NBA Finals: Spurs Kawh-It the Heat En-route to Fifth Title

FinalsThe rematch wasn’t quite what we hoped for after a 7-game thriller of 2013.  But with the Western Conference being far superior to the East all season, were you really surprised the NBA Finals ended up following suit? The San Antonio Spurs made easy, and I mean easy work of the two-time defending Champion Miami Heat.  The Spurs finished off the Heat in 5 games, but if not for missed free-throws late in game 2, it could have been a sweep.

It looked like it would be a close, hard-fought series after through two.  Game 1 was close until LeBron James suffered the cramps stemming from the AC going out at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.  That’s when the Spurs pulled away.  But the Heat bounced back in game 2, thanks in part to those previously mentioned missed free-throws by the Spurs.  But then the series went back to Miami, and San Antonio showed their road-warrior spirit, and just ran the Heat of their own court, TWICE.

It was surprising to see Miami, a team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to show so little fight.  Wade was absent most of the season, looking like an old 32-year-old despite all the regular season rest he was given.  Miami didn’t use Bosh appropriately and James, despite being the best player on the planet, is only one person.  It didn’t help that their starting point guard Mario Chalmers, and bench guys like Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole gave them close to nothing on either end of the floor.

Ok, that’s enough about what the Heat didn’t do. Let’s talk about what the new NBA Champs did to win.  They played team basketball.  When you can name 3 or 4 players all worthy of winning Finals MVP, you know you’ve done something right.  Tim Duncan, the 17-year veteran was the most consistent, surpassing Magic Johnson for most double-doubles in Finals history.  Manu Ginobili put a horrible 2013 Finals behind him and turned back the clock.  I mean can we talk about that poster dunk followed by a 3 in game 5?  How about Boris Diaw, a guy who couldn’t stay on the Charlotte Bobcats roster a year ago.  As a big man, he was a better facilitator than all of Miami’s guards put together in this series!  And finally the eventual winner, 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard.  After foul trouble kept him off the floor in games 1 and 2, boy oh boy did this kid step up and put San Antonio on his back.  Big shots, big defense.  It was great to see.  In fact, basically everything the Spurs did in this series was great to watch.  The unselfish ball movement, the consistent defense.  Basketball fans got to enjoy the work of Gregg Popovich, who is in the conversation of greatest coaches to ever grace the sidelines.  It doesn’t matter what pieces he’s given, he finds a way to make them fit into his system.  And it’s a system that has made San Antonio, a small market don’t forget, the toast of the NBA for nearly two decades.

So that’s it.  Another great NBA season is over.  But with the draft 10-days away, as well as free agency upon us, the story-lines continue.  Who goes number 1 to Cleveland?  Will this loss mean James opting out and leaving Miami? Will Duncan retire on top? Will Kevin Love be with the Timberwolves come the start of next season?  What happens with Donald Sterling and the Clippers? And so much more.

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NBA: Injuries, Losses and Confusion… Oh Nets

1465220_10152115043000555_1656789514_nNever thought I’d say it, but this team is missing their 1-2 records from weeks 1-3 of the season.  0-4 this week, a 3-10 record for a team many thought wouldn’t lose more than 20-25 all season, and a fight for last place in the Atlantic with the Knicks. Or just like we all saw this season going for New York area teams.

Game 10: vs Portland

Kevin Garnett thought he was 27 again, hitting his first 5 shots in the 1st quarter for 10 quick points after Saturday night off.  The entire offense shined in the first 12 minutes, scoring a season high 40 points in the frame.  But unfortunately for Brooklyn, the defense never showed up, and their hot start came to a halt just as quickly as it came.  Without Brook Lopez down low, Portland quickly learned to defend from 12-feet out, because there was no paint attack for the Nets last night.

Brooklyn couldn’t defend the 3, allowing Wesley Matthews to go 4-4 in the 1st quarter.  The Trailblazers as a team to shoot 44% from 3, and an obscene 54% overall.  Brooklyn did a good job limiting turnovers and getting to the free throw line, but they only finished at 37% from the field and a poor 23% from 3.  The Nets were held to just 35 points in the 2nd half.

If all those numbers weren’t troubling enough, this team lacked any kind of leadership in the 2nd half.  Timeouts were taken at strange times, there didn’t seem to be any talking on defense and Jason Kidd continues to just sit on the sidelines doing nothing.

  • Shaun Williams led the way with 23 points in place of the injured Deron Williams, Joe Johnson led with just 3 assists and Reggie Evans pulled down the most boards at 9.

