NBA Finals Game 6 Preview: Will we see the best of the Heat?

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asked the most pertinent question about Game 6 just after the end of Game 5:

“Can we put together our best game on both sides of the floor in Game 6?”

Over the course of a long NBA season the San Antonio Spurs built very good habits as a team — make a mistake and they exploit it. They move the ball, they move off the ball and they exploit your weaknesses, your mistakes. Sunday night in Game 5 when they went with Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup San Antonio did to Miami what Miami did to other teams all season long — force them to make tough choices then exploit any mistake. They are the best in the NBA at it.

Over the course of a long NBA season the Miami Heat coasted, then played with focus in spurts. Their raw talent and those spurts got them 66 wins, they showed a powerful defense for stretches, they showed great ball movement at times. But it came and went, good habits were not built to fall back on when things got challenging in the playoffs.

Things are challenging now — the Spurs lead 3-2 and if they win Game 6 Thursday night San Antonio will deservingly hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions.

When the Heat have played with focus and force — as Eric Spoelstra likes to say — they have outscored the Spurs and put on impressive runs. They did that several times in Game 5 to dig out of the hole they put themselves in with careless defense early.

This is not to say the Heat have lost three games — the Spurs have won these games with their play. The Spurs do not wilt. The Spurs fight back. They are too talented, too disciplined, to battle hardened. They are too good. They will continue to exploit your mistakes; they will not just fold like so many others under the pressure of Miami runs. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are special players.

Miami only has a chance to win if they are at their very best, consistently all game. The Heat have yet to show they can do that.

Why do you think Danny Green has set the NBA record for three pointers in a series? Because he’s good, certainly. But also because he’s getting good looks as Dwyane Wade and other Heat players sag off him, lose track of him. It’s an unfocused Heat defense and what the Spurs do is exploit mistakes.

“I mean, this is the kind of team that I feel capitalizes on any mistake you make,” Wade said after Game 5. “So if you’re half a second late, they capitalize on it. “

Wade has been more than half a second late plenty. All the Heat players have now.

For weeks now, the Heat have bounced back from losses because they only seem to play their best when challenged. This will be their biggest challenge — the Spurs will play well, they will not make mistakes. They will not beat themselves.

Miami has to play its best to beat them.

So Spoelstra’s question is the real question of Tuesday night.

“Can we put together our best game on both sides of the floor in Game 6?”

If they can we will see a Game 7. If not, the Spurs are champions.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.

Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala questionable for Game 5

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Andre Iguodala missed the Warriors’ Game 4 loss to the Rockets with a leg injury.

It’s not certain he – or Klay Thompson, who played through a knee injury suffered in Game 4 – will be available for Game 5 tomorrow.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Klay Thompson, who suffered a left knee strain during the first half of Game 4, is listed as questionable, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Iguodala missed Game 4 with a left lateral leg contusion and is questionable for Game 5.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Iguodala:

He’s feeling a little better today, and he’s out on the floor. Not doing a whole lot, but making progress.

Kerr on Thompson:

Klay is moving around really well. I think Klay is going to be fine.

That sounds better than “questionable” for Thompson.

The Warriors need one, maybe both, of those two on the court. Golden State’s depth, especially on the wing, is looking shaky.

In Game 4, Golden State outscored Houston by 20 in the 31 minutes Stephen Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green played together. In the in the 17 minutes they played without even one of those stars, the Warriors got outscored by 23. Nick Young, who received more playing time when Thompson left the court area due to his injury, looked particularly overwhelmed.

James Harden‘s defense is a huge bellwether in this series. The Warriors spend a lot of focus trying to exploit him, and if that fails, the shot clock gets low before they move into another action. If Thompson is even just slowed, that’d make it easier for Harden to keep up.