NBA Finals Game 1: Spurs win fourth quarter, win game 92-88

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Miami was up by three points heading into the fourth quarter but the Spurs were the better team when it mattered — San Antonio had zero turnovers in the quarter, Miami had 5. The Heat shot just 27.8 percent in the fourth quarter and Chris Bosh was 1-of-5 from the floor.

Combine that with great play from Tony Parker — including an insane shot with 5 seconds left — and the Spurs take Game 1 on the road 92-88.

The big take away we should have from this game — man this was fun. Two teams that for the most part played good basketball and pushed the pace — this wasn’t the grind-it-out stuff of the last round, this was entertaining and smart basketball. I hope we get seven games of this kind of play.

END OF GAME: 92-88 Spurs take Game 1. Great defense from San Antonio in the fourth, they hit their shots. And we have a series.

:05 Fourth Quarter: Tony Parker with shot right at buzzer… so close. Refs could rule either way if it was too late. But the refs make the right call and count it (he got it off by just a split second), and Spurs up 92-88 and will force Heat to score quick and foul. Amazing play by Parker, who fell, but got up and went up and under for the shot.

:31 Fourth Quarter: Parker misses jumper. At other end LeBron fouled in post, hits both three throws, 90-88 Spurs, and Heat will get last shot.

:58 Fourth Quarter: Chris Bosh misses a wide-open three.

1:08 Fourth Quarter: Duncan uses pump fake to create room, drives the paint and is fouled. Hits both 90-86 Spurs.

1:28 Fourth Quarter: Allen hits all three, 88-86 Spurs.

1:30 Fourth Quarter: Huge three by Danny Green has Spurs up 7. LeBron layup makes it five, then next possession Danny Green fouls Ray Allen on a three. Bad foul, Ray can get it to two.

2:40 Fourth Quarter: Sours put LeBron on Parker. 85-81 Spurs.

3:30 Fourth Quarter: Spurs outscoring Heat 16-7 in the fourth so far. Miami hasn’t scored in nearly four minutes. Heat 3-12 shooting in the fourth

3:30 Fourth Quarter: Tony Parker with stepback jumper makes it 85-79 Spurs, six point lead. Other guys have stopped hitting for the HEat and it’s killing them (plus, Spurs playing good defense).

4:05 Fourth Quarter: Duncan makes a tip-in, Wade misses a layup, then next Heat possession the Heat see Chalmers get stripped. 83-79 Spurs as they are the ones cranking up their defense.

5:59 Fourth Quarter: LeBron has been dishing as the defense comes to him, but hasn’t scored himself since 6:48 of the third quarter. That’s fine if other guys are hitting enough.

5:59 Fourth Quarter: LeBron assist to Chris Bosh for a midrange jumper is LeBron’s 10th assist, he has a triple double. But a couple turnovers have the Spurs converting in transition. 81-78 Spurs.

7:47 Fourth Quarter: After sloppy turnover, Parker on runout is fouled, hits both free throws and Spurs have their first lead since the first quarter, 77-76.

10:55 Fourth Quarter: LeBron is back, Heat are up 76-73. No pain for Miami from resting him and Wade at same time.

10:55 Fourth Quarter: Referees are letting them play a little. As it should be in the finals. 74-73 Heat.

10:55 Fourth Quarter: Heat rest LeBron and Wade to start fourth, key stretch here.

START OF FOURTH QUARTER: Both teams have dictated this game with their offense, if one team can start to do it with their defense they will win.

END OF THIRD QUARTER: LeBron now one assist short of a triple double now.

END OF THIRD QUARTER: LeBron James is doing damage on the left block, driving, drawing defenders and finding the open man. This is just well played offensive basketball by both teams (against good defenses), 72-69 Heat with 12 minutes to go.

1:02 Third Quarter: Both teams are making great passes and getting role players to hit shots. Just a fun game. Ray Allen three makes it 72-67 Heat.

2:52 Third Quarter: Heat 7-18 from three, when they are attacking the rim and hitting the kick-outs. That makes them tough to beat, 69-64 Heat.

5:29 Third Quarter: What are you missing in the arena? Jimmy Buffett and Emilio Estefan playing with the Miami Heat bongo section. I’m not making that up.

5:29 Third Quarter: LeBron assists on a Haslem jumper. LeBron now three assists shy of a triple-double — 12 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists. Midway through the third quarter. 62-59 Heat.

