TrueHoop: 2013 playoffs

Looking back at one of the most exciting and dramatic NBA Finals ever.

Time for innovative tactics

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
10:56
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
LeBron JamesJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Spurs almost won a title by surprising LeBron James with a defensive innovation: space.
A sport can change dramatically just because one man decides to do something no one else thought of.

Bill Walsh pretty much invented short timing routes in pro football, for example. The concept of throwing to spaces before a receiver arrives seems obvious and intuitive to modern football fans, but it wasn’t always so. If your entire concept of quarterbacking had been based on “finding the open guy,” then it’s a powerful article of faith that a quarterback must wait for his receiver to be open first. Wait for the guy to get free then throw it. Chucking to the mere promise that the receiver gets somewhere? It sounded pretty risky until Walsh’s West Coast offense steamrolled the competition.

It’s difficult to break tradition and attempt something completely new in almost any profession. Perhaps it’s even harder in a profession where you’re asking groups of men to physically act out your wacky idea on a court or field. Imagine gathering a team together and selling it on a strategy it's never conducted or faced before. Tough sledding, even for a coach with steely charisma. There’s also the stigma that comes with bucking The Way Things Are Done.

Think of the grief Mike D’Antoni’s offensive methods get, years after much of the league adopted said methods. Most coaches, across sports, simply go with what they’ve known, never daring to dramatically experiment.

This means, not to sound all TED talkish, that creativity could be the ultimate market inefficiency. The NBA is headlong into this era of increasingly advanced stats. Teams will benefit from gathering better information, but the data can’t always reveal things people aren't doing yet but should. Let’s say no one had thought up the Eurostep before Manu Ginobili tried it one day. (Sarunas Marciulionis and Elgin Baylor predate Manu’s Eurostep, but this is a slight hypothetical.) I’m not certain there’s an analytical means for reaching the conclusion that, yes, you should definitely zigzag with your two steps toward the hoop. Today, the analytics can reveal the advantages of Eurostepping, but you need that first guy to try it out.

This could happen at any time.

Speaking of Manu, I wonder if the San Antonio Spurs have stumbled on a revolutionary way to play defense. After deciding not to guard Tony Allen in the Western Conference finals, they amplified the strange by treating LeBron James somewhat similarly in the Finals.

LeBron wasn’t guarded on the perimeter as he dribbled, despite coming off a regular season of shooting 40.6 percent behind the arc. Erik Spoelstra later expressed shock over seeing his superstar subjected to the "Rondo Rules,” a system of defense typically reserved for horrid shooters.

More shocking than the plan itself was that it worked, at least until Game 7, when James finally took advantage of open outside shots. Perhaps LeBron, a playmaker by nature, was thrown off by a defense that begged him to ignore his teammates and shoot early in the shot clock. Since the Finals, a popular fixation on Gregg Popovich’s Game 6 benching of Tim Duncan came to obscure the story of how San Antonio found great success this postseason in paradoxically not guarding people.

The biggest question on my mind as we enter another season is, “What, if anything, did the Spurs start?” Let’s not make this about LeBron, but instead expand San Antonio’s strategy to other opponents. Plenty of decent-shooting perimeter players aren’t so great at shooting off the dribble. Shooting off the catch is a bit like taking a golf swing from a stagnant, steady position, whereas shooting off the dribble is a bit like hopping up to the tee and hacking like Happy Gilmore. Setting aside how a sports-to-sports analogy might clarify very little, the point is that off the dribble can be tricky.

Despite this, it’s common for perimeter players to be closely guarded as they dribble, just in case they hoist. It’s possible that dribbling players are, in general, guarded far too tightly. It’s also possible that, and here’s where advanced stats can help, certain players actually shoot worse when wide open.

Can not guarding be the new guarding?

Even if this Spurs tactic was just a one-time gimmick, there’s some other sport-warping strategy out there, waiting to be discovered. There are so many possibilities with 10 moving parts constantly in flux. You could see an offense even more predicated on alley-oops than last season's Denver attack. You could see a team offense based mostly on a series of choreographed pass fakes. You could see, as Henry Abbott has covered, teams that just ditch the center position all together. Three-point hook shots? Everyone setting screens with their back like Tyson Chandler does?

Whatever finally does change the game will seem as obvious in retrospect as it was influential at the time.

Live by the 3, or die

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
4:11
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesFive Spurs in the paint. Zero easy layups. One desperate need for shooting.
It's a copycat league, and the cat they copy most is the one who just won it all.

But let's be real: Without infinite cap space and three of the 20 best players on the free-agent market, you're not copying the Heat.

However, this season's Finals did, in fact, present a powerful and important concept that any team might steal -- just not from the winners.

In the right situation, it's both devastatingly effective and so easy that old men in pickup games have been using it for decades.

What is this mysterious weapon? It's a trick from the other team that made it to Game 7 of the Finals, the San Antonio Spurs.

It's the Spurs' pack-the-paint and make-the-shooters-prove-it defense.

Made the Heat think
Simple though it may be, the Spurs' approach has scrambled some of the game's best minds by exploiting the difference between what an NBA player can do, and what they will do. LeBron James can shoot from downtown -- he just completed a season making an excellent 41 percent of his 3s.

But the Spurs know LeBron's really about getting the ball to the rim so he can find open teammates for 3s, as well as layups and dunks for himself. On James drives, the expected points per possession crawl up around two, whereas a typical NBA possession is worth about half that. Stopping one of the most powerful scoring attacks in history was the Spurs' priority, and they did it by having all kinds of players waiting for James around the rim, leaving him with jumpers or nothing, essentially.

The Spurs said, sure, LeBron can shoot jumpers, but will he really do that enough to carry the offense? People like to say a dominant player can do something (beat his man off the dribble, drill the open jumper, block a smaller guy's shot) "all game long" but when have you ever seen someone score the same way 10 times, or even three? Basketball is just too variable. Nothing happens all game long, especially in a case like this, where James would have to give up driving, which is out of character.

After Game 7, LeBron said it took him more than two games of the Finals to decide how to handle the Spurs' "let 'em shoot" approach: "I watched film, and my mind started to work and I said, OK, this is how they're going to play me for the whole series. I looked at all my regular-season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best midrange shooters in the game. I shot a career high from the 3-point line. I just told myself why … abandon what you've done all year. Don't abandon now because they're going under. Don't force the paint. If it's there, take it. If not, take the jumper."

The transition to a new way of thinking cost the Heat a game or two of the Finals.

And it's not just about 3s. It's all long shots. Factor in degree of difficulty and points scored, and the long 2-pointer is generally one of basketball's worst shots. The efficient shooting spots are from behind the 3-point line and in the paint. When there are no layups to be had, however, whatever's open looks pretty good. It's no coincidence that in the warm-ups for Game 7 James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all spent most of their time practicing long 2s. That's what the Spurs were offering.

It was fitting the game was iced with a long James 2-pointer that gave the Heat a four-point lead with 27.9 seconds left. James took 21 shots in Game 7, and 16 of them were either long 2s or 3s. The three shots he made at the rim were all oddities -- a putback, a missed assignment and a fast-break and-1. But when the Spurs' defense was set and the Spurs were doing what their coach wanted, the NBA's primary layup machine didn't even attempt a single shot at the rim in the biggest game of the season.

Tough on Dwyane Wade
The Spurs' effective pack-the-paint defense is great for teams searching for ways to stop paint scorers and bad for people who like dunks in traffic. But, as we'll get into, the real victims are not LeBron and the like, but NBA players who don't love shooting 3s, including some big names on the free-agent market, like Andre Iguodala, Tyreke Evans and Tony Allen, as well as the Heat's own Dwyane Wade.

This approach has been horrid for those guys, as evidenced by the fact while the Heat won the Finals against the Spurs, San Antonio was the far better team when Wade was on the court.

The multifaceted effects of Wade's bad knees were a big part of that. He wasn't creating havoc, turnovers and fast-break points like normal. But he also can't shoot 3s, and spent a lot of the series standing without the ball, entirely unguarded behind the 3-point line, while his defender helped make sure Wade's teammates didn't get any easy points.

Bench Wade for a 3-point shooter like Ray Allen or Shane Battier, though, and the Heat could score again, as the Spurs looked like regular-season Heat opponents, in real distress, having to decide between giving up paint points or 3s. It's almost 24 feet from the bucket to a straightaway 3. Making defenders scramble that distance is a great way to get the defense distorted, which is likely to create an open look somewhere.

Wade, a career 29 percent 3-point shooter, didn't attempt a single 3 in these Finals. The Heat were outscored by 7.7 points per 100 possessions while Wade was on the court in the Finals -- the worst number on the team. In contrast, the team's 3-point shooters, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen, joined Chris Andersen as the only Heat players who finished the Finals with positive plus/minus numbers.

Those were the lineups that could punish the Spurs for sagging into the paint, and great though he may be, Wade simply can't help with that.

Tony Allen: Excellent, almost unplayable
The Spurs made the Finals with a Western Conference finals sweep built on a similarly unusual defense. Against the Heat, the Spurs packed the paint to keep LeBron away. Against the Grizzlies, it was Zach Randolph the Spurs feared around the basket. And sure enough, one of the NBA's best post scorers -- with a rich history of playoff success against San Antonio -- was mobbed when he got the ball in the paint. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are both much longer than Randolph, and with helpers, they made life impossible for him.

And that was essentially the series. The Spurs took the Grizzlies' best option off the table. The easy fix would have been for Randolph to kick the ball out to waiting 3-point shooters. But that's not how the Grizzlies are staffed.

Tony Allen is up there with James as one of the best perimeter defenders in the world, and he can do a lot to help Memphis. He's no zero … until it comes to punishing the Spurs for crowding Randolph. He's a career 11.5 percent playoff 3-point shooter (he has made a grand total of three playoff 3s over nearly a decade). In the Western Conference finals, the Grizzlies were outscored by 8.8 points per 100 possessions -- a blowout, basically -- when Allen was on the court.

When Allen was out there the lack of spacing kept any Grizzlies from being efficient on offense. It's too much to ask for Allen's grit-and-grind perimeter defense to make up for that.

The numbers were similarly bad for just about all the Memphis starters, because every reluctant and/or inefficient 3-point shooter you put on the court freed up another defender to hang out in the paint, gumming things up for everybody. Know how many enthusiastic 3-point shooters the Grizzlies started? One: Mike Conley. Tayshaun Prince has made a solid 37 percent of his career 3s, but that percentage dipped a bit this season and, like James, an efficiency minded player, Prince wasn't eager to fire away. That only encouraged the Spurs to pack the paint even further.

Needing 3s like oxygen
The NBA's high priest of lineup data was the first person to point this out to me, in 2009; Wayne Winston's theory of NBA lineups is basically if you play two or more guys who can't shoot, the lineup is very likely to perform poorly, even if it's loaded with good players. More recently Winston looked up lineups with four shooters, and found they were almost all excellent.

And that's against any and all defenses.

Related:
  • A few years ago Dwight Howard and a bunch of otherwise unremarkable 3-point shooters had one of the best offenses in recent NBA history.
  • The Warriors' playoff run only took off when an injury to David Lee forced them to start four 3-point shooters.
  • The Heat haven't lost a playoff series since they adopted a strategy of playing 3-point shooters with their superstars.
NBA coaches have long been far too timid with 3s -- merely attempting more has long predicted winning more games, thinking which is only slowly catching on. 3-point shooting has long been seen as a condiment, a little something to sprinkle onto your time-tested offensive diet.

When your opponent packs the paint like the Spurs did, 3s quickly become even more important. They go from being condiments to survival food. Either you can get the defensive players scrambling far from the hoop to close out shooters or you cannot. Either you can punish opposing coaches for playing two plodding 7-footers (by making them run out to cover someone far from the hoop) or you cannot. Either you can efficiently turn possessions into points even without layups, or you cannot.

If you cannot do those things, you're basically done.

That's why life's getting harder for players who don't shoot it. That's what hangs over this year's free agency. The Spurs just wrote the book on shutting down lineups with players who can't shoot. It might not matter all season long, but when you get locked into a playoff series against a determined coach like Gregg Popovich, it could matter more than anything.

Hard to say what's crazy

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
12:42
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Anthony Bennett
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Basketball has clear winners every night -- except at the draft, which is all homework, politics and chance.

  • The Cavaliers kick off the night by ignoring consensus pick Nerlens Noel and media darling Victor Oladipo to choose Anthony Bennett.
  • Mikhail Prokhorov's Nets trade for a big swath of highly paid older Celtics.
  • The Bobcats could have had Noel fourth, but blew minds by taking Cody Zeller instead, prompting some to wonder if Michael Jordan's poor performance as an executive may one day overshadow his brilliance on the court.

"There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense," Gregg Popovich once said. Who knows if he was kidding or not -- his brand of deadpan can be tough to decipher. But if there were such a panel like that, the 2013 draft provided the "everyone knows that's dumb" moves that would keep it busy.

Only, here's the problem: Popovich said that talking about the Grizzlies' trade of Pau Gasol, which he called "incomprehensible" and lop-sided in favor of the Lakers in 2008. But by 2010, Popovich was already eating his words. By 2011, players Memphis got that day -- namely Marc Gasol -- had helped the Grizzlies eliminate Popovich's Spurs in the first round. By 2013, sane people can argue the Grizzlies won that deal.

It's funny how things work out, and harsh hasty judgments of NBA moves are a dangerous business, even for one of the NBA's few certified geniuses. What hope do the rest of us have? If not Pop, who knows what's really insane?




We like to know who's winning and who's losing. We like it so much that Hollywood routinely shoehorns wins and losses into daily work life. Jerry Maguire has an epiphany and quits to start his own sports agency. The dude from "Office Space" loses all self control, starts mouthing off, and the bigwigs love him for it. Denzel Washington lands the plane upside down, saving hundreds of lives. Erin Brockovich makes her case; the bad guys write checks for hundreds of millions.

The sound track swells. Fists are pumped. Champagne is popped. Victory.

But who has jobs like that in real life? When do you drive home through rush hour traffic to a Gary Glitter soundtrack? Most of us drive home knowing we tried, hoping it was good enough.

I guess that's why it's so fun, once home, to have basketball. Tune into a game and yes you'll enjoy Kyrie Irving hypnotizing some dude with a crossover, or Tony Parker sneaking to the rim again. But it's also precious relief from life's muddled chords of qualified good and potential bad. Between the lines life is nice and clean. You win, I lose. Or better yet, I win and you lose. The referee is right there to keep it honest, and the winner's the guy talking to Doris Burke at the end. The one thing we're sure of is that we won't have a split decision.

Sports do this for us and we love them for it. Basketball is among the most frenetic and improvisational of human activities, more than a thousand players, coaches, owners and front office people do what they can to win a title every year -- who does it best is almost impossible to say. And yet as if by magic, it took just two quick months of playoffs to tidily reduce half the league -- more than 200 players eager to define their careers, 16 coaches haggard with lack of sleep -- to ... the Miami Heat. If you look, I bet you could still find litter on the street in Miami from the victory parade of a few days ago.

And here we are in Brooklyn, welcoming a new generation of winners, or losers. That's the business of playing basketball, and that's the mode we're still in. Identifying winners.

But this isn't the NBA Finals. You're not Erin Brockovich. Anyone who thinks they really know, in real time, who won and lost the draft is due for a rude awakening.




Draft night is fun, but it's not the night for tidiness. On game night you can live vicariously as a player. On draft night you get to live vicariously as a GM, but unlike players, GMs have messy "we'll see how this works out" jobs just like the rest of us.

There might be a hundred key decisions for a front office to make a year. The job is to get such a high percentage of those draft picks, coaching hires, trades, nutrition plans and like correct that the team has a chance, at the end of the year, to be the very best of thirty.

Some braintrusts are so bad the players never have a chance. Other teams, like Pop's Spurs, have such strong management that any number of cheap players can be plugged in and succeed.

It's not that the best teams don't miss -- we'll see how the the Spurs' pick Livio Jean-Charles works out -- nor that the worst teams miss every time. It's that over years, and hundreds of decisions, the good ones eke out a small, but meaningful edge. Their miss rates are a little lower -- which is not something you can divine from any one night of transactions.

Ray Allen hit the shot of the season in Game 6 of the Finals, and for that has been crowned a heroic shooter for the ages. Hanging it all on that moment is great, as a way to make life more fun. And it's what we do. But it's horrible as a way to really determine who's good at shooting. Had he missed, he'd have been precisely the same quality shooter, in the big picture.

What Allen did that was undeniably perfect was his homework. For years. The extra time in the gym, the perfect form, the unwavering focus of every cell. He didn't hope that thing in.

And in this way, the players and the GMs are like each other, and us. The real shame isn't in one shot, one pick, or one trade. It's in not doing your homework, or making the same mistakes again and again.

But a high risk gamble here or there, those are constants, if maddeningly tough to call in real time. Kill the Cavaliers, Bobcats or Nets today if you like. Me? I prefer to see it play out.

Magic ready to pounce if Noel falls to No. 2

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
10:05
PM ET
Ford By Chad Ford
ESPN.com
Archive
I just wrote that I believe the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely take Nerlens Noel at No. 1. However, what happens to Noel if he doesn't go to Cleveland?

Will he slide down the draft board? I don't think so.

Sources close to the Orlando Magic told ESPN.com on Saturday that if the Cavs pass on Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel, the Magic are leaning strongly toward selecting him with the No. 2 pick in the draft.

Sources cautioned that things could change in the next five days as the Magic continue to gather information. "If the draft was held today, Noel would be our first choice," one source told ESPN.com.

Noel, a 7-foot freshman from Everett, Mass., is a long, lithe athletic center who led the nation in blocked shots this season with 4.4 blocks per game. While Noel's offensive game is still limited (he averaged 10.5 ppg on 59 percent shooting) many NBA scouts believe he has the most upside of any player in the draft.

The Magic, according to sources, scouted Noel heavily during the season and have been doing exhaustive background work on Noel the past few months. The team believes that, with patience, Noel should end up being the best player in the draft.

Noel certainly fits a need for the Magic. Despite the strong play of second-year center Nikola Vucevic, the Magic ranked 24th in the NBA in blocked shots and 25th in defensive efficiency. Noel made a visit to the Magic on June 2 and sources said he wowed everyone despite the fact that he's still months away from playing basketball because of a torn ACL.

Stat Geek Smackdown: All hail the crowd!

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
8:37
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Every year, TrueHoop gathers a group of stat geeks grounded in the study of basketball analytics and advanced statistics. Over the past two years, we've included among the field a large panel of several dozen experts. The idea is to measure how the aggregate opinion of many informed people matches up against a single guru, or in this case seven individual gurus.

This year, The Crowd beat the mavens, as our ESPN Forecast panel finished the 2013 TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown with a total score of 72 points. That ties Matthew Stahlhut's 2012 score for third all-time in Smackdown history.

If not for Ray Allen's heroics, Jeff Ma would've taken the title. But the Crowd nailed the landing, picking the Heat in 7 and claiming the crowd at the finish line. Ma had a nice run. He was the only panelist -- including the crowd -- to pick each of the conference semifinals and conference finals series correctly. He finished second, tied with Tom Haberstroh.

Ultimately, The Crowd prevailed and the implications are interesting. Is the collective judgment of a relatively well-informed group of people smarter than one individual armed with expertise? Tough to say, and behavioral economists and cognitive scientists will continue to debate the question, but for or at least one NBA postseason, the answer was yes.

First Cup: Friday

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
5:34
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: All of the biggest, grandest words in sports were rising up to embrace the Heat here Thursday night. Dynasty. Legacy. History. “I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams ever,” LeBron James had said. They got there Thursday night. “I came here to win championships,” LeBron had said -- plural. He got there Thursday night. A second NBA Finals championship in a row separates you, distinguishes you, and for this Miami team, especially, it means everything. It validates once and for all LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland and underlines his place in the sport’s history. It verifies that the Big 3 blueprint has succeeded. And it suggests that a three-peat is hardly an outlandish dream now for a team that surely will enter next season as the favorite to win again. Miami outlasted the San Antonio Spurs here, 95-88, on a taut, tense, thrilling night befitting a Game 7. A loss would have derailed everything for the Heat. It would have meant two Finals losses in the three seasons of the Big 3. To many of the steadfast doubters, critics and haters, that would have equated to failure. LeBron and the Heat would have none of it.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Arguably the finest season of Tony Parker’s career ended in horrific fashion, with a 3-for-12 performance following his 6-for-23 in Game 6. Parker made no excuses, and defended Popovich’s decision to sit him for an extra shooter on the key late possession after the Spurs fell behind by four points. “I have no excuse,” Parker said. “I’m not going to put it on my hammy and stuff like that. I just didn’t play well. My shot was not falling. Couldn’t get in a rhythm tonight. I just missed shots. Just didn’t go in.” … Ginobili, an unrestricted free agent who will be 36 should he return for his 12th NBA season, declined to discuss his future with the Spurs. “It’s not the moment,” he said. “I’m very disappointed, very upset. I really can’t say anything.” Duncan said he plans to return for the second season of the three-year contract last summer. Parker bristled when asked at the podium about the future of the team’s core. “Can’t believe you’re asking that question,” he said. “It’s been five, six years you’re saying we’re too old. I’m not going to answer that.”
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Q: Would Micky Arison dare break up this team? -- Steve. A: Now? You're asking now, while the champagne has yet to dry, not even fully poured? OK, it clearly is a microwave society, so I'll bite. The question comes down to whether Micky looks at this as more of a business or more of a hobby. From a business standpoint, with the impending onerous luxury tax, fiscal decisions are necessary, starting with a potential amnesty of Mike Miller. From a basketball standpoint, the Heat owe the game the right to see how far this team can go as currently constituted, considering the utter joy of Thursday night. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be changes, since every team has to evolve, just as the Heat evolved from last season with the addition of Ray Allen. But the fiscal side could have the Heat bypassing spending another taxpayer's mid-level exception this summer. Ultimately, it comes down to how much Thursday night resonates for Micky, and for how long. If I'm Pat Riley, I'm trying to get Micky to agree to the tax now, while the aforementioned champagne still is flowing.
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Doc Rivers never planned to be a part of the Celtics’ rebuilding process, and the club was basically aware of that fact when he signed his latest contract, a source told the Herald yesterday. That person further insisted the coach did not initiate the process that may yet send him to the Clippers for compensation, though that possibility seemed to be growing more distant last night. The Celtics have stated consistently that they want Rivers to remain with them and that he has been discussing with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge how best to transition the team with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in their latter years. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Rivers was deciding between returning to the Celtics and stepping away from the game when the club asked him if he’d be interested in any of the coaching jobs that were opening around the league. Rivers was said to have no interest in the Nets, who had fired his friend Avery Johnson during the season. He was then asked if the Clippers job appealed to him, and it was then he learned the Celts had already had preliminary discussions with that team on releasing Rivers from the last three years of his contract and thus making him available. The Celtics were looking to accelerate the reworking of their roster and seeing what return they could get on all their assets, Rivers included.
  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: The Miami Heat was once ordered to give the New York Knicks a first-round draft pick for Pat Riley, who eventually led the Heat to a title. The New England Patriots were ordered to give up a first-round pick to the New York Jets for Bill Belichick, who led them to three championships. Some coaches are worth more than even a high draft pick. Doc Rivers is one of those coaches. The other Clippers candidates — Brian Shaw, Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins — are all nice guys and would be decent choices, but none of them raises the heat on the championship thermometer like Rivers. Sterling has seen the power of a credible head coach displayed down the hall from his team's locker room 14 years ago. Surely he hasn't forgotten it by now? Either the Clippers follow the lessons taught by the Lakers past, or they could be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the Lakers present. One can already hear the chants during next season's opening night at Staples Center if the Clippers are losing and the guy standing in front of the bench is not the guy standing in front of them now. "We want Doc ... we want Doc."
  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: Basketball season is over. And now that a champion has been crowned, Suns fans can claim their consolation prize: David Stern has governed over his last NBA Finals. That must be worth a smile on Planet Orange. The NBA commissioner is retiring next February, ending a 30-year reign and staking his claim as the most impactful commissioner in sports history. But in the Valley, he’ll remain an eternal villain. He’s perceived as the man most responsible for the championship we never celebrated, for the banner not hanging inside US Airways Center. Ah, but life is all about timing, and Stern knows better than anyone. He took over as NBA commissioner in 1984, four months before the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan. He practically inherited a player who would change the world. … The commissioner infamously suspended Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Game 5 of the 2007 Western Conference semifinals. He penalized them for leaving the bench area, even though the Spurs’ Robert Horry had just mugged their captain, Steve Nash. Stern made the victims pay twice. He let the perpetrators off easy. He tilted the playing field toward the Spurs, who beat the short-handed Suns to take a 3-2 lead in the series, and then closed out the proceedings at home. The Spurs then rolled to an NBA title, in a year when it should’ve belonged to the Suns.
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Tim Connelly, 36, was hired this week from New Orleans, where he was an assistant GM. He hasn't met with all of the players on the Denver roster, although he knows a few already. But he has talked to Andre Iguodala, who has been working out at the Pepsi Center. Iguodala will be an unrestricted free agent when free agency begins in July. Contract negotiations can start July 1. Contracts can be signed beginning July 10. The Nuggets want Iguodala back. "I'm very optimistic," Connelly said. "I'm very aware of the free-agent landscape. In New Orleans, we had about $14 million to spend; a small forward might be a position we looked at, so I'm aware of what potential lies out there for him. I think he'd be hard-pressed to find a more attractive situation than ours, and I think he feels the same way. He's a key cog to an excellent team. I feel great about getting him back into uniform." Is the feeling mutual between the Nuggets and Iguodala? "Absolutely," Connelly said. "He's here working out. I think that speaks to where his heart is at. He's such a pro. I look forward to knowing him more as a person. I think when you see a guy working out a week before the draft, it shows you where he wants to be."
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: I spoke with Andrei Kirilenko from the south of France just a few minutes ago and he said he probably won't decide whether to pick up his $10 million-plus option for next year until after next week's draft. Kirilenko has until June 29 to make up his mind, a curious date because it's two days after the June 27 draft. "I think it will come right after the draft,'" he said of his decision when reached today just after dinnertime in France. You'd think the Wolves would want to know Kirilenko's status heading into the draft so they can make informed decisions, but that's the date in the two-year contract David Kahn reached with him last summer. Kirilenko said he hasn't spoken with his agent at length about the matter yet, but plans to do so in the next three to four days. Kahn's departure and the arrival of new basketball ops president Flip Saunders probably will affect Kirilenko's decision.
  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: In Memphis, Hollins never fit in very well with the new analytics-focused executives. In Denver, Karl slammed Nuggets president Josh Kroenke on the way out the door, saying there was little communication between the two last year. In Boston, Rivers wants no part of a youth movement that Danny Ainge might finally put into action. That is why the decision by new Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri — the ex-Denver boss whom Karl also said unflattering things about — to keep Dwane Casey as coach is a bit surprising. The two know each other like any two men who have been as involved in the NBA for the last decade or more would. But they have never worked together, and now Casey is going into his last year of his contract, the dreaded “lame-duck year.” It is part of the reason why Karl left Denver: The two sides could not agree on a contract extension. “I kind of chuckle when I hear, ‘You’re in the last year of your contract.’ In today’s basketball you’ve got to get the job done whether you’re in the last year of your contract, the first year of your contract and that’s how I’m going to look at it,” Casey said Thursday, a day after the Raptors announced he would return. “I’m going to coach the same way … There’s going to be a relationship with trust between Masai and I.”
  • Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News: Discussing his new role as a senior basketball advisor for the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan spoke extensively in public Thursday for the first time since quitting as the Jazz's head coach in February 2011. At a press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, the 71-year-old Sloan said he still isn’t sure exactly what his role will be with the team, but said he definitely will not be coaching. He said he'll leave that to current coach Tyrone Corbin and his assistants. According to the Jazz, Sloan’s role will be to support the Jazz through player evaluations in workouts, camps and summer league games, along with “occasional practice observation.’’ “To have him working with us is a tremendous thing,’’ said Corbin. “I will lean on him in a lot of ways.’’
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: In a draft devoid of a clear franchise player, the task for the Cavaliers is finding the player with the most upside. That very well could be Maryland center Alex Len, who appears to be creeping up draft boards despite mediocre numbers last season with the Terrapins. Len, for one, believes he could be the steal of the draft. “I think I have the biggest upside of the big guys,” he said. “Ten years from now, I’ll be the best player out of this draft.” The Cavs might believe that, too, which is why they’re considering him with the top overall pick. They have been linked to him since early in the college basketball season, when he destroyed Nerlens Noel in the Terrapins’ loss to Kentucky. Len had 23 points and 12 rebounds against Noel, previously presumed to be the best prospect in this draft. Noel, meanwhile, managed four points and nine rebounds in the victory. “He kind of surprised us a little bit,” Noel said last month at the combine. “We didn’t really know much about him before then.” Most everyone knows about Len now.
  • Candace Buckner of The Columbian: Look no further than the lineup of players on Thursday as the best indication that the Portland Trail Blazers are indeed serious in their search for a true center. In a pre-draft workout attended by team owner Paul Allen as well as Nicolas Batum, the Blazers matched the 7-foot-1 Frenchman Rudy Gobert with 7-footer Steven Adams, the New Zealander who played one college season at Pittsburgh. "They both did pretty good today," Batum said. While four other players also showcased their skills, including 6-7 Arsalan Kazemi from Oregon, the Blazer VIPs were spotted focusing their attention on the half of the court where Gobert and Adams finished their shooting drills. Absorbed by Adams' athleticism and captivated by Gobert's otherworldly 9-7 standing reach. Pardon the Blazers for being interested when rather large men cross their presence. Since the conclusion of the regular season, both Allen and general manager Neil Olshey have stated that the No. 1 priority will be to solve the team's man-in-the-middle dilemma.

These will be the Heat

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
3:47
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
Kevin C. Cox/ Getty Images Sport
The Heat are and will be built around Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

But for those pesky 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks, the post-Decision Big Three Miami Heat would have never lost a playoff series. As it is, they're a near-perfect 11 of 12 in best-of-seven postseason matchups over three years.

LeBron James is 28. Chris Bosh is 29. Even the old guy, Dwyane Wade, is only 31, and is trained by Tim Grover, the guy who kept Michael Jordan winning titles to age 35.

Over the last three years Miami has won 46 playoff games, in a league where no other team has won even 30.

