NBA Finals Game 4

LeBron James’ ankle bothering him in Finals

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MIAMI — You wouldn’t know it watching LeBron James play compared to his Miami Heat teammates. Through three quarters of Game 4 LeBron had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, the rest of the Heat had 29 points on 27.8 percent shooting.

But LeBron James admitted he is playing through a sore ankle.

LeBron bolted back to the Heat locker room right after the national anthem and before player introductions, then again during a first quarter timeout. Television cameras caught him grimacing on the court more than once in Game 4. When asked about it (and if anything was bothering him) after the game, LeBron mentioned the ankle.

“First time I left I went to go get retaped, retape my ankle. It’s been kind of bothering me for the last couple days, but I felt okay,” LeBron said dismissively.

With an extra day off before Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, LeBron will have more time to get treatment on the ankle.

Again, it hasn’t really impacted his play, he has done everything the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra could ask. These Finals and the San Antonio Spurs have exposed the flawed roster around LeBron, not him, although for some it will be LeBron that takes the legacy hit with these Finals.

Finals show burden Heat put on LeBron James, need to retool Miami roster

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MIAMI — If I had to use one word to describe Heat players after Game 4, it would be bewildered.

All season long, Miami made the same errors we have seen from them in the Finals: up and down effort, inconsistent defensive traps and rotations, guys not attacking the paint and settling for jump shots (and the list goes on and on).

The difference is coming out of the soft Eastern Conference nobody made the Heat pay. That left the door open for Miami’s answer:

LeBron James.

He was the trump card. He covered their flaws All season long the Heat counted on LeBron to do virtually everything: Create offense for himself, create offense for others, and often defend the opponent’s best player in crunch time.

All season long LeBron was the Miami Heat. In the Eastern Conference that was enough.

He’s not enough against San Antonio.

No team has made the Heat pay for their flaws like the Spurs. Half-hearted traps are quickly exposed with a sharp pass, every slow rotation becomes a lay-up or an open three. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will search the game tapes and the depth chart looking for an answer, but there will be none.

Other than more LeBron James.

That fact and series in general points out the challenge in front of Heat president Pat Riley — this roster needs to be retooled. LeBron can’t do it all by himself, and when he has been on the bench the Heat have looked terrible.

After the Game 1 when LeBron cramped up in the sauna that was the AT&T Center he got hit with complaints he was not there to lift his team up and give them a chance.

Games 3 and 4 have shown just how much lifting he has to do. How much pressure is on him.

“I don’t really get caught up in what pressure is all about…” LeBron tried to play it off after the Heat’s Game 4 loss. “For me, I do whatever it takes to help our team win. If it’s me going one-on-one to try to help us win, if it’s me getting guys involved and taking threes in rhythm, then I’ll do it. But I don’t really get caught up in the pressure.”

Miami’s Game 4 loss was not on LeBron’s shoulders other than they are not broad enough to carry the flawed Heat past the Spurs. Through three quarters LeBron had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, the rest of the Heat had 29 points on 27.8 percent shooting. LeBron hit 6-of-10 contested shots and was 4-of-6 when left open.

“It’s not (all) on my shoulders. It’s not,” LeBron said. “I understand I get a lot of the limelight in the press and all that, but it’s not all on my shoulder. I take a lot of it, but I do it for my teammates and I want them to put a lot of pressure on me in that sense.”

They do. He will hear about it on social media. He will hear about how the eventual loss in this series will taint a legacy that is still being written.

But anyone who goes back and watches this series will see LeBron carried as much of a burden as could be asked. It’s just that pushing this Heat roster past the Spurs is more like the job Sisyphus had.

A lot has been asked of LeBron by the Heat. Now the burden should fall on Pat Riley to repair this roster.

San Antonio dominates Miami again, wins by 21, takes command of NBA Finals

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MIAMI — The San Antonio Spurs have taken the Miami Heat to the woodshed.

For the second game in a row the ball-moving, energized Spurs dominated a Heat team that played stagnant, uninspired basketball on their home court. The Spurs grabbed a lead in the first quarter, pulled away in the second and cruised to a 107-86 win.

San Antonio now leads the NBA Finals 3-1 and heads home with a chance to close it out Sunday night at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio took both games in Miami by a combined 30 points — they fully exorcised any demons left over from Game 6 in American Airlines Arena from last season.

“I mean they smashed us, two straight home games,” LeBron James said.

Most people — including Heat coach Erik Spoelstra — expected a lot more energy out of a Heat team that needed a win, but it was the Spurs that played like the more desperate team.

“I can honestly say I don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance,” Spoelstra said.

