Mavs Add Blair and Frontcourt Depth

30 07 2013

BlairMavs

He may have no knees, but he has better knees than another big man the Mavs were pursuing.

The Dallas Mavericks have come to terms on a one-year deal worth $1.4 million (the veteran’s minimum) with DeJuan Blair, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

The 6-7, 270 lb. power forward/center was drafted No. 37 out of Pittsburgh by the San Antonio Spurs in 2009 and fell that low due to the fact that he has no ACLs in both of his knees. Even though this seems like it would be a cause of concern, he has had a fairly healthy career during his four years with the Spurs, missing only three games during his first three seasons.

Blair has career averages of 7.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg on 52.8 percent shooting from the field. He also has averaged only 18.9 mpg during his four seasons, showing his ability to make an impact with minimal minutes. The 24-year-old bruiser’s per 36-minute stats last season were 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds on 52.4 percent shooting, according to Basketball Reference. He is known for his scrappy play, rebounding and ability to just find a way to get the ball in the basket. Last season, 81.1 percent of Blair’s shots came in the restricted area or painted non-RA for the Spurs and shot 57.3 percent in these areas. What this means is that Blair does most of his damage in the paint off put-backs or broken plays.

The major downside to Blair’s play is his defense. He may work his tail off on every play, but that’s often not enough when it comes to playing against seven footers in the NBA. Being about as tall as most small forwards, Blair struggles to hold his own against much taller opponents who can shoot over the top of him. Since Brandan Wright (6-9) is also undersized for his position, head coach Rick Carlisle will need to make sure his rotations have enough size on the floor or things could get ugly on defense.

As Mavs fans have grown to love about their own Wright, Blair has always been ready to play, not worrying about his role or how many minutes he gets. (With a coach like Carlisle, who doesn’t care about those things as well, that’s a good quality for a Mav.)

Just take last year’s NBA Playoffs. Due to Tiago Splitter‘s emergence as the starting center, Blair eventually fell almost completely out of Gregg Popovich‘s rotation. That’s why his minutes dropped from 21.3 two seasons ago to 14.0 last season. After only playing trash time in the first two games against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, Blair got 14 and 19 minutes in Game 3 and 4, scoring 13 points  in both games on 12-of-15 shooting. He also added 12 total boards.

Even though he didn’t receive consistent minutes during a run to the Finals after being the team’s main center early in his career, Blair didn’t show any sort of frustration or discontent. This team-first attitude is something any organization going in any direction wold be happy to have in the locker room. As Popovich mentioned when asked about Blair falling out of his rotation last season, “To his credit, DeJuan has been a true pro.”

With this signing, it seems that the Mavs have taken themselves out of the Greg Oden race or Oden told them that they were out of the race, so they moved on to Blair. Even if there are those out there that say the Mavs are still in the race, I don’t see Dallas as Oden’s likely destination. It will probably be the New Orleans Pelicans or Miami Heat—teams that can offer him money with no pressure or the chance to win now.

Unlike Oden, who hasn’t played an NBA game since 2009, Blair hasn’t missed a substantial amount of games yet. Oden’s ceiling may be higher than Blair’s, but Blair has a higher floor.

With a higher floor, Blair gives the Mavs a proven rebounder and competitor. For a team whose leading rebounder was their small forward (Shawn Marion) last season, rebounding was clearly an issue. Dallas had a rebounds per game differential of -3.7, which was third worst in the NBA. By bringing in Samuel Dalembert and Blair, the team should be more respectable on the boards.

Dallas management clearly missed out on all their “big fish” targets these past two seasons; however, they do deserve credit for their ability to fill out the roster while maneuvering around the cap line and put together pieces that make the Mavericks a potential playoff team. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson should be criticized for the “plan powder dry” approach but praised for finding economically-savvy answers to their roster problems. (The only exception this offseason is Jose Calderon, who was given too long of a contract.) On paper, they have their answers: pass-first point guard (Calderon), No. 2 scorer (Monta Ellis) and low-post defensive presence (Dalembert). And they didn’t go over the cap to fill these needs.

Now it’s just time to see these pieces fit together and give Dirk another shot at a postseason run.

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Current Tiers of the NBA

26 07 2013

Championship contenders: Heat, Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors (Fringe: Knicks, Rockets)

Playoff contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons, Wizards, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, Timberwolves (Fringe: Celtics, Bobcats, Raptors, Pelicans)

Lottery contenders: Sixers, Magic, Jazz, Suns, Kings

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My Far-Too-Early Early 2013-14 NBA Playoff Positions

8 07 2013

Having a few spare moments at work today, I thought I would share my 2013-14 NBA seeding predictions…at the moment. These are subject to change. Please stay tuned.

West                                                                            

1. Clippers                                                                 

2. Thunder              

3. Warriors

4. Spurs

5. Rockets

6. Grizzlies

7. Timberwolves

8. Blazers

Almost made it: Pelicans

 

East

1. Heat

2. Pacers

3. Bulls

4. Nets

5. Knicks

6. Cavaliers

7. Wizards

8. Hawks

Almost made it: Pistons

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Game 7 Rewind Part 2 of 3: The Past, Present and Future

21 06 2013

For Part 1, click here.

This year’s NBA Finals showcased a set of elite players all at different stages in their careers. From rising to super to aging stars, the Spurs and Heat combined to have it all.

With this variety of players, I am going to discuss the past, present and future of three specific men that all had major impacts on this seven-game battle.

 

 

“The Past”

Saying “the past” doesn’t mean that this player’s career is winding down and we should begin reflecting on what he has accomplished. I am choosing a player that just scored 23 points in the closeout game and averaged 23.5 points in the final four games, so that clearly doesn’t apply here.

I’m bringing up Dwyane Wade‘s past to discuss the fascinating path he has taken in order to become a three-time NBA champion—something that makes him a very significant player and elevates him above many others in the league.

When Wade won his first championship in 2006, regardless of whether or not you agreed with the calls being made during that series (keep it together, Jay, keep it together…), that man willed his team to that championship. Yes, they had Shaq. Yes, they had Payton. But when it came to the playoffs, Wade took command for an entire series in a way LeBron hasn’t even come close to doing.

Just to remind you exactly what he did to the Mavericks seven years ago, Wade averaged 43.5 minutes, 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 16.2 free throws attempted. He averaged 34.7 points for six straight games…in the NBA Finals.

Wade found a way to make his first ring not be elusive as it seems to be for so many and to catapult himself up the list of best current players in the game in only his third year of playing NBA ball.

Then came the bridge between that first ring and the Big 3. Those four seasons consisted of Wade, Wade, Wade injury, Wade, Wade injury, Wade, and more Wade. Oh, and some Michael Beasley, too.

Pat Riley and his Heat front office had built a team that streaked through the playoffs in 2006, only to be too old and lacking of pieces that could contribute for the years down the line. That’s what got them in that horrible NBA rut of no man’s land and irrelevancy.

So, after a few years, Riley envisioned the signing of some big-named stars once the summer of 2010 came around. He allowed the man that already earned the league’s respect with his historic Finals’ performance to go through three exits in the first round and a 15-67 season two years after his championship.

Wade continued to be the team’s offensive leader, pouring in a league-leading 30.2 ppg during the 2008-09 season. He continued to play at a high level even though he knew his organization was making him play the waiting game until they could bring in some players as good or better than him. Their NBA Finals MVP wasn’t enough.

And he probably wasn’t, to be honest. That run in 2006 was as magical as people say the Mavs’ run was in 2011. These teams weren’t built like the Thunder or the Heat; these rosters wouldn’t have had the ability to truly compete for a ring years later. You can’t win it all with just one superstar.

And that’s why James and Wade (and Bosh) teamed up. But even though this was Wade’s city and team that he had poured himself into and brought a franchise-first title to, his glory days of being “the guy” were done.

When you think of the Miami Heat, who do you think of? Give it second. Get that answer ready to go…got it? Who are you thinking of?

Exactly. If you are being true to yourself, you know you just thought of LeBron. Well, unless you saw where I was going and anticipated my next point…anyway, you get the idea.

No longer did the guy that had already proven himself in the NBA Finals  get to say it was his team. The guy that had withered on the big stage, unlike Wade, now got to claim this team as his own. And no matter what the players or coaches say, everybody out here knows there can only be one king in the valley known as South Beach. And that’s the King.

This wasn’t an easy transition, though. It took them time to figure out how to work together since there’s only one ball played with at a time. By the time they made it to the NBA Finals in their first year together, they were facing a Mavericks’ team that had a much higher level of chemistry along with one big German with some determination in his eyes. And one-legged fadeaways. (Sidenote: don’t these back-to-back titles make that 2011 Mavericks championship even more historic and remarkable?)

But by the time they had made it back to the Finals the next year against the Thunder, Wade had found his place. He had found his place as the No. 2 guy on the team. A guy that once scored 30+ points in four straight Finals games and averaged 30+ points just a few seasons ago came to the realization that it was his time to ride shotgun so his team—LeBron’s team—had a better chance of winning the title.

And they did. They won it as everybody talked about LeBron, including myself, and gave the King his crown and talked and talked and talked and talked about LeBron’s legacy. Oh how we talked.

For the most part, when the national media talked about Wade, it was in the context of the Big 3. He was brought up along with LeBron and Bosh. No longer did he get a significant amount of individual attention even though he had been in Miami the longest and had the most rings of the entire roster (along with Udonis Haslem).

So many professional athletes that are stars, especially in today’s NBA game, struggle to deal with age. Prime example—Allen Iverson. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with diminishing skills or a shrinking role when you’ve spent your entire career being “the guy” that I have talked about. It’s as if you’re losing a part of yourself, and you want to grasp onto this part of you for as long as possible. (Brett Favre is another example. He held on a little too long I think.) This can lead to ineffectiveness, avoidance of what your team needs from you, stubbornness and at its worst, a release or trade.

Wade is certainly not to this point as he can still be this team’s No. 2 for years to come after the Heat re-sign their big stars during the summer of 2014.

However, he is no longer “Flash.” He will have flashes of “Flash,” but he can no longer claim to have the ability to consistently play at such a high level with his banged up knees and wearing down body. There’s a reason he shot 17-66 (25.8 percent) from the three-point line, looks to have lost part of his shooting touch and averaged his lowest scoring amount since his rookie year. He is getting older; it’s a part of sports life.

This year’s playoffs worried people. Up until Game 3 when the Heat were down to the Spurs 2-1 and talks of breaking up the big 3 had surfaced, Wade was averaging 14.2 points in the playoffs while the numbers showed that LeBron and the Heat actually played better with him off the court. But Wade found it in himself to give his team just enough flashes of “Flash” during their last four games in which they won three of them. He came up biggest during Game 7.

Finally draining his pull-up jumper from the left side of the court, Wade messed up the entire Spurs’ defensive scheme. The cushion that they had been giving to Wade turned from a hindrance for the Heat to a blessing. Wade made jumper after jumper, finishing 11-for-21 from the field and allowing LeBron to again lead this team to victory and take that worldwide credit.

I am bringing up all of Wade’s past because we will no longer see the Wade that claimed the Heat as his team. As the injuries continue to build, we will also no longer see the Wade that could consistently be a primary source of offense every single game. This is all in the past.

But it is a past filled with him stepping up, stepping to the side and stepping down at just the right times in order to make him and the only team he has ever played for three-time champions.

 

 

“The Future”

So, the Spurs are done, right? We are going to be foolish for the nth time and simply assume that this core group of players is too old and too broken down to ever again make a run at a championship, right?

They aren’t done because of one player on that team. Kawhi is he so special? Kawhi don’t I tell you.

Kawhi Leonard is a 21-year-old kid that should technically be walking across San Diego State’s stage as a senior graduating from college. But due to his basketball skills and freakishly large hands, he left early in order to enter the NBA Draft.

If you’ve followed Gregg Popovich since he became head coach, you’ll realize he makes an effort to keep not only his core but his team together. If you find a place and a role in Pop’s scheme, you’ll have a good chance of staying there for the long haul. Just ask Bruce Bowen.

So when it was reported that Pop and his front office were trading rising star George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to their pick, many were surprised of the move. Hill was a humble guard that seemed to have the demeanor and work ethic to become a long-term San Antonio citizen. But Leonard was a player the Spurs had to have.

And the 2013 NBA Finals showed America just why this was the case.

Besides Duncan, this young small forward was the most consistent Spurs player throughout these grueling seven games. Over Parker. Over Ginobili. Over everyone else.

Being only 6-7 in a series with multiple 7-footers, Leonard found a way to average 11.1 boards to go along with his 14.6 ppg. Leonard’s best quality can’t be found on a stats sheet. By always running the floor, diving for loose balls and incessantly pounding the defensive and offensive glass, the kid has shown he has a natural high level of energy that others can’t replicate. There’s a reason in three of the seven games in this series he had three or more steals.

He has grown into one of the best defenders in the league with just the right amount of anticipation, strength and quickness. He had the job of going up against LeBron on his own for chunks of this series and did a respectable job against that freak of nature.

