More aggressive Heat go on 33-5 run to blow out Spurs in Game 2, even series

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MIAMI — For nearly three quarters the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be doing it again — they held LeBron James to 2-of-12 shooting, they were getting back in transition and taking away the easy baskets the Heat thrive on, plus Danny Green was nailing threes like they were lay-ups. It was a close game about execution and those are the kind the Spurs usually win.

Then Miami did to the Spurs what they do to everyone — they find that extra gear and go on a run nobody can match. This time it was a 33-5 run that started late in the third quarter and made this a blowout by the middle of the fourth.

Miami’s defensive pressure forced more turnovers, those became transition opportunities, LeBron went 5-of-5, the Heat got help from guys like Mario Chalmers (19 points on the night to lead Miami) and Ray Allen (13).

The more aggressive Heat blew the game open and cruised to a 103-84 win. That evens the NBA Finals at 1-1 with Game 3 in San Antonio on Tuesday.

“You know what, credit to Miami, honestly” Tim Duncan said. “First start there. They outplayed us. They ended quarters better than us. We turned the ball over more than we should have. Credit to them, first of all.

“We didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well.”

No, they didn’t. Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker combined to shoot 10-of-33 on the night. Part of that was the Heat’s pressure but Duncan said he got the shots he wanted, the other two got some clean looks too, but they just could not knock them down. The Heat did a great job of taking away the middle, forcing the Spurs to run their offense from the wings.

During the Heat run the Spurs shot 2-of-10 with six turnovers.

“In the second half, they just ran us over,” Ginobili said. “We didn’t move the ball at all. Their pressure really got us on our heels. And offensively, they just ran, they penetrated, they kicked it, they did everything they wanted.”

Green was the one Spur knocking down shots — he was 5-of-5 from three on his way to 17 points. Those five threes in an NBA Finals game tie the Spurs franchise record, one held by big game hunter Robert Horry. But Green didn’t get those looks during the Heat run.

San Antonio once again did a good job building a wall in front of LeBron James. His numbers — 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting, 8 rebounds, 7 assists — were down from last game, and he took a little heat then for not doing enough, not being aggressive enough.

He said after that first game it wasn’t about him, it was about his teammates making plays when the defense is focused on him like that. Miami did that in Game 2 — Chris Bosh has 12 points, Dwyane Wade 10, and there was another big game on the big stage from Mario Chalmers on a big stage.

“We have a lot of those guys,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t teach that quality, the big game guts. They feel the most alive in these situations when you typically feel the most pressure. Drives me crazy sometimes in December and January. But when you get to this time of year you like it.”

This kind of game is what makes Miami so tough in a seven-game series. The Spurs got what they wanted Game 1, they played the Heat close and make enough plays at the end, and you start to think you can grind out four wins in seven games. But it’s not really seven games because at least once and usually twice a series they have a stretch like this — they find that extra gear and blow you out. Then you need to grind out wins in four of five games, and nobody has been able to do this.

So they head to San Antonio tied 1-1. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 Finals format there have been 12 series tied after the first two and the home team is just 3-of-9 in those Game 3s. Including last year when the Heat beat the Thunder.

San Antonio got a split on the road in the first two games, Ginobili said if you had offered him that before the start of the series he would have taken it. But that’s not going to be enough on Game 3.

“We have three at home, so we’re excited about that. But if we play like we did tonight, that’s not going to matter,” Duncan said.

Joel Embiid misses out on about $29 million by making just All-NBA second team

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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DeMarcus Cousins‘ injury could cost him in free agency.

It might have already cost Joel Embiid.

The 76ers center made just the All-NBA second team, landing behind the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. Davis surged after Cousins went down, earning overall credit from All-NBA voters, who were also increasingly likely to view him as a center rather than just a forward.

As a result, Davis made the All-NBA first team at center – costing Embiid about $29 million over the next five years.

Embiid’s contract extension, which kicks in next season, calls for his starting salary to be 25% of the salary cap (the typical max for a player with his experience level). If he made the All-NBA first team, his starting salary would have been 30% of the salary cap .

Though the exact cap won’t be determined until July, here’s what Embiid is projected to earn on his standard max and what he could’ve earned on the super max (with 8% raises in both cases):

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Obviously Embiid will still earn a lot of money, and he and Philadelphia have a bright future.

