John Wall posterizes Brook Lopez (video)

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After dunking on Brook Lopez, John Wall explained what happened:

From Santa Barbara to G-League to NBA Finals star, Gabe Vincent epitomizes Heat

2023 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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DENVER — Bam Adebayo had been a teammate of Gabe Vincent in the bubble and through much of the 2020-21 season (all while Vincent was on a two-way contract with the Heat), but the first time he realized just how good his teammate could be was when Adebayo had to go against him.

“Man, when he torched us in the Olympics, in the exhibition game facing Nigeria,” said Adebayo, who would go on to win gold with the USA in Tokyo. “He came out with that type of energy, that type of voracity and that type of anger. I felt like, from there, he’s one of us.”

Gabe Nnamdi — who uses that name of his ancestry when he represents Nigeria — scored a team-high 21 points against the best the USA had to offer in that exhibition game in Las Vegas when Nigeria upset Team USA. It was a breakout moment for Vincent.

That energy and veracity were back in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when Vincent dropped a team-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, leading the Heat to a Game 2 victory. Vincent was the guy getting pulled onto the NBA TV set with Charles Barkley and Shaq.

Vincent’s personal arc to get to that moment may be the embodiment of a Heat player and their team culture.

“I would say that old saying that we use a lot: People severely overestimate what you can get accomplished in a day, and they grossly underestimate what you can get accomplished in a matter of months, years, when nobody is paying attention,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to describe Vincent’s path. “And he’s the epitome of that.”

Vincent played four years of college basketball at the idyllic UC Santa Barbara, where he was a standout for the Gauchos — Big West Freshman of the Year in 2015, and two times made All-Big West teams — but he went undrafted and found himself in the G-League with the Stockton Kings. There he played for two seasons, earned the Most Improved Player award, and caught the eye of the Heat front office, who, in January 2020 signed him to a two-way deal.

Vincent’s transformation as a player was just beginning. Vincent had played up to that point as more of an undersized scoring two-guard, but the Heat had other ideas.

“He was a gunslinger, two-guard. We wanted to develop him into a combo guard, somebody that could organize us, be an irritant defensively, tough, learn how to facilitate and run a team,” Spoelstra said. “I think that’s the toughest thing to do in this league, is turn a two into a one. He openly just embraced that. Then he struggled at times with that because you’re trying to reinvent yourself. Instead of saying, This is too tough, let me be me, he’s really grown the last three years.”

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Vincent said of the transformation of his game. “The staff was great with me, whether it was film or getting in the gym, and my teammates have been phenomenal, coaching me up, telling me to be more aggressive when I’m questioning it or trying to think, should I pass first.

“And our stars, Jimmy, Kyle, Bam, they have just been in my ear and telling me just to play, play basketball. They trust my IQ of the game, and they want me just to go out there and play hard.”

As his game transformed, the Heat signed him in August of 2021 to a two-year minimum deal. He just kept getting better and outplaying that deal.

Vincent was coming off the bench for the Heat to start the season behind Kyle Lowry, but as Vincent’s game grew and father time seemed to be winning the race with Lowry, their roles switched. In February he moved into the starting lineup and hasn’t looked back.

“I know the level of confidence that we have in him and that he has in himself to go out there and run the offense at any point in time, first through fourth quarter, maybe even overtime,” Jimmy Butler said of Vincent. “And we live with the decisions and the shots that he makes and takes, and he’s our starting PG for a reason.”

Through the playoffs, Vincent has averaged 13.9 points a game shooting 41.3% from 3, plus dishing out 3.9 assists a game. On Sunday night he was the highest-scoring player on his team in an NBA Finals game.

It’s a long journey from Isla Vista in Santa Barbara to the NBA’s biggest stage.

And it will get him paid — Vincent is an unrestricted free agent this summer who will land an eight-figure-a-year contract. That’s likely with the Heat, who want to retain him, but his playoff performance will have teams looking for two-way ball-handling guards — Orlando, San Antonio, and plenty of others — calling. Vincent will have options.

“He’s just an incredible winning player,” Spoelstra said of him. “This year, he’s been a starter for us. He’s been great. He’s off the bench, he’s been great. He’s like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged like we’re getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you. And that’s what it’s doing with him.”

