“It’s how we’re gonna fit back in with Kobe. Don’t get it twisted, man. This is the Mamba show.”
–Ron Artest, when asked how Kobe would fit back in Tuesday night on a Lakers team that went 4-1 while he was out. (Via Andrew Kamenetzky and the Land O’ Lakers blog)
Silver: Ja Morant investigation results, possible suspension to come down after Finals
DENVER — The NBA has nearly concluded its investigation into the latest incident of Ja Morant apparently waiving a gun on social media, however, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league plans to “park” the report and any announcement of a possible punishment until after the NBA Finals, so as not to distract from the games.
“We’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information, I think, since I was first asked about the situation,” Silver said in a press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. “I will say we probably could have brought it to a head now, but we made the decision, and I believe the Players Association agrees with us, that it would be unfair to these players and these teams in the middle of the series to announce the results of that investigation.
“Given that we’re, of course, in the offseason, he has now been suspended by the Memphis Grizzlies indefinitely, so nothing would have changed anyway in the next few weeks. It seemed better to park that at the moment, at least any public announcement, and my sense now is that shortly after the conclusion of the Finals we will announce the outcome of that investigation.”
The Grizzlies suspended Morant after he appeared to flash a handgun on friend Davonte Pack’s Instagram account. Morant has since released a statement taking responsibility for his actions, but otherwise staying out of the spotlight.
Grizzlies star Ja Morant was allegedly seen holding a gun on an IG Live yesterday.pic.twitter.com/bqvwbwgd9m
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 14, 2023
That came months after Morant was suspended eight games after another video of him flashing a gun in a Denver area club was posted on Instagram Live.
After that first incident, Morant spent time away from the team to seek counseling, and he met with Silver about what had happened. Morant admitted after the No. 2 seed Grizzlies were eliminated in the first round by the Lakers his actions were part of the distractions that threw off the Grizzlies.
Silver was asked if he had come down harder on Morant after the first incident — his suspension was seen as player-friendly — if things would have been different.
“I’ve thought about that, and Joe Dumars [VP of basketball operations with the NBA], who is here, was in the room with me when we met with Ja, and he’s known Ja longer than I have, Silver said. “For me at the time, an eight-game suspension seemed very serious, and the conversation we had, and Tamika Tremaglio from the Players Association was there, as well, felt heartfelt and serious. But I think he understood that it wasn’t about his words. It was going to be about his future conduct.
“I guess in hindsight, I don’t know. If it had been a 12-game suspension instead of an eight-game suspension, would that have mattered?”
Silver would not divulge any potential punishment, but the expectation in league circles is for him to come down much harder on Morant this time. While Morant did not break any laws, this is a serious image issue for the NBA (one that reverberates through decades of the game).
Morant lost about $669,000 in salary with the last suspension, although the real hit was his missing games and the team stumbling after this incident was one reason he did not make an All-NBA team — that cost him $39 million on his contract extension that kicks in next season.
Three takeaways from Nuggets dominating Game 1 win against Heat
DENVER — It was a full-throated celebration inside Ball Arena as a fan base that waited 47 years for this moment was going to be heard.
It was a full-throated celebration in the hallway outside the Nuggets locker room after Game 1 as the players let loose some joy after a big win.
Game 1 was everything the Nuggets could have wanted with a 104-93 victory, and the game was not as close as the final score suggested (even if it got a little interesting in the fourth). The Nuggets lead the NBA Finals 1-0 over the Miami Heat with Game 2 Sunday in Denver.
Here are three takeaways from Game 1.
1) Nuggets’ size early, poise under pressure late earned them win
Before the series started, one of the big questions was how the smallish Heat would deal with the size across the board of the Nuggets.
To start Game 1, they couldn’t — the Nuggets scored 18 of their first 24 points in the paint. Denver used its size advantage to punish every switch that gave it a matchup advantage. Aaron Gordon was at the forefront of that, overwhelming Gabe Vincent among others on his way to 12 first quarter points (with none of his made shots being rather than six feet from the rim).
