Spurs dominate Heat one last time, run away with Game 5 to win 2014 NBA title

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SAN ANTONIO — Dominant is the word that will be used most often when people remember the 2014 NBA champions.

The Spurs put together a third straight masterful performance over the Heat to run away with a 104-87 Game 5 victory, and the only difference between this one and the way that the last two games in this series played out is that the rout took a little longer than usual.

Getting off to a fast start was Miami’s emphasis, with LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra both mentioning it specifically during their pregame remarks. “Follow my lead,” James told his teammates in the huddle before they took the floor, and he delivered with a magnificent first quarter performance that, at least for the first 12 minutes, could not be stopped.

James scored at will from inside and out, finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds and two blocked shots — one of the spectacular variety — in helping the Heat get out to a seven-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

San Antonio, meanwhile, was getting open looks that the team was unable to knock down early, despite Miami’s much more active defensive presence. In the second, all of that would change.

The Spurs began to get stops and sped up the pace, and put together a monster of a 17-2 run that lasted four and a half minutes. By the time Ginobili threw down a dunk in traffic and drained a long fading three, San Antonio had turned a seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead.

“Why that happened is because the guys have character,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. “They play the game the way we ask them to play it. They don’t get too excited if they’re doing well, and they don’t get too down if things are going badly.  They just try to execute.”

James was 0-for-2 from the field in the first six minutes of the second, which were wasted minutes considering the Heat weren’t running the offense through him or looking to him to continue to take control.

This isn’t on James, however, as he got virtually no help from his teammates. Wade and Bosh were the only other Miami players to score during a dismal 11-point second quarter, chipping in just six and two points respectively.

And all of this happened with Tony Parker and Danny Green not hitting a single shot on a combined 11 first half tries.

San Antonio put its foot on Miami’s throat in the third, extending the lead by displaying the type of offensive brilliance that’s been evident throughout the bulk of the series. The Spurs put up 30 points in the period, with the dagger sequence coming when Tiago Splitter blocked a dunk attempt from Wade at the rim with 6:11 remaining. That was followed up with a three-pointer from Patty Mills in transition, and two more threes (one from Mills and one from Ginobili) on the next two possessions which pushed the lead to 21 points.

The fourth quarter was simply an extended coronation.

Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP, after finishing this one with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds on the heels of rock solid performances in his team’s last two wins.

“He listens and he’s a great learner and super competitive, and has a drive to be the best that’s really uncommon in our league,” Popovich said of Leonard. “He walks the walk. I mean, he is there early, he’s there late. He wants more. He wants me and the coaches to push him. So I just talked to him about not being in that deferment or that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man. You’re part of the engine that makes us go.”

“I do not call his number,” Popovich said. “Everything he did was just out of the motion and out of offense, and he’s learned it well. In the future, obviously, we’ll use him a lot more on an individual basis. But it’s not really our style, and he appreciates that.”

James did all he could for the Heat in finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he couldn’t do it all by himself. He will remain the game’s best player in the eyes of most, but the Spurs solidified themselves as one of the all-time great teams — and the undeniable NBA champs.

“They were the much better team,” James said. “That’s what team basketball and that’s how team basketball should be played. You know, it’s selfless. Guys move, cut, pass, you’ve got a shot, you take it, but it’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s the brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.