When the Finals got hot before: Game 5, 1984, Bird vs. Magic in “heat game”

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SAN ANTONIO — It was hot, temperatures above 90 degrees, in the AT&T Center for Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals. LeBron James cramped up, the Heat players wilted and San Antonio went on a 26-9 run to end the game and win Game 1.

It was wild — but it was not unprecedented.

Thirty years ago almost to the day, June 8, 1984, the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in what became known as “the heat game.” It was reportedly 97 degrees in the old Boston Garden— a building that didn’t have air conditioning in it (why would you need that in an arena also used for hockey?). Boston was suffering through a heat wave and that made the building sweltering, more so that what the Heat and Spurs faced Thursday night.

The enduring image of 2014’s Game 1 is LeBron James being carried off the court with cramps. The enduring image out of  1984 comes at the 3:44 mark of the video above: a 37-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the oxygen mask over his face, sucking in air as he tries to get rested and back on the court.

“I suggest,” Abdul-Jabbar said after the game (via NBA.com), “that you go to a local steam bath, do 100 pushups with all your clothes on, then try to run back and forth for 48 minutes. The game was in slow motion. It was like we were running in mud.”

It was so hot referee Hugh Evans had to stop at halftime due to dehydration, reported Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe.

The 1984 NBA Finals was the one everyone had been waiting for, finally Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were going to square off on the NBA’s biggest stage (it was David Stern’s first Finals as commissioner, he certainly lucked into a lot of things early in his tenure). The series didn’t disappoint, going seven games (with Bird and the Celtics ultimately prevailing, the first salvo in the great rivalry of the 1980s).

Bird owned Game 5 — 34 points on 15-of-20 shooting, plus grabbing 17 boards. And like the Spurs after Game 1 this year (with Tony Parker saying it felt like a European gym and Tim Duncan saying it was like the Virgin Islands where he grew up) Bird said after the game he was used to this.

“I play in this stuff all the time back home. It’s like this all summer.”

(As a side note pointed out by my boss Rick Cordella, maybe the most classic part of the above video is near the end, at the 6:15 mark, when a guy just lights up a cigarette in the building as the fans celebrate, Mad Men style. That was just a different era.)

Stuff happens in an NBA Finals. Unexpected stuff. What matters is who adapts, who adjusts, who just finds a way to play through that and win.

In 1984 that was Larry Bird and the Celtics.

Thirty years later round one goes to the Spurs.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders: