David Thorpe says if he were Gregg Popovich he'd prepare his team for Game 7 with the message "we're better than them." What he'd tell the Heat, what worked in an epic Game 6. and more. TrueHoop TV at the Finals.
Getty ImagesThe head coaches for both teams have made the right moves throughout this series.
Game 7 won’t just come down to the players on the court. The two coaching staffs in the NBA Finals have each made adjustments throughout the series that have paid off significantly.
Let’s run through what they’ve done so far:
Game 2: Heat go to Chalmers-James pick-and-roll After the Heat went 0-for-4 on Mario Chalmers/LeBron James pick-and rolls in Game 1, Erik Spoelstra had faith his team would fare better.
The Heat went to this combo often during Game 2's most pivotal run.
The Heat made 6-of-7 shots and scored 16 points on pick-and-roll plays with Chalmers handling and James screening during a 33-5 run in the Heat’s series-evening win.
GAME 4: Mike Miller inserted into the starting lineup The Heat used a lineup with one traditional big man for all of Game 4 after doing so 65 percent of the time in Games 1-3.
This opened up driving lanes. The Heat shot 11-of-15 off drives by James and Dwyane Wade, with Wade hitting all six of his field goals off his drives.
GAME 5: Manu Ginobili starts for first time since June 6, 2012
Spurs use Boris Diaw extensively on LeBron James Gregg Popovich inserted a slumping Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup and Ginobili responded in a huge way. He scored a season-high 24 points, including 14 on drives to the basket. His nine points on drives during the Spurs 19-1 fourth-quarter run helped put the game away.
Popovich and crew also gave Boris Diaw an extended look against LeBron James.
James was 1-for-8 shooting against Diaw for the game.
GAME 6: LeBron James attacks with Wade on the bench The Heat were outscored by 15 points with Dwyane Wade on the court in Game 6, the worst +/- among any Miami player.
LeBron James in NBA Finals With Dwyane Wade On/Off Court
FG inside 5’
>>Per 48 minutes
Wade was subbed out with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter with the Heat down 12 in Game 6. When he returned with 3:48 left in the fourth, Miami had a 3-point lead.
James was given more space to drive after Dwyane Wade sat on the bench for the first 8:12 of the fourth quarter, going 3-of-4 on drives in the fourth quarter/overtime.
James was the ball handler on the pick and roll 15 times in Game 6, nearly twice as often as his usage on those plays the first five games of the series.
The Heat shot 7-of-9 on pick and rolls when James was the ball handler in Game 6 (10-of-30 in Games 1-5).
Will this carry over to Game 7? Therein lies some interesting discussions for potential adjustments.
In the series, Miami has been outscored by 56 points with James and Wade on the court together (+48 when James is on the court without Wade)
James is shooting 13-of-14 inside five feet with Wade out of the game in this series, and just over 50 percent on such shots with Wade on the floor.
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThis is what they'll be playing for on Wednesday night.
There are so many storylines for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Let's take a look at the ones that relate to the history of Game 7s in this round.
Home-Court Advantage The last team to win Game 7 of an NBA Finals on the road was the 1978 Washington Bullets, who upset the Seattle SuperSonics in Seattle, 105-99. Six Bullets scored in double figures that game, which may best be remembered for the shooting struggles of future Hall-of-Famer Dennis Johnson, who went 0-for-14 from the field.
There have been five Game 7s since, four of which came after the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. Each of the previous five was won by the home team, but was reasonably close. The average margin of victory of those five games was six points.
In the last 30 postseasons, home teams are a combined 17-2 in Game 7s in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals.
The two losses were by the Sacramento Kings against the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals and the Pistons against the Heat in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA has the longest drought among the three major sports for a Game 7 winner, but only by one year. There hasn't been a Game 7 of the World Series won by the road team since the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in 1979.
Come So Close in Game 6, what happens in Game 7?
Best Game 7s by Player
1. Walt Frazier, 1970 Knicks
36 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists; Knicks win 1st title vs Lakers
2. Bill Russell, 1962 Celtics
30 points, 40 rebounds in OT win vs Lakers
3. James Worthy, 1988 Lakers
36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists; 1st career triple-double
4. Bill Russell, 1966 Celtics
25 points, 32 rebounds; Red Auerbach's final game as coach
The 1974 Celtics share the distinction with the Spurs of being the only ones to lose in overtime (on a sky hook by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Bucks with two seconds left). Those Celtics bounced back to win Game 7 handily, but unlike the Spurs, they had the advantage of being at home.
The two most recent cases both lost.
The 1988 Detroit Pistons lost a heartbreaker to the Lakers in Game 6, then lost another very close game in Game 7 in Los Angeles.
And the 1994 New York Knicks had their Game 6 hopes of victory end in the same way the Spurs’ did, with a 3-pointer blocked (in this case, John Starks by Hakeem Olajuwon) at the buzzer.
That shot (which would have been a title-winner if made) was the Knicks' best shot. They lost to the Rockets in Game 7, 90-84.
LeBron and Duncan in Game 7s LeBron James is 2-2 all-time in Game 7s, with wins in his last two. In those four games, he’s averaging 33.8 points and 8.3 rebounds, almost a match for his numbers in his last Game 7 (32 points, 8 rebounds)-- the win over the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Tim Duncan is 2-1 in Game 7s, including a win in Game 7 of the 2005 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Duncan had 25 points and 11 rebounds in that game en route to winning the NBA Finals MVP.
Duncan and James share the common bond of having their highest-scoring Game 7 in a loss. Duncan scored 41 in a Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in 2006. James scored 45 in an Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Celtics in 2008.
The Experience The Heat have been through the Game 7 rigors quite a bit (including the once previously this season). Their roster has a combined 48 games worth of Game 7 experience (in any series), though only one player (Ray Allen) has been in an NBA Finals Game 7 (2010 with the Celtics).
The Spurs have three players with NBA Finals Game 7 experience-- their Big 3 of Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Their roster in total has a combined 14 games of Game 7 experience.
