 points from Tim Duncan and excellent defense from Kawhi Leonard which produced five of his team’s nine steals, the Spurs evened the season series by cruising to a 111-87 victory over the defending champs.

San Antonio’s overall team defense stifled the Heat, and it didn’t help that LeBron James chose to settle for long jumpers when they clearly weren’t falling for him for a second straight game. He ditched his protective face mask in the first half thinking that might have been the issue, and afterward reverted to blaming the sleeves on his jersey — just as he did on Christmas Day — for his poor outside shooting performance.

But none of that was anywhere close to a valid reason for the missed shots.

This Spurs team is deep when fully healthy, and the players know their respective roles in the team’s grand scheme. The defense was superb, but the attacking offense, led by Tony Parker’s ability to get into the paint, created high-percentage shots at the rim over and over again, especially in the first half.

Take a look at the Spurs shot chart for the game’s first 24 minutes.

source:

Fifteen of San Antonio’s 22 made field goals in the first half came in the restricted area — an insane amount against a team that’s just slightly above the league average in defensive efficiency.

While the Spurs looked like a cohesive unit attacking on both ends of the floor, Miami looked uncharacteristically out of sync. James managed to shoot just 6-of-18 from the field to finish with 19 points, but a lot of that was due to shot selection, which was at times heavily influenced by the Spurs defense.

This was an important victory for the Spurs, who haven’t had many at all to hang their hat on this season. For Miami, the perspective is a bit different. The Heat are collecting themselves for the final stretch of the regular season, and defending their title is of the utmost importance.

That journey is bound to be fraught with unpleasant steps along the way, but for a Heat team that has played into June the last three seasons, losses to title contenders at this stage of the season are of little significance. Rather, they provide film to pore over when the championship chase begins in earnest a few short weeks from now.

Why did Kyrie Irving request trade from Cavaliers? ‘I will never pinpoint anything, because that’s not what real grownups do’

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Kyrie Irving said he requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he wanted to be happy and maximize his potential.

But why did he feel that couldn’t happen in Cleveland?

Irving hasn’t come close to directly answering that question, saying things like, “My intent, like I said, was for my best intentions.” Returning to Cleveland with the Celtics, Irving was again pressed to explain.

Irving, via MassLive:

Going forward, I kind of wanted to put that to rest in terms of everyone figuring out or trying to figure out and dive in and continue to dive into a narrative that they have no idea about and that probably will never, ever be divulged, because it’s not important. This was literally just a decision I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward. I don’t want to pinpoint anything. I will never pinpoint anything, because that’s not what real grownups do. They continue to move on with their life and and continue to progress, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

Perhaps, Irving is just following Dwyane Wade‘s advice and taking the high road. But that won’t ease our collective curiosity. Fans will continue to speculate about why Irving wanted out, and reporters will continue to dig into it. Reporting and speculation have both centered on LeBron James.

If Irving eventually wants to set the record straight – and he doesn’t sound interested, lending credence to the theory he wanted to leave LeBron behind – everyone will be all ears.

Cavaliers to honor Kyrie Irving with video during tonight’s game

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers, stated no regard for LeBron James‘ feelings about it and slighted Cleveland as a sports city.

Yet, when Irving returns with the Celtics for tonight’s regular-season opener, the Cavs will honor him.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The Cavaliers intend to honor Kyrie Irving on Tuesday night with a video tribute during Cleveland’s season-opening tilt against Irving’s Boston Celtics.

According to a team source, the video is a “thank you” to Irving intended to show appreciation for all he accomplished in six seasons here.

Irving had a fantastic six-year run with the Cavaliers, and he hit the biggest shot in franchise history to end Cleveland’s title drought in 2016.

But he’s now a sports villain there (not to be mistaken for a bad person). Let the fans enjoy unconditionally booing him for a night. There will be time to honor him when the wounds of his exit aren’t so fresh.

