NBA Finals Game 4: Heat big three key 109-93 win

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Miami needed a better defensive effort and they got it — San Antonio shot 44.3 percent, the Heat forced 18 turnovers and allowed the Spurs just 5 offensive rebounds.

They needed someone to step up besides LeBron James and they got Dwyane Wade in the hot tub time machine back to 2006 — 32 points, 6 steals, 6 rebounds, 4 assists. LeBron pitched in 33 points.

The result is a 109-93 Miami win that evens the series 2-2. There is a HUGE Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio and then it is back to Miami for Game 6 next week.

And by the way, while it got away at the end this was a thrilling and entertaining game. Television ratings are down which is too bad, this is a great series to watch.

END OF GAME: 109-93 Heat win, and the series is tied 2-2. Much better defensive effort from Miami — keyed by good defense from Bosh — and a lot of points from LeBron and Wade.

1:10 Fourth Quarter: So it is Game 5 that is key and we can all book flights to Miami for Game 6.

2:15 Fourth Quarter: Spoelstra still has stars in, he’s not taking any chances.

3:20 Fourth Quarter: Popovich empties the bench down 15 and throws up the white flag with De Carlo and DeJuan Blair entering the game.

5:05 Fourth Quarter: Wade scooping layup lifts Heat to 15 point lead. I keep expecting a Spurs run but the Heat are making plays and have answers.

6:16 Fourth Quarter: Wade with 30 points on 21 shots, 5 steals, 6 rebounds, 4 assists.

6:57 Fourth Quarter: Bosh lay-in on Wade assist and Heat go up by 11, 94-83.

7:42 Fourth Quarter: Since LeBron went to the bench it is Wade 4, Spurs 4.

8:46 Fourth Quarter: Shane Battier just got called for a blocking foul (ironically on a play he didn’t flop). This is a sign of the end times.

9:34 Fourth Quarter: LeBron getting a rest, he looked tired too.

9:52 Fourth Quarter: Tempo up in the fourth quarter and the Spurs look tired. Well, Diaw always looks tired. 86-79 Heat.

11:24 Fourth Quarter: Parker and Duncan both resting to start the quarter. Green has missed two threes in a row, now he is just 19-28 from three in the Finals. That’s 68 percent. And ridiculous.

START OF FOURTH QUARTER: For those of us who watch a lot of basketball over the course of a season, it’s hard to remember a game that was better played than this one.

END OF THIRD QUARTER: 81-76 Miami. LeBron James has 24, Wade has 22, Chris Bosh has 14 and has had a strong defensive game. Tony Parker did not score in the third but five Spurs are in double figures.

1:37 Third Quarter: But Gary Neal is still hitting them, 76-73 Heat.

2:09 Third Quarter: I just saw Danny Green miss a three. Maybe he is human.

3:10 Third Quarter: Mario Chalmers just knocks down second corner three of the quarter. At other end LeBron blocks Duncan. 74-66 Heat.

3:56 Third Quarter: This needs to be said: Chris Bosh has played good defense this game. The Heat have as a whole, but Bosh is the center of it all in the paint.

3:56 Third Quarter: Leonard catches ball at the arc, hard closeout by Wade so he drives by him and gets and-1 at the rim. 69-66 Heat.

5:19 Third Quarter: Finally Parker with the drive, dish to Green for a three. Followed by a great cut and layin for Allen to spark 7-0 Heat run. 67-61 Heat.

6:43 Third Quarter: Those blown Wade layups, four years ago they would have been powerful dunks. He’s gotten old.

7:00 Third Quarter: Wade has now missed two transition layups. Bosh has two big blocks, the second on Parker, then Diaw blocks LeBron. 58-58.

8:39 Third Quarter: Wade picks up his fourth foul blocking a shot on Tim Duncan in the paint. Spoelstra doesn’t take him out.

8:50 Third Quarter: In the first three games Wade faded in the second half of games (blame the knee) but he is off to a good start in the second half here, gets the and-1. 56-53 Heat.