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: How painfully close were the Spurs to their fifth championship? Scores of Heat fans — admittedly, not exactly a die-hard bunch — were already streaming for the exits at American Airlines Arena as the final seconds of Game 6 wound down. The Spurs had endured a massive Heat rally, fighting back from three down with 2:09 left to lead by five in the final minute. The game, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy, seemed all but assured. The Heat, however, showed their championship mettle, stunning the Spurs — with the aid of two missed free throws and a pair of offensive rebounds — to force overtime on 3-pointers from LeBron James (20 seconds left) and Ray Allen (six seconds). They did it again in the extra session, finishing on a 6-0 run to erase a three-point Spurs lead. The Spurs failed to score over the last 2:42, one last stretch of futility in a game that was so close, and yet so very far. “We were a few seconds away from winning the championship,” said Manu Ginobili, “and we let it go. It hurts because it’s one of those moments where you’re going to be thinking about what we could have done better in the last few possession so many times all night long, all tomorrow until the next game. I have no clue how we’re going to be re-energized. I’m devastated. But we have to. There’s no Game 8.” … The Heat will seek to become just the fourth team in history to overcome a 3-2 deficit with consecutive home victories in the 2-3-2 format after a 2-2 tie. The Spurs, meanwhile, will try to earn only the fourth road victory in the seventh game of the Finals, and the first since Washington won at Seattle in 1978.
Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Miami is now 7-0 after losses in this postseason and has won 13 in a row overall after losing. This is a team that responds well to adversity. It did again Tuesday when doing so was an absolute must, and when fatigue was fighting every player on the floor. “We were not only taking the tank all the way down to ‘E,’” said LeBron, “but also using the reserve tank.” It was simply one of the greatest games and greatest triumphs we have ever seen in local sports. Now all they have to do is do it again. There was an interesting, telling little give and take by Wade and James in the interview room after the Game 5 loss in San Antonio. They’d been doing interviews separately lately but happened to be at each other’s elbow that night. It was mentioned how Miami lost a Game 6 on its home floor to fall short to Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals, the first year of the Big 3. Heat players endured the indignity of the Mavericks celebrating on their own court that year. “We’re a better team now,” Wade had said, with certainty. “We’re going to see,” added James, with a small smile. They proved Tuesday night they ARE a better team than they were. Now all they have to do is prove it one more time, on Thursday night. When it matters even more. When it is ALL that matters.
Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: With the Heat down 10 points to start the fourth quarter, James led a 22-9 run with Wade on the bench for the entire burst. But still the Heat needed a Ray Allen 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to force overtime. "Just no quit in this team," Wade said in a happy locker room. "The game of basketball is a funny thing. I wish we could say how and why [we won]. That's why we love this game. It's unpredictable. That's why the only thing you can do when things look dim and dark is just keep going." Wade re-entered with 3:48 left and did have a block and two made free throws to give Miami a 3-point lead with 2:09 left in regulation. Tony Parker quickly erased that with a fadeaway 3-pointer. Wade said the Heat drew extra motivation when they saw the arena workers preparing for the postgame trophy presentation to the Spurs. "When they brought out the yellow rope [for the trophy presentation], you know you're not the one that's going to celebrate and it hurts, so we just kept fighting to the last minute, to the last second, and it happened tonight." Wade is looking forward to what could be an epic Game 7 of the NBA Finals back at AmericanAirlines Arena. "I've never wanted to play a Game 7 so bad," Wade said.
Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post: The Heat’s 27-game winning streak during the regular season means nothing without a title. James’ fourth MVP award means nothing without a title. If anything, in fact, those accomplishments will stand as mocking reminders of what Miami couldn’t do when the games mattered most if the Heat lose Thursday night. But the Heat are still breathing when it looked for all the world that they were finished. Allen did that for them. “He’s the greatest shooter of all time,” said Bosh, who got the ball to Allen after rebounding a James miss on a triple. “How he was open, I don’t know.” The shot capped a Miami comeback from 13 points behind late in the third quarter, and by 10 behind to start the fourth. “Ray did what he’s done for so many years,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve seen it on the other side so many times.” It shoved the Heat into a Game 7. The opportunity to define themselves awaits with a championship on the line.
Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg wrote today that Garnett has become something of a forgotten man as rumors have swirled around Rivers. He's right. Sure, the fans will miss the coach if he decides to leave, but Garnett's departure would be franchise-altering. The Celtics would be losing a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Pierce is even more of an afterthought. We could be 12 days away from the end of the career of one of the five or six greatest players in Celtics history, and no one is talking about it. Pierce is the second-leading scorer in franchise history. He is first in 3-pointers, fourth in assists, and seventh in rebounds. A generation of kids from Ipswich to Wareham to Pittsfield has never needed to replace the jersey of the first Celtics star they ever cheered for.
Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: All that's left now for the Clippers is to convince Chris Paul they are truly committed to going the distance to win a championship, hire a new coach, sooth the feelings of young center DeAndre Jordan and make up with Blake Griffin, who was all but offered up to the Lakers on a silver platter for Dwight Howard. Not to mention move on without one of the top two coaches in the NBA and a pair of tough, savvy veterans who would have instantly made the Clippers an NBA championship contender. Other than that, the summer is going dandy for L.A.'s other basketball team. On one hand kudos to the Clippers for trying to land Doc Rivers, one of the great coaches in the NBA, and fierce veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in a blockbuster deal for Jordan, an expiring contract and multiple draft picks. On the other, upon learning this morning from a Clippers source the deal is officially dead right now you can't help wonder if they can successfully pick up all the pieces and put it back together again. The ripple effect from the very public high-wire act they performed the last few days is enormous. Who knows what this means for Paul, who is set to become a free agent July 1st and is free to talk and walk to the team of his desire. … Fact is, the Clippers must now move on. The question is, how dramatically has the futility of the last few days altered their present and future?
Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: On Tuesday, Paul George worked out with his summertime basketball trainer, former Los Angeles Lakers reserve Mike Penberthy. "Paul does credit Brian Shaw with a lot of his development," Penberthy said of the Pacers assistant coach. "He said Brian deserves a head coaching job. He's had his run as an assistant and it's time for him to get his chance." Shaw might get his chance with the Nuggets. He interviewed with the Nuggets on Tuesday, an NBA source confirmed, and is in competition with former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, who is set to interview Wednesday. So just who is Brian Shaw? Interviews with those who know the 47-year-old former guard reveal a likable, versatile, passionate basketball mind, yearning to break out as a young coach.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Mark Jackson is the Zen Don Nelson -- similar Warriors success, much less frantic financial agitation. So: Jackson is not going to scheme for a bigger, longer contract this summer after leading the Warriors to a surprise playoff run, though that's exactly what Nelson did after the franchise's previous postseason berth. If a new deal for Jackson comes before the season starts, then fine. If it doesn't (and Jackson said there have been no serious talks as of yet this offseason) ... well, Jackson might not be 100 percent thrilled with that, but he almost certainly won't stage a Nelson-style holdout. "I'm thrilled to have a job and to coach this group of guys -- and with great ownership, a great front office and fan base," Jackson said from Los Angeles in a phone interview Tuesday. "I'm a guy with great faith. I know it'll work out. So I don't get caught up in it. This isn't standard 'coach line.' It's the truth. It'll work out. I do know that." The reality is that Jackson is signed through next season, and the Warriors have a team option for 2014-15. I presume both sides would like to take a look at a longer agreement relatively soon, but you never know when a deal can be struck. And if Jackson has been upset by any perceived delay, I'm sure he'd let everybody know. I asked: He isn't upset.
Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Shortly after the Kings announced the hiring of general manager Pete D'Alessandro, the restructuring of the organization's business and basketball departments resumed. As expected, several employees who worked under basketball president Geoff Petrie were released, including his son, assistant basketball vice president Mike Petrie, basketball vice president Wayne Cooper, scouting director Scotty Stirling, video coordinator Joe Cook, security guard Joe Nolan, property manager Steve Schmidt and administrative assistant Sheli Gottlieb. The biggest surprise might have been media relations spokesman Devin Blankenship, a native Sacramentan who had been with the franchise for 13 years.
Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: At a time when the Suns have stockpiled draft picks, including two in the first round next week, and created some salary-cap flexibility, everybody in the basketball operation is finally on the same page. “Ryan and Pat pride themselves in knowing every player in the world,” Babby said. “It gives me peace of mind going into this (draft) process. If a name comes up, they know everything about the guy, including what he had for breakfast.” That goes beyond players coming up through the college ranks. McDonough has assembled a staff of scouts and consultants, some holdovers and some new, who are wired into the world. That has never been more important, as evidenced by the success of the San Antonio Spurs. There is synergy and energy in the building. “It’s palpable,” Babby said. “You can feel it through the whole organization. We always envisioned it working this way, and we have a chance now to make it work. It’s not really a reflection on the people we had before. It’s just kind of the circumstances of how it happened. In fairness, I’ve learned a lot in the last three years about how to do my job better and provide a measure of clarity throughout the organization.” Will it translate to victories on the floor and fannies in the seats? “It takes a while,” Babby said. “We haven’t done anything yet, so it’s a little early to congratulate ourselves.” That’s fine. For hiring a coach and GM who can work together, we’ll do it for you.
Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: So to every Charlotte Bobcats fan who has said, “Hey, I could run that front office as well as those guys…’’ Here’s your start, so long as you have a computer-science degree, are willing to work long hours and can respond to obscure requests on the quick. The Bobcats are searching for a “Basketball Operations System Developer,’’ which sounds a lot like how general manager Rich Cho got his start in the NBA. Cho was attending Pepperdine Law School, with a degree in engineering, when Wally Walker, then running the Seattle Supersonics, brought Cho in as an intern to create a high-tech basketball data base. Cho is particularly proud of the database he assembled for the Bobcats a year ago, and this job ad sounds like someone who’ll obtain and feed fresh info into that system. The Bobcats need someone with a whole lot of computer experience and an appreciation for advanced basketball statistics. And you must be confidential (like, don’t tell the Observer who they’ll draft with the fourth pick next week). Sure it’s grunt work. The ad specifically asks for those willing to work extended hours “nights, weekends, holidays.’’ Wait a minute…that sounds way too much like sports writing. Think twice before applying.
Twists, turns, villains, heroes and Ray Allen; Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals was overloaded with drama. Bomani Jones and J.A. Adande discuss the Heat's come-from-behind overtime victory that sets up Thursday's Game 7. TrueHoop TV at the Finals.
Key Plays Allen tied the game with 5.2 seconds left, his fifth postseason game-tying or go-ahead 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. That’s the most by any player in the past 15 postseasons. Robert Horry and Reggie Miller are the only other players with multiple such shots in that span.
It was the second 3-pointer after an offensive rebound for the Heat in the final 20.1 seconds (James made it a two-point game after his miss was rebounded by Mike Miller).
Chris Bosh struggled defensively early on; Tim Duncan shot 9-for-9 with Bosh defending him in the first half. After halftime, Bosh pulled down six rebounds, none bigger than the offensive rebound that led to Allen’s game-tying 3-pointer.
He also blocked the Spurs’ final two field-goal attempts of the game, both in overtime, including a potential game-tying 3-point attempt by Danny Green at the buzzer.
All-Around Domination The MVP had 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, his 11th career postseason triple-double -- tied for second-most all-time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau -- and his fourth in the NBA Finals (only Magic Johnson has more, via Elias).
Triple-Double in Elimination Game NBA Finals History
>> Source: Elias Sports Bureau
In fact, the past four NBA Finals triple-doubles have been recorded by James.
He joins an illustrious list of players to register a triple-double in an NBA Finals elimination game (see chart on the right) and he’s just the fourth in history with a 30-10-10 game in the NBA Finals, according to Elias.
And he came alive late, scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime after scoring just 14 in the first three quarters combined.
The Other Superstar Tim Duncan came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 25 points on 11-for-13 shooting in the first half, the most he’s ever scored in the first half of an NBA Finals game. Over the past 15 seasons, only Allen Iverson in 2001 and Ray Allen in 2010 scored more in the first half of a finals game.
Tim Duncan By Half in Game 6
His 25 points were the same as the rest of the team combined and more than Miami’s Big 3 (21 points combined). But the rest of the game was a different story.
He attempted only eight shots after halftime, making just two of them, and scoring five points in the second half and overtime.
A Rare Loss for Spurs The Spurs led 94-89 after Manu Ginobili hit a free throw with 28.2 seconds remaining, but were outscored 6-1 the rest of the fourth quarter. Over the past 15 postseasons, teams win 98.6 percent of the time when leading by exactly five points with between 20 and 30 seconds left.