Going to Game 7, he showed us all why he is something special. Putting in 19 points and fighting for 16 boards, Leonard finished off a fantastic series of basketball on a level of play most 21-year-olds don’t have the chance to even see. Why do you think Norris Cole, for example, got a DNP during Game 7 even though he was an effective role player during the year and most of the playoffs? Well, besides his size and inability to guard Parker, Erik Spoelstra didn’t trust his young guard during the biggest game of the year.

Pop trusted his never-emoting budding star. Not only did Leonard play 45 of the 48 minutes Thursday night, he was placed in difficult situations in order to help his veteran-led team win a championship.

Talk about pressure.

But because of this pressure already faced by a kid that would have just been old enough to drink the championship champagne, he has matured as a basketball player far beyond his years. Once the Big 3 and Popovich all depart from this franchise (I know, I don’t believe it either…but it is inevitable), people won’t be able to have serious doubts about whether or not he can perform on any sort of “big stage” in the regular season or playoffs. He’s already done it two years into the league.

Yes, he had a crucial missed free throw in their Game 6 meltdown. Yes, he missed an open three-pointer in Game 7 with under two minutes to go that would have given his team a one-point lead.

But when you look at the big picture, his performance in the playoffs (14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds in their last game of their four playoff series) and his coming-out party during the NBA Finals that all took place with Duncan and Parker being the primary scorers shows there can be no doubt that the future is beaming bright for Leonard.

Even though they have different games, take a look at Paul George. He played his role on Pacers teams he didn’t need to be the leader of, and when his name was called to be “the guy” last year, he became an NBA All-Star and face of the NBA’s future.

Leonard also has an extreme amount of poise that will keep him from getting caught up in himself and losing himself to the fame of becoming great. He had this quality before he came into the league, and Pop has only built upon it during these two years.

Leonard’s future has “star” written all over it. The Spurs can rest easy about what will come once Timmy, Tony, Manu and Pop call it quits. Kawhi? I think you know the answer to that.

 

 

“The Present”

I skipped over the present because I wanted to stick to the ol’ saying, “save the best for last.” Well, LeBron is the best in the world, so I thought it was fitting.

This isn’t my time to overwhelm you with LeBron James slobber like ESPN and the TV will be doing the next few days, especially since I did plenty of that after last year’s Finals. No really, it’s all right here. This entire article is still relevant. (I am still sticking by my word that he will be the best player to ever play the game.)

NBA trohies

In last year’s article, I said we would see an entirely new LeBron this year that was more relaxed and enjoyed the game he has played his entire life. Other than the complaining that often took place after plays, I was right—it happened. He took an almost perfect season from last year and made it more perfect this year.

During the regular season, James set career-highs field goal percentage (56.5 percent), three-point percentage (40.6 percent) and rebounds (8.0). His other numbers were right near the top of his career-highs (26.8 points, 7.3 assists). He claimed yet another MVP award and looked to be in line for making a third straight run at the championship.

Then came the scrutiny. After shooting so well from all over the field during the regular season, his percentages began to drop. What went unnoticed is something very simple: this was the playoffs—a time when defenses become tougher to overcome and rotations become condensed, leading to the best players being on the floor for longer periods of time. Of course teams would find ways to cut down on LeBron’s production.

But that didn’t stop this man from wrestling through these playoffs. And please don’t point out all the mistakes here and there that still shows he struggles in the clutch or in the big moment. Mistakes happen all the time. The greats are guilty as well. Look at Pop’s bad moves that cost him Game 6. In 15 years, he will still be considered one of the best coaches ever.

The way you make yourself great is how you bounce back. LeBron has been in bounce-back mode since the 2011-12 season began.

There are plenty of statistics that show LeBron plays at his best when his back is against the wall. I’m going to only focus on two things. Two Game 7s.

During Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals, LeBron averaged 34.5 points, 10 rebounds and shot 95.9 percent (23-of-24) from the free throw line. During a game when he tied the record for most points in an NBA Finals Game 7 win (37 points), he shut down the notion that he can’t shoot by making five three-pointers, shots that were given to him by the Spurs’ defense all series long. And fitting in perfectly with this misconception that he doesn’t have a jump shot, LeBron drained a pull-up jumper to extend the Heat’s lead from two to four in the final minute of their closeout win. He overcame his own mental handicap with his jump shot, one of the biggest obstacles he has ever faced, and took this championship.

I have never seen, “doing what needs to be done to win” exemplified in NBA basketball better than with LeBron James during these past few months. Even though this often gave him unwarranted and probably unwanted criticism since he sometimes worked to get his teammates going rather than himself first, he doesn’t care. Well, I’m sure his two championship rings are enough of a comeback.