Aaron Gordon came out firing in Game 1 💪 pic.twitter.com/0maIS8Pb3C
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 2, 2023
“I definitely think they came out with a lot of physicality, and we have to be able to match that,” the Heat’s Jimmy Butler said.
Leaning into that size advantage was all part of the plan.
“Most definitely. You’ve got to play to your advantages at this time of year and all the time,” Gordon said. “I was just looking to play to my advantages.”
This was not some new wrinkle the Nuggets put in just for the Finals or the Heat, this is how they beat the Timberwolves, Suns and Lakers all postseason.
“No, those are sets. We’re making reads,” Jamal Murray said. “Like I said, we’re just making reads. If I’m not open, somebody else is open if I cut.”
“If you make the right read or make the right cut or set the right screen, you’re going to be open, and the ball moves, the ball finds the open man,” Gordon added. “The open man is the right play, and that’s how we play the game, and it’s a fun way to play.”
That size advantage got the Heat a lead early that they grew to 21 by the end of the third quarter. But then the Heat made an 11-0 run to start the fourth, and for Heat fans things started to look familiar — they had made big comebacks with a dominant quarter all playoffs.
The difference was when the Heat made these kinds of runs against the Bucks and Celtics, those teams became rattled and made mistakes. They helped fuel the Heat runs.
Not the Nuggets.
They have poise and Nikola Jokić — they just throw the ball to him and get a good shot and a bucket. The Nuggets don’t beat themselves, they just keep scoring. Miami got the lead down to nine for a possession, but that was as close as it ever got. The game was never in doubt and the message was sent to the Heat — there will be no dramatic comebacks in this building.
2) Miami has to be more aggressive, and they know it
The shotmaking that fueled Miami’s run past the two teams with the best records in the NBA was nowhere to be seen in Denver. Particularly in the first half, when the Heat were 4-of-17 from 3 — led by Max Strus being 0-of-7 — and shot 37.5% as a team.
More than just missing open shots, the Heat settled for jumpers in the face of the length of the Nuggets.
“We shot a lot of jumpshots, myself probably leading that pack, instead of putting pressure on the rim, getting layups, getting to the free throw line,” Jimmy Butler said. “When you look at it during the game, they all look like the right shots. And I’m not saying that we can’t as a team make those, but got to get more layups, got to get more free throws…
“But that’s it as a whole. We’ve got to attack the rim a lot more, myself included.”
The evidence of the Heat settling for jumpers, they had just two free throws all game. As a team. That clearly bothered Bam Adebayo postgame, who was careful not to say something that would earn him a fine from the league, but his frustration with not getting calls was clear. And maybe he could have gotten a couple more, but he was one of the guys taking jumpers rather than attacking.
More than settling for jumpers, the Heat kept passing up open looks in search of the perfect look, when they just needed to take the good and knock the shot down. They seemed to overthink their half-court offense.
The one Heat player putting up numbers was Adebayo, who finished with a team-high 26 points, but needed 25 shots to get there. He took what the defense gave him, which was 10-15 foot jumpers and floaters, and he put up 14 of those — but with that he was not pressuring the rim. While he racked up points the Nuggets will live with those shots.
“If you’re giving up tough mid-range contested twos, that’s better than them getting a lot of open threes,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, we can do a better job of contesting some of those mid-range shots that Bam was getting, and I think we have to mix up our levels.”
3) There is no answer for Nikola Jokić, but can Heat limit him?
It was another master class from Jokić, right from the opening tip. He came out dishing the ball and carving up the Heat defense — Jokić only took one shot in the first quarter (a putback dunk in the final minute) and three shots for the half. But he had six first-quarter assists as Gordon was dunking inside, some 3-pointers fell, and the Nuggets were up 29-20 after one, and by 17 at the half.
“That’s just the way he plays the game,” Jamal Murray said. “If the team is rolling, that’s just how you play basketball. If everybody else is scoring, then there’s no need to force it. He’s a great passer, great facilitator. They’re digging, they’re doubling, they’re trying not to let him score.”