Adebayo saw that potential in a Las Vegas exhibition game a couple of years ago. Now he’s glad to have Vincent on his side.

Three things to know from night Heat shoot their way to win over Nuggets

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DENVER — This felt a lot like a game from the Miami series against Boston.

The Heat were raining threes, throwing the offense of the Nuggets off balance, and Denver shot itself in the foot a few times to help out. It was the recipe that got the Miami Heat to the Finals, and they repeated it in Game 2 to even the NBA Finals 1-1 heading back to Miami.

It was what we’ve come to expect from Miami this postseason. Here are three takeaways from Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

1) It’s all about the 3-pointers with the Heat

Don’t overthink this.

Multiple aspects added up to this Heat victory, including how they defended Nikola Jokić and got the Nuggets out of rhythm, how the Heat slowed the fourth quarter way down and had it played in the mud (19 possessions), and how the Nuggets did the unexpected and aided in their own demise. But it all hinges on this:

The Miami Heat shot 17-of-35 from 3 (48.6%).

This was the seventh time this postseason the Heat shot better than 45% from 3 (nine times better than 40%). The Heat also hit 9-of-10 to start the fourth quarter and turn an eight-point deficit into a Miami lead.

Miami had three games in the Boston series where they shot 50%+ from 3, and when they score like that they are nearly impossible to beat. Since the playoffs started everyone keeps saying this level of 3-point shooting is unsustainable, yet here we are, with the Heat having stolen home court advantage in the Finals as a No. 8 seed.

The Heat did a lot of other things right that made this win possible, but the Nuggets’ offense still put up a 125.6 offensive rating for the game. Miami’s offense was just better because the 3-pointers were falling.

2) The Heat were relentless, the Nuggets were arrogant

In Game 1, when the Heat made their fourth quarter run, the Nuggets settled their offense, got the ball to Nikola Jokić who got a few buckets and made a few passes to set up others. Denver stopped the run and didn’t completely unravel under pressure like Boston and Milwaukee did against the Heat pressure.

In Game 2, the relentless Heat made their run to start the fourth quarter, hitting 9-of-10 shots — Duncan Robinson had all 10 of his points in that stretch — but this time the Nuggets played like a team that thought they could flip the switch. Denver did that all night.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a steamed Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

“It’s the f****** Finals, man. Our energy has to be better,” Jeff Green said more directly. “We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.”

Miami has been exploiting these breakdowns and coming back on teams all postseason. They are relentless in their style of play and they are not rattled by the moment.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team’s drive in games like this. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.

“We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it. You gain strength from that.”

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” said Gabe Vincent, who led the Heat with 23 points. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

We know the Heat will continue to play with this same force the entire series, the question now is how the Nuggets will respond to adversity.

3) Jokić was scoring, but Denver was not its comfort zone

.Nikola Jokić finished with 41 points on 16-of-28 shooting.

The Nuggets are now 0-3 in these playoffs when Jokić scores 40+, but 13-1 in the other games (stat via ESPN Stats and Info).

When Denver is at its best, as they were in Game 1, Jokić is conducting a symphony and the points are raining down on their opponent from every direction. In Game 2, Miami did a good job taking away the cutters, staying home on shooters and limiting Jokić to four assists. They never let the symphony get started.

Just don’t tell Spoelstra the Heat made Jokić a scorer — he quickly and aggressively shot that idea down.

“This guy is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer,'” Spoelstra said. “That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised. We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”

Maybe he wasn’t just a scorer, but the Heat made Jokić and the Nuggets starters uncomfortable all game long. The Heat had the lead through much of the first three quarters because their bench went on a run late in the first and into the second — a run that stretched out to 40-14 at its peak — that gave them a cushion.

The Nuggets won non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by +14. They also were dominating when they could push the pace after a Heat miss or steal — all game long Denver struggled with the Heat could set their defense and take away shooters, they thrived when Miami was scrambled.

To start the fourth the Heat hit their shots (9-of-10) thanks to some defensive lapses from the Nuggets, and that let Miami set its defense.