10:21 Third Quarter: Wade blows a transition layup, LeBron blows the putback, on the other end Diaw scores on a cut. 53-51 Spurs.

12:00 Third Quarter: Boris Diaw starts the second half for the Spurs.

HALFTIME: Can I just say — this is a great game. Like Game 1, this is just a joy to watch being played.

HALFTIME: LeBron James and Tony Parker both on the attack, both with 15 points to lead their teams. Heat have Wade with 14, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh with 8. For Spurs Tim Duncan, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw all with 7.

HALFTIME: Heat 0-3 from three, Spurs 4-7. Spurs with 9 turnovers and zero offensive rebounds.

HALFTIME: On the final play with three seconds to go, Bosh puts on a nice pump fake, Duncan bites and Bosh attacks… all the way to the rim for a dunk after the clock expired. Blown opportunity, halftime score is 49-49.

:12 Second Quarter: Spurs get the block in the paint, Boris Diaw scores on the layup. 11-2 Spurs run and it is 49-49.

:50 Second Quarter: Ray Allen with a nice little runner, he has 8 points in the first half, 49-45 Heat.

2:08 Second Quarter: And as I type that, Boris Diaw hits a three. 47-43 Heat.

2:41 Second Quarter: Spurs don’t have a three point attempt in the second quarter.

4:27 Second Quarter: Mike Miller started, we’ve seen Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem, but not Chris, Birdman Andersen. Big rotation changes for Heat.

5:35 Second Quarter: Heat just have no answer for Parker’s quickness, with or without a screen. They need him to get into the paint, that’s when their offense works. Overall, they are shooting 39 percent (too many jumpers).

5:35 Second Quarter: Duncan has four quick points, and a Parker drive and spin move pass to Leonard cuts it to 41-36 Heat.

6:07 Second Quarter: Seeing the replay now, Bosh flopped to get that last foul on Duncan. That will be $5K. Ginobili has three fouls now, by the way.

6:18 Second Quarter: Wade with 14 points, that would tie his playoff average. Think he’s more aggressive? 8 Spurs tunvoers, 41-32 Heat.

7:40 Second Quarter: LeBron picks up his second foul, both times it was trying to back a guy down in the post. 39-31 Heat.

8:52 Second Quarter: LeBron 6-7 shooting, Wade 5-9. Bosh… don’t ask.

8:52 Second Quarter: Another LeBron layup off a Spurs turnover. 37-28 Heat. Heat’s defensive pressure killing the Spurs ball movement right now.

9:17 Second Quarter: Remember the Spurs were up 10 at one point in the first half, up to a 17-point swing now. 35-28 Heat.

10:17 Second Quarter: Splitter struggling to finish inside, blocked twice in a row, and the Spurs need the points or to stop the Heat. 33-28 Heat.

END OF FIRST QUARTER: 29-26 Heat after 1. Heat shoot 61 percent, Spurs 52.9 percent. LeBron James 11 points, Wade 10, Tony Parker 10.

:35 First Quarter: Shane Battier sells the contact (and there was contact, enough for a foul) to get a foul called on Ginobili. Spurs fans hate it, but that’s Karma.

1:31 First Quarter: LeBron with back-to-back jumpers when defense played off him. Gave Heat lead but Tony Parker with the And-1 around Haslem. 25-24 Heat.

2:25 First Quarter: Heat’s ball movement is more like we saw during regular season. So is Spurs’. 21-21 tie.

3:27 First Quarter: LeBron with back-to-back driving transition layups and it is 19-19.

4:00 First Quarter: With Parker on the bench the Heat have become more more aggressive and trapping on defense. After a couple Bosh free throws it’s 19-15 Spurs.

5:08 First Quarter: Popovich calls timeout after fourth Spurs turnover. He knows if one thing gets the Heat going and back in this, it is more turnovers from his guys. 17-11 Spurs.

5:42 First Quarter: Parker sits, 8 points and 2 assists. So, not so worried about that injury thing.