The Heat had talked about making Jokić more of a scorer, staying home with shooters and trying to take away his passes. It’s one thing to have that plan, it’s another to deal with the reality of player and ball movement Jokić orchestrates. Throw in the unstoppable Jokic/Murray pick-and-roll — Murray finished with 26 points and 10 assists — and even a good defense can look bad.
“Just how he plays, how the game comes to him, the way they were playing him — he was just passing,” Michael Porter Jr. said of Jokić. “Jamal had it going. Aaron had it going. And then to still end up with that triple-double just shows how special he is.”
Jokić finished with a triple-double of 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
The Heat are finding what so many teams have found before them — there is no answer to Jokić. Switch the screen and put a small on him and Jokić just backs him down in the post and gets an easy bucket (he backed down Cody Zeller that way, too). Double Jokić and he finds the open shooter. Roll out a zone and cutters slash to the rim, or a shooter knocks down a shot over the top of it all.
Miami had a little success in the fourth with Haywood Highsmith on Jokić. The Heat used Highsmith sort of the way the Lakers used Rui Hachimura to try and bother Jokić and freeing up Adebayo to play off Gordon and be more of a free safety.
Except, that didn’t work well for the Lakers for the rest of the series. Jokić and the Nuggets figured it out. Erik Spoelstra tipped his hand with some adjustments as he tried things in the fourth, but that gives the Nuggets a couple of days to prepare for it before Sunday’s Game 2.
That’s when the Nuggets will pose the Jokić question to the Heat again. There is no great answer, but the Heat need to find a better one.
Jokić conducts a symphony on offense, Nuggets pick up 104-93 Game 1 win over Heat
DENVER — This is what the Denver Nuggets have done to every team that faced them this postseason. And most of the ones in the regular season, too.
There are no good answers to slowing the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokić pick-and-roll. Their passing and off-ball movement are elite. They have shooters everywhere. They have size across the board. And they play enough defense that it becomes impossible to keep up with their scoring.
Combine that with Heat shooters going cold for long stretches of Game 1 and you end up with a 104-93 Nuggets victory that wasn’t as close as the final score made it seem.
The Nuggets lead the NBA Finals 1-0, with Game 2 Sunday in Denver. It was a raucous, fun night for Nuggets fans who got everything they wanted from the franchise’s first-ever Finals game.
Jokić finished with a triple-double of 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — Miami has to find a way not to let him both score and distribute if they are going to have a chance in this series. Of course, that’s what the Timberwolves, Suns and Lakers all said.
Murray added 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Aaron Gordon scored 16 on 7-of-10 shooting.
Jamal Murray (26 PTS, 10 AST, 6 REB) shines in the @nuggets Game 1 win!
Denver leads 1-0 in the franchise's first ever NBA Finals 🔒
MIA/DEN Game 2: Sunday, 8 PM ET on ABC pic.twitter.com/NGavpWf2a9
— NBA (@NBA) June 2, 2023
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 26 points and 13 rebounds, shooting 13-of-25. He played well and hard all night, but the Nuggets will be happy if he is the Heat player taking the most shots every game.
From the opening tip, Denver’s size advantage on paper became a problematic reality for Miami – 18 of Nuggets’ first 24 points were scored in the paint. The Nuggets used their size advantage to pummel the Heat inside on offense, and turn them into jump shooters on the other end.
“You have to credit them with their size and really protecting the paint and bringing a third defender,” Spoelstra said postgame. “Things [we do] have to be done with a lot more intention and a lot more pace, a lot more detail.”
Miami also just missed shots they made in the previous series, shooing 9-of-26 (34.6%) in the first quarter. For the game things got a little better, but the Heat had an unimpressive 102.2 offensive rating on the night.