Kevin Love deserves mention here. He was back in the starting lineup for Game 2 and responded with an impressive defensive performance from a guy who, to put it politely, is not exactly known for that. He protected the rim as a help defender and helped on Jokić in timely spots.

Heat play their game — hit 3s, grind, own fourth — to even series with Nuggets

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DENVER — It was a recipe familiar to Heat fans (and one that kept Bucks and Celtics fans up at night):

The Heat hit their 3-pointers at a seemingly unsustainable rate, 17-of-35 (48.6%). They got physical on defense and mucked up the Nuggets’ offense for stretches. Nikola Jokić was a scorer (41 points) but the Heat didn’t let him get the ball moving, allowing just four assists. The Heat were relentless and took advantage of their opponents’ undisciplined plays. The Heat owned the fourth with 36 points (to the Nuggets’ 25).

It was the recipe that got Miami to the NBA Finals and it won them Game 2 in Denver, 111-108. The NBA Finals are now tied 1-1, heading to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

That familiar recipe included Miami’s role players stepping up as they have all postseason. Gabe Vincent scored 23 with 4-of-6 from 3, Max Strus started hot and finished with 14 points and six assists, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench for a hot start to the fourth quarter and scored 10 points that helped change the game.

Their stars made plays too, both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21. Butler had nine assists, Adebayo nine rebounds, and both made critical defensive plays. Everyone on the Heat stepped up when they had to.

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” Vincent said when ask how the Heat keep having these kinds of games. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

While Heat culture makes a good story, this is ultimately about the 3-point shooting — the Heat shot better than 50% three times against the Celtics, and they have been having games like this all postseason (nine games of 40%+ from 3). This was a game they shot their way to a win with those 17 threes. The Heat had 11 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, half of their regular season average — they just hit their jumpers.

For the Nuggets, it was about the mental and effort lapses they avoided in Game 1 that caught them in Game 2. The Nuggets played with the arrogance of a team that believes it’s the better one in the series and can flip the switch.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a fuming Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

The Heat got what they wanted from the opening tip. On offense Max Strus was hitting — 4-of-7 from 3 in the first quarter alone — but it wasn’t just him. Heat midrange shots that clanged out in Game 1 dropped through the net Sunday. More importantly, having Butler start the game defensively on Jamal Murray along with Adebayo on Jokić slowed the Nuggets’ go-to pick-and-roll. Miami got the lead all the way to 11 as they pulled the game into the mud they needed to win.

However, in the final five minutes of the quarter the Nuggets started to find their legs and their offense — all thanks to their bench.

Christian Braun made two hustling defensive plays in a row, the second turning into a Jeff Green breakaway (where Haywood Highsmith fouled him). Then a Bruce Brown 3. Then a Jeff Green 3. Then a Murray 3. Then an Aaron Gordon 3. It was a Rocky Mountain avalanche of 3-pointers and the Nuggets started to pull away.

Denver’s run stretched out to 29-8 and the Nuggets led by as many as 15. However, as the teams returned to their starting lineups, the Heat got their groove back — Strus, Gabe Vincent and Butler were all in double digits in the first half. More telling, Kevin Love (inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2) was +15 and Strus +10 as all the Heat starters were in the positive. On the other end, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was -14, highlighting a rough night that eventually led to him fouling out.

Their bench had Nuggets were up 57-51, and it helped they won the non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by 14.

The start of the second half again saw the Heat increasing their defensive pressure, doing better in transition, and doubling Jokić in a way that bothered him. This slowed the Nuggets down and had them getting into their offense late, and it was back to a slow, grinding, Heat style of game.

That kept most of the third quarter tight, but in the final minutes of the half — when Bam Adebayo went to the bench — Jokić made plays, he finished with 18 points in the third alone, and the Heat entered the fourth ahead 83-75.

Then the relentless Heat made their run, with Robinson going on a personal 7-2 streak that grows into a 13-2 Heat run that puts them up by three.

From there, the Heat did their thing — they hit threes and played intense defense. The Nuggets didn’t match that energy until they tried to flip the switch in the final couple of minutes. They almost got it, Murray had a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

But the Nuggets lost the game much earlier.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.