Heat force a Finals Game 7 with thrilling overtime win over Spurs

29 Comments

MIAMI — The Spurs were on the brink of winning a championship. With 28 seconds remaining in the fourth, they held a five-point lead, were on a 10-2 run over the last four minutes, and fans were heading for the exits while arena staffers lined the court to rope off the crowd in preparation for the trophy presentation.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The Heat had it back to a single-possession game with 19 seconds left, and Ray Allen made an incredibly difficult shot to send it into overtime, where Miami was able to prevent the Spurs’ championship celebration with a thrilling 103-100 victory that forces a Game 7 on Thursday.

Erik Spoelstra said he wasn’t aware of the machine that was in process, in terms of the building readying to crown the Spurs as champions.

“Come on,” Spoelstra said with a smile. “At that time I don’t think anybody noticed. That’s probably the best way to live in life is in the moment, and that will guarantee you’re in the moment.”

The Heat’s head coach may not have noticed, but key players on his team told a different story.

Chris Bosh said it “pissed him off” seeing all that happening before the game was officially decided, and LeBron James echoed that sentiment.

“Yeah, I noticed it,” James said. “It kind of did the same to all of us. There’s a few guys in the locker room that talked about it. We seen the championship board already out there, the yellow tape. And you know, that’s why you play the game, to the final buzzer.”

Before we got to that point, and due to the way that it finished, this game was an all-time classic.

Miami got out to a lead of as many as seven points in the second quarter, thanks to some early Spurs turnovers and some hot three-point shooting. James was in facilitator mode for the Heat, and consistently found his open shooters. But his offense was lacking, and when the Spurs made their push from the end of the first half on through to the start of the fourth, it was a problem as the Heat struggled with an offense that was tentative overall.

Through three quarters, James had 14 points on just 3-of-12 shooting, the Spurs held a 10-point lead, and Miami appeared to be on the ropes.

LeBron wasn’t going to go out like that, however, and his aggression in the final period was the reason the Heat were able to bring themselves back. He had 16 points in the fourth on 7-of-11 shooting, and attacked, attacked, attacked, finally forcing a Spurs team that was so effective defensively into impossible situations.

James finished with a triple-double line of 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, while playing 50 of the game’s 53 minutes.

Before Allen’s clutch game-tying shot, there were two big ones from Tony Parker — a fadeaway three-pointer, followed by a 12-foot jumper — that turned a three-point Spurs deficit into a two-point San Antonio lead with under a minute to play. The Spurs played stifling defense on the next couple of possessions to force two James turnovers, and free throws pushed the lead to five that began to put the plans in motion for the Spurs and the title celebration that was anticipated.

The Heat rallied, and the big-time three from Allen — which came after James missed a three to tie, and Chris Bosh secured the offensive rebound — got them five more minutes to stave off elimination. He took us through that crazy sequence near the end of regulation.

“Well, LeBron took the shot, and I knew we had time, I had to go,” Allen said. “I went into the paint to try to get the ball and make something happen. At that point there’s no guarantee who is going to get the ball or what may happen, and when I seen CB get the ball, I just backpedaled right to the three‑point line, and I was hoping I was where I needed to be — but I wasn’t quite sure. But just from years of shooting, I got to my spot.”

The overtime session featured two teams that were completely gassed from the intensity of the first 48 minutes. The Spurs trailed by three with just over a second left, and while Danny Green received the ball and rose up to try to tie it, Chris Bosh was there to block his shot as time expired.

We got this far without even mentioning Tim Duncan, who was on track to post one of the greatest games of his career, and one of the best in Finals history. He dominated early with 25 first half points on 11-of-13 shooting, and finished with 30 to go along with 17 rebounds. Had the Spurs held off the late Heat comeback, Duncan’s performance might have netted him the Finals MVP.

But talking about the Spurs and their title prematurely was not a good idea on this night, and the early arena prep may just have given the Heat the little extra push they needed to turn things around.

“It was a helluva game,” Gregg Popovich said afterward. “It was a helluva game. It was an overtime game. It’s a game of mistakes, and they ended up on the winning side.”

LeBron took it a step further, after just competing in one of the greatest games we’ve seen in recent Finals history.

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” James said. “The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad throughout the whole game.  To be a part of something like this is something you would never be able to recreate once you’re done playing the game. And I’m blessed to be a part of something like this.”

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

Getty Images
1 Comment

Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

Associated Press
4 Comments

It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.