LeBron cramps up while Spurs withstand heat, Heat; Spurs take Game 1

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SAN ANTONIO — Going into the NBA Finals depth was one of San Antonio’s key advantages, it could win them a game in this series.

This is not exactly how anyone expected it to happen, but the Spurs depth won them Game 1.

With the air conditioning out and the temperatures in the AT&T Center climbing into the 90s (and it was a humid 90s, this was bikram basketball) LeBron James cramped up and barely played the final 7:31 of the game.

With that the Spurs went on a 26-9 run to close the game and took Game 1 110-95. The Spurs now lead the best-of-7 series 1-0.

LeBron cramped up so badly he went back to the locker room with a couple minutes left.

“It was an unusual environment, we’re used to having the hotter building this time of year…” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game, sticking with the idea that both teams had to play in it. “I think it felt like a punch to the gut when you see your leader limping back to the bench.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like this since I left the islands,” said Tim Duncan, a native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Spurs are used to trusting their role players, giving them big minutes and expecting them to make plays under pressure. Gregg Popovich rotated those guys in and the Spurs were fresher for it.  The Heat are the LeBron and Dwyane Wade show, and without LeBron the Spurs’ defense flattened out the Heat offense and shut them down late.

“We were like ‘let’s keep pushing the pace,’ they were starting to look tired and LeBron was asking out,” Tony Parker said after the game, adding this felt like a European gym to him (“we don’t have air conditioning [for games]”).

San Antonio’s offense got the shots it wanted all night long with fantastic ball movement — the Spurs shot 58.8 percent overall and hit 13-of-25 from three (late in the game the wilting Heat players could not close out on shooters leaving open shots, plus the Spurs ran them into the ground in transition). 

The Spurs got 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting from Tim Duncan, 19 points from Tony Parker and 16 from Manu Ginobili. Danny Green was 3-of-3 from deep in the third and had 11 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the charge back.

San Antonio would have dominated the game if Miami’s defense had not forced turnovers — the Spurs had 22 in the game, 8 in the third quarter, which fueled some easy buckets for Miami and had them leading after three quarters.

Before Miami literally wilted in the heat.

“They made shots, we made a few mistakes and they capitalized on them,” Dwyane Wade said of the Spurs fourth quarter run. He refused to blame that on LeBron being out.

In the first half the Spurs got seemingly everything they wanted — an up tempo game and 15 points out of Tim Duncan rolling to the rim — and that got them a 54-49 lead at the break. San Antonio’s passing was crisp and it led to 50% shooting overall for the Spurs — plus they were 7-of-14 from three.

Miami got 25 points from LeBron but just 2 in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh had 18 on 7-of-11 shooting and Dwyane Wade had 19 points on 18 shots. Ray Allen added 16.

Stephen Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.

 

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.