6:20 Third Quarter: LeBron backs down Leonard in the post for two, Duncan backs down Haslem in the post. 60-59 Heat.

7:10 Third Quarter: A driving layup by Ginobili makes it a 6-0 Spurs run and a 58-57 Heat, forcing Spoelstra to call a time out.

8:02 Third Quarter: For those of you saying the Spurs should not try and run with the Heat, this is what they did all season. They push off missed shots. It’s worse to change your identity now. 58-55 Heat.

HALFTIME: Some stats for you: Heat shooting 50 percent overall, 6-15 from three. Scoring leaders are Wade (13), LeBron has 10 points and 8 rebounds. Spurs shooting 42.9 percent, 4-10 from three. Tim Duncan has 12 points and 9 rebounds, Danny Green and Tony Parker each have 9 points.

HALFTIME: 52-49 Heat. Wade looks good and has 13 for the Heat, Duncan has 12 for the Spurs including a great stepback jumper to end the half.

:23 Second Quarter: Tony Parker with a driving layup, cuts lead to 50-47 Heat.

:57 Second Quarter: Heat are in attack mode. It’s like the Heat finally figured out “wait, they don’t have Hibbert, we should totally attack the rim.” 50-44 Heat.

3:34 Second Quarter: Chris Bosh picks up his third foul and goes to the bench 48-42 Heat.

2:30 Second Quarter: Shane Battier just missed good look threes on back-to-back possessions. He said being benched was like eating a turd sandwich. Remind me not to smell his breath because he’s going to be eating those again if he keeps shooting like that.

4:47 Second Quarter: Dwyane Wade has 9 points as he attacks the rim. Everybody on the Heat is going at the rim, they are having fun with no Hibbert in the paint. Heat 46-38.

6:38 Second Quarter: Combined, these teams are 10-18 from three.

9:50 Second Quarter: Danny Green is now 3-4 from three and the Heat call time out to remind Wade to be careful about helping off him. 38-34 Heat.

8:15 Second Quarter: Norris Cole on a good look three, came off the help coming to LeBron and him making the pass. San Antonio’s rotation not there yet 38-29 Heat. Spurs shooting 45 percent.

9:50 Second Quarter: Mike Miller trails the break, gets the good look three and drains it. Heat 5-10 from three, up 31-26.

10:23 Second Quarter: Ray Allen drained another three, he got his groove back. But Kawhi Leonard made a sweet move on LeBron, and a couple Splitter free throws and it is 28-26 Heat.

START OF SECOND QUARTER: Gregg Popovich just said his team was sharper off the layoff than he expected. And he was on his best behavior for the in-game interview for a change.

END OF FIRST QUARTER: It’s 24-23 Heat and it looks like we are in for a fun series. Great pace, after two defensive, slow conference finals this is just entertaining. Biggest news may be two fouls on Tim Duncan.

1:43 First Quarter: Tim Duncan is 0-5 shooting to start the game. It’s 22-19 Heat.

2:10 First Quarter: The most important news: Flo Rida is in the building (remember his manager got tossed from courtside in Game 7). Also, Ray Allen hit a three. 21-19.

3:02 First Quarter: Spurs are getting help from role players — Diaw with a cut and reverse layup, then Ginobili fouled on a nice drive. But it stays close because of a LeBron three. 19-18 Spurs.

5:40 First Quarter: Love the pace of this one — both teams like to run, a lot of transition points and opportunities. This is going to be fun to watch. 15-13 Miami.

6:30 First Quarter: Parker hits a bucket on a cut to the rim, Bosh hits a midrange jumper. Those are the shots both teams want and will take. 11-11.

8:07 First Quarter: Miami getting corner threes early. Chalmers hits one, then next trip down Bosh hits a long two, 9-8 Spurs.

9:56 First Quarter: Rust? Rust never sleeps.

9:56 First Quarter: Miami forced to take a timeout after a Parker pass to a cutting Splitter off means an open layup and a 9-2 Spurs lead.

10:20 First Quarter: The Spurs take a 7-2 lead on a pretty ideal play for them — two pick-and-rolls for Tony Parker, he passes out of the pressure, two quick passes and Danny Green drains a three. Spurs now up 7-2.