6:27 First Quarter: LeBron passes to cutting Wade for layup, then LeBron gets transition layup. 15-9 Spurs.

7:10 First Quarter: If LeBron is going to take over, now would be a good time for the Heat.

7:10 First Quarter: Wade passed up the good look elbow jumper there to pass out to a covered guy. He’s in his own head. And knee. Kawhi Leonard hits a corner three and it is 15-5 Spurs already. They are playing beautiful offense and the Heat are scrambling.

9:20 First Quarter: Gary Neal hits a 3, Spurs start 4-4 shooting. Wade 3 makes it 10-5 Spurs.

10:16 First Quarter: Danny Green hits a three, Mike Miller misses his. 7-2 Spurs early.

11:20 First Quarter: Tony Parker’s first possession, little step back jumper over Bosh for 2. Dwyane Wade draws foul on Splitter, so Gary Neal in for Splitter. 2-2

12:00 First Quarter: After the Game 3 disaster, Eric Spoelstra was all about the Heat defense was the problem more than the offense. Mike Miller is a better defender than he gets credit for, but what does switching out Miller for Haslem in the starting lineup say about his thinking?

12:00 First Quarter: Yes, Tony Parker is playing and starting. His health is something to monitor, but just having him out there gives the Heat a lot more to think about.

12:00 First Quarter: Good on the Spurs for bringing this kid back to do the national anthem. There was a number of racist tweets during this last time, this boy is as American as you or me. Good for the Spurs. Plus, kid can sing.

12:00 First Quarter: It’s official, Mike Miller is starting for the Miami Heat in place of Udonis Haslem. There is some real logic to doing this — they need the shooting and the floor spacing more than they need the little defense and rebounding Haslem brings at this point. But I have long said that the first coach to make a major change in rotation or strategy in a series is the one that knows he is beat and is now throwing anything up to see what works. Every once in a while it does, but it is not a good sign if you are a Heat fan.

Hello friends and welcome to PBT’s live blog for Game 4 of the NBA Finals. San Antonio leads the series 2-1 after a Game 3 blowout win and the pressure is on the Heat now — if they go down 3-1 in this series they are toast. And they know it.

I’m Kurt, and I’ll be running the blog tonight, keeping you all up to date, making snide comments, and serving as your bartender for the night. So sit back, enjoy the game and follow along.

Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns questionable vs. Knicks after car accident

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns was questionable for Friday night’s game in New York against the Knicks after a car accident in the Minneapolis area.

The Star Tribune reports Towns was headed to the airport Thursday when he was involved in the accident. Coach Ryan Saunders told the newspaper Towns caught a commercial flight after the accident and missed a team shootaround.

Saunders said he had no information on specific injuries for Towns. Guard Tyus Jones told the Star Tribune he saw Towns before the shootaround and Towns was doing “all right.”

“Rest” was listed as the reason for him being questionable on the official injury report

It wasn’t immediately clear where the accident occurred. Minneapolis police said they didn’t handle any incident involving Towns. A Timberwolves spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press.

 

Kings’ Dave Joerger and Buddy Hield apparently argued after Hield’s late 3-pointer (video)

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Important caveats: I don’t know what Kings coach Dave Joerger and Sacramento guard Buddy Hield said to each other late in their loss to the Warriors last night. It looks like they were arguing, but body language can easily be misread. And even if they were arguing, I don’t know about what.

Let’s read into the situation, anyway.

With the Kings down six and 20 seconds left, Hield pulled up for a deep 3-pointer and made it. Afterward, Joerger and Hield had an exchange:

Could Joerger have been upset about the shot? Sacramento was down six with 20 seconds left. There wasn’t time to work for a better look. The Kings needed points, ideally three, quickly. As soon as Hield felt he confident, he should have shot, as he did.

That set up Sacramento’s final possession, down two with 6.5 seconds left. Hield squared up for another deep 3-pointer, hesitated then worked inside for an off-balance miss:

Hield said he should have let it fly. Did Joerger get in his head?

