NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 3: The Triad have found the nexus

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In Miami’s 91-86 win over Oklahoma City Sunday night, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade scored 35 points on 34 shots. That’s a bad ratio. It would indicate that LeBron James (29 points on 23 shots) carried the team. But that’s off, you have to consider everything. The metrics, the plays, the context of the series, the matchups, everything. You have to see the whole board to identify what we saw in Game 3, and in this series.

And what we see is the Triad finding the nexus of their talents, playing together, playing well, and playing at the apex of their potential together, in terms of execution. The shots aren’t falling? That’s fine. The process matters more than the results in the course of a seven-game series ( as long as you win, right?).

What we saw in Game 3 was Dwyane Wade using the pick and roll and the Thunder’s adaptation to push the defense to the perimeter to find Chris Bosh inside for all three of his buckets. That forced the defense to adapt. That opened the perimeter for James to create inside. Their offensive rebounding forced adaptations. And James cutting inside, forcing the defense to slide to help, the doubles they forced, the intensity and execution created more and more opportunities.

But it was the defense that did it.

From the beginning, this Heat team was built on the concept that they had to play amazing defense to win. They had learned from losses to Boston and Orlando that the path to the title was through their defense, that their best use of their athleticism and talent was to extend and control the game defensively. This is a team that outshot the Knicks, outmuscled the Pacers, and outran the Celtics. Now they are grinding OKC down, behind the efforts of the Triad.

Chris Bosh had the best 3-12 game you’re going to find. 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He posted a -7, but that stat doesn’t cover the late game impact he had. Bosh has also created a ton of possession for Miami by diving on the floor. He’s set the tone.

And that shouldn’t be overlooked, here. The Miami Heat are no longer “too good to try” in terms of these loose balls. They’re getting to the 50/50 balls and outworking the young guys. They look hungrier, more poised, and tougher. Those are nebulous things, but we see it with certain plays. Gone is the indecisiveness. When Wade works in isolation, LeBron’s no longer standing on the perimeter when Wade launches. He’s crashing the offensive glass. Wade’s no longer coasting possessions when LeBron works in the post. He’s cutting to the rim. They’re creating extra possessions and attacking early in the shot clock.

The uneasiness of how to make these players fit is gone, and much of it is seen in an approach that simply has stopped trying to out-think the opponent. The Heat aren’t waiting to make sure things are perfect. They’re using their talents, executing, and forcing things. Defensively, they’re attacking, attacking, attacking and the result in Game 3 was a Thunder team on its heels. There are times when it just seems too much, with Bosh making the smart play, Wade making the aggressive play, and James making the best play, often on one possession. It’s not dominant. It stalls at times. But they are close, so very close to that point where there’s just no way to beat them.

Still, the Thunder hang, hitting tough shot after tough shot, which is to their credit. And in Game 4, everything can be reversed, the Triad can go back into the mud, and it can end just like that. But in an ugly game, the Big 3 are creating what they need to, producing what they need to, building the team they want to.

They’re two games away from a championship.

Whether they stay here in the nexus may decide if those two wins are attainable.

Hawks’ Lloyd Pierce replaces Pacers’ Nate McMillan as Team USA assistant coach

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is taking over Team USA, and he has assistant coaches for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics:

  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr
  • Pacers coach Nate McMillan
  • Villanova coach Jay Wright
  • Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce

USA Basketball release:

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was named to the USA Basketball Men’s National Team coaching staff today. Pierce replaces Indiana Pacers head coach Nate [McMillan] who withdrew because of scheduling conflicts.

This is a pretty big honor for Pierce, who just completed his first season as an NBA head coach. He guided Atlanta to only a 29-53 record.

But the young Hawks, especially Trae Young, improved throughout the season. Atlanta pushed the pace, hoisted 3s and defended aggressively (though not well). An identity is forming.

Though it’s far too early to say much about Pierce’s head-coaching acumen, he acquitted himself well in his first year.

Working with Team USA could even help Pierce ingratiate himself with stars. This could eventually pay off for the Hawks in free agency.

Rumor: Suns prefer drafting Ja Morant over drafting Zion Williamson

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Duke power forward Zion Williamson is overwhelmingly favored to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Murray State point guard Ja Morant is the leading candidate to be the No. 2 pick.

