First Cup: Monday
May, 27, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t have beaten them. The 1985-86 Boston Celtics couldn’t have beaten them. Nobody could have beaten the Miami Heat on Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Not the Indiana Pacers, not the San Antonio Spurs, nobody. The officials? Not an issue. … The Heat played like champions, unstoppable forces of nature. It was as if LeBron James looked at Paul George and said, “Hey, son, it’s still my world and you’re just living in it.’’ I asked Vogel after the game, “Do you look inside and think about what you did wrong, or just look at them and realize they put on a clinic?’’ “It’s both,’’ he said. “They’re one of the great teams this league has seen, defending champs, on a historic run this year. If you’re not perfect guarding them, they’ll do what they did to us tonight. Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverage, they still find ways to make baskets. We didn’t have a great defensive night. It wasn’t as horrible as the numbers looked. Have to credit Miami for playing a great basketball game.’’ Here’s the scary part: It wasn’t any of the Big Three who killed the Pacers, although LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh all had productive nights. The star Sunday was Haslem, who made Roy Hibbert and the Pacers pay for helping out and guarding the rim.
- Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: And so, Sunday night should be remembered as his night. It should be remembered as Haslem’s night even while there was so much that merited recognition on the Heat’s side in this 114-96 victory at Indiana, from the most determined, dynamic, devastating offensive half-court half of the season, to the remarkable scarcity of turnovers, to Chris Andersen’s continuing cartoonish efficiency, to LeBron James’ clinic from the left block. It should be remembered as Haslem’s night because, as the Heat worked from the inside out from the start on their way to securing a 2-1 series lead, it was the veteran forward – of all the Heat’s accomplished stable of shooters – who most made the Pacers pay for providing space. It was Haslem who kept putting Roy Hibbert on the spot, simply by spotting up. Haslem kept settling into his sweet spot, on the left baseline roughly 17 feet from the basket, the same spot from which he connected regularly in Game 4 of the second-round series here last spring. “I tried to get down the floor early, get to my spacing, and make the big guy make a decision,” Haslem said. In Hibbert’s view, Haslem’s role was decisive. “He was the X-factor for them tonight,” Hibbert said. “He wasn’t making those shots the prior two games.” Haslem scored a total of three points in those.
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Zero for Z-Bo: Zach Randolph had been one the most productive big men in the 2013 playoffs. Then he ran into the Spurs. Tag-teamed at every turn, Randolph is shooting 30 percent (12 of 40) and had been close to a non-factor in the first three games of the conference finals. Credit for frustrating Randolph goes to the Spurs’ cast of Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, with a bit of Tim Duncan and guard help thrown in. If Memphis can’t figure out a way to finally free Randolph, the series could end Monday. Keep calm and carry on: The Spurs opened Game 3 by missing 15 of 19 shots and coughing up eight turnovers. The result was an early 18-point deficit, not the best script for winning a playoff game on the road. With the Grizzlies now down to their last strike, the Spurs can expect a desperate Memphis team and heightened sense of urgency from the crowd. If they can keep their wits about them — and keep from gifting the Grizzlies with points off turnovers — the Spurs have a good chance to finish the sweep. Bid bon voyage: The Grizzlies left the FedEx Forum after squandering Game 3 looking and sounding like a beaten team ready for summer vacation. The best thing the Spurs can do in Game 4 is to push them the rest of the way to Bora Bora. If the Spurs can jump on Memphis, and give Team “We Believe” a reason not to, odds are good the Grizzlies might go away quietly.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Even the so-called free shots are costing the Grizzlies. Memphis has shot 65.6 percent from the free-throw line during the Western Conference finals, including 63.6 percent in the last two games. The Grizzlies were the 10th-best free-throw shooting team in the league during the regular season at 77.3 percent. That’s a major storyline in this series. So is Duncan’s revival. The 37-year-old big man posted 24 points and 10 rebounds in Game 3 for his 144th career postseason game with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. Duncan passed Wilt Chamberlain for the NBA record.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: A quarter-century ago, the Suns began to emerge from three consecutive non-playoff seasons, the same predicament as this off-season. The Suns, coming off a drug scandal, cleaned house to set up a revival, with one player surviving a two-year shake-up — Jeff Hornacek. Now looking for another turnaround, the Suns again count on Hornacek. This time, Hornacek will be their head coach. Hornacek, 50, agreed to terms on a three-year contract that was expected to be signed by Monday morning. The Suns’ 16th head coach will be a well-received choice after starting his 14-year career with six Suns seasons, including two conference finals runs and an All-Star season before he was packaged in the 1992 Charles Barkley trade. … Hornacek was in demand, and the Suns expect to start individual draft workouts next week, prompting McDonough to make a decisive move before other popular candidates like Indiana’s Brian Shaw and San Antonio’s Mike Budenholzer become available after their teams’ playoff runs. Hornacek and McDonough share the same agent, Steve Kauffman. “Ryan McDonough may be young, but he is a very, very bright man who has a really good idea of what he wants and what he is looking for,” Hornacek told Bruce Cooper. “I think we are going to have a great working relationship together.”
- Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: In the NBA, the best coaches create the perfect blend of respect, fear and trust. Players must know their coach (a) knows what he’s talking about; (b) allocates playing time properly among the right players; and (c) will hold everyone accountable when necessary. Phil Jackson understood the need to be hard on players. So did Jerry Sloan, whom Hornacek played for. So does Gregg Popovich. The Suns’ new coach is a nice guy, an extremely smart guy. But can Hornacek be the tough guy, maybe even the bad guy? Along with some really good players, that will determine his success in Phoenix.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Three coaching candidates will return for second interviews this week with the Milwaukee Bucks, a league source confirmed Sunday. Los Angeles Lakers assistant Steve Clifford is scheduled to interview again Tuesday, while Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson and Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew will return Wednesday as finalists for the Bucks head coaching position. No other candidates are currently in the running, according to the source. The Bucks also previously interviewed former Portland and Seattle coach Nate McMillan and 34-year-old Rockets assistant J.B. Bickerstaff. Bucks officials also met with former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
- Terry Frei of The Denver Post: The Raptors allegedly are trying to lure Ujiri with an annual salary of about $3 million — or about half what the Nuggets' Wilson Chandler will make next season. Of course, the pro game's protocol — any pro game's protocol — involves salary precedents and slotting in front offices too. The Nuggets did give an unproven Ujiri his make-or-break chance and deserve to be given credit for that, including by Ujiri himself. So, sure, it's understandable that the Kroenkes didn't hand over a blank contract and tell him he could fill in the numbers. But Ujiri's work, in getting stunning value for Carmelo Anthony and on other fronts, albeit with Josh Kroenke's input and help, has spoken for itself. By dragging their feet, the Kroenkes undoubtedly miscalculated, as Ujiri's leverage increased, including with his recent NBA executive of the year honor. The hockey moves have reinvigorated part of the Kroenke operation. A Ujiri departure would be alarming, not just because of the loss of a bright young executive, but because it would seem that the Kroenkes don't believe they really need a proven GM on the basketball side. They hit the jackpot with the previously unproven Ujiri. They must know they can't count on that happening again.
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Doc Rivers moves easily in a world that has more and more placed value on fame. He knows Tiger Woods. Actors visit his coaching room when the Celts play in LA. When Doc texts Donald Trump, Donald Trump does not text back. Donald Trump calls. Things work well, too, when he works. Talk to C’s players and they occasionally will quibble with Rivers’ shifting rotations. But all of them will tell you how immersed he is in X’s and O’s and the intensity he pours into each night’s battle. And the fact he has gained the affection of his stars and won a championship gives Rivers instant credibility the moment he walks into a new dressing room. He does the same for the club seeking to market the change. The bottom line is that these same qualities make Doc Rivers desirable to the Celtics, who would like as much continuity as possible as change is visited upon the roster. And it’s for certain that Ainge doesn’t want to add a coaching search to his to-do list. So if Rivers hasn’t already delivered his final word, there are a few exhales on hold over in Waltham.
- John Canzano of The Oregonian: A few years ago, I saw the Blazers owner leave the arena after a game, holding his late mother's hand. Faye was battling illness and age, but was often beside her son at games, a faithful fan and loving mother. I watched the mother and son walk, and thought the scene was tender and revealing. I mentioned it in a column. People close to Allen later told me that he took it as a slap, as if I was poking fun of him. Ugh. Allen never talked to me about it. Not sure how much of that is Paul being Paul, or a billionaire being a billionaire, but I've had countless indirect conversations with Allen through his various intermediaries in the last two seasons and I'm finally ready to hear something authentic from him. It's why I'm fascinated by the news that his band, The Underthinkers, will release their debut album Aug. 6. It's called "Everywhere at Once." Allen co-wrote every song and plays guitar on every track. And when it comes to NBA ownership, this ends up the coolest thing this side of Mark Cuban. Also, I'm thinking it might be the deepest conversation any of us ever has with Allen.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Eighty-six is a number Bulls general manager Gar Forman has thrown out several times this season, maybe as a reminder to naysayers on the outside who don’t believe the Bulls are headed in the right direction — or maybe as a reminder to himself to stay the course. Either way, 86 has a lot of meaning. That’s the Bulls’ winning percentage when Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer are on the court at the same time. Therein lies the problem the last three years — keeping those four pillars healthy and upright at the same time for a significant amount of time. The closest the Bulls came was the playoff run of 2011, when they lost to the Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference finals. But even then, Boozer was hobbled and Deng was banged up. Toss in a few immovable contracts, and Forman could be handcuffed to stick with the core roster up front next season, especially forwards Deng and Boozer.