11:40 First Quarter: We are underway and it’s a pretty ideal start for Miami — they force a turnover, get out and run and a dunk by Dwyane Wade off a LeBron James assist.

12:00 First Quarter: Man, the pregame process for the Finals never ends.

12:00 First Quarter: I love White Stripes “Seven Nation Army,” but ever since it became associated with the Miami Heat intro I just can’t hear it the same way. Still, that song makes and awesome soccer crowd chant. We should all leave it at that.

12:00 First Quarter: We have yet to tip-off, they are just about to do the National Anthem, so you still have time to run to the fridge and get an IPA and a the guacamole to go with the chips.

Welcome to Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat hosting the San Antonio Spurs. And welcome to the ProBasketballTalk live blog for the tip-off of this series.

I’m Kurt, and I’ll be your host, commenter and bartender for the night. I’ll be updating the game and score, providing some commentary and making some asides. So sit back, enjoy the game and follow along.

2018 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Just how concerned should we be about Deandre Ayton’s defensive issues?

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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I still remember the first time that I realized just how good of a prospect DeAndre Ayton is.

It was at Peach Jam, the finals of Nike’s EYBL circuit, back in 2016, and all of high school basketball’s best big men were at the event. Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Mitchell Robinson, Mo Bamba. And Ayton, going head-to-head with just about all of them, came out the winner, in the box score if not on the scoreboard.

But there was one play that stood out to me. Ayton, running with a full head of steam in transition, caught a pass and, as a defender stepped in front of him to take a charge, he euro-stepped around him, avoiding the charge and finishing at the rim.

Humans that are his size are not supposed to be able to move like that, and if they are, they shouldn’t be allowed to have his shooting touch as well.

And therein lies what makes Ayton such an intriguing player.

He has the size. He has the length. He has the athleticism, explosiveness, fluidity and mobility. He can space the floor and, in theory, both protect the rim and handle his own if forced to guard on the perimeter.

In theory, Ayton is the total package and an ideal five for the modern NBA.

Whether or not he will live up to his considerable potential is a different story.

HEIGHT: 7-foot-0.5
WEIGHT: 261
WINGSPAN: 7-foot-5
2017-18 STATS: 20.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 61.2/34.3/73.3
DRAFT RANGE: Top 3

STRENGTHS

Any discussion about what Ayton does well must start with his physical gifts. He’s a shade over 7-feet tall with a wingspan that has been measured at 7-foot-5. He’s 261 pounds and has an NBA-ready body and a frame that can handle the muscle he’s amassed. He’s a ridiculous athlete given his size — his explosiveness his fluidity, his mobility, the way he can move his feet.

Given his tools, he is everything that you would look for if designing a small-ball five for the modern NBA.

And the skill-set is there, too.

Let’s start with the offensive end of the floor, where Ayton can just about do anything. He was one of college basketball’s best post scorers — 1.052 PPP, according to Synergy, a company that logs per-possession statistics. While that isn’t always the best way to measure a big man’s transition to the NBA, the simple fact is that Ayton is going to be bigger and stronger than many of the fives that he’ll see at the NBA level. That adjustment will be easier for him, and the fact that he has a fairly advanced set of moves and impressive footwork on the block certainly helps as well.

His length and athleticism will also make him an effective lob target in the halfcourt, and while his numbers as a roll-man at Arizona weren’t all that impressive, that likely had as much to do with Arizona’s massive spacing issues as anything else. There’s virtually no chance that a player with his tools will be ineffective as a roller, but what makes Ayton so intriguing is that he can shoot it, too. He shot 34.3 percent from three on the season (just 35 attempts) and was somewhere around average as a jump-shooter as a whole, but his 73.3 percent clip from the foul line and a stroke that looks like it isn’t a fluke make it easy to see him being a capable NBA perimeter shooter.

Throw in that he’s a monster on the glass, and the total package is there.

He’s a franchise center in every sense of the word, but the concern with Ayton is that he may not actually want to be a “center”.

WEAKNESSES

Given his physical tools, Ayton has always been a disappointment on the defensive end of the floor, and the question that the organization that drafts him is going to have to answer is ‘why’. Is he a lazy defender? Does he lack defensive instincts because he’s never been coached? Will he only defend when motivated? Does he even want to be a center?

