2014 NBA Finals - Game Two

Spurs “beautiful game” offense turned ugly in fourth quarter


SAN ANTONIO — There were points during Game 2 of the NBA Finals where you just had to be in awe of the Spurs ball movement. On one possession they got the ball to Tim Duncan on the right block then he swung it to three point line on the left side, then the ball was whipped the right top, then back to the right block — all in about three seconds.

When the Spurs play like that, it’s the beautiful game.

Then in the fourth quarter they stopped.

“The ball stuck to us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think we were trying to do it  we didn’t do it as a group. We tried to do it individually and we’re not good enough to do that.”

San Antonio scored 18 fourth quarter points on 35.3 percent shooting, and they had an offensive rating of just 90 points per 100 possessions in that frame. The Spurs were up one with less than three minutes to go, they got some stops, but they just couldn’t get the ball inside or score.

That cost them Game 2.

Miami made one key defensive switch in the fourth quarter — they put LeBron James on Tony Parker. His size took the focal point of the Spurs offense out of the game, he was 1-of-2 shooting for 3 points with one assist in the final frame. LeBron also didn’t need help on Parker, which allowed the other Heat defenders to stay at home with their men. Also, Miami switched a lot more picks in this game, which threw the Spurs off it seemed.

But that still shouldn’t have negated the Spurs’ ball movement like it did.

“We stopped the ball,” Manu Ginobili said. “Against a team like them, we are not going to score much if we do stop the ball… But, yeah, there are moments where we forget what got us to where we are now. It happened also in Game 1. The only thing that we were perfect for moments in Game 1.”

Take a look at the Spurs possessions in the final 4:30 of the game:

• Danny Green misses driving, twisting, contested lay-up.

• Ginobili missed a deep three he had to race up because the shot clock was about to expire.

• Parker hit a three pointer — Ginobili drove and got into the paint, the defense collapsed and he kicked it out to Parker. Chris Bosh was hesitant and slow on the close out. (That shot put the Spurs up one with 2:25 left).

• After the Spurs first couple actions got nowhere Parker drove the ball in but got stripped by LeBron. The Spurs retained the ball but with just 0.8 seconds left they did not get off a good look.

• Ginobili made a hard pass inside to a cutting Duncan, but it bounced off his hands out of bounds.

• Ginobili missed a step-back 18 footer.

• The Spurs got a Ginobili three at the buzzer to make it just a two-point loss.

Notice with those shots, not one was in the paint. Green missed his and Parkers’ three came off penetration and a kick-out.

Miami did well overall on defense, their rotations were sharper and they played with much more aggression. Heat coach Eric Spoelstra had said they just needed to do what they normally do for a full game, and to do it harder. Miami was far better defending the pick-and-roll and cutting off penetration before it got going.

“We had to take the challenge one-on-one and do a better job with that, contain the pick-and-rolls two-on-two to give our backside defense more help and more opportunities to make plays,” Chris Bosh said.

The question for the Spurs is how they adjust — you can bet LeBron will be back on Parker for key stretches, that can’t kill the ball movement.

For the Heat, the question is consistency — they haven’t done that these playoffs. They have been great for stretches but not entire games, or after a good one they have a bad one. Miami can’t do that against San Antonio.

We will get our answers Tuesday night.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.