Looking Ahead to Game 7 The Heat’s win came exactly seven years to the day after they beat the Dallas Mavericks in overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Two days later, they won their first NBA title.
The Spurs can look to the 1974 Boston Celtics, who are the only team to lose Game 6 of the NBA Finals in overtime. They came back to beat the Milwaukee Bucks on the road in Game 7 and win the NBA title.
Is it possible the first five games of the NBA Finals have increased the chances the Heat will win Games 6 and 7? According to the betting markets, the answer is yes.
Betting markets, such as Betfair, are real-money markets in which users wager millions of dollars daily on the outcome of sporting events. And the price of the wagers is a historically strong predictor of the outcome. At the beginning of the Finals, Betfair lines predicted the Heat had a 63 percent chance to win Game 7. Now, even though they are down 3-2 and have lost two games by more than 10 points, the betting markets make the Heat 73 percent favorites to win Game 7, should they get there, and a 73 percent shot in Game 6. Yes, you read that right; the betting markets have increased their confidence in the Heat by a whopping 10 percentage points over the course of the series. These per-game likelihoods mean the market still favors the Heat to win the series (54 percent), despite facing elimination in Game 6.
If this all seems a bit far-fetched, you certainly are not alone. The expert ESPN Forecast panel has lost confidence in the Heat, currently giving the Heat a 54 percent chance to win Game 6, down from 57 percent at the start of the series, and a 57 percent chance to win Game 7, down from 65 percent. The implied chance the ESPN Forecast panel gives the Heat to win the series is only 31 percent, just more than half the betting market’s prediction.
If you have been following the ESPN Forecast predictions, you will have noticed that generally the expert panel and the betting markets have been pretty closely aligned for the entire playoffs. When the Finals started, the panel and the market differed by only two percentage points, the panel giving the Heat a 63 percent chance to win the series and the market predicting 65 percent. Yet now they are 19 percentage points apart on Games 6 and 7.
The question is, whom do you trust, the experts or the market? Are the Heat still the favorites, or are they 2-to-1 underdogs? Unfortunately, they won’t play these last few games 100 times so we could have clean scientific experiment as to who was right and who was wrong. The only reasonable explanation for an increase in the likelihood of a Heat victory is concern over Tony Parker’s health, but he had a strong Game 5 that should have dispelled most concerns. Thus, it is hard for us to justify an increased confidence in the Heat based on the series outcomes so far.
What explains this difference between the market and the experts? We assume that both the markets and ESPN’s panel of experts have access to the same information, but there could be some information the market or panel knows that the other one does not. More likely, the markets weigh users by the amount of money they are willing to wager, while the ESPN panel weighs everyone evenly. ESPN’s smart money is on the Spurs, but there are some people heavily invested, big money, in a Heat victory.
How could the Los Angeles Clipperspossibly walk away from a negotiation that would’ve yielded them Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers for a relatively unproven young center, a couple of first-round draft picks and the relatively small burden of taking on one or two mid-level contracts?
That’s the question gnawing at some Clipper fans and many Clipper skeptics on Tuesday, but however ineffectual the organization appears on the surface for folding up their tent, the Clippers made a sound decision.
Two key points:
What’s the hurry? The Celtics’ situation is in flux and they’ve signaled to the world that they’re ready to pursue the wise course of rebuilding. If they buy out Paul Pierce’s contract on or before June 30, where does that leave Garnett and Rivers? Neither is wild about the idea of being part of the reconstruction process without their comrade, and both would prefer they join forces with a team driving for a title, a team like the Los Angeles Clippers.
In other words, if the Clippers want to acquire Kevin Garnett for DeAndre Jordan, they can do so after July 1. The only complication there is the report that Garnett isn’t interested in playing for any coach other than Rivers, a primary reason this whole drama started.
That’s why if I’m the Clippers, I hold off on hiring a coach until after the Pierce situation is resolved. Apart from the Clippers, the only remaining coaching vacancies are Memphis, Philadelphia and Denver. There’s virtually no overlap between the Clippers’ short list and that of 76ers president of basketball operations and general manager Sam Hinkie. Memphis will likely hire current assistant Dave Joerger. At worst, the Clippers lose one of their top three choices (most likely Lionel Hollins or Brian Shaw) to Denver while they wait. In exchange, they maintain the possibility that Rivers could join them after July 1. Boston will have no more impetus to pay Rivers $7 million to coach a bubble team than they do now. Ditto for Garnett’s $18 million guaranteed, assuming KG would return to a Pierce-less Celtics team.
There’s some worry that the Clippers’ inability to strike a deal with Boston might prompt Chris Paul to look elsewhere, but the concern has been overblown. If the Celtics are truly moving into rebuilding mode, time is on the Clippers’ side. If the Celtics decide to fire up the wagon for another run, then so be it.
Was the deal worth it? Few veterans in the league bring Garnett’s gravitas, pedigree and presence and it’s easy to be charmed by the prospect of Garnett’s taking Blake Griffin under his wing and teaching him the dark arts of defending the pick-and-roll and becoming a championship power forward.
But Garnett is 37 and isn’t good for more than 26-28 minutes per game going forward. As transformative as he is as a minister of culture, Garnett’s past performance isn’t a reliable indicator of what kind of production he’d give the Clippers next season -- and the season after if the team decided to pick up his $12 million option for 2014-15.
So far as the leadership, Garnett is regarded as one of the league’s best teammates and mentors, but the Clippers went down that path last offseason when they brought back Chauncey Billups, signed Grant Hill and loaded up on good-guy vets to add to the collection they already had. Veteran leadership wasn’t the problem when the Clippers lost four straight to Memphis in the first round.
If anything, the Clippers need to get younger and establish a sustainable core around Paul and Griffin. Truth be told, Jordan probably isn’t the best frontcourt counterpart to Griffin since both are most dangerous in the basket area. And although Garnett would offer the midrange stretch that would best complement Griffin and is still a very steady defender, is 2,000 minutes of Garnett the best the Clippers can do for Jordan, whose athleticism and talent have many admirers around the league?
We don’t know the answer to this question, but a team like the Clippers that desperately needs a couple of wings who can defend and shoot from distance has an obligation to listen to offers -- and they’re out there for Jordan, both in the form of talent and picks.
