SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs got the best of both worlds — an up-tempo game and 15 points out of Tim Duncan rolling to the rim — and that got them a 54-49 lead over the Heat at the half of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
It was a tightly contested half, but the Spurs at home are just executing at a level the Heat have not had to face coming out of the Eastern Conference. Their passing was crisp and it led to 50% shooting overall for the Spurs — plus they were 7-of-14 from three. Manu Ginobili has 11 for the Spurs, Tony Parker 10.
Miami has 13 points from LeBron James on 5-of-9 shooting, a dozen points from Dwyane Wade, 10 each for Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.
It’s a myth that the Spurs want to play slow and the Heat fast, over the course of the season it was the opposite (Spurs one of 10 fastest, Heat one of five slowest) and in what had to be a good sign the first half was played at the Spurs pace.
Miami went small from the opening tip, staring Rashard Lewis at the four and Bosh at center. Gregg Popovich stayed, big, with Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan as the front line, although Boris Diaw came off the bench for 17 minutes and we are going to see a lot of him (maybe starting the second half).
Miami raced out to 7-2 lead thanks to Bosh hitting his first two shots, but Spurs settled down and came back quickly, leading to a tight first quarter.
What kept the Spurs ahead was Ginobili, who went 3-3 from beyond the arc early, which electrified the AT&T Center. Heat’s defense not as consistent this playoffs but this level of Spurs ball movement and shooting would expose anyone.
If the Heat are going to win Game 1 in a very warm AT&T Center (conditioning will be an issue for players, it’s hot in here and not in a Nelly way) they are going to need LeBron James to be the best player on the planet. Because at home the Spurs will be the Spurs and that has been a force at home.
The Clippers are unraveling.
Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.
Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:
The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.
The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.
The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.
Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.
Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.
Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.
But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.
Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.
The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.
No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.
Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.
Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.
Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.
It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.
By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.
Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…
Record (point difference per game in parentheses):
Point difference per game (record in parentheses):
This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.
But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.