“Well, I think (the Heat’s) reaction was there but we matched it,” San Antonio’s Boris Diaw said after another impressive game with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

The Spurs did it with the balanced, team game they have shown all season (and for several seasons). San Antonio shot 57.1 percent, and 51 percent of the Spurs shots were uncontested (according to SportVU cameras). For comparison 39 percent of the Heat shots were uncontested. Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and 14 rebounds plus played fantastic defense against LeBron James (Leonard will be in the mix for series MVP), Tony Parker had 19 points, Patty Mills added 14 and the Spurs as a team had 25 assists on 40 baskets. They were again playing “the beautiful game.”

“I’m pleased that they performed as well as they did while we’ve been in Miami,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “And that’s about as far as it goes. Now we’ve got to go back home and play as well or better.”

As good as their offense was, the Spurs defense was much sharper, much improved compared to Game 3. The Spurs were smart and aggressive defending the pick-and-roll, and the Heat made it easy on them with a lot of pick-and-rolls or isolations and almost no weakside movement.

LeBron did all he could — he had 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting — but he got no help. Dwyane Wade was 3-of-13 shooting, 1-of-8 inside 8 feet. Chris Bosh was 5-of-11. Heat players not named LeBron shot 27.8 percent through the first three quarters (the fourth quarter was essentially extended garbage time).

“They played great and I can honestly say I don’t think any of us expected this kind of performance…” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.  “We just couldn’t get into a rhythm on either side of the ball.”

Like the Spurs, it was the defensive end that was the bigger deal for Miami — they again played without energy, not closing out on shooters, their traps on the pick-and-roll were half-hearted and the Spurs shredded it with their passing.

Erik Spoelstra was looking for answers, so much so that he tried Toney Douglas starting in the second quarter looking anywhere for a spark.

“Our group has been through everything you possibly can be through except this circumstance, so why not?” Spoelstra said. “Why not test ourselves right now collectively?…

“All it is, is let’s get this thing back to Miami. When we’re right mentally, emotionally, collectively there is a real strong spirit to us. We feel we can win anywhere, and that’s what we’ll work on for the next two days.”

There is a lot for the Heat to work on. The Spurs have executed their game plan at a high level, the Heat have looked like a team that can’t find the switch to flip.

And now, even if they found it, it would be too late.

Active, ball moving, relentless Spurs thrash Heat in first half, lead by 19 at break

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MIAMI — We all expected a team to come out in Game 4 playing desperate, knowing the series could be on the line, playing like this game meant everything.

We didn’t expect that team to be the Spurs.

San Antonio moved the ball, played smart and energetic defense, knocked down their shots (they shot 55.6 percent in the first half) and just outplayed a flat Miami Heat squad, leading 55-36 at the half.

Miami started out the game trying to get Chris Bosh touches, but their offense quickly devolved into a lot of pick-and-rolls or isolations with almost no weakside movement. The Spurs play smart, hard working defense seemed to contest everything — they were much sharper on defense than they were in Game 3 — but the Heat made it easy on them.

Miami shot 35.3 percent in the first half. Dwyane Wade looked old and like a guy with bad knees — he was getting in close but was 1-of-6 shooting inside 8 feet.

Miami’s lack of energy showed on both ends. They tried their usual trapping defense but when it’s done without real energy and intent the Spurs just shred it with passes. Defensively the Heat were not disrupting passing lanes, allowing Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw to get ball inside (or Tony Parker to drive it there) and pass out to shooters. The Heat close outs were those of a Tuesday night in February in Milwaukee, not the NBA Finals.

Parker had 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, Danny Green was 3-of-4 from three, and Patty Mills was 3-of-5.

The Spurs have owned the last six quarters of this series.

Erik Spoelstra got so desperate he went with Toney Douglas for a while to try and spark the team. It’s a sign he has no more answers.

Spoelstra, Popovich focused on defense heading into Game 4

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat gave 102.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, not spectacular (11th in the NBA) but not bad. In the NBA Finals they are giving up 116.4 to the red-hot Spurs.

San Antonio allowed a true shooting percentage of .523 (think of that as points per shot attempt), the Miami Heat are at .607 in the NBA Finals.

Part of that is these are two elite NBA offenses, but for both coaches the problem is their defuse and that is what they are focused on for Game 4 Thursday night.

“That’s what we spent all of our time on was the defense, because I thought we did a pretty mediocre job,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game.

Eric Spoelstra talked about defense as well and recognizing they need to handle the pick and roll differently depending on if it is Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili with the ball.

They’re different, yeah, there is no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “But they’re both elite, great players. You do have to give them different looks. If it’s the same look, they get comfortable, then they can carve you up….

“You see the difference in their ability, how they attack, what they’re looking for, how they’re trying to facilitate, those type of things.”

That defense, particularly from the Heat, is what this series comes down to — can they bring enough energy to their pressure tactics, can sharper rotations slow the impressive ball movement of the Spurs? If the Heat can do that — as they have done for stretches but not consistently in this series — they can even things up and make this a best of three (the Spurs currently lead the series 2-1).

If the Spurs move the ball, get the good looks and knock them down again enough to take Game 4, this series will be all over but the party on the River Walk.