NBA Finals: Dallas tops Miami in Game 2 with an incredible fourth quarter comeback

12 Comments

From where we sit now, it’s so easy to look back at the dissipation of Miami’s 15-point fourth-quarter lead and point incredulously at what went wrong. The answers for what ails the Heat are always so obvious; their flaws are so glaring and fixable that armchair coaches across the country typically resolve them before Mark Jackson even finishes his outro heading into the commercial break.

Give it to LeBron. Give it to Wade. Run the pick-and-roll. Pass it to the open man. The answers are always right there in front of James, Wade, Erik Spoelstra, and the whole damn basketball-loving world, treated in retrospect as if an unbelievable Maverick comeback were some kind of inevitability. Treated as if all along, this one had been destined to end in a 95-93 Dallas victory.

As good as the Mavs have been while playing from behind in these playoffs, a 15-point lead is still a 15-point lead. The Mavs had plenty of time to erase each of those 15 points, but the idea that such an incredible run should be expected is flat-out delusional. There was no question that Dallas was going to execute to the best of their collective ability, but considering how disruptive the Heat defense had been throughout Game 2, this was a wholly unpredictable result.

“We’re up 15,” LeBron James said. “If they go on a 12-0 run for the rest of the game, if we don’t score another basket, we still win by three. Defensively we just have to be more in tune and not allow a great team — a great offensive team — to get as many great looks as they did down the stretch.”

But-but-but —

Why didn’t the Heat double Dirk Nowitzki on the game-winning possession, as they had for much of the game?

“At that time, they had carved us up enough on that,” Erick Spoelstra said. “We left open some shooters, and they made us pay. We tried to do it with our normal defense. He made a heck of a drive. We cut him off one time, he spun, our help defense came, and he made a high-arcing lay-up — I believe with his left hand.”

Spoelstra’s decision makes sense, given the circumstances. Jason Kidd had just drained a three thanks to the opening granted him by a double on Nowitzki. Jason Terry had nailed a wide open baseline jumper just minutes prior because of another pass out of a double by Dirk. The Mavs had come back because the pressure on Nowitzki was perhaps too strong, too overt.

But why not use that oft ballyhooed ‘foul to give,’ that would undoubtedly have saved the game?

“It’s easy to say it right now,” Spoelstra said. “You know, we’re aware of it.”

“We talked about it. We’ve been in that situation before. We didn’t use the foul. Obviously, it looks like right now you could second-guess that, but we didn’t take it.”

With Nowitzki’s awareness, Spoelstra’s position is entirely defensible. Even if the Heat had attempted to take their foul to give, it’s possible that Dirk could have risen up above off-balance coverage to sink a jumper, or somehow turned a foul on the floor into a two-shot affair. Nowitzki shooting free throws would have been a miserable outcome of that defensive possession, even considering the look that the Heat eventually surrendered.

Basketball fans everywhere will have to be content with the fact that the Heat played well in Game 2, but simply not well enough. The defense was strong for so long, Dwyane Wade played some truly phenomenal basketball, and the Heat point guards even showed up in a big way — Mike Bibby connected on 4-of-7 three-point attempts, and Mario Chalmers hit a game-tying three in the final minute that very nearly sent the game to overtime. Then the Heat broke down, or imploded, or whatever term of self-destruction you prefer, but didn’t do so in any way that could be construed as simple or logically absurd. The only simplicity in Miami’s loss was the fact that guarding a fully functional offense is damn difficult, and that scoring on a Maverick team locked in and ready to attack the pick-and-roll is a serious challenge.

Maybe no elements of this game of this will carry over into the next, or maybe what transpired over the final seven minutes of this amazing comeback will generate an entirely different dynamic for the series going forward. All we know is that we don’t know, but once these Finals are said and done, fans across the country will argue that they always knew the Mavs’ Game 2 victory would change everything or nothing, with the wisdom that only hindsight provides.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

0 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
0 Comments

Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
0 Comments

Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.