Rivers is one of the five best coaches in the game and clearly has the respect of NBA players. But there’s a reason teams don’t trade assets for coaches. Doc Rivers can’t guard Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, James Harden and Stephen Curry. A few front office execs who were asked about the idea of handing over a pair of first-round picks for the privilege of paying a coach $7 million per season found the proposition absurd. While there was almost unanimous respect for Rivers’ acumen, the transaction was seen more as a salary dump than anything else.
The notion that a pair of first-round draft picks is a paltry sum to pay for Garnett and Rivers is short-sighted. With the new collective bargaining agreement in place, first-round picks have never been more valuable. They are the mother’s milk of the NBA trade market. With the exception of a few superstar max contacts, rookie-scale contracts represent the best values in the game. All across the league, there are young executives who know how to turn post-lottery picks into Chandler Parsons, Serge Ibaka and Eric Bledsoe, among others.
Teams value these picks and will offer the Clippers quality, on-court talent for them. A first-round pick is the kind of asset that could get a team to swallow the final year of Caron Butler’s contract, and could accompany Eric Bledsoe to get a top-line starter in exchange.
The Celtics also wanted the Clippers to take on additional payroll in the form of Jason Terry and/or Courtney Lee (this in addition to the $1.5 million that would’ve been added to the Clippers' salary number in a Jordan-for-Garnett swap). With only Griffin, Jordan, Butler, Jamal Crawford and Bledsoe locked in for next season, and Paul due a maximum salary, the Clippers need to preserve all their available exceptions. But adding Terry and/or Lee would’ve brought the Clippers precariously close to a place where they’d lose one or more of those slots, which are going to be vital in filling out their depleted roster.
It’s entirely possible the Clippers blew it big time by turning down an opportunity to sign a Hall of Famer in the twilight of his career and one of the most respected coaches in the game. Acquiring Garnett and Rivers would’ve made Paul ecstatic and endeared the team to the local media that have been pounding them in recent weeks.
But in forfeiting one option, the Clippers open themselves up to many others, including several that might actually address the team’s needs beyond 2014. In the meantime, Garnett and Rivers are still in Boston awaiting word on the direction of their team. If and when the Celtics decide to break up their current core, Garnett and/or Rivers will be looking for life rafts -- and the Clippers still have one.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Heat have been good with Chris Andersen on the court.
Why hasn't Chris Andersen played since Game 3?
That's what I have been wondering. He's a big dude with -- it would seem -- the ability to hinder those Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili drives that have been causing so much trouble for the Heat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are good at getting the ball into the paint, where Andersen is good at turning touches into buckets.
Andersen is shooting -- wait for it -- 82 percent in the playoffs and 78 percent on 7-of-9 shots in these Finals.
There are two theories explaining Andersen's benching:
Tim Duncan abused him in the post.
The Heat have been good playing small, for instance with Mike Miller taking Birdman's minutes.
So, thanks to the media version of NBA.com/stats, I dialed up all of Duncan's shots in the paint in this series, and assessed:
Duncan has attempted a grand total of one shot against Andersen. It came in the second quarter of Game 1, when the big Spur backed Birdman deep into the paint, turned and scored easily with a little up-and-under move.
As it happened, ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy said, "Chris Andersen brings great energy, but Tim Duncan can do work against him in the low post." An idea was born. Only, as it happens, Duncan has yet to do that work. Just for fun, I went back and looked at several recent years of these two facing each other, which hasn't happened much. Duncan has been his typical self against Andersen -- some years shooting better than average with Andersen in the game, some years worse.
Andersen is best off the ball, including against Duncan. As a counterpoint to the idea that Andersen loses that matchup, consider this: In Game 1, at one point, Duncan found himself with excellent post position guarded by LeBron. Andersen threatened to help. Whether it was the threat of James, Andersen, or both, Duncan -- one of the best short-range shooters in NBA history -- missed a short jumper off the top of the backboard.
The Heat lost Game 1 at home, and change was inevitable. Birdman has played 36 total minutes in the series and none since Game 3.
The Heat are pretty good against the Spurs with Birdman in: plus-9 over 36 minutes. They are also good with Miller in: plus-34 over 101 minutes. They are also good with both in: Perhaps Miami's best run of the series came in Game 2, when for the key stretch, it was LeBron, Miller and Andersen with Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers. That lineup rattled off 22 points in seven minutes, while giving up a mere five.
There has been that one-bucket hint, but certainly no trend, that the Heat are abused while Andersen is on the court.
Put it all together, and I don't know that we can say with any certainty that Birdman must play. But without a doubt, he should be considered. He is a well-rested, highly effective and energetic big man with good hands, and the Spurs have shown no signs of "solving" him.
At full speed, the Heat may well be unstoppable. But even in these NBA Finals, you can see the Heat occasionally deciding not to bother challenging Danny Green, for instance. Ethan Sherwood Strauss has interesting ideas about intensity.
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyLeBron James is averaging 31.5 points per game in games in which his team faced playoff elimination
Historical storylines abound going into Tuesday's Game 6. Can the San Antonio Spurs continue their road closeout dominance? Will LeBron James have another big scoring game to stave off elimination?
Here's a look at the numbers in support of each team.
Why the Spurs Will Win The Spurs enter Game 6 leading the series 3-2. Teams up 3-2 in the Finals have gone on to win the series 83.3 percent of the time (35-7) all-time. Since the 2-3-2 format was instituted in 1985, teams up 3-2 have gone on to win the NBA Finals a virtually identical 82.4 percent of the time (14-3).
Even with the final two games of the series in Miami, the Spurs have recent history on their side.
The Spurs are an NBA-best 14-2 in potential series clinching games on the road in the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili era since 2002-03. Those 14 wins are six more than any other team over that span.
Potential Series Clinchers On Road Best Record Since 2002-03
Gregg Popovich is 19-5 when his team had a chance to clinch a playoff series on the road. Only one head coach in NBA history has a higher career winning percentage than Popovich in those games (min: 2 games): Tom Heinsohn (8-1, .889).
The Spurs closed out each of their previous three series on the road this postseason, taking down the Lakers, Warriors and Grizzlies. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two teams in NBA history have won four series clinching games on the road in a single postseason: the 1989 Pistons and 1999 Spurs.
