Jan 18, 2013, 2:34 AM EDT
A week ago, with Los Angeles’ big men sitting in suits on the sideline, the Thunder routed the Lakers.
Since that game the Lakers have played better, particularly on defense. Dwight Howard had become more active, the offense has been more crisp. The defensive improvement happened again for the most part on Thursday — Los Angeles held the Miami Heat to 40.9 percent shooting in the first half, plus Kobe Bryant and teammates hit key shots down the stretch and tied the game 90-90 with 2:30 left.
But that’s when the Heat put it in another gear — one of defensive pressure and good execution of their sets — that the Lakers simply could not match. Not even close.
The Lakers looked like a team that could once again not overcome their self-inflicted wounds.
The game was a reminder that when the Heat are focused on defense they are more than just contenders, they are the reigning title holders and you are going to have to rip that trophy from their hands if you want it. They still have the best player in the game in LeBron James.
It also was a reminder that the Lakers limitations as they get to know each other. It was a moral victory for a 17-22 team that is past the point of having time for moral victories. They need actual ones and they are going to have to get a bunch on the road (10 of next 13 are away from Staples).
LeBron had a “might want to think about making me MVP again” type game with 39 points on 17-of-25 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and three steals thrown in for good measure. He had 10 of those points in the fourth quarter and hit the dagger shots down the stretch. Kobe Bryant was good (22 points but on 8-of-25 shooting with six turnovers) but LeBron switched on to him defensively near the end and made Kobe’s life very difficult.
Early on, it felt like this could be a Heat runaway — Miami’s first eight points came off four Lakers turnovers and four Heat highlight transition dunks. The Lakers wanted to move the ball quickly, away from the Heat’s pressure, but the result was rushed and errant passes.
The trend continued. Los Angeles had 9 first-quarter turnovers, 16 for the half and 20 for the game. It plays right into the Heat’s hands — easy transition buckets fuel the Heat. LeBron started 7-of-9 from the floor and 14 points before he sat the first time. Miami had 13 steals at half (Chris Bosh had five by himself). Steve Nash had four first-half turnovers under intense Heat ball pressure (they went hard at him).
But Miami never pulled away. The Lakers made a few shots, got a couple of stops and hung around, and eventually they caught and passed the Heat, leading 45-44 at the half.
The reason is the book on the Heat is right — size can give them trouble. The presence of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (returned from a concussion) forced Miami away from its preferred small-lineups and three point shooting for a while. When Miami did go small they struggled a little with their shooting. Miami had no good answer for Howard, but the Lakers only got him four first-half shots.
The problem is Howard only got 7 shots, finishing with 13 points. The Lakers didn’t go to their strength.
The game remained close in the second half, with the Heat taking little leads and the Lakers making runs to get back in it. The last of those included a Steve Nash three, then a vintage Kobe three coming off a baseline screen. That shot tied the game at 90-90 with 2:32 left.
It was the last points the Lakers would score — Miami has switched to put LeBron on Kobe, Dwyane Wade on Steve Nash, and fouling Dwight Howard before he shot. It worked.
First Miami took the lead back with an elbow action that had Wade curling in for a clean look. Then Shane Battier fouled Howard in the paint rather than giving up the easy bucket and Howard obliged missing both free throws. Then the Heat took a four point lead off a Ray Allen rainbow shot, a catch-and-shoot he got off a curl.
Next trip down Wade smothered Steve Nash and then blocked his shot. Miami got its chance, LeBron drove hard then pulled up at the elbow and nailed it, at this point there were just :49 seconds left and the Heat were up 96-60. The Lakers needed a big shot but Metta World Peace and Kobe missed threes on the same possession (but you need to credit LeBron for part of that as he smothered Kobe and took away a lot of good options).
After that, there was a LeBron slam that put a cap on it.
It was an impressive last few minutes by the Heat that reminds you how good they can be.