The shooting trend continued into the second, as the Heat didn’t play terribly on the offensive end for most of the first half, moving the ball and getting clean looks, but they weren’t falling — Max Strus was 0-of-7 in the first half (six from 3) and those were essentially open looks. Miami did make a little push in some non-Jokić minutes in the second and cut the lead down to six with 5:47 left in the half on a Haywood Highsmith dunk.
But the first half’s final minutes were a disaster for the Heat. They didn’t score for 3:30 after Highsmith’s bucket and shot 2-of-10 the rest of the quarter. Denver got rolling at the end of the quarter, went on a 16-5 run, and it was a 17-point Nuggets lead at the break, 59-42.
At the start of both the third and the fourth quarters the Heat made runs — 7-0 to start the third, 11-0 to start the fourth — and cut the lead to 10 both times. In the third,d things returned to first-half form and the Nuggets ran out to a 21-point lead after three.
In the fourth, the Heat kept it close, partly thanks to 18 points from Highsmith off the bench, and the lead got down to single digits for a possession. But Miami was too far back for their comeback magic, especially against a team with Jokić orchestrating a symphony on offense.
Brad Stevens confirms Joe Mazzulla will return as Celtics coach
Despite the sting of losing to the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, don’t expect sweeping changes in Boston. Not to the Celtics’ coaching staff and not to the roster.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Steven made that clear in his end-of-season press conference. It starts with bringing back Joe Mazzulla, which was expected after he was given a multi-year contract extension during the season. Stevens was asked if Mazzulla was the right person to lead the Celtics after an uneven season (hat tip NBC Sports Boston).
“Yeah, I think he is,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a really good job with this group. Everybody’s going to overreact to the best players and coaches after every game. That’s always the way it is. We know that going in, so we have to be able to judge things on the whole.
“He’s a terrific leader, he’ll only get better at anything that he can learn from this year, because he’s constantly trying to learn. And he’s accountable. Those leadership qualities are hard to find. I know they’re easy to talk about, but when you can show all those through the expectations and the microscope that he was under, that’s hard to do. Our players, our staff, everybody around him believe(s) in him, and we’ve got to do our best to support him going forward.”
The expectation is that veteran coaches — ideally at least one person with NBA head coaching experience — will be added to Mazzulla’s staff to help with the maturation process of the young coach. But he will be back.
Stevens also was asked about Jaylen Brown, who is eligible for a supermax extension of around $295 million over five years (his making All-NBA made him eligible for 35% of the salary cap). Stevens was limited in what he could say due to (archaic) tampering rules.
"I'm not allowed to talk about the contract details, let alone the extension… but I can say without a doubt we want Jaylen to be here."
Brad Stevens on Jaylen Brown's contract extension pic.twitter.com/skLAyXEoAZ
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) June 1, 2023
“I’ve had nothing but great conversations with Jaylen, but we can’t talk about all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I’m not allowed to talk about the contract details, let alone the extension because it’s not of that time yet right now. His window is between July 1 and October or whatever it is.
“But I can say without a doubt that we want Jaylen to be here. He’s a big part of us. We believe in him. I’m thankful for him. I’m really thankful for when those guys (Jayson Tatum and Brown) have success, they come back to work. And when they get beat, they own it and come back to work. I know that’s what they’re about, and that’s hard to find. Kinda like what I talked about with leadership earlier. Those qualities aren’t for everyone. Jaylen had a great year, All-NBA year and he’s a big part of us moving forward in our eyes.”
Despite Brown’s struggles against the Heat, it’s a no-brainer for the Celtics to retain the 26-year-old All-NBA player entering his prime. They should offer him the full supermax, and his public comments made it sound like that’s what he expects. Mess around in negotiations and try to get Brown to take less than the full max and then the threat of Brown leaving becomes more real. Only one player has ever rejected a supermax extension: Kawhi Leonard when he was trying to force a trade. (If Boston puts the full 35% max on the table and Brown rejects it, then the game changes and they have to trade him this summer, but don’t bet on him walking away from more than a quarter of a billion dollars).
There will be changes on the Celtics roster, but expect Brown and Mazzulla to return.