This is math a kindergartner could do. No, the Heat -- a monstrous playoff victory machine by any measure -- won't be making big changes.

Except, somehow, even since the confetti fell in American Airlines Arena Thursday night, three different people have asked me if the Heat will be dealing Bosh, or Wade or making some other big change.

The answer is it would be nuts.

LeBron James
LeBron James won't be traded -- there's just no way to get equal value, and why would you want to anyway? He's underpaid, in his prime, almost never gets hurt and by every objective measure is beyond compare unless you own the Charlotte Bobcats.

James could, in theory, leave for greener pastures. He, like the others of the big three, will have the right to opt out of his deal after next season. That guessing game will continue forever. The big-time Lakers, the hometown Cavaliers ... you've heard the rumors. But wherever he'd go, he'd be facing key unknowns (chemistry, coach, roster, owner) where in Miami there are knowns that he likes.

"This team is amazing," James said shortly after winning his second title in three years. "And the vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true. Through adversity, through everything we've been through, we've been able to persevere and to win back-to-back championships. It's an unbelievable feeling. I'm happy to be part of such a first-class organization."

Chris Bosh
Bosh has long attracted doubters. He didn't go deep in the playoffs in Toronto, shoots 3s, has a distinctively skinny look and, now, scored zero points in the biggest game of his career.

That all misses the point, though, of his job in Miami. As one of the NBA's longest and most mobile defenders, Bosh makes the Heat's high energy, helping, switching, ball-pressuring, turnover-generating defense possible. He denies both options in typical pick-and-rolls. You can't have all those bodies flying all over the court with an immobile big like Kendrick Perkins back there, and you can't generate those LeBron-defining fast breaks without all those turnovers. The instant the Heat ditch Bosh they'd instantly be in dire need of a mobile, dedicated, trusted big man -- preferably one who could hit a jumper when they try to double off him.

In other words, the instant the Heat ditch Bosh, they'd need another one, and there aren't too many guys like that.

And while Bosh hasn't been a featured scorer in this uniform, that part of his game is ready to resume at any time. He was once a premier NBA post scorer, remember.

Dwyane Wade
Wade is the interesting case. Hobbled by bad knees that he says hopefully will not need offseason surgery, he was hardly himself and at times hurt the team through this playoff run. Sitting Wade and replacing him with a cheaper 3-point shooter like Mike Miller, Ray Allen or Shane Battier typically improved the Heat in the playoffs, which raises an obvious question: Can the Heat do better?

But here's where we have to remember how and why these Heat were formed. Winning titles was the end goal, but the process was set by three great players coming together to trust and rely on each other -- as a way of escaping the palace intrigue, power politics and backstabbing that dog a large number of NBA teams. The model of this team is one of family-style trust.

And Wade's at the core of that.

"With our team, we just continue to trust and believe," Wade said after Game 7. "We understand that this is a total team that we have here. And even though it's led a lot of nights by LeBron, myself and Chris, everybody on our team chips in and gives us something."

Wade's value is not just as a player, but as the thread that runs between Pat Riley, Miami, LeBron James and these championships. The Heat are famously loyal, almost to a fault -- just ask Alonzo Mourning. This team would have to stop winning so much before Wade could be shopped, and it's unclear what he'd fetch anyway.

Also, an offseason could make a difference; both his knees and his 3-point shooting are threats to recover for next season.

The role players
Three-point shooters and athletes. Through trial and error it has become clear those are the players who thrive next to James, Wade and Bosh. The team has whiffed with a lot of role players over the last three years, but they're figuring out what works. Just ask the Spurs: the three-star recipe calls for heavy turnover in roster spots four through 15. If they're good, you can't afford to pay them. If they're bad, you can't afford to waste a roster spot on them. So you must always search.

Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen all could be free agents this summer.

Greg Oden, Martell Webster, Kyle Korver, Dorell Wright and Jarrett Jack are among the many free agents who might fit. This churn will never end -- and, increasingly, neither will owner Micky Arison's luxury tax bills.

But the three guys at the top of the roster? They stay. Next year is a lock, and beyond that things are unlikely to change without a serious downturn in the team's performance.

"We are excited about the future of this organization," explains Wade. "We'll be back again next year, looking to do it again."

Dan Le Batard: Best night in Miami sports history

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
2:57
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Dan Le Batard says June 20, 2013 goes down as the best night in Miami sports history -- and a watershed moment in how we talk about LeBron
James.

 video

TrueHoop TV: Heat take Game 7

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
2:39
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
It took everything they had for the Heat to shake the Spurs in Game 7 of one of the most closely fought Finals in NBA history.

J.A. Adande and Bomani Jones on how LeBron James and company pulled it off, and what it means about how the world sees the MVP. TrueHoop TV at the Finals.

The Miami Heat's championship appeal

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
12:21
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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LeBron James
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James: Two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP -- and compelling prime-time antihero.
Even those who find pleasure in witnessing defeat owe a debt of gratitude to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, because never has the prospect of individual and team failure been so compelling to so many. The Heat won a second consecutive title on Thursday night, and James was the undisputed star, but the detractors didn’t lose. They never do with the Heat.

For a third straight spring, the Heat found a way to engage every segment of basketball fans on the planet. Viewers who gravitate to glossy storylines get their prestige drama starring James. As a nation, we’ve come to embrace an antihero driving the plot when we watch a prime-time series, and James’ collection of contradictions serves us in that capacity.

Basketball junkies see James as a visionary, a player that shatters every classification. He’s rendered the power-finesse axis obsolete and can conform his game to any scheme, tempo or situation. Junkies love to watch how James will ply his craft on a given possession, because the options are limitless. Thanks in large part to James, the team has been a leader in redefining positions, another peccadillo of the junkie.

Those who need a designated villain found one in James, because if you’re looking to render judgment on someone based on the five to 10 worst moments of his public life, then James is your guy. Pro sports has never featured a team that’s a more satisfying foil than the Heat for those who put contempt for a world-class athlete before appreciation.

In that same spirit, purists who want the boundaries of the game fixed in tradition loathe the Heat as the barbarians at the gate, a team etched by young stars instead of wise men. The Heat were boastful before they ever built anything, and play without a traditional post presence and sometimes without even a point guard.