We’ll start with the latter, because that might be the most intriguing part of all of this. Ayton considers himself a power forward. On Arizona’s team roster, Ayton — the tallest member of the team — is listed as a forward while Dusan Ristic is listed as a center and 6-foot-10 Chase Jeter is classified as a forward/center. It’s been this way for Ayton for years, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Ayton spent the entire season playing alongside Ristic (and out of position) despite the fact that it torpedoed Sean Miller’s typically-vaunted defense.

Put another way, while Ayton is so perfect as a positionless five offensively he seems to have no desire to play that role on defense, even if it is his ticket to NBA superstardom.

That may belie the bigger point: Is Ayton just a bad defender?

In theory, he should be an elite rim protector, right? Take a look at the block rates of some recent top ten picks:

That’s concerning, particularly because Ayton’s physical profile is far closer to that of the top three on that list than Kaminsky and Okafor.

The other issue is that, while Ayton can move laterally and is willing to sit in a stance and guard on the perimeter, he simply is not someone that you can ask to spend 36 minutes a night guarding big wings. You want him as your five, guarding on the perimeter when switches make it necessary. We saw that in Arizona’s first round loss to Buffalo in the 2018 NCAA tournament, when the Bulls used a four-guard look and let their “power forward” — a 6-foot-7 scoring guard named Jeremy Harris — give Ayton that work:

Arizona was a flawed basketball team last season. They didn’t have the floor spacing to let Ayton dominate the paint against smaller teams, and they refused to play Ayton at the five, which is what led to performances like this against Buffalo or against the likes of N.C. State, SMU and Purdue in the Bahamas.

But Ayton was hardly blameless.

His issues as a rim protector and the fact that he seemed to have no interest in actually playing the five played as big of a role in those problems as anything.

NBA COMPARISON

It’s tough to find a direct comparison for Ayton. Physically, he profiles more or less the same as Steven Adams, Joel Embiid and Greg Oden. Ayton is much more skilled offensively than Adams. He’s not quite at the level of Embiid offensively, and both players are, defensively, what Ayton should be if it all comes together for him.

OUTLOOK

The truth is that, for Ayton, it all comes down to whether or not he decides he wants to be great.

If he does, I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that he could end up being a Hall of Famer, maybe one of the 15 or 20 greatest to play the game. Imagine Embiid without limits on his minutes or the number of games that he is allowed to play.

But that assumes that Ayton will put in the work to become something that borders on unstoppable offensively. That also assumes that he will, like Embiid, become one of the NBA’s dominant defensive forces, and that is far from a guarantee. Defense for someone with the physical tools that Ayton has is about want-to, and I think it’s pretty clear he didn’t “want-to” be great on that end of the floor as a freshman or as a high schooler.

In the end, that’s been the knock on Ayton his entire career. When he has been challenged — at that 2016 Peach Jam, when he arrived at Arizona — he absolutely dominated. When he did not feel like playing — like the first round blowout loss at the hands of Buffalo — he looked like a shell of himself, and it’s not hard to think about the grind of an 82-game season playing on a team that was bad enough to end up at the top of the lottery and wonder where the motivation to be great on a nightly basis is going to come from.

The good news for whoever ends up taking Ayton is that his floor is high. It will be quite impressive if Ayton somehow doesn’t turn into a guy that spends a decade or more in the NBA, posting something similar to Adams’ 13.9 points, 9.0 boards and 1.0 blocks. The bad news is that, in my mind, there’s a higher-than-you’d-like chance that Ayton ends up being closer to his floor than his ceiling.

Chris Paul shimmied on Stephen Curry, and Curry is okay with that

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In Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Stephen Curry was feeling it and broke out the shimmy after draining a step-back three over James Harden.

In Game 5 Thursday night, Chris Paul hit a ridiculous three over Curry and returned the shimmy favor.

How did Stephen Curry feel about that? As your mom used to say, if you’re going to dish it out you had better be able to take it.

First, can we just admit neither Curry nor CP3 can shimmy like Antoine Walker?

The question for Paul and Curry is which one will be shimmying after Game 6 (especially considering CP3’s hamstring issue)?

Rockets have sucked Warriors into their style of game, then been better at it

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Through an 82-game regular season, the Golden State Warriors averaged 322.7 passes a game — the ball flew around the court with energy, found the open man and he buried the shot. For the season, 63.1 percent of the Warriors’ buckets were assisted. It was egalitarian. It was modern NBA basketball. It was “the beautiful game.”