That’s what Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said happened:

That’s the easy narrative.

Is that the accurate narrative? I don’t know.

But it’s definitely the easy one.

NBA emphasizes its investigation never concluded Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games

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Did Tim Donaghy fix games while working as NBA referee?

That question still draws interest, even many years after he admitted to supplying gamblers with inside information in exchange for money. Donaghy has denied fixing games.

A new investigation into Donaghy was published by ESPN earlier this week. I recommend reading Scott Eden’s piece in full.

Then, it’s worth reading the NBA’s response.

NBA:

The Tim Donaghy matter concluded over a decade ago with a full investigation by the federal government, Donaghy’s termination from the NBA, and his conviction for criminal acts.  At the same time, at the request of the NBA, former prosecutor Larry Pedowitz conducted an independent investigation of Donaghy’s misconduct and issued publicly a 133-page report.  This report was based on an extensive review of game data and video as well as approximately 200 interviews, thousands of pages of documents, and consultation with various gambling and data experts.

The ESPN Article attempts to revive this old story.  Unfortunately, it is replete with errors, beginning with its statement that the Pedowitz Report “concluded that Donaghy, in fact, did not fix games.”  The Pedowitz Report made no such conclusion.  Rather, the investigation found no basis to disagree with the finding of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that “[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”  ESPN ignores this important distinction.

The new material that ESPN has assembled to support its own conclusion that Donaghy manipulated games is not strong and adds little to the existing record.

Quoted Individuals

The ESPN Article includes several quotes from named and unnamed individuals.  But these statements conflict with other evidence in the record and in many cases are based on speculation.  For example:

• ESPN quotes Phil Scala, a retired FBI agent who was part of the government’s investigation, as saying Donaghy’s claim that he did not manipulate games “never really flew with us.” But in 2009, Scala wrote a foreword to a book authored by Donaghy in which Scala characterized Donaghy’s cooperation as “unconditionally truthful” and stated that Donaghy “confess[ed] his sins, [took] full responsibility for his actions, pa[id] his debt to society, and [found] the humility to completely display his past vices.”

• ESPN quotes an anonymous “professional gambler” as claiming Donaghy told him “he liked to call an illegal defense call, right away, in the first minute.” But this claim is not accurate.  In the 274 regular season and playoff games that Donaghy officiated during the 2003-04 to 2006-07 seasons, he called illegal defense three times during the first minute of a game.

• ESPN asserts that Donaghy had “come clean” to Tommy Martino. But the actual quotes attributed to Martino do not appear to support that conclusion – they only suggest that Donaghy told Martino he could influence games, not that he had in fact done so.

Statistical Analysis

The ESPN Article relies on a statistical analysis of Donaghy’s officiating and betting line movements.  We asked ESPN to provide us with the data and assumptions underlying this analysis, but they refused.  Based on the limited information contained in the Article, we attempted to replicate ESPN’s findings – but were unable to do so.  Indeed, our analysis found no meaningful pattern of Donaghy making more calls in favor of the team that had the “heavier betting.”

Further, the original analyses conducted by the Pedowitz team were significantly more comprehensive than what ESPN appears to have done.  For example, ESPN’s work appears to include only foul calls, and not significant non-calls or violations.  It further treats all calls the same, without considering the nature or circumstances of the call – such as “take fouls” or high-impact shooting fouls.  And ESPN questionably excludes from its analysis 10 games that it deemed to be “blowouts” and roughly 50 calls that it could not attribute to a particular referee – omissions that could meaningfully alter its conclusions.

Finally, it is important to remember that a statistical analysis can only suggest a probability of an event’s occurrence – it does not itself constitute direct evidence that an event occurred.  By contrast, the Pedowitz team and the NBA supplemented statistical analysis with an assessment of the accuracy of each of Donaghy’s actual calls and non-calls in relevant games.  These analyses also did not support ESPN’s conclusions.