San Antonio is just one win away from its fifth NBA Title and would remain one of just two teams in NBA history with multiple NBA titles without a Finals loss (Bulls, 6-0). It would also be their first NBA Finals series win without home-court advantage.
Why the Heat Will Win Not surprisingly, it all starts with LeBron James.
He’s averaging 31.5 points per game in his career when facing playoff elimination. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the highest for any player in NBA history (min. five games). In fact, only Michael Jordan (31.3) and Wilt Chamberlain (31.1) are also above the 30 PPG threshold.
Potential Series Clinchers On Road Best Record Since 2002-03
The Heat have been here before. In 2012, they climbed back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Miami couldn’t pull it off in the 2011 NBA Finals, falling to the Mavericks 4-2.
Only three teams under the current format have won the NBA Finals after trailing 3-2 with the remaining two games at home. Most recently, the Lakers came back to beat the Celtics in 2010.
Won NBA Finals After Trailing 3-2 Played Games 6 and 7 at Home
>> Since 2-3-2 format in 1985
On the most basic level, it’s the Heat’s turn on Tuesday. Neither team has won back-to-back games in this series, just the third time that’s happened through five games of the NBA Finals since 1985.
Miami has been dominant following a loss this postseason, winning all six games by an average of 20.7 points. The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games since January 8-10, going 12-0 following a loss since then.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: During the postseason, Miami has won each of its six games following a loss by an average of 20.7 points. The Heat’s victories in this schizophrenic series have come by 19 and 16. History conflicts on where things go from here. Bad news for Miami: Since 1985, only three home teams have swept Games 6 and 7 in a Finals. Good news for Miami, if it can win Tuesday: No team in that span has lost a Game 7 at home. “This team, they’ve been here before many times,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, referring to the Spurs. “They understand winning that last game is one of the hardest things you’re going to do. And we understand it as well.” If the Spurs back in the Dark Ages didn’t fully understand how hard it is to win a championship, they do now. The past six years have felt like 60. Beginning Tuesday, the Spurs have two chances to make the long wait worth it. “We take nothing for granted,” Parker said. “We appreciate every moment. And we’ll see what happens.”
Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Already, the room is preparing to tilt one way or the other on him. After Sunday's loss, a question was asked as the Heat return home from Texas down in the series three games to two, just as they were in the 2010 Finals loss to Dallas, what he has learned. "We're going to see if we're a better team than our first year together,'' he said. The Heat lost that series as LeBron famously became lost in a suffocating trap of fame and pressure in that Game 6. All this time later - two years, one championship, one 27-game win streak – it's like no one's moved at all. We're back there again. Same moment. Same stakes. The truth is LeBron, like the Heat, has graduated from that time in a manner that any rational framing would note. But nothing will be rational now. It will be emotional, raw and savage, built only on a Game 6 result in the way that makes this sports reality show so intoxicating to watch. Win, and Heat fans will feel the sports definition of pandemonium course through them. Lose, and it's heartbreak.
Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: We wouldn't know about rearranged lineups here in OKC. Scotty Brooks doesn't change his lineup even under threat of bayonet. Since Kendrick Perkins arrived from Boston in February 2011, the only deviation from the Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka-Perk-Sefolosha starting five has come courtesy of a doctor's note. Even when the Thunder clearly needed to adjust its chess pieces — Miami in the 2012 Finals; Houston in the 2013 first round — Foreman Scotty stayed with his starting five. … You saw in Game 4 last week, Popovich stayed with his lineup in response to Miller starting. Then 47 seconds into the game, Pop replaced Tiago Splitter with Gary Neal. To Brooks' credit, he's coming around. Against Houston, Kevin McHale ended all pretense of a traditional starting five after Game 1. Brooks eventually embraced small ball. The early part of the Houston series, Brooks was going deep into the first and third quarters before adjusting. But he went small less than three minutes into Game 4, less than two minutes into the second half of Game 5 and didn't even start Perkins in Game 6's second half. … We should see more lineup and rotation adjustments from Brooks as the Thunder ages. We'll probably see more from the Heat and the Spurs this very week. Some of it might even keep working.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Bulls general manager Gar Forman has thrown the number 86 out there several times this season, which is the winning percentage when Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are playing together since the four came together before the 2010-11 season, but Larry O’Brien Trophies aren’t held up in December or April. They are earned in June, and the Bulls aren’t on the same level with the two teams competing on this stage. Not without at least two more serious threats from the outside. Call it the Danny Green revelation. The Bulls finished the regular-season 21st in three-point shooting, hitting just over 35 percent from beyond the arc. The top five teams in that category? Golden State, Miami, Oklahoma City, the Spurs and the Knicks. All of them are playoff teams, with two still alive. As much as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau force-feeds his players on defense first, second and third, they still lack a perimeter game that can stretch opposing defenses. There is hope of grabbing an outside scorer in the draft in nine days, but for a team that already has its toes dipped in the luxury tax water, don’t expect much help through free agency.
Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: There is little doubt Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA right now, his Spurs closing in on their fifth NBA championship and his ability to develop and hone under-the-radar players like Danny Green into significant assets around San Antonio's core superstars a skill few coaches possess. But the past five years prove Rivers is a close second, the Celtics an annual contender even while age and injuries compromised their closing ability on younger teams like Miami and Chicago. For the Clippers to land a coach of that stature is not only a coup, but it nearly guarantees Paul will remain in Los Angeles on a long-term commitment later this summer. The move allows Rivers to avoid the inevitable rebuilding project about to go down in Boston while providing him with an intriguing roster filled with a near-perfect blend of youth, toughness, experience and savvy. Garnett and Pierce, if both come along for the ride, might be risky business in terms of age and potential injury. But their wear and tear is mitigated by the presence of the youthful Paul and Griffin shouldering most of the heavy lifting. At the very least, it shows the Clippers are willing to think boldly and take on money in pursuit of their first championship. And if they walk away with Rivers as their coach, all the better.
Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The day after the Mavericks’ season ended, you may remember reading in this spot about the merits of Milwaukee guard Monta Ellis. Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter both voiced their support if it came to the point where Ellis would be available in free agency. That point may be here on July 1. An ESPN report says that Ellis has elected to opt-out of the final year of his contract with the Bucks. If that’s the case, that will make him an unrestricted free agent on July 1. … Ellis is different than those two players, but at 28 when next season begins, his prime is now. The Mavericks, who can’t comment on any free agents until July 1, would be foolish not to look long and hard at Ellis as a viable game plan in free agency, regardless of what Dwight Howard does. … This isn’t to say Chris Paul or even Jose Calderon might not be legitimate options for the Mavericks. But the stars appear to be lining up pretty well for them to make a run at Ellis.
Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Monta Ellis had a decision to make. And on Monday the Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard officially opted out of the final year of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent July 1. It wasn't a surprising choice, particularly after Ellis had rejected a two-year, $25 million extension offer made by the Bucks last fall. The offer would have required Ellis to opt in to the final year of his existing contract and would have been worth nearly $36 million over three seasons. … Ellis' decision, beating a Thursday deadline, provides some clarity for the Bucks as they approach next week's NBA draft. Milwaukee has the 15th and 43rd picks in the June 27 draft. The Bucks carefully have evaluated the backcourt talent in the draft, including point guards Shane Larkin and Dennis Schroeder and shooting guards Glen Rice Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ricky Ledo, among others. … One published report indicated the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers could be interested in Ellis.
Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Ten Junes ago, the Nuggets transformed their franchise by obtaining a young talent who attended Baltimore's Towson Catholic High School. That's the plan again. With the goal of becoming an elite team, Denver hired Tim Connelly on Monday to be the team's executive vice president of basketball operations — or, as the fans know it, general manager — replacing Masai Ujiri, who left to run the Toronto Raptors. Connelly, 36, previously the assistant GM of the New Orleans Pelicans, went to Towson Catholic, the school that Carmelo Anthony attended until Melo's senior year. "I'm honored," Connelly said by phone. "I think all of us aspire to ultimately be in this position with good people and a good organization and put your imprint on things. "I'm lucky enough that Josh has taken a chance on me." Josh is Josh Kroenke, the team president, and now Kroenke and Connelly will make a decision on replacing the fired coach George Karl. Indiana Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw is scheduled to interview with Denver on Tuesday, while former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will interview Wednesday, an NBA source said.
Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Pete D'Alessandro said the Kings showed, especially over the second half of the 2012-13 season, they are talented - offensively. But it will take time speaking with coach Michael Malone and the players to see how they fit with the new Kings regime. "I have a lot of agents to call," D'Alessandro said. "I have to sit down with these players and Michael, and I will do that together. But I feel the future is really bright." Ranadive said something "clicked" when he met D'Alessandro. Ranadive questioned all the candidates about the Kings' roster and their plan for the team. After being impressed by D'Alessandro, Ranadive called Chris Mullin, who was the candidate's boss at Golden State. Mullin, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer as a player with Golden State and Indiana who became an executive with the Warriors, endorsed D'Alessandro. Mullin has been offered a job as a consultant with the Kings.
Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Well, if Tim Leiweke wanted to make significant changes to get away from the Raptors past, he’s picked the right guy to fire. In what I think is a terribly short-sighted move that will rankle as many people as anything he does, Leiweke has told Alvin Williams that his services are no longer required. Yep, the chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — on the job for less than a month — has jettisoned one of the great guys ever associated with the franchise and a man who wanted nothing more than to spend his entire career with the organization in some way, shape or form. Williams had spent last season scouting for the team, based out of Philadelphia, but he was far, far more than just an employee picking up a cheque. He loved the organization and the city, he was a link to some of the best times the team has ever had, he is a great guy who’d show up every now and then and sooth some antsy players, offer a unique perspective and be a valued confidant to many. Fired. Not by the general manager who never spoke to him, but by a CEO who seems hellbent on getting his fingers in every decision at some level. It sucks.
Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer: After an NBA playoffs run that catapulted him (Stephen Curry) into the national spotlight, the former Charlotte Christian and Davidson standout has found a new level of stardom. It’s one that comes with more requests, more autographs, more “no, thank yous” and more importance on finding a balance for a busy offseason schedule. “You feel like you have a lot of time, but when you start committing to events and you start committing to different opportunities, it really flies by,” Curry said. “You really have to be conscious of how much you exert yourself. Even though it might seem like going to a golf tournament or NBA TV, it seems small but it is a big commitment. And you don’t want to wear yourself out but you want to have fun, and it’s the balance you have to figure out.” …Stephen Curry’s focus remains on the court. He’d rather be playing in the NBA Finals than tweeting about it. He’s probably signed more basketballs than he’s dribbled during the past month. He’ll continue to navigate his offseason schedule and soon he’ll be back on the court preparing for next season. “He’s had two summers in a row where he’s had surgeries, so with him actually able to work on his game this year he should be a better player,” Dell Curry said. “But he’s still focused and he knows he’s got to rehab and get stronger. The way he played and the amount of minutes he played your body is going to wear down. He understands he’s very popular right now and a lot of people want his time, but he’s got to concentrate and still focus on his job.”
Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: As the Nets continue to look for candidates to fill out Jason Kidd’s coaching staff, one potential candidate is Roy Rogers. According to a league source, the Nets are interested in Rogers, who was an assistant coach with the Nets under Lawrence Frank from 2008-10, before following him to the Celtics when Frank went to Boston as an assistant in 2010-11, and then following him to Detroit with the Pistons for the past two seasons. Rogers, a first-round pick of the Grizzlies in 1996, had been expected to join new coach Jeff Hornacek’s staff in Phoenix, but the team withdrew from contract talks with Rogers yesterday. Kidd has made it clear that he’d love to have Frank, his former coach with the Nets, join his staff as his lead assistant.
Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The Charlotte Bobcats will start their pre-draft workouts Wednesday with two sessions of auditions. But those players who won’t work out – most of them can’t because of health issues – might be the more intriguing factors in how the Bobcats use the No. 4 overall pick June 27. Nevada-Las Vegas forward Anthony Bennett, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and Maryland center Alex Len all have injuries that preclude them from pre-draft auditions. Bennett had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff. Noel is recovering from knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. Len, who’ll visit the Bobcats on Tuesday, had surgery during April to stabilize a partial stress fracture in his left ankle. While all three are expected to make a full recovery, each probably would miss summer league as a result of those surgeries. While that’s certainly not a deal-breaker for the Bobcats selecting one, it would be an added complication for Steve Clifford, the Bobcats’ third coach in as many seasons.