The Houston Rockets, on the other hand, averaged 253.3 passes per game, fewest in the NBA. What they did lead the league in was isolation sets — 14.5 percent of their offense was the old-school style that the Warriors shunned. It worked for the Rockets, they scored an impressive 112 points per 100 possessions on those plays, but it looked more like a 1990s slog than a Mike D’Antoni offense.

In Game 5, the Warriors had 257 passes and 56 percent of their buckets were assisted (the first time that number got over 50 percent in a couple of games). In turn, isolations were the third most common kind of play the Warriors ran in the game (which was better than they did in Game 4, but still not who they normally are). Add in post-ups, which are essentially isolations just down on the block, and you get 25.7 percent of the Warriors plays in Game 5 being one-on-one.

The Warriors have been sucked into the Rockets’ game, and Houston is better at it.

The Rockets are up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals and in the last two games have been the better clutch team. The better fourth quarter team. The team imposing their style on the game when it matters. For years the versatility of the Warriors allowed them to win regardless of the style of play — slow it down and be physical, play fast and up-tempo, whatever teams tried to do — but not against these Rockets. Not in this throwback, isolation-heavy style.

If the Warriors can’t change that dynamic nothing else will matter, and they will be watching the Finals on television for the first time in four years.

For the Rockets, imposing their will and style starts with their defense. Since the first game of the season — which was against these Warriors back in October — the Rockets have switched everything on defense. It was assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik’s plan, his counter to the ball movement of Golden State and the many teams trying to emulate their style. Everybody in the NBA is switching more on defense, but nobody was doing it as much or with the gusto of the Rockets. For example, Utah switched a lot against Houston in the last playoff round, but with Rudy Gobert at center they tried to switch less with the big men, wisely preferring to keep Gobert back as a rim protector. That opened opportunities for the Rockets to attack.

Houston switched everything. All the time. Even when logic dictated they shouldn’t. Big man Clint Capela has the athleticism and instincts to guard on the perimeter, so they let him. Other teams try to tag out quickly from the mismatches switching can create (scram switches behind the play are trendy now), but the Rockets tend to live with the switch and just send help. What the Rockets became doing this all season is smooth and proficient with switching, and it has shown in this series.

Kevin Durant is supposed to be the counter to this — he is the Warriors best one-on-one player, and switch or no there is no good matchup to defend him. So the Warriors lean on him in these situations, they get him the rock a lot.

Durant had 10 isolations and six post-ups in Game 5 — 16 of his 29 plays were mano-a-mano contests. KD can excel at them, but as the Warriors start to slow it down and hunt out those mismatches they move the ball less, and they play into Rockets’ hands. They have slid into Houston’s style. Part of this was missing Andre Iguodala, both a good defender and a guy who keeps the ball moving on offense. Without him decisions change — there was a fourth-quarter play where Stephen Curry drove past his man, got into floater range, the Rockets brought help off the man from the corner, but now that is Kevon Looney, and Curry looked then decided to take the floater rather than make that pass to a non-shooter. Curry’s shot hit the back of the rim and bounced out.

The Rockets have slowed the game down, muddied it up, and they are comfortable playing this way. The Rockets have thrived in this style despite the fact James Harden has struggled (Chris Paul has had a couple of big fourth quarters). The Warriors can beat 28 other teams four times in seven games playing this style, too, because they have the talent. Just not Houston. The Rockets have plenty of talent too, their bench guy Eric Gordon is knocking down seemingly every shot he takes, and this series is being played on their terms.

Houston is just better at this style.

Golden State is not dead in this series — they go home for Game 6 and are expected to get Iguodala back. More importantly, the health of Chris Paul and his hamstring are up in the air.

But the Warriors need to get back to being themselves — playing faster, sharing the ball (despite pressure), and using that to get the open threes or driving dunks they use to bury teams. It will not be easy — the Warriors played their game for stretches in Game 4 at home, but like a cheesy horror movie villain, these Rockets refuse to die. They are relentless, and they’re aggressive with their switching. The Rockets are incredibly good, and they know who they are. They have been themselves this series (just with more missed threes).

If the Warriors don’t get back to being themselves, if they keep trying to beat the Rockets at Houston’s game, they will be on vacation in Cabo before June for the first time in years.

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

As expected, Chris Paul said he will be good to go (players are the worst at providing a timeline for their injuries).

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.