Five things that will be different in 2014 Spurs vs. Heat Finals rematch

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It’s not going to be the same.

We can hope that it’s as good, as dramatic and compelling, but it’s not going to be the same.

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are getting together for an NBA Finals rematch of one of the best Finals series we had seen in a long time. This is the first Finals rematch since 1998 (Bulls and Jazz) but this one is going to feel a little different.

Here are five reasons why.

1) The 2-2-1-1-1 format. Last season the NBA was still using the 2-3-2 format for the Finals, a throwback to when the NBA players used to have to fly commercial between games. Back then there were good logistic (not so much basketball) reasons to go to 2-3-2, but nobody liked those three games in the middle in one city. Both teams complained about it and said it was an advantage for the other side. Now the Spurs have home court and get Games 5 and 7 on their home court. Think of it this way: If the NBA made this switch one year earlier the legendary Game 6 — with Ray Allen’s step back three — would have taken place in San Antonio. Does it end differently if it does?

2) Dwyane Wade’s knees are healthier. Wade averaged 19.6 points a game on 47.6 percent shooting in the Finals last season, but he was dragging some bad knees around. He had spurts of great play but he was not his vintage self. In these playoffs, Wade is averaging 18.7 points per game on 51.9 percent — you can thank the season-long knee maintenance program for that. Eric Spoelstra rested Wade, to the frustration of LeBron James at times, but he got what he wanted — Wade has been strong through these playoffs. That is going to put more defensive pressure on the Spurs.

[MORE: Three keys to winning the series]

3) Miami’s defense hasn’t been as consistently sharp. In the 2013 playoffs the Miami Heat allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions and held teams to 43.6 percent shooting, with the Heat forcing turnovers on 15.6 percent of opponent possessions. They won with defense. In 2014 opposing teams are scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions and shooting 46.2 percent, with Miami forcing turnovers on 14.1 percent of possessions. They haven’t been as good, in part because they haven’t had to be (the competition in the East didn’t push them as hard as San Antonio was pushed). In their last three games against Indiana Miami started to show some of that defensive energy. But how are they going to react now that they face a team that will actually pass out of a double team?

4) Manu Ginobili looks much better. Manu Ginobili was up and down last playoffs, and that showed in the Finals — he dropped 25 in Game 5 and sparked the Spurs in to go up 3-2, then he had a career-high eight turnovers and was a mess in the Spurs devastating Game 6 loss. Ginobili was a negative in the Finals last year. San Antonio seems to be on a mission for revenge but no Spur is more focused than Ginobili, who had a fantastic series against the Thunder and through the playoffs is averaging 14.3 points per game with a PER of 21.1 (he had a just above average 16.5 last year). If this Ginobili shows up for the Finals it will put a lot more pressure on the Heat, particularly its up-and-down bench.

[MORE: What’s next for Thunder, Pacers?]

5) Tony Parker has a sprained ankle. This has to be San Antonio’s biggest concern — they can get through a half against the Thunder without Parker and be just fine, but if he isn’t playing the Tony Parker who should be in the conversation for best point guard in the game this series San Antonio’s dreams of revenge will be sprained as well. Parker sprained his ankle in Game 4 against OKC, played through it then aggravated it in Game 5, and by the second half of Game 6 it was Gregg Popovich who pulled the plug on him. He gets five days off, five days of treatment, the Spurs need that to be enough starting Thursday night at home. Otherwise this series could remind the Spurs of last year’s.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.