Candace Buckner of The Columbian:As the NBA Draft draws closer, the group workouts labor on. However, the participants and those paid to watch them are pleading "uncle!" On Monday morning, the Portland Trail Blazers hosted their ninth workout, but called it a day earlier than some players expected. "They saw our skill and what we could bring to the table, but at the same time, they realized it's kind of late in the month and everybody's on their ninth and 10th workout," said James Southerland, a four-year forward from Syracuse. "Everyone's bodies are basically deteriorating at this point. We just got to make sure we stay in good shape and bring what we can." … The Blazers announced that the 10th pre-draft workout will be held on Wednesday morning — same place, same time, the routine rolls on.
Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post: Based on reader feedback, most D.C. sports fans are opposed to a Redskins name change, and most D.C. sports fans would support a Wizards name change. Many of that latter group would prefer a return to the “Bullets” name, to match the franchise’s return to Bullets colors and iconography. And they were encouraged when Abe Pollin’s widow Irene said she wouldn’t mind. … Ted Leonsis has never suggested that might happen, but he also has never insisted that it won’t. … This week, though, came something far more definitive — maybe a game-ending field goal — via my pal John Ourand at SportsBusiness Daily: A top Wizards exec said the franchise would “probably not” be renamed the Bullets. “There are certain instances in the last few years with certain players that I think are going to prevent that,” said Monumental Sports & Entertainment Senior VP & CMO Joe Dupriest. Dupriest went on to tell Ourand: “I don’t see us changing the name to the Bullets,” which is the strongest thing I can remember a team executive saying on this topic. And if Gilbert Arenas’s legacy in this town is really to make that a permanent impossibility, well, it won’t help his legacy, anyhow.
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Word is that the Suns are planning on taking training camp back to Tucson, where they held it on the University of Arizona campus in 2005, ’07 and ’08. Camp moved to San Diego or La Jolla, Calif., in ensuing years except for a quick camp at Grand Canyon University after the 2011 lockout. Flagstaff was ideal altitude training for the Suns from 1986 to 2004, especially for uptempo systems, but there are ties to Tucson, where owner Robert Sarver grew up and attended UA. Tucson’s Westin La Paloma, where the Suns stayed for past camps there, is now owned by the Southwest Value Partners that Sarver founded.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images SportIf anyone tells you they know who'll win, they're lying. It's guesswork, even for Gregg Popovich.
You're going to hear a lot about what it's going to take to win this championship, which will be deliciously -- for NBA fans -- decided on the court in the days to come.
You know the storylines: LeBron James needs to be aggressive, Dwyane Wade must not take possessions off, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan must play like they're five years younger. And Danny Green simply needs to keep it up.
It's all guesswork, though, and like most guesswork, most of it will probably be wrong.
For one thing, typical analysis ignores a ton of things we know really matter. Not fun stuff like Green's shooting or LeBron's psyche, but more process stuff like how unified five defenders are, the quality of screens and angles of dribble drives, who wins the off-ball Duncan versus Chris Bosh wrestle-off.
But the real reason analysis usually misses in predicting a game's key factors is that the game simply does not give a hoot. There are hundreds of factors, indeed thousands of tiny moments, that make up any one win. And the game simply doesn't care if those moments fit trends or not. You can win any old way, and a lot of them have nothing to do with coaching adjustments, "seizing the moment" or anything else.
Think of it as if you're saving up for a vacation. You might put a little something aside paycheck after paycheck. Maybe you'll get a big tax return, or a bonus, and dedicate the windfall to the project. Who knows, maybe you're a hell of a poker player. The goal, though, is the vacation. The bill is the same no matter how you save. And the people at the resort are beyond agnostic about how you built up the funds. All they care about is that, out of the thousand ways to save, you saved enough.
Basketball is similar, in that there are a thousand ways to win and it has no special prizes for people who get there a special way. Already in these Finals, we've seen that with two great teams playing each other almost to a standstill, one good quarter of suffocating defense can get you a win. Shooting way above your average from distance can do it, as can the resurgence of an aging Argentinean. Starting Mike Miller can do wonders, or not.
There is nothing that has ever won a basketball game except for turning possessions into points. Both teams have about the same number of possessions -- they alternate all game -- and one team will turn those into more points. Halftime speeches, energy drinks, blue-chip college pedigrees ... nothing matters unless it makes one team better at turning possessions into points than the other team.
We like to tell ourselves that the things that matter most are things we, as humans, can control. We could afford this vacation because of our diligence. The Spurs won because Gregg Popovich started Manu. As if coaching decisions were the only thing keeping Game 5 from being a carbon copy of Game 4.
But let's be honest, these two teams could play 100 times with no "adjustments" and produce 100 wildly different games, because life's just that varied, and there are degrees of chance and opportunity in every atom. People can afford vacations because they save, but also by being lucky enough not to have a horrible storm streak through town, ripping everything, including vacation funds, to shreds. Others holiday on the strength of an inheritance or other found money.
A lot of basketball wins, including, potentially, the decisive win of these Finals, come because of crazy stuff nobody could have foreseen. People fall over, referees miss things, balls go out of bounds off the legs of well-meaning world champions, great shooters have off nights or electric ones. None of it's from the game plan, but all of it decides games all the time.
We don't hear about it much, though, because nobody values an analyst whose conclusion is "anything can happen."
Meanwhile, that's not to say there's no such thing as strategy. Of course there is. Popovich and the Spurs really do have a brilliant scheme to find open shots, and open shots really do go in more often on average -- just like saving money from every paycheck is the most reliable way to pay for your trip. Did you notice LeBron saying he hasn't been sleeping? Sleep researchers would say that's absolutely the kind of thing that could diminish his mental acuity. I'm sure Erik Spoelstra would be better off giving minutes to Mike Miller or Udonis Haslem or Chris Andersen (but I don't know which one -- that's why he gets the big bucks).
But the strategy part of it, the stuff that humans can consciously decide to do, in advance -- that's a smaller part of what wins than almost anyone involved would like to admit. All these titans of hoops are on some level powerless, floating on a sea of random chance. We're arguing about the comparative quality of their rowboats and how fast they can row.
That's not how we might like to see it, but I like this: It's just one more way NBA basketball -- this messy, beautiful, surprising, delightful, heartbreaking game -- is just like real life.