Whether it’s changing teams, changing the way he plays or changing the game of basketball for the NBA, James has done what he needs to do in order to win. And you have to give him credit for doing that and becoming the third player ever to win MVP and the NBA title in consecutive seasons (Bill Russell, Michael Jordan).

I asked you earlier what player you thought of when I brought up the Miami Heat. Well, when you think of the NBA, who comes to mind? I’ll give you a second again…got it?

Yup.

You might have “your team” and “your player” but you know you just thought of LeBron again. He is the present of the NBA. He is the NBA. Without LeBron, it is impossible to establish what the NBA is as an organization. He has put himself above the rest of the pack. There is “LeBron” and there is “everybody else.”

And don’t think for one second the present will be changing anytime soon. This is LeBron’s time. The future will just have to wait.

 

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Game 7 Rewind Part 1 of 3: Battier is Like Mike

21 06 2013

One of the underrated parts of champions is the performance of their role players.

And why wouldn’t it be?

An organization has a symbol or image that gives people something to picture when thinking of that team. When it comes to an individual player-heavy league like the NBA, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will easily come to mind when thinking about how and why the Heat have been so successful the past two years during their championships. And deservingly so.

However, just as is the case with any team of any league of any sport, there was much more to these championship than their best players’ outings during the past two Finals. LeBron’s monster 37 points and 12 rebounds showing in Game 7 will never be forgotten when people reminisce about these champions.

But as I said, there’s so much more to it than this one guy. This “more” is the role players. The players that don’t worry abou the attention or the ability to do what they want—the players that contribute in their specific role in order to give their teammates the best chance of winning each game.

What was the “more” in last night’s ever-so-decisive Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

Shane Battier pulling a Mike Miller.

During last year’s NBA Finals, Battier was in the starting lineup serving his role as a spot-up shooter and filling that role more than perfectly. Going 9-for-13 from three-point range in his first two Finals games and becoming the Heat’s greatest contributor to stretching the floor, Battier consistently made his shot throughout the series and played a key role in guiding his team to the top. Who knows if LeBron and Wade would have had the breathing room to create their own shot if Battier hadn’t have been sitting on the outside ready to fire.

However, another shooter decided to appear for the Heat’s closeout Game 5 121-106 victory who had been all but irrelevant up to that point. After going 0-for-3 from deep in the first four games and racking up a total of eight total points, Miller caught fire. No really, he was heat. Miller shot 7-for-8 from deep and had himself 23 big points in the biggest game of his career. No one saw it coming. Not one person. (Well, so I assume.)

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 1.54.37 PMDuring this year’s NBA Finals, Miller found himself in the starting lineup for the latter part of the series, serving his role as a spot-up shooter and filling that role more than perfectly. Going 9-for-10 from three-point range in his first three Finals games and becoming the Heat’s greatest contributor to stretching the floor, Miller consistently made his shot throughout the series and played a key role in guiding his team to the top. Who knows if LeBron and Wade would have had the breathing room to create their own shot if Battier hadn’t have been sitting on the outside—with one shoe or two shoes on, didn’t matter—ready to fire.

However, another shooter decided to appear for the Heat’s closeout Game 7 95-88 victory who had been all but irrelevant up to that point. After going 6-for-19 in the first six games and racking up a total of 21 points, Battier caught fire. No really, he was heat. Battier shot 6-for-8 from deep and had himself 18 big points in one of the biggest games of his career. No one saw it coming based on his 20 percent shooting (20-for-80) from deep in the playoffs up until this Game 7.

I’m describing these out-of-nowhere performances to help you understand just how important these out-of-nowhere showings are, especially for a Heat squad that requires quality shooting to surround the always attacking James and Wade. The naysayers can point out that the Heat only won because they had players like Miller, Battier and others not named LeBron/Wade/Bosh during the past two championship runs playing out of their minds. In a way, they got “lucky.” I mean, was it fair that Battier scored back-to-back 17 point games during last year’s Finals? How could the Thunder have prepared for that? Was it fair that Mario Chalmers exploded for 19 points in Game 2 while being mostly irrelevant for the majority of the other games in the Finals? How could the Spurs have prepared for that?

I used to be one of these naysayers that looked upon these players as inconsistent rather than “stepping up.” (Now, whether or not my distaste for the Heat played a part in this is for another time.) But what these outbursts represent is the “more” championship teams will always need. They need players to step up onto the big stage, put on their “big boy pants” as Gregg Popovich likes to put it and make an uncharacteristic impact that betters the team and gives them the edge. It’s not luck; it’s trust. It’s trust from the coaches and their stars that when the lights are shining brightest and the defenses are schemed to clamp down on the superstars, the “more” of the team will find a way to give that extra and unexpected push to the finish line.