If I were the Cavs, this would be the video I’d show to commemorate Irving’s return:

LeBron James: I think Dan Gilbert’s letter was racial

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LeBron James left a job for a more appealing one in 2010. His previous employer, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, infamously published a letter that called LeBron’s decision a “cowardly betrayal,” “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal,” “shocking act of disloyalty” and “heartless and callous action.” Most ridiculously, Gilbert wrote, “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.” Perhaps most hurtfully, Gilbert added LeBron’s choice “sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”

Remember, LeBron completed his contract with Gilbert’s Cavs then signed with the Heat. Gilbert’s reaction was beyond over the top.

It was also probably rooted in racial attitudes that persist since a time rich white men held complete control over the lives of young black men.

LeBron, via Mark Anthony Green of GQ:

Did you feel like Dan Gilbert’s letter was racial?

“Um, I did. I did. It was another conversation I had to have with my kids. It was unfortunate, because I believed in my heart that I had gave that city and that owner, at that point in time, everything that I had. Unfortunately, I felt like, at that point in time, as an organization, we could not bring in enough talent to help us get to what my vision was. A lot of people say they want to win, but they really don’t know how hard it takes, or a lot of people don’t have the vision. So, you know, I don’t really like to go back on that letter, but it pops in my head a few times here, a few times there. I mean, it’s just human nature. I think that had a lot to do with race at that time, too, and that was another opportunity for me to kind of just sit back and say, ‘Okay, well, how can we get better? How can we get better? How can I get better?’ And if it happens again, then you’re able to have an even more positive outlook on it. It wasn’t the notion of I wanted to do it my way. It was the notion of I’m gonna play this game, and I’m gonna prepare myself so damn hard that when I decide to do something off the court, I want to be able to do it because I’ve paid my dues.”

We’ve obviously come a long way since slavery, but the racism used to justify that evil practice lingers. In 2017, few want to be racist. Many more do racist things. Racism is basked into our society, and it will require thoughtful recognition of it to eradicate it.

Gilbert’s letter contained racial undertones, Gilbert attempting to assert a control of LeBron he didn’t rightfully possess. If Gilbert considered how his letter fit into historical context, maybe he wouldn’t have written it. Whether or not Gilbert intended to be racist matters only so much. He danced in racist tones to vilify LeBron.

Now, maybe Gilbert has progressed. He apologized to LeBron for the letter (while trying to woo LeBron back to Cleveland in 2014) and said he’s learning more about the level of racism in this country.

But there’s still an apparent lingering distrust by LeBron toward Gilbert, and LeBron saying he still sometimes thinks about the letter only enhances that. That could matter as LeBron heads toward free agency.

Gregg Popovich rants, calls President Trump a “soulless coward” after recent comments

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Every time he speaks, it seems President Trump says something that is outright, provably false — a lie, if you will. The latest came in a Rose Garden press conference Monday where, when asked about two fallen American soldiers in Niger, he said he would call and “If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls — a lot of them didn’t make calls — I like to make calls when it’s appropriate.” It didn’t take long for representatives from the former Obama administration — as well as the most recent Bush administration — to come out and say Trump was flat-out wrong, noting the numerous calls, letters, visits to troops at the hospital and more (all of which is easily verified). Even by the end of the same press conference, when pressed by reporters, Trump back pedaled saying maybe Obama did make calls, “I don’t know. That’s what I was told.”

That wasn’t near good enough for Air Force Academy graduate, frequent Trump critic, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He called up one of the people who understands the intersection of sports and politics, Dave Zirin of The Nation, and ranted.

“But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”

Popovich is a thoughtful man who highly prizes intellectual curiosity — he believes he needs to be worldly and understand it better just to properly lead a basketball team. If one is going to lead a nation — or, ostensibly, the world — one has to want to know about it, learn about it, respect its differences. Popovich has thought through things before he speaks. Trump does none of that, he goes by his gut and has no filter, and it makes him sort of Bizzaro Popovich. Which sets the Spurs’ coach off.

We can expect more rants from Pop, Steve Kerr, NBA players and a host of others over the course of the season. NBA players have been emboldened by Adam Silver and the league to speak out, and they will, knowing that with the NBA’s younger, more urban, and more diverse and global fanbase (compared to the NFL) they will not face much if any backlash.