Heat’s Big Three dominate Game 4 to even the Finals at two games apiece

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was the one who took the bulk of the criticism for the Heat’s 36-point loss in Game 3, largely due to a 15-point outing that didn’t include a single free throw attempt.

But Dwyane Wade knew better. He was well aware that for Miami to bounce back and remain in the hunt for a second consecutive title, it would take all three of Miami’s stars to come through in a big way to hold off a very formidable Spurs opponent.

“Obviously it starts with us three,” Wade said on Wednesday. “We have to do a better job of being that quote, unquote, Big Three and leading our team … If us three don’t lead the charge, we’re not going to be NBA champions. Our teammates count on us, so we have to step up.”

Wade personally led that charge on Thursday, and LeBron and Chris Bosh were just as dominant as the Heat evened the Finals at two games apiece with a 109-93 Game 4 victory.

Despite the ultimate margin, this was an incredible game played at the highest level, especially in the first half. Each team held a lead of as many as 10 points, and the game featured dominant performances from several key players.

No one, however, was more important to the final outcome than Wade.

A knee injury has limited Wade for much of the postseason, both in terms of his athleticism as well as his ability to play with his customary level of intensity. But in Game 4, Wade was active from the start. He was aggressive in looking for his shot early, and came away with 10 first quarter points. He was flying around the court defensively, and ended up with six steals. Most critical, though, was his ability to provide a scoring punch that the Heat have been sorely missing.

Wade finished with 32 points on 14-of-25 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and four assists. He hadn’t been great in second halves of games in this series, and the fatigue of the knee issue was likely the main reason why. But with a little under nine minutes to play and the Heat leading by five, he came through on consecutive possessions.

After hitting a jumper in close, Wade reached into the passing lane and grabbed a steal. He headed out on the break, eluded a defender in the open floor, and then exploded for the one-handed slam which pushed the lead back to nine.

Wade’s performance was incredible, but it wouldn’t have been enough against these Spurs without some help from his teammates. And he got more than enough of it from James and Bosh.

LeBron came through on his guarantee to be more aggressive in this one, and once his team was down by 10 about halfway through the first quarter, that’s when he flipped the switch. James not only brought the ball up the floor to initiate the offense, he was running at three-quarter speed and attacking the paint with purpose on seemingly every first half possession.

James often found his teammates after forcing the defense to collapse, and was big on the boards, as well. He finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, to go along with a couple of steals and blocked shots.

Bosh completed the Big Three performance with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but his defense inside is what really gave his team the extra push they needed to complement the offensive prowess displayed by Wade and James.

On the Spurs’ side, Tony Parker showed no ill effects of the hamstring injury he suffered in the previous game, getting to the rim multiple times and scoring with spectacular finishes, or finding his teammates for open looks. But he did almost all of his damage in the first half, and didn’t score in 13 minutes of playing time over the final two periods.

In a game where Miami got top-level performances from all three of its stars on the same night, San Antonio wasn’t flawless enough in its execution to be able to match. The Spurs didn’t help themselves by turning the ball over 18 times, and they were unable to slow even one of the Heat’s three stars, and that made the proposition of coming away with the win virtually impossible.

“When Bosh, Wade and James score the way they did tonight and shoot it the way they did tonight, teams are going to have a difficult time if you help them and shoot poorly from the free‑throw line, as we did, and give over 20 points on turnovers,” Gregg Popovich pointed out afterward. “It’s not going to happen. When those guys play like that, you better be playing a more perfect game.”

On this night, perfection belonged to Wade, James, and Bosh.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.