Whether it’s been Miller or Battier, these shooters have been that “more” the past two years that has pushed this team toward becoming a dynasty.

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Fun Fact Friday

21 06 2013

The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 Thursday night, crowning them the NBA World Champions for the second year in a row. They now join the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Bulls and Rockets as the only teams to ever have back-to-back titles.

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My Thoughts on one of the Best NBA Games Ever

19 06 2013

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of.”

Those were LeBron’s words after the roller coaster known as Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals found a way to finally find its last loop and come to a halting stop.

The Miami Heat won an overtime thriller 103-100 over the San Antonio Spurs to send this back-and-forth (literally) series to a decisive winner take all Game 7.

Due to my current state of being basketball hungover from that emotionally-draining showcase of basketball and the overwhelming amount of analysis and ideas roaming through my mind, I decided to jot down my impressions in bullet form from one of the best games I’ve ever seen.

 

  • Give the Heat credit. Give that defense that closed out an evenly-matched game credit. They pulled this one out of nowhere as their fans were starting to leave the stadium (shame on all of you), the Spurs fans began to cheer for their soon-to-be fifth championship in 15 years and the Larry O’Brien was actually being wheeled out of a tunnel in preparation for the ceremony. And then it happened…the Spurs threw this game away. I hate saying that because I hated when people said the Heat threw away their championship to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. It’s disrespectful to ignore the team that actually won the game. However, the Spurs were in complete control of their destiny; they were two rebounds and two free throws away from finishing off this series and this season.Up 93-89 with 28 seconds to go, Manu Ginobili needed to make two free throws to send this one to a six-point game. He went 1-for-2. Then they simply needed to get a defensive rebound off a LeBron James‘ 3-point attempt to further put this game away. They let Mike Miller grab an offensive board and kick it out to LeBron for a 3-pointer. 94-92. After being fouled with 19 seconds to go, all Kawhi Leonard needed to do was make two free throws. He went 1-for-2. Then they simply needed to get a defensive rebound off a James’ 3-point attempt (sound familar?) to further put this game away. Chris Bosh grabbed that season-changing rebound, Ray Allen backed up toward the 3-point line and the rest was truly history. The Spurs could see the trophy and taste this victory. This is one of the most heartbreaking games I’ve ever seen. As Mark Cuban tweeted, “Hate to say this, but this game felt like the Rangers in the World Series.” That gives you an idea of how much this one hurts for San Antonio, who only had to do the simple things to win this game. They are just as resilient as Miami, but I have my doubts that they can muster up the emotional energy to fight back on the Heat’s home floor. That’s aside from the fact that Tim Duncan (44 minutes) and Tony Parker (43 minutes) are probably icing their entire body at the moment. As Ginobili put it, “I have no clue how we’ll get re-energized. But we have to.”
    • However, even though it looks like the Spurs are down and out, I wouldn’t count them out completely. I mean, just look at this series. After every single game so far, the media has practically counted out the loser…and that loser has gone on to win the next game every single time. I know this loss was astronomically more devastating than the other two losses, but as I’ve been saying all playoffs long, when the Spurs “Big 3” all play, they haven’t lost back-to-back since December 12/13. This isn’t a young Pacers’ squad that isn’t going to know how to handle the pressure of a Game 7. This is a Spurs’ squad filled with poised veterans that are ready for the challenge come Thursday night. As Gregg Popovich put it, “we better be real unsatisfied to the point of anger.”
  • This game had it all. The stars. The big runs. The off-the-court storylines. The nail-biting finish. The game-tying shot. The collapse. The weight of the world on so many players. The legacy of one team being salvaged. These two teams just played one of the best games in NBA history. Anybody that was able to watch it should feel thankful to have experienced such a sight.
  • Allen now has 352 postseason 3-pointers, 32 more than Reggie Miller, who is 2nd all-time. He is 12-for-20 in this series and 6-for-9 during the fourth quarter. This is a man of habit that puts up hundreds of shots a day to remain ready to fire from deep and has such a quick release, making it difficult for defenders to close out on his shot. Luck was involved on his huge 3-pointer, but there was little doubt in the Heat players’ minds that Allen would drain it once he released it. He truly is the best 3-point shooter ever.
  • Miller looked like me when I’m trying to get through airport security and Joel Anthony—I mean LeBron looked like a lamp without its shade on. That’s all I have to say about those wardrobe malfunctions.
