Veteran Spurs play smart, cool in fourth quarter, beat Heat 92-88 in Game 1

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First things first: This was fun. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was up-tempo, well played basketball (for the most part) by both teams. After the grind-it-out conference finals, I’ll take six more games like this one, please.

But if you’re a Heat fan you might be a little worried — the Spurs just beat you in your style of game. In your building.

Miami led by single digits most of the way, they shot 50 percent in the first half and were knocking down threes. But the veteran Spurs just hung around. Then LeBron James was held scoreless from the start of the fourth quarter to the the 3:30 mark, Chris Bosh struggled again (1-of-5 in the fourth) and behind Tony Parker the Spurs took the lead and held on for the win. In the clutch, the Spurs were unflappable and made the key plays, the Heat missed shots.

San Antonio took Game 1 92-88, and they have a 1-0 lead in the series. Game 2 is Sunday night in Miami.

As it was last series for the Heat, when LeBron was getting help Miami had the lead, but that dried up in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter when the Heat shot 27.8 percent, and the Spurs took the lead. For the game the Heat shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) from the midrange. The Spurs packed the paint (San Antonio shot just 50 percent on their 26 shots in the restricted area and dared anyone to beat them from the outside.

The Spurs also dared anyone not named LeBron to beat them. The Heat couldn’t.

“They did a good job of putting two guys on the ball,” LeBron James said of the Spurs defense. “When I got the ball, they kind of shrunk the floor and set a guy at the elbow and dared me to pass the ball. I know my guys will be there to knock those shots down the next game. We had some really good looks, especially in the third quarter. Rio had some very good looks. It just didn’t go down.”

LeBron finished with a triple-double — 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. The Heat ran pretty much everything through him in the second half, having some success posting him up. But LeBron himself got his buckets near the paint and was not really knocking down outside shots, and Kawhi Leonard was making him work for his points.

Through it all the Spurs stayed disciplined. They wanted to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands, knowing he is a willing passer. It worked, by the fourth quarter LeBron passed up a couple shots he could have made but passed out.

“It’s difficult,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of staying disciplined against the Heat and LeBron, especially after the Heat knocked down shots in the first half. “One second guesses oneself often in the meat of these games, whether you stick with a certain strategy or change it. We adjusted it a little bit, but we stuck with the basics and found some ways to score. Timmy and Kawhi were great on the boards down the stretch and got us a couple of buckets.”

Tim Duncan just made plays — 20 points, 14 rebounds and he had a key offensive put back in the fourth quarter.

But this is Tony Parker’s team and he was fantastic all night — he had zero turnovers all game. Zero. As the primary ball handler. Then in a tough fourth quarter he made plays — he had 10 of his 21 in the final frame. None more dramatic than his leaner with :05 left in the game. The Spurs were up two and Parker, with LeBron guarding him, dribbled around the entire clock, slipped, held his dribble, got up and went up-and-under LeBron getting the shot of in time by a fraction of a second.

“It felt forever, too,” Parker said of the play. “It was a crazy play. I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn’t work out like I wanted it to. At the end I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in.”

So are the Spurs, who have taken control of this series and shown this is not a coronation for the Heat — if they want to repeat they are going to have to play much better. And as a team. Because you know the Spurs will.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.