Breaking down the Heat’s Game 6 comeback over Spurs

11 Comments

MIAMI — For all intents and purposes, the game was over. Except that it wasn’t.

The Heat trailed Game 6 of the Finals by five with under 30 seconds to play, and fans in Miami began streaming for the exits. Arena staffers in yellow shirts lined the baselines and the court across from the team benches, holding a yellow rope that would be used to close off access to fans once the championship trophy presentation was underway for the Spurs.

But a furious Heat comeback, along with a collapse by the Spurs and some borderline coaching decisions canceled all that, and now we’re looking at a Game 7 on Thursday that will decide the championship once and for all.

Let’s take a look back at exactly how it happened over the final couple of minutes of regulation.

89-89, 1:27 — The three-pointer that Tony Parker hit over LeBron James — a step-back, high-arcing rainbow that caught nothing but the bottom of the net — that tied the game for his Spurs would have gone down as one of the all-time great shots had his team hung on for victory. Parker set it up beautifully with a hesitation dribble, and James wisely defended the drive, yet still managed to get out and contest.

91-89 Spurs, 0:58 — Parker continued to try to take over, first by stealing a pass in the lane from Mario Chalmers on the defensive end, then by using his wizardry to score inside. Parker drove, spun, and hit a shot from about 10 feet out that put his team up two, and sent the Miami faithful in the building into a state of stunned silence.

94-89 Spurs, 0:28 — LeBron James turned it over on consecutive Heat possessions, and Manu Ginobili made three of four free throws to give San Antonio the five-point lead. The second of these from James was particularly egregious, as he floated a high lob at the rim intended for Chris Bosh, except that Bosh didn’t bother to jump for it, and even if he had, it would have been an extremely difficult play to convert given the trajectory of the pass.

94-92 Spurs, 0:20 — This is when the Heat went into desperation mode, but the Spurs’ lineup choices ended up helping Miami’s chances. James launched a three that rimmed out, but with Tim Duncan on the bench in favor of Boris Diaw and the defense he could provide on LeBron (along with the fact that the plan late was to switch on all screens, which makes Duncan a liability), the Spurs were short on big bodies to secure the defensive rebounds that could have sealed the game. Dwyane Wade was able to get in there and keep the ball alive, and the sequence ended with James getting another crack at a three that he was able to get to go this time.

“It’s what we’ve done all year,” Duncan said afterward. “In a situation where we were going to switch a lot of things, and it’s just unfortunate the way it happened. We got a stop, and we got a bad bounce, and right out to Ray Allen for a three. Just situational. But there’s no questions there. It’s the plays we’ve been making all season long.”

“Me personally, I trust Pop,” Parker added. “Whatever decision he makes.”

95-95, 0:05 — After the Heat fouled to stop the clock, Kawhi Leonard converted only one of his two free throws, leaving the door open for Miami’s fantastic finish. James missed an open look at a three, but once again with the Spurs having a shortage of big men on the floor with Duncan on the bench, Chris Bosh was able to secure the rebound, and kick it to Ray Allen for the incredible game-tying shot.

James was open and screaming for the ball once he saw his teammate get the rebound, but he was obviously fine with the play’s end result.

“If it’s not me taking the shot, I have no problem with Ray taking that shot, man,” James said. “He’s got ice water in his veins. Ray can be 0‑for‑99 in a game and if he get an open look late in the game, it’s going down. That’s just the confidence he has in himself. It’s the preparation that he prepares for every game. It’s the confidence that we have in him. We’ve seen it before.”

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
1 Comment

DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

1 Comment

Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

12 Comments

Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
5 Comments

It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.