But what if Phoenix lands the top pick?

Suns general manager James Jones has his own ideas about the draft. The thoroughness of Phoenix’s scouting leaves a lot to be desired. The Suns badly need a point guard.

With all those factors, Phoenix might be the biggest wildcard with the No. 1 pick.

Sam Vecenie of The Athletic:

Sources around the NBA are buzzing that Morant is actually the player the Suns prefer to end up with. Particularly, Jones is thought to be a fan of the dynamic lead guard. It’s not a surprise, given their need at the point guard position. But color me skeptical that the team would actually take him at No. 1.

I see a few possibilities:

  • Phoenix rates Morant ahead of Williamson but would be afraid to pass on Williamson. Not only is Williamson the consensus top pick, he is the biggest star coming out of college basketball in years.
  • The Suns would rather have Morant plus whatever they could get for trading down than Williamson. That might even be reasonable, though we don’t know how potential trade packages would look.
  • People around the league are taking (easy) shots at Phoenix, even if these claims are untrue.

The Suns should draft whichever player they believe will have the brightest future. Period.

Passing on Williamson just because they have Deandre Ayton would be only compounding mistakes. There is not a single player in Phoenix good enough to justify passing on Williamson. Point guards will be available via free agency and trade.

If the Suns truly believe Morant will have a better career than Williamson, they should draft Morant. Making a pick for marketability or fear of backlash is misguided.

Of course, there’s only a 14% chance of Phoenix getting the No. 1 pick and facing this decision. But if it lands that way, it’d cause a ton of intrigue into the selection.

Jared Dudley, Jimmy Butler fined for fight

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When Jared Dudley pushed Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler pushed Dudley right back. After the 76ers’ Game 4 win over the Nets, Butler accompanied his star teammate to the postgame press conference.

“So he don’t do nothing stupid when he’s up here,” Butler said. “We all know he’s a trolling son of a gun. So, I’m just here to protect my big fella.

“If somebody runs up on him, I’m gonna push them again.”

A grateful Embiid said he’d pay Butler’s fine.

Then, later in the press conference, Embiid said: “It feels great to be up 3 to 1. We definitely don’t want to be in a situation like the Warriors.”

Butler got up and left, shouting, “I tried to save you,” on his way out.

Does Embiid’s fine-paying offer still stand? It’s definitely relevant.

NBA release:

Brooklyn Nets forward Jared Dudley and Philadelphia 76ers forward-guard Jimmy Butler have each been fined for their roles in an on-court altercation, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Dudley has been fined $25,000 for escalating an on-court incident which spilled into the spectator stands by shoving Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Butler has been fined $15,000 for escalating it further by then shoving Dudley.

The incident, for which Dudley and Butler each received technical fouls and were ejected, occurred with 7:42 remaining in the third quarter of Philadelphia’s 112-108 victory over Brooklyn on Saturday, April 20

Dudley is doing all he can. The best part of the skirmish: Nets coach Kenny Atkinson trying to restrain and calm Dudley while yelling, “We need you.” Brooklyn was +12 with Dudley and -16 without him in Game 4.

But Dudley can do only so much against more-talented Philadelphia.

With Embiid, Butler and a 3-1 lead, the 76ers are clearly having more fun.

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro remaining in 2019 NBA draft

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington declared for the NBA draft.

A couple other Wildcats are following his lead.

Kentucky releases:

Kentucky men’s basketball freshman guard Keldon Johnson will remain in the 2019 NBA Draft pool and will not return to Kentucky, he announced

Kentucky men’s basketball freshman guard Tyler Herro has decided to remain in the 2019 NBA Draft, ending his career at UK.

Washington, Johnson and Herro all look like probable first-round picks. Washington and/or Johnson could sneak into the lottery, but there’s a good chance all three go later in the opening round.

Johnson is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan. He brings impressive effort and physicality. If his 3-pointer continues to fall, he’ll have a future in the league as a nice role player. But he hasn’t yet proven himself as a strong NBA-level spot-up shooter. He’s not there off the dribble, as a shooter or playmaker.

Herro can flat out shoot. He races around screens, finds ways to get open and sinks shots on the move and from odd angles. The 6-foot-5 guard might be a defensive liability, but at least he competes on that end. He’s also limited offensively, but the league needs shooters.