Front-runners who like a winner have a team that joins the pantheon of NBA champions with back-to-back titles, and a player almost unanimously regarded as the world’s best. So do those who check in on the NBA in search of an athletic exhibition or the most alluring talent show.

Over the past three years, the Heat have found the sweet spot that lies at the center of the fan universe. This is an achievement, because rarely does a product penetrate every corner of the market, meet every need and appeal to almost every point on the emotional spectrum. The Heat manage to produce a heightened sense of intensity for the viewer, even when they lack intensity themselves. In the process, the Heat have displaced the Los Angeles Lakers as the league’s most indispensable team and James is now the NBA’s most important player.

This would be true with or without a second championship, but another banner means the Heat have something lasting that defines them apart from all the cultural markers. Legacies, narratives, symbolism and mythology are easily revised, but rings aren’t subject to revision. They’re placed in shadowboxes, protected from the noise.

The second title didn’t come as easy as the first, but that’s because the game is hard, no matter how diligent the preparation, or how easy James makes it appear at times, or how many consecutive wins the Heat run off in February and March.

We tend to forget this when we kill a team or player for a lack of effort, assertiveness or execution. It’s not just the hysterics who chirp. Almost all of us participate, even if our critiques are shrouded in the language of rational analysis. We show our work and couch our statements with qualifiers, but we still have trouble remembering that the game is hard is the most common reason for failure, even for James and the Heat.

Attacking the basket is hard when the defense’s sole mission is to deny access to the paint. Drawing contact is hard, because accelerating at full speed then voluntarily initiating a collision with another very big guy moving just as fast is traumatic.

It’s impossibly hard to backpedal at full speed from the paint to a spot behind the 3-point arc in the far corner without looking down while your team is down to its final seconds of life in an elimination Game 6, and that’s before being asked to catch a ball while your momentum is sending you backwards, then set your feet before rising up for a pinpoint-accurate shot against a fast-approaching person with his arms in the air blocking your view of the target.

Doing it night in and night out for nine months is hard. The talent, money, fame and perks don’t change what a player’s body can tolerate physically or the natural limitations of his skill set. Nobody is at his best all the time. Performance isn’t consistent, which is why we have highlights.

Somewhere along the way, the Heat’s desire to come together as a team was mistaken for a claim that it isn’t hard. That misperception was put to rest during the final two games in Miami. The Heat and James commanded our attention for the entire season, but in the end it was all about the work.

Tony Parker making point with postseason run

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
5:30
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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It's a fair argument to tout Tony Parker as the best player on the best team. You can quibble over San Antonio's exact status versus Miami’s or point to Tim Duncan's two-way impact, but Parker plays the most on a Finals team that just eviscerated the West's best defense, before having the Heat on the (golden) ropes in Game 6.

Better than simply "playing the most," Parker also just reversed a slump of recent postseasons, dazzling his way back into the "best-point-guard" conversation. Parker's always been a difficult player to assess because he's in such symbiosis with San Antonio's motion offense. It's hard to envision the Spurs without Parker and even more difficult to envision Parker without them. It's a problem not wholly dissimilar from separating the talents of Steve Nash from "Seven Seconds or Less."

After three consecutive underwhelming postseasons, it made sense to question whether Parker was the product of a system, a system that could crack under the scrutiny of an extended playoff series. That line of interrogation didn't happen much outside San Antonio, though, because the Spurs always manage to Eurostep away from media attention with the deftness of Ginobli. It also helped that Parker had an NBA Finals MVP on his resume, even if it was back in 2007.

In this 2013 postseason, Parker has quelled almost all criticism while demonstrating the virtues of mastering a system so completely. Yes, there are "unfair" advantages to Parker often getting the ball just as expertly-timed cross screens are disrupting the defense. But many other point guards would crumble under the weight of San Antonio's encyclopedic playbook.

Parker's mastery of what the Spurs do has occurred, in part, because he's been there for so long. At a certain point, when a man plays so much with one team, judging him against what he'd do elsewhere becomes irrelevant. Parker has been with San Antonio since age 19. Gregg Popovich has done much to mold his game into what it is today. Tony Parker is the Spurs; the Spurs are Tony Parker. You almost can't talk about what he'd be on another team because this particular team has influenced what he became, every step of the way. And right now, Parker's improved game is illustrative of how the Spurs changed in the best of ways.

Resoundingly, Parker showed that he could flourish by viciously threshing a Grizzlies defense, geared towards stopping him and equipped with Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. Parker did this, and the Spurs did this, with beautiful passing, the likes of which you would not have seen from this team back when Tim Duncan was the offensive focal point. Against the Grizzlies, Tony Parker averaged 9.5 assists, as his team moved the ball with an ease that looked like telepathy manifest. The result was a four game sweep, with San Antonio hitting at least half its shots in all but one of the contests.

As Popovich opened up San Antonio's offense with shooting and pace a couple years back, Parker developed into a better distributor. Parker set career highs in assist percentage these past two seasons (40.3, 40.4), and the 2013 San Antonio Spurs led basketball in assists per game (25.1). It's carried over to the playoffs, where the Spurs again lead all teams in assists, even when adjusted for pace.

At age 30, Parker is more liable than ever to hurl crafty jump passes, the kind you'd associate with Manu Ginobili's untamed genius. Older and wiser, Parker is now far more likely to kick the ball out after drawing the defense in. The younger version, the one that drove Popovich crazy, might have wrongly called his own number against the Memphis iso-specialists. Tony, the veteran, knows better than to fall for a trap and knows just how to exploit a defense that loads up too much on any side.

Parker has also grown more comfortable splicing defenses with "pocket" bounce passes between two defenders, as he did time and time again to Memphis and Miami pick-and-roll coverages. In those old Spurs-Suns playoff battles, Nash appeared to be Parker's unselfish mirror image on the point guard spectrum. Every day, that's changing.

Don’t forget the shot-making, though, as Parker still has that in his arsenal. In Game 6, we were just on the verge of Parker’s biggest moment, after he sealed a Spurs championship with consecutive, ridiculously difficult makes.

We'll never know what Parker would be were he asked to run the basic offense that Chris Paul steers in Los Angeles. That hypothetical will cease to matter if the Spurs keep rolling and Parker continues to power basketball's most unselfish team. If Tony Parker continues to run the NBA's most balanced attack and if that attack secures a title, who cares about what another guy would accomplish with the reins?