Anecdotal Evidence from Games

The ESPN Article cites several games officiated by Donaghy that included calls or call patterns that ESPN deemed suspicious.  However, these examples have limited value separate from a more careful video analysis, and they frequently omit material information.  For example:

• Dallas @ Seattle, 12/20/2006: ESPN cites a foul called by Donaghy against Seattle with 23 seconds remaining in the game that purportedly gave Dallas an opportunity to cover an 8-point spread.  But it omits that this was an intentional “take foul” by Seattle.  The Article also cites a streak of fouls called by Donaghy against Seattle in the same game, purportedly to favor Dallas.  But it omits that after this streak, and during the last four minutes of the game, Donaghy called two fouls against Dallas.

• Boston @ Philadelphia, 12/13/2006: ESPN cites two consecutive fouls called by Donaghy against the Sixers’ Andre Iguodala in the third quarter when the game’s score margin was near the point spread.  But it omits that between those fouls, Donaghy called a foul against the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.

• Washington @ Indiana, 3/14/2007: ESPN cites four consecutive fouls called by Donaghy against the Pacers in the fourth quarter when the game’s margin was near the point spread.  But it omits that immediately prior to this streak, Donaghy called four consecutive fouls against the Wizards.

* * *

We recognize there is strong interest in the subject of expanded sports betting and the measures sports organizations should undertake to protect integrity.  However, the ESPN Article does not add anything material to the record of what happened over a decade ago.  There is no dispute that Tim Donaghy engaged in criminal conduct as an NBA referee, costing him his job, his reputation, and for a time, his freedom.  The Pedowitz investigation focused on understanding what Donaghy did and how he did it so we would be best equipped to protect the integrity of our games going forward.

In that regard, the Pedowitz Report prompted changes to the NBA’s officiating and integrity programs.  A summary of the initiatives the NBA has adopted since 2008 is available here.  This summary provides added context that describes the NBA’s response to the Donaghy situation and our continued efforts to ensure that the NBA’s integrity programs meet the highest standards.

The Donaghy matter also underscores the need for sports leagues to have greater access to betting data from sports books to monitor gambling on their games.  We will continue our ongoing efforts to obtain this information to further expand our integrity efforts and best protect our sport in an age of legalized sports gambling.

The NBA is right: the Pedowitz Report did not conclude that Donaghy didn’t fix games. The report merely found insufficient evidence to disagree with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which found no evidence Donaghy fixed games. A lack of evidence to contradict a lack of evidence is not nearly as conclusive as “Donaghy didn’t fix games.”

But is the NBA really now casting doubt on the notion Donaghy didn’t fix games?

That seems backward. The league should seemingly want to protect its integrity, not call attention to lack of clarity around what Donaghy did and didn’t do.

Maybe the NBA is just trying to cast general doubt onto Eden’s reporting. Some of the above distinctions seem like nitpicking, at least without more context. For example, how many illegal defenses did Donaghy call in the first five minutes of games? The gambler might have been embellishing by saying “first minute.”

Still, the league raises one question that seems particularly relevant: Why did former FBI agent Phil Scala vouch for Donaghy’s honesty then express doubt over Donaghy’s claim he didn’t fix games?

Ultimately, I wish we had better data. Pedowitz reviewed only 17 games, but examined all calls. ESPN reviewed 40 games, but apparently examined only fouls.

However, statistical analysis can’t prove Donaghy’s motives. It can only indicate trends. So, even better data won’t prove whether or not Donaghy fixed games.

But here’s what I can’t get over, no matter how ESPN or the NBA frames these details: Donaghy broke the law to sell gamblers information while working as a referee. Will anyone ever believe he drew the line before fixing games?

Monte Morris plays it safe – to Nuggets’ delight

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DETROIT – Monte Morris entered the NBA inauspiciously.

Despite looking like a borderline first-round pick after his junior year, Morris returned to Iowa State for his senior season. He pulled his quad during the pre-draft process in 2017, missing most of his scheduled workouts. He fell to the No. 51 pick. The Nuggets offered just a two-year, two-way contract.