L Trailblazers 108 – Nets 98

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 Game 11: @ Charlotte

Big shocker, they played poorly in the 3rd quarter and Deron Williams re-injured his ankle.  Down just 3 at the half, Brooklyn was outscored by 10 in the 3rd quarter where they allowed one of their 2 30 point quarters on the night.  They lost their point guard again, when Williams landed awkwardly on the foot of Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker after a late 2nd quarter jump shot. Williams took and made a pair of free throws, but was then immediately removed from the game and didn’t return.

The defense had no answer for Walker, who went for 31 including 2 clutch free throws to ice the game in the final seconds.  Neither team was great from the charity stripe, with the Nets leaving 7 points to the Cats 13 on the line.

  • Andray Blatche came off the bench to led the way with 25 points, Kevin Garnett pulled down 8 boards in 22 minutes, and Shaun Livingston assisted on 5 buckets.

L Nets 91 – Bobcats 95

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Game 12: @ Minnesota

For the amount of effort Brooklyn showed on Friday, they should’ve stayed home. No Lopez, Williams, Terry or Kirilenko again, and it showed quickly. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Timberwolves had a double-digit lead at 30-14.  Minnesota’s lead grew to 20 by half, and by the final buzzer, the Nets fell by their biggest margin of the year, 30 points.

All five of the Wolves starters finished in double figure scoring, including a double-double for Kevin Love, who had his way down low without Brook Lopez on the floor.  Brooklyn managed to get 4 in double figures as well, but had 20 turnovers to their 31 made field-goals.  Shaun Livingston had his worst game of the year in place of Deron Williams, tallying no assists and just 1 point.  The play of Mirza Teletovic was probably the only positive.  The second year forward pulled down 7 boards and score 7 points in 15 minutes of action.

  • Andray Blatche led the way for the 2nd straight day off the bench, scoring 16 points.  Reggie Evans and Kevin Garnett both grabbed 8 boards while Joe Johnson had a team high 4 assists.

L Nets 81 – Timberwolves 111

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Game 13: vs Detroit

Down 4 after 1 quarter, Brooklyn had one of their best offensive quarters in the 2nd, putting up 32 points.  Now stop me if this sounds familiar.  The Nets held a lead at the half, and then squandered it in the 3rd quarter.  A third straight day without Lopez, Williams, Terry and Kirilenko meant using their entire bench again.  And without their all-star big man, the defense in the paint continues to suffer, with the Pistons outscoring them 20-0 in the paint in the 3rd quarter alone.

Their lone healthy and not limited starter, Joe Johnson, did his best to save the Nets from their 4th straight loss. The shooting guard was on the floor by far the most, scoring almost at will, scoring a season high on 12-of-18 shooting, while dishing out 4 assists to no turnovers.  Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings both tallied double-doubles for Detroit, who out-rebounded Brooklyn, as well as forced nearly twice the amount of turnovers than they committed.

  • Joe Johnson’s 34 was the most by a Net all season, Kevin Garnett continues to lead in rebounding with another 9 boards and Shaun Livingston dished out 7 assists.

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There continues to be little rhyme or reason to the distribution of minutes, and I never know when certain guys are going to come off the bench.  Some of this has to do with the recent rash of injuries to their starters, but a lot goes back to age and a lack of playing time together.  What I take away from this teams first 12 games is they need to play better pick-and-roll defense, as well as help defense, and they need Lopez back. He is the key to this team’s success.  Sure there’s depth body wise in the front court, but not enough scoring wise.  They need their lone all-star from a year ago to be healthy, and they need KG to be more consistent on the offensive end. If they can at least get one of those two things to go with an effective Blatche and Plumlee coming off the bench, they can survive (for now) without Williams.

Now the Nets look to be thankful for some much-needed wins this holiday week.  4 games and it all starts up north Tuesday in Toronto, then a Wednesday date back home with the Lakers.  The weekend caps off with a match-up with Dwight Howard in Houston on Friday and wraps up in Memphis on Saturday night.

NBA: Saying It’s Early is Getting Old for the 2013 Nets

Another week, another 1-2 record.  This team isn’t playing with consistent energy, and that’s the biggest problem.  That is until the end of the week when the injury bug struck.

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Game 7: @ Sacramento

This team had 3 days to get ready for this road trip, but they showed up looking tired.  In truth it was a lack of energy, something you can’t do any time, let alone early in the season.