  • Back to Miller for a second. If Danny Green is going to be praised for his shooting, let us take a moment and give Miller his due attention. This guy’s stroke is so pure right now. He is shooting 78.6 percent (11-for-14) from deep in the NBA Finals. And he is 1-for-1 with one shoe.
  • Commissioner David Stern is planning to retire after this season. I have to say, aside from how you feel about the man, what a way to go out. His league’s television ratings are about to be through the roof (possibly a record), and he gets to see the best two teams in the NBA fighting it out for the trophy. I’m happy for you, David.
  • LeBron (32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) has now had three triple doubles in his past seven NBA Finals games. Whether his headband was really like Clark Kent’s glasses or not, he was changing the nation’s perception of him by the minute during Game 6. He went from choker to headbandless to the greatest ever to a horrible player with Tony Romo characteristics to a triple-double machine that knows how to close out games. Allen and his shot for the ages might have been the biggest help in saving LeBron’s legacy, but you can’t deny that LeBron finally had that vintage “LeBron” performance that so many people were saying he needed to have. He had 18 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter/overtime and wasn’t settling for jumpers. He also guarded Parker for practically the entire game, something I didn’t think he could do, and held him to 6-for-23 shooting from the field. LeBron truly did it all in Game 6, both good and bad. (If you thought that was wild, just wait until Game 7. The social media world will be shifting their opinion on LeBron faster than Boris Diaw moves in a CiCi’s buffet line. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself…)
  • LeBron was 5-for-17 with Dwyane Wade on the floor and 6-for-9 with Wade off the floor. He took three restricted area shots and was -19 in 33 minutes with Wade. He took seven restricted area shots +18 in 16 minutes with Wade on the bench. For the entire NBA Finals, LeBron is 20-for-37 (54.1 percent) without Wade on the floor and 35-for-90 (38.9 percent) with Wade on the floor. The very first day this superteam was created in the summer of 2010, the major question was how these two stars would compliment each other’s similar style of play. Well, now with a more hobbled Wade, this foundational problem has come to the surface yet again. With Wade’s lack of shooting, which messes up the team’s spacing, and his need for the ball in his hands (not to mention his desire to not get back on defense and whine just like LeBron), the Heat have, for the most part, been better with him on the bench. During their 33-5 run in Game 2, he was on the bench for pretty much all of that. Having three shooters on the floor along with James and Bosh might give the Heat their best chance to take home this championship. Also, giving Wade selective minutes would allow the injured guard to provide maximum energy during his time on the floor. But does Erik Spoelstra have the guts to cut the minutes of one of his divas? Will he sit Wade for large chunks of the biggest game of the season and possibly his career? Will LeBron wear his headband in Game 7? Why did he look like he could play on Uncle Drew’s squad? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I got off topic…
  • Kawhi you so mean to Mike’s mouth, Kawhi?
  • Even though Duncan couldn’t finish off this game strong, scoring only five points in the third quarter and failing to score in the fourth quarter/overtime, let’s not forget that he showed the nation one of the best 24 minutes of basketball ever. The Big Fundamental shot 11-for-13 from the field for 25 points in the first half. That’s more than a point a minute. He was completely and utterly dominating Bosh down low. However, due to an increased level of defense from Bosh and the Heat along with Duncan simply running out of gas, this half of basketball will likely be forgotten.
  • Well, Mario Chalmers had one of those games. And what I mean is that he appeared from hiding. After his big 19 points in Game 2, Rio shot 4-for-19 in Games 3, 4 and 5. He had little to no impact in those three games. He came alive Tuesday night, going 7-for-11 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range. I might harp on his inability to play at a consistent level, but he sure came alive when the Heat’s season was on the line. They’ll need him to be big Rio Thursday night.
  • The Heat have been unable to consistently give 100 percent (or at least show it) throughout this entire series. They seem to just wait for a three to five minute stretch to turn it on. Just look at this past game. LeBron looked out of this game mentally as the Spurs took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter. It took a monster surge by LeBron, some spectacular defensive stops and a phenomenal yet lucky play that led to Ray Allen tying the game with a 3-pointer. (How did he get his feet set and get that shot off? That was madness.) They are obviously favored to finally win back-to-back games on Thursday, but will this team be able to remain locked in for 48 minutes and not let the Spurs jump out to take a lead or go on a run before they realize it’s too late?