“I was excited,” said Morris, a Flint, Mich., native. “Where I come from, if you get a chance to get to this level, everybody back home looks at you as the hero. So, I was just happy for my opportunity.”

Morris has seized it.

With Isaiah Thomas sidelined most of the season, Morris has emerged as a quality contributor in Denver. Morris deserves strong consideration for spots on Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player ballots. And this could be just the start.

The knock on Morris has long been his ceiling. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound point guard is neither big nor overly athletic. In four years at Iowa State, he developed a reputation for protecting the ball and taking what defenses gave him. Usually, future NBA point guards bend the game more at that level. They use their burst and/or shooting to dictate terms to the defense. Morris left many scouts believing he’d be a career backup in the NBA – at best.

Morris has improved his outside shooting, making 43.1% of his 3-pointers on 2.8 attempts per game this season. But he’s mostly playing the same style he always has, avoiding bad shots and turnovers. It has just translated far better than expected.

Morris’ 6.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is on pace to be the best in NBA history. Here are the highest assist-to-turnover ratios since 1977-78, as far back as Basketball-Reference data goes (assists and turnovers per game in parentheses):

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Morris has gone 127 minutes since his last turnover.

“As a coach, that’s what you want in a point guard,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s a throwback.”

Morris is averaging 10.8 points per game, and he competes defensively. Few reserves have produced like him this season.

Montrezl Harrell and Domantas Sabonis are pulling away from the field in the Sixth Man of the Year race. But the ballot runs three deep, and Morris ranks third among Sixth Man of the Year-eligible players in win shares:

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Not bad for someone who spent most of last season in the NBA’s minor league.

Morris played well there, and he has only continued to improve since. He impressed so much in summer league, Denver signed him to a standard contract a year before his two-way deal would have ended. That way, the Nuggets could use Morris more than the 45-day limit for two-way players within the season.

“He embodied who we want to be,” Malone said. “He embodied our culture. Self-motivated. And every time you gave Monte Morris a challenge, he met it head on.”

Judging Morris’ improvement can be tricky. He played just 25 minutes in three NBA games last season. I suspect he could have handled a bigger role, even as a rookie. But there’s a certain amount of guesswork there. (Not so for my Most Improved Player favorite, Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox, who was demonstrably bad last season then has become a near-star this season).

Undeniably, Morris’ impact this season is far greater than ever before.

Here are the biggest increases in win shares (middle) from a prior career high (left) to the current season (right):

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Everything is trending the right direction for Morris. He’s showing the fruits of his work ethic, and he’s just 23. Maybe we can finally view him as someone with upside. But even if this is his ceiling, it’s high enough. Morris is already a productive NBA rotation player.

Perhaps best of all for the Nuggets, Morris is on just a minimum contract.

Here are this season’s win-share leaders among minimum-contract players:*

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*Excluding players who were bought out or just waived in-season then signed elsewhere for the minimum. Excluding players on rookie-scale contracts who had their salaries increased to the minimum by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Of the 15 minimum-salary players on that leaderboard, only two have contracts that won’t allow them to enter free agency and pursue raises this summer. Spencer Dinwiddie signed a three-year, $34,360,473 extension in December, which he deemed even better than hitting the open market. Morris has two (!) additional minimum-salary seasons on his deal.

By getting him onto a two-year, two-way deal initially, Denver gained immense leverage in negotiations last summer. Morris could have played out his two-way deal and become a restricted free agent next summer. Instead, he took the safe approach with a three-year contract that guaranteed two seasons at the NBA minimum and included a third unguaranteed minimum season.

It’s incredible value for the Nuggets… and delays Morris getting a payday commensurate with his production. But he’s maintaining the same steady approach he shows on the court.

“It’s cool,” Morris said. “I’ve just got to keep being Monte, keep being on-time, keep being a good person, and everything will take care of itself.”