Spurs have hot shooting first half, hustle plays late to pick up comfortable win in Miami

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San Antonio started off this game shooting hotter than any team in NBA Finals history had for a half (75.8 percent). They were back to being the dominant Spurs and the Heat looked shell shocked.

Yet even when the Spurs pushed the lead up to 25, the entire American Airlines Arena — and anyone who has seen the Heat play before — knew a run was coming. The Heat were going to try and force chaos on the game, where Miami thrives.

They did. It got all the way to 7 points in the third quarter.

Then the Spurs restored order.

Led by as good a game as Kawhi Leonard has ever played — 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and he was better on the defensive end on LeBron James — the San Antonio Spurs won 111-96 on the road and took Game 3.

The Spurs took a 2-1 series lead and that makes Thursday’s Game 4 pretty much a must win for the Heat. That said the Spurs won Game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals handily as well, this still feels like a series that will go long.

“They came out at a different gear than what we were playing at, and it just seemed we were on our heels the most part of the first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And then when we started to get to a different gear in the third quarter, it was just tough to change the energy of the game.”

“They beat us and really we didn’t bring an urgency to this game tonight,” Ray Allen said in the Heat locker room. “We were just too casual.”

What has to make the Spurs feel good is they won this game on a night Tim Duncan had 14 points and Tony Parker had 15 on 4-of-10 shooting — it was the role players, and their exquisite ball movement, that keyed the offense.

San Antonio took charge from the opening tip when they shot 86.7 percent in the first quarter — they started out 19-of-21 shooting, they were 7-of-10 from three, and Boris Diaw, inserted into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter, was +22 in the first half. The Spurs first quarter was insane as they hit 9-of-10 inside 8 feet, 4-of-4 from three, and missed their only shot from the midrange (remember the Heat forced the Spurs into 23 midrange shots in Game 2, but the Spurs were getting to the rim again in Game 3).

Kawhi Leonard, who had not stood out in the first two games, had 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half (his 29 for the game is the most he has scored since high school).

“We just wanted (Leonard) to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think the foul situations the first two games really he overreacted to them and became very cautious, and he doesn’t play like that.  He’s got to be real active at both ends, and so he figured it out.”

Danny Green added 13 after starting 6-of-6 shooting in the first half, he finished with 15.

The result was a 71-50 San Antonio lead at the half, which had been as much as 25 at one point. That is even more impressive when you remember San Antonio did that on the road against a Heat team that had not last at home all playoffs.

The Heat made their expected run in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 25-15 and holding San Antonio to 31.6 percent shooting. The Heat had a 10-0 run and cut the lead to seven with just more than two minutes left in the third. They were pressuring the ball and forcing misses.

But then the Spurs got back to crisp ball movement out of the pressure, plus they just won the hustle plays (such as Leonard chasing down Ray Allen on a breakaway and forcing a miss). The Spurs won the fourth quarter 25-17 and shot 58 percent in the Final frame.

The desperate Spurs played harder, more physical and smarter basketball all night. They earned the win and put the pressure on the Heat.

PBT Podcast: Early trade deadline breakdown with Dan Feldman

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The NBA’s trade market did not collapse after the Jahlil Okafor trade.

There’s more to come, but with the trade deadline is less than two months away, we have more questions than answers. DeAndre Jordan very likely could be on the move from the Clippers (and Lou Williams, too). But what is Memphis going to do about Mark Gasol? New Orleans with DeMarcus Cousins? Oklahoma City with Paul George? And if any of those guys are available, who is a buyer? Cleveland? Milwaukee? Portland?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down the high end of the trade market, plus talk about other guys who could be on the move — maybe Nikola Mirotic from Chicago, and what about someone like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from Charlotte — before Feb. 8 gets here. The last couple of trade deadlines have been interesting, but will we see a move that changes the landscape of the NBA playoffs in a meaningful way?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Joel Embiid calls out Karl Anthony-Towns’ defense during Instagram trash talk

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Joel Embiid often gloats on Instagram after 76ers wins.

Of course he did after Philadelphia beat Minnesota on Tuesday, specifically calling attention to this move on Karl-Anthony Towns (and this 76ers fan custom):

Embiid:

Euro stepping our way through Minnesota and we ended up raising the cat last night #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Towns commented:

That caption was as trash as your picture quality

Embiid replied:

Better quality than your defense

Embiid insisted it’s all in good fun.

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

https://twitter.com/JCameratoNBCS/status/941395953113804800

I’m not sure Towns is having as much fun as Towns. But I know this:

Embiid had a valid point.

Salah Mejri kicks at Patty Mills as Mavericks and Spurs leave court for halftime (video)

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Mavericks center Salah Mejri has a history of agitating, including against the Spurs.

Two years ago, Mejri dunked while Dallas got blown out by San Antonio and yapped at the Spurs bench – drawing laughter from Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Last season, Mejri had Trevor Ariza and other Rockets trying to confront him after reportedly saying something about Ariza’s family.

In the Mavericks’ win over the Spurs on Tuesday, Mejri got into it with Patty Mills.

Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

Mejri and Rudy Gay received double technical fouls, and Mejri went to the bench. Everything could have cooled down at halftime, but Mejri escalated tension

Watch the full sequence above, but the key moment:

giphy (2)

That’ll probably draw a fine.

NBA introducing 2-for-1 All-Star voting days

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The NBA changed its All-Star format this season from East vs. West to captain-picked teams (though still naming players equally from each conference).

That apparently wasn’t a big enough overhaul.

After including media and player votes last year, the league is making All-Star starter selection even more complex.

NBA release:

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 presented by Verizon will tip off with an early voting period exclusively on the NBA App and NBA.com beginning Thursday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET.

Voting via all other channels, including Amazon Alexa for the first time, will launch on Monday, Dec. 25 at 11 a.m.

Additionally, new for this season, five “2-for-1 Days” will allow fans to have their votes count twice on Dec. 31, Jan. 4, Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 when voting through the NBA App and NBA.com, along with Sina Weibo and Tencent in China.  All “2-for-1 Days” will be designated 12 a.m. – 11:59 p.m. ET.

TNT will reveal the All-Star Game starters, including the two captains, on Thursday, Jan. 18 during TNT NBA Tip-Off

The network will announce the reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET. 

The team rosters for NBA All-Star Game 2018 in Los Angeles will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET.

I suppose this is to drum up interest on otherwise quiet voting days. After all, this is really just about the NBA selling itself.

But the All-Star voting process has always left something to be desired. I don’t see how this changes that.