  • Ginobili stunk more than he’s ever stunk before in his stunky playoffs. After a spectacular Game 5 performance (24 points, 10 assists), he nine points and eight turnovers in Game 6. EIGHT. Ouch. He went back to throwing bad passes all around the court, looking like he was trying to dribble a football and being a hinderance to the Spurs’ success. If San Antonio wants a chance at winning the last game of this season, Ginobili will need to find that inner competitor in himself that so many people talk about and close out this series looking like the Ginobili we know is still alive. Or at least think is still alive…
  • The last road team to win an NBA Finals Game 7 was Dick Motta’s Washington Bullets vs. Seattle in 1978. Since that series, there have been five Game 7s in the NBA Finals. The home team won all of these games.
  • The quote of the game came from the ever so quotable Popovich who was asked how he will prepare his team for Game 7. “I get ’em on the bus and it arrives on the ramp over here, and we go on the court and we play. That’s how we get ready.” Oh Pop.
  • Embedded image permalinkBosh said before the game, “[Danny Green] won’t be open tonight” and after the game, “I don’t know how we won that game.” Well, you partially answered your own question before the game, Chris. Besides the obviously apparent reasons this team won (LeBron heating up and Allen hitting a game-tying 3-pointer), Bosh’s defense and rebounding might have been the biggest reason this team is still alive. Not only did he have two huge blocks on two of the Spurs’ last three possessions, one that would have given the Spurs the lead and the other that would have sent the game to a second overtime, he grabbed the offensive rebound in the closing minutes of regulation that allowed the Heat to get a second chance at tying things up. Ray Ray capitalized. This is what the Heat need from Bosh—for him to play his role. With Miami’s lack of big men, when Bosh can be a force down low, that gives them a more diverse look. Yes, I’m saying stop shooting 3-pointers. Please, Chris.
  • Question: who is currently leading the Spurs in blocks for this series? Duncan, right? Actually, it’s Danny Green. The shooting phenomenon may be getting attention due to his record-breaking 3-point shooting and for not showing up Tuesday night, going 1-for-7, but this kid is an acceptable defender, especially when getting back to stop the fast break. He should be given credit for his team-leading 10 blocks and ability to stop LeBron when he is in I-Am-Going-To-Barrel-Over-You mode.
  • Popovich messed up. He took both Parker and Duncan out at the start of the fourth quarter, allowing the Heat to get themselves back in a game that they were out of (Miami went on an 8-2 run in less than two minutes). Even though his veteran stars needed a rest, this could have been your last game of the year. You can’t have offensive-lacking Tiago Splitter and Diaw both in the game at such an important part of the game. Then, he decided to keep Duncan, their best rebounder that had 17 on the night, sitting on the bench for the Heat’s final play of regulation. If only Pop could have learned from Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert that having your best defender/rebounder at the end of games is vital, no matter who is on the floor for the other team. This led to that Allen shot we all keep talking about. Lastly, down by three with a little over a second to go in overtime, Pop needs 3-pointer shooters on the floor, right? Well he had that…and Splitter. Why was Splitter on the floor when he just gives the Heat one less player to guard? I don’t know—it allowed Bosh, their best defender/rebounder who remained on the floor…hmmm, to shift over to Green and block his game-tying 3-point attempt. In a series with the largest difference in age between coaches, the older, wiser, more respected coach seemed to make a few, costly mistakes.
    • In Pop’s defense, mistakes happen. LeBron had a turnover and ridiculous airball during the two crucial possessions before he drained a 3-pointer in the closing minute of the fourth quarter. I know it sounds so cliché, but this is sports—mistakes are going to happen. Even from the best. If Allen had missed that 3-pointer and the Spurs had pulled this one out, the attention would be on LeBron’s two costly mistakes. But most have forgotten about those two errors. I lose no respect for either of these two men because of their slip-ups down the stretch. One is one of the best coaches to ever be a part of the NBA and the other is currently the best basketball player in the world. Play on.

 

Over everything you will hear in the next few days, realize this: Anything can happen in a game 7 of any sport. ANYTHING. These are the best two basketball teams on the planet, going all in to decide who is the champion of an 82-game NBA season. This is no longer a chess match to decide who can out-coach and out-think the other. This is now a match of will. Of heart. Of desire. They each know the other’s moves. They each will put it all on the floor as there is no more basketball to be played after the game’s 48 minutes are no more. Whether you like basketball, the NBA or sports in general, I would advise you to find a television once Thursday night arrives. This will be entertainment at its highest level and be enjoyable for all.

This is going to be fun.

Ignite the Site!