Down 12 at the half, a poor start to the 3rd quarter meant that an early run in the 4th was little more than window dressing.  Because that run turned into a Kings run which led to the Nets 2nd blow out loss of the year.  Sacramento led by as many as 23 before this one was over. 

5 Nets finished if double-figures, but it’s hard to win when you shoot below 38%. There was way more ball movement for the Kings, who nearly doubled up the Nets assist total. Of course the poor shooting didn’t help that number. Brooklyn did a good job on the boards, but they had 15 turnovers to the Kings 6.  It was just a bad night all around to get the road trip started.

  • Brook Lopez led the way with 16 points, 9 boards tied with Paul Pierce and Deron Williams had 7 assists.

L Nets 86 – Kings 107

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Game 8: @ Phoenix

From the opening tip, there was much better energy for the Nets.  That was until Deron Williams crumpled to the ground just minutes in.  The oft-injured point guard came down hard on his left ankle, and stayed down for some time.  He hopped off to the locker room with some help, and the Suns took advantage.  You could see why Phoenix led the league in fast-break points.  Their guards have quick hands, force turnovers and they get back in transition quick.

But unlike the last few games, the Nets responded in the 2nd quarter to close a double-digit deficit to just 4 at the half.  Then, something unprecedented happened.  A 16-0 Brooklyn run to start the 3rd quarter.  Sure, following a timeout the Suns outscored them 17-10 the rest of the way, but that’s the type of energy and smart offense this team needs out of the break.  And it started and ended with Brook Lopez, who scored 10 of those 16 points.  Lopez had a bad 1st half, but rebounded in the 2nd half, and when the Nets big man is going well, this team usually excels.

It was a poor offensive 4th quarter capped off by a late Joe Johnson jumper that sent the game going to overtime.  Big shots are nothing new for the 2nd year Net, but the biggest came in overtime.  Tied 98-98, Johnson rebounded a Channing Frye miss, and took it in for a buzzer beating lay-up.

Williams never returned to the game, but luckily the MRI on his left ankle was negative. He’s day-to-day.

  • Brook Lopez was the leading scorer once again, putting up 27 points, while Kevin Garnett was a force on the glass, pulling down 14 rebounds.  Shaun Livingston came off the bench for Williams to dish out 6 assists to go with 18 points.

W Nets 100 – Suns 98 (OT)

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Game 9: @ Los Angeles

If there’s such a thing as a moral victory, this Saturday night 110-103 loss to the Clippers was that for the Nets. Brooklyn was without 80% of their starting lineup for their final stop on a 3-game west coast swing.  Brook Lopez and Deron Williams sat with ankle injuries.  Paul Pierce was out with a groin issue and Kevin Garnett was given the back-end of the back-to-back off.  So Joe Johnson, after 45 minutes in an OT win Friday, was the only healthy starter with the bench against a healthy LA team.  It started out well, but in the end, the Clippers playmakers did just that, they made plays.

Up 1 at the half, the Nets came out firing in the 3rd quarter for the 2nd straight night.  A 10-0 run out of the locker room led to a Clipper timeout.  And did that timeout work.  LA answered the Nets run with a 16-0 streak of their own, and Brooklyn could never really recover. 

But they kept it close until the end, and with just 1 starter, and with different guys playing big minutes, it was an impressive showing.  Shots that were falling early didn’t fall late, and they left points at the free throw line.  Many of those were left by lone rookie Mason Plumlee, who despite the misses, was a huge reason Brooklyn remained in it as long as they did.  The back-up big man wasn’t afraid to attack Blake Griffin down low.  It took a 30 point night from Griffin, and a 26 point effort from JJ Redick to beat the Nets bench, something that needs to be remembered. 

It was another loss, and you can’t be happy with a 3-6 start, but the energy, defense and ball movement from this one needs to transfer to practice and the starters need to feed off it when they return.  Again, a loss is a loss, but it might be a turning point loss.

  • Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee tied for team high honors with 19 points, a career high for the rookie.  Reggie Evans led the way with 11 boards in his first start of the season and Joe Johnson dished out a team high 6 assists.

 L Nets 103 – Clippers 110

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Week 4 of the season starts with Portland at home on Monday before two more on the road. Charlotte on Wednesday and Minnesota on Friday. The week wraps up back home on Sunday against Detroit.

Injuries or not, this team is being paid too much money, and has too much depth to be 3-6.  It is early, but that’s not a good excuse for a team with Championship aspirations.