But it’s hard not to think, if Cousins didn’t get hurt, Embiid would be even richer.

At least the 76ers have more cap space to pursue their big goals.

Rockets to wear patches to honor Santa Fe shooting victims

Houston Rockets
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HOUSTON (AP)–  The Houston Rockets will wear patches on their jerseys to honor the victims of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

The patches will read: “Santa Fe HS.” It’s one of several tributes the team plans following Friday’s shooting. Eight students and two teachers died at the school, located 30 miles from downtown Houston.

The school’s high school choir will perform the national anthem. There will be a moment of silence and a video tribute before tipoff.

Santa Fe’s senior class and administrators have been invited to attend the game as guests of owner Tilman Fertitta. The Rockets also will honor first responders on the court.

Proceeds from Thursday night’s charity raffle will go to the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund.

Rockets went all-in for Game 4. How much do they have left in tank for Game 5?

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Despite trailing 2-1 as the top seed in the Western Conference finals in a season his star deemed “the year,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni claimed all the pressure was on Warriors in Game 4.

Of course, nobody believed D’Antoni.

D’Antoni didn’t even believe himself.

He played P.J. Tucker 44 minutes, James Harden 43 minutes, Chris Paul 42 minutes and Trevor Ariza 41 minutes in Houston’s win. That was the first time four teammates played 40 minutes in regulation of a non-elimination playoff game in a half decade.*

*The Pacers gave 40 minutes to Paul George, George Hill, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson in Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. After that win, Indiana lost to the Heat in Game 7. Since, only the Warriors – who used Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference finals against the Thunder – have played just seven players in a playoff game.

D’Antoni’s rotation revealed his desperation to win Game 4. And who could blame him? A 3-1 deficit to this mighty Golden State squad would have been nearly insurmountable.

Not only did D’Antoni lean heavily on his top players, he didn’t even spread around the remaining minutes. Just seven Rockets played in Game 4 – Tucker, Harden, Paul, Ariza, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and Gerald Green.

How fatigued will those players be in Game 5 tonight?

In the last 20 years, teams have used just seven players in a playoff game 28 times. In their following game, those teams went 10-15. (Two were eliminated.)

Here are the full results:

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Teams have used so few players just twice in the previous decade, but the super-shortened rotation was once a D’Antoni specialty. The practice only waned while he was mostly missing the playoffs with the Knicks and Lakers. In fact, 14 of the last 18 times a team used just seven players in a playoff game, D’Antoni did it.

The most recent previous example came in Game 5 of last year’s Rockets-Spurs second-round series. Houston lost by 39 and got eliminated in the next game – which became known for Harden running out of gas.

Will the result be different this time?

The Warriors have their own physical-readiness issues. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are banged up. Golden State coach Steve Kerr should probably tighten his rotation, especially removing Nick Young. It’s not as if the Warriors gave up on Game 4, either. Draymond Green played 45 minutes, Kevin Durant 43, Klay Thompson 39 and Curry 39.

These conference finals are shaping up to be a great battle. It might be one of attrition.

Carmelo Anthony responds four times to Instagram post calling Kyle Korver better: ‘FOH’

AP Photo/David Goldman
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Carmelo Anthony was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He had just led Syracuse to the national title as a freshman, and some fans and media advocating taking him No. 1 overall ahead of LeBron James (and Darko Milicic).

Korver was the No. 51 pick in the same draft. He looked like this:

Fifteen years later, Anthony and Korver are still in the league. Korver is helping the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, and Anthony and the Thunder already got eliminated. That sparked an Instagram post that clearly irked Anthony:

Anthony has had a better career than Korver. But who’s better right now? It depends on the terms of the debate.

Anthony is still a more-skilled all-around offensive player. (Neither gains credit for their defense.) Anthony can create in ways Korver just can’t.

But any team running its offense through Anthony now is asking for a bad time. Even if that’s that the best style for maximizing him individually, he’s no longer good enough to justify having the ball that much.

Korver is a far superior complementary player. He’s an elite 3-point shooter who moves well off the ball. Anthony struggles in that role.

In a hypothetical game between Anthony plus four average players and Korver plus four average players, I’d lean toward Anthony’s squad. But an actual NBA team capable of winning needs players better than both, and at that point, I’d rather have Korver.