NBA finals Game 3: Heat grind out win with assist from Thunder

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The Miami Heat attacked from the opening tip and they owned the paint. But that wasn’t enough — the Oklahoma City Thunder adjusted, taking away the inside game and looked like they were going to take the game away on the road.

And then the Thunder imploded. Oklahoma City fouled 3-point shooters. They missed free throws. They turned the ball over. They had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sit at the end of the third quarter and their lead evaporated. In the fourth quarter James Harden was terrible. They blew the lead.

Then it became a sloppy, grind-it-out kind of game.

And Miami won it. Miami made their free throws, got stops and won 91-85 to take a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Tuesday night in Miami.

It has to be heartening for Heat fans — they know their team can win when the offense is clicking, but getting the win in an ugly, grinding game speaks volumes. It’s why Miami leads the series. It’s what title teams do.

Oh, and by the way, the Heat and LeBron James were just better down the stretch.

But that’s not why they won. Miami won because they were the aggressors. They got into the paint on the dribble drive (and some passes) early and for the game shot 23-of-35 at the rim, according to Hoopdata. Meanwhile, the athletic shot-blockers of the Heat continue to confound the Thunder, who were 13-of-27 at the rim.

The real place the Thunder lost this came in the third quarter when the team had made a run and was up by seven points. Durant picked up his fourth foul and coach Scott Brooks sat him, as expected. Then Westbrook made a couple of bad plays and Brooks sat him, too.

Miami went on a 15-3 run and took the lead.

“I took (Durant) out because he had the foul trouble right there,” Brooks said. “And Russell … Russell had a bad stretch for three or four possessions. I just took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game. I’ve done it before.”

The Thunder also missed free throws — going 15-of-24 from the line. It’s something unexpected for the best free-throw shooting team in the NBA during the regular season at 80.6 percent.

Then there was James Harden — 2-of-10 shooting on the night, two key turnovers late and a terrible blocking foul on LeBron late when the Thunder shouldn’t have fouled.

LeBron scored eight of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, and played fantastic all game making cuts off the ball and getting rebounds in the paint. Dwyane Wade did not have a good game, despite the 25 points. Wade was 5-of-15 shooting in the first half, and he finished the game with five turnovers. Durant had 25 points on 19 shots, and Westbrook added 19 points.

It was sloppy. Miami had five turnovers in the fourth quarter and shot just 41 percent. But they got to the line and hit their free throws, they crashed the boards and they ground out a win.

“In order to win we have to play physical and control the boards,” Chris Bosh said after the game. “We need to keep doing it.”

They just need to do it two more times and they will be NBA champions.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.

Report: Ben Simmons contract extension allows him to hit super-max triggers

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Ben Simmons signed a max contract extension with the 76ers.

It could turn into a super-max contract extension.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The exact value of Simmons’ contract extension won’t be determined until the salary cap set next year. That’s when the extension kicks in. The current projection has it worth about $170 million over five years.

If Simmons makes an All-NBA team next season, it could be worth 20% more – bringing the projected total to about $204 million.

Whether Simmons gets the full bump if he makes an All-NBA team was a matter of negotiation between him and Philadelphia. They could have agreed to pay different amounts depending whether he makes the first, second or third team. (Simmons could also trigger the super max by winning Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year next season, again contingent on the terms of the extension.)

We don’t yet know the specifics of Simmons’ super-max eligibility. But they’re in his contract now.

There will be a lot riding on his performance next season. We’ll eventually learn how much

The 76ers did well to avoid a player option in the deal. That was likely an advantage of signing Simmons to an extension now rather than forcing him to wait until restricted free agency next summer. Simmons is just 22. He should provide positive value to his team six seasons from now.

Simmons’ trade kicker won’t matter now. A trade kicker can’t take a player above his max salary, and Simmons is starting at his max. But if he struggles to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid, Simmons could be in line for a nice bonus if traded in a few years.

Report: Before Paul George trade, Thunder were already preparing to trade Russell Westbrook next year

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The Thunder are starting over in an unprecedented way.

By sending Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets, Oklahoma City is becoming the first team ever to trade two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason. The Thunder are the first team in decades to trade even two reigning All-Stars in the same offseason.

The sequence appears clear: George requested a trade. Oklahoma City granted it. With one star gone, the Thunder had less ability to win with Westbrook. So, they dealt him, too.

But if George didn’t request a trade this summer, Westbrook might have been moved soon, anyway.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The clock was already ticking loudly on the Westbrook era, with team officials quietly preparing to hit the reset button next summer, per sources, after one more run.

George’s trade request was a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. They got a massive haul from the Clippers and clearance to trade Westbrook, a franchise icon. The Westbrook trade netted even more draft strong draft considerations from Houston. Oklahoma City has a great head start on its rebuild.

The Thunder had probably peaked. They’ve been good the last few years, but not good enough to win a playoff series. The supporting cast was expensive, and further upgrades would’ve likely been too costly. Westbrook is too good to tank. The four years and $171,139,920 remaining on his contract are a major liability.

However, Westbrook has meant so much to Oklahoma City. His loyalty after Kevin Durant left was so huge.

It would have been difficult to handle the politics of trading him if George didn’t ask out first. That made it so Westbrook was ready to leave. Thunder fans seem supportive of both Westbrook and the organization.

I believe Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti believes he would’ve traded Westbrook soon, regardless. That was clearly the right move for getting past this era of stagnation.

But it’s another thing to pull the trigger on moving such a beloved player. It wouldn’t have necessarily happened, especially not smoothly.

Canada’s FIBA World Cup training camp features 17 NBA players

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No Andrew Wiggins, no problem.

The disconnect between Wiggins and Canada Basketball seemed like a big deal when Wiggins looked like a budding star from a country without much basketball pedigree. But Wiggins has stagnated. Canada, on the other hand, looks like a rising international power.

Canada Basketball announced its training-camp invitations for the FIBA World Cup. The list includes a whop 17 NBA players:

Though the Nuggets clearly expect Murray to reach the next level, this group is short on star power right now. Don’t expect Canada rival Team USA. But this is a deep pool of solid players. They should be competitive in the tournament this fall in China.

This group is also pretty young. Players like Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander, Barrett, Alexander-Walker and Clarke could take Canada to an even higher level in years to come.

And then the generation that’s growing up idolizing the championship Raptors will come through. Expect Canada’s climb to continue.

The other 12 players invited to Canada Basketball’s training camp: Aaron Best, Aaron Doornekamp, Andrew Nembhard, Andy Rautins, Brady Heslip, Kevin Pangos, Kyle Wiltjer, Melvin Ejim, Naz Mitrou-Long, Oshae Brissett, Phil Scrubb, Thomas Scrubb.