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.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.