TrueHoop TV: Rough shape

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
4:50
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Ethan Sherwood Strauss predicts a Heat win in Game 7, Graydon Gordian says Spurs.

But there's a lot we don't know, like the true state of the players' health.

Phil Jackson on big-game mentality

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
3:27
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Phil Jackson
Brian Drake/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe most successful coach in history says the calmest team usually wins.
A few years ago, Justin Rao and Matt Goldman presented research about how players perform in big moments. Rao's mom, as it happens, is an expert in psychology. With some advice from her, Rao and Goldman separated the tasks of a hoops game into categories that have emerged in brain research: Things that require quiet concentration (like shooting free throws), and things that require exertion and effort (like offensive rebounding).

In a nutshell, they found exactly what psychologists would have expected them to find: That special efforts -- Game 7 kind of efforts, along the lines of "wanting it more" -- help with those exertion-based tasks like rebounding.

But those same special efforts hurt performance when doing things that require a quiet mind. The key finding was that in big moments, it's the home-team players who tend to miss free throws as the pressure mounts. For the road team, it's routine -- all those people screaming want you to lose. The home players, though, they are wired to want so badly to delight those 20,000 fans sitting so close and quietly. That special big-moment urge to do even better than normal keeps the players from calmly stepping to the line like it's the most normal thing in the world.

There's a war in the heads of players -- between trying especially hard in a big game, and telling yourself this is just another game.

It's not so hard to figure out where the most successful coach in NBA history comes down. In his new book "Eleven Rings," Phil Jackson discusses his first Bulls title team:
At that time most coaches subscribed to the Knute Rockne theory of mental training. They tried to get their players revved up for the game with win-one-for-the-gipper-style pep talks.

That approach may work if you're a linebacker. But what I discovered playing for the Knicks is that when I got too excited mentally, it had a negative effect on my ability to stay focused under pressure. So I did the opposite. Instead of charging players up, I developed a number of strategies to help them quiet their minds and build awareness so they go into battle poised and in control.

In other words, Jackson found the exact same thing as the researchers. And it all flies directly in the face of the dominant theory of today's Game 7, that LeBron James must go out there like a fired-up linebacker, looking to lay waste to everything in his path.

Indeed, one of the more memorable tales from Jackson's book is of an intervention to stop Michael Jordan when he was in that mode. Jordan was making one foray into the lane after another in the 1991 Finals -- exactly what they say is called for from James -- but in doing so Jordan was attacking double- and triple-teams, exhausting himself, and passing up open shots for teammates. These are the kinds of mental mistakes Jackson associated, in his playing days, with getting "too excited mentally."

In a timeout, Jackson remembers simply asking Jordan "who's open?" This was a reminder of the normal way to play basketball. The routine. The basics. The things Rao and Goldman found were better approached without special effort. Jordan went on to make calm, routine passes to the open player. Unguarded John Paxson sunk four routine shots. The Bulls won a title ... which also became routine.

Jackson says that the Bulls teams got really good only when they really honed their ability to keep calm. Of his 69-win 1997 team, Jackson writes:
Michael was more relaxed and settling into a less energy-draining style of play, with more medium-range jumpers and less one-on-one aerial theatrics. But most of all the players had the look of champions. No matter what calamities befell them, they felt confident that they would find a way to deal with them together. There's a Zen saying I often cite that goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

The point: Stay focused on the task at hand rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

"Energy-draining" is a key reason for a player not to go into a game determined to go all out from the opening tip. The key Spurs and Heat players in Thursday night's Game 7 almost all know this first-hand. Tony Parker sat out the biggest offensive possessions of the Spurs' season -- the end of Game 6's overtime -- with no gas left in the tank. LeBron -- who was once carried off the floor of a close Finals finish with cramps (a common way for exhaustion to manifest) -- says he asked for timeouts in that game for the same reason.

Indeed the player who dominated the end of Game 6, the one who looked the freshest, was the player who is most commonly derided for passivity, for not grasping the need to get psyched up for domination: Chris Bosh.

Bosh ended the game essentially "chopping wood and carrying water," getting rebounds, blocks and defensive stops. As in, doing the things he does all game, as other, more determined-to-perform players wore down physically and mentally around him. It worked.

Will Game 7 rewrite record books?

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
2:48
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTonight's Game 7 will be an epic battle between the Heat and Spurs.
We are down to the final game of the 2012-13 season to decide the NBA champion.

Let’s take a look at what a win would mean for the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena (9 ET on ABC).

What’s at stake for the Heat?
The Heat are trying to become the first team to repeat as NBA champions since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009-10 and the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back titles since the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls won three in a row from 1996-98.

With a Heat win, LeBron James would be a two-time NBA champion and would join Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to win back-to-back regular season MVPs and NBA titles.

The Heat went 66-16 this season, a win percentage of .805. They are trying to avoid having the best regular-season record by any NBA Finals loser.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the highest win percentage by a team that lost in the NBA Finals is .797 by the 1949-50 Syracuse Nationals.

The Heat suffered a 36-point defeat (113-77) in Game 3 of this series. If the Heat win Game 7, they would become the first team to win an NBA title after losing a game by 35 or more points at any point in the postseason.

What’s at stake for the Spurs?
The Spurs are seeking to win their fifth NBA title. They would be the fourth franchise to win at least five rings, along with the Celtics (17), Lakers (16) and Bulls (6).

The Spurs are 4-for-4 in NBA Finals series and will try to remain as one of two NBA teams to with multiple titles and no Finals series losses. The Bulls are 6-0 in the NBA Finals.

If the Spurs win, it would mean that no team would have won consecutive games in this series.

According to Elias, it would be just the sixth time that an NBA Finals series went seven games and no team won back-to-back games. The last time it happened was in the 1974 NBA Finals, won by the Celtics.

Not only would the Spurs would become just the fourth road team to win a Game 7 in the Finals, but they would also be the first team to ever defeat the defending NBA champion on the road in a NBA Finals Game 7.

Tim Duncan is one of four players to play in the NBA Finals in three different decades, along with John Salley, A.C. Green and Elgin Baylor. If the Spurs win, Duncan would join Salley as the only players to win a NBA title in three different decades.

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