And was a reminder to Lakers fans how far they are from that level right now
Jun 20, 2013, 2:45 AM EDT
I’m not sure how good the Lakers will be with Dwight Howard next season — Lakers fans and players point to the 28-12 stretch and say they can sustain that, I’m not sold — but I know this: Without Howard the Lakers will be a mess next season. Kobe Bryant realizes that too and said…
Jun 20, 2013, 2:21 AM EDT
Not only is the Clippers/Celtics trade back from the dead (don’t say I didn’t warn you) it looks like it could come together Thursday. If Clippers owner Donald Sterling signs off on it this deal could come together Thursday reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. After superstar Chris Paul injected his influence to accelerate talks,…
Jun 19, 2013, 9:29 PM EDT
Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It doesn’t get any better than this. Kay Adams and I take a look forward to Thursday night’s game with a quick look back at Game 6 (no, Chris Bosh should not have been called for a foul on that last shot) then we start talking about how tired…
Jun 19, 2013, 8:30 PM EDT
Say whatever you will about how the Grizzlies dumped Lionel Hollins – and there’s a lot to say, most of it not favorable to the team’s management – but they’re conducting this coaching search the right way. They didn’t rush to hire the favored but unproven assistant, Dave Joerger. Instead, they interviewed safer choices like…
Jun 19, 2013, 7:41 PM EDT
Jerry Sloan is back with the Utah Jazz, and the world just seems a little more orderly. The Jazz have brought back Sloan as a “senior basketball advisor” the team announced on Wednesday. What does that mean? Some player evaluations (both before the draft at workouts and at places like Summer League), a little scouting,…
Jun 19, 2013, 6:57 PM EDT
One day after as dramatic an NBA Finals game as you will ever see — and one day before a Game 7 to decide the NBA crown — the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs were back on the practice court and talking to the media. The Miami players, as you might expect, seemed confident…
Jun 19, 2013, 6:20 PM EDT
Update (6:40 p.m.): Chris Paul is the catalyst for trade talks resuming. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: Clippers management believed Boston would eventually come back to them out of a belief that the Celtics-Rivers relationship would be difficult to repair, but league sources told Y! Sports that Paul’s desire to play for Rivers – and…
Jun 19, 2013, 6:05 PM EDT
At one point Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger was considered a strong front-runner to replace Lionel Hollins, but Memphis has interviewed former head coaches like George Karl and Alvin Gentry. Apparently, those other interviews weren’t just for show before hiring Joerger, because the Grizzlies are on round two of interviews. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:…
Jun 19, 2013, 5:33 PM EDT
The Mavericks have made no secret about wanting to prevent the No. 13 pick from cutting into their cap room, whether that means trading the pick or drafting and stashing a player. The idea of wasting a lottery pick, either by dumping it in an uneven trade or using it on a lesser prospect just…
Jun 19, 2013, 5:09 PM EDT
Nerlens Noel would be a worthy No. 1 pick in many drafts if it weren’t for his ACL tear. His athleticism and defensive skills draw rave reviews from both traditional scouts and number crunchers. There’s safety in a consensus positive opinion, and Noel provides that on the court. But his ACL tear and the possibility…
Jun 19, 2013, 4:31 PM EDT
MIAMI — The Spurs held a five-point lead with a little more than 28 seconds remaining in Game 6, before the Heat mounted a furious comeback to send it into overtime and ultimately force a seventh game. As things looked particularly dire, with San Antonio on a 10-2 run and seemingly on their way to…
Jun 19, 2013, 4:21 PM EDT
The will he?/won’t he? saga about returning to coach his Atlantic Division team has ended. No new information on Doc Rivers, but Dwane Casey will be back with the Raptors. Raptors press release: Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri announced Wednesday that Head Coach Dwane Casey will return for the 2013-14…
Jun 19, 2013, 3:42 PM EDT
Dwyane Wade has been clearly grounded through much of the playoffs. While he has had some monster games — including Games 4 and 5 of the Finals — his right knee has held him back at times. Now you can add his left knee to the list of issues. Wade and Manu Ginobili banged knees…
Jun 19, 2013, 2:21 PM EDT
As a series moves deeper ratings go up — and Game 6 lived up to that, with a huge jump in viewership for ABC. An estimated 16.8 million people — a 14.7 rating — tuned in to watch Game 6, ESPN announced. The previous high this series had been 11.4 million viewers for a game…
Jun 19, 2013, 2:15 PM EDT
MIAMI — Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was the recipient of some rare criticism following his team’s collapse in the final moments of regulation in Game 6, and it surrounded his decision to bench Tim Duncan during some key defensive possessions. The end result, twice with under 30 seconds to play, was the Heat getting…
Jun 19, 2013, 1:18 PM EDT
MIAMI — For all intents and purposes, the game was over. Except that it wasn’t. The Heat trailed Game 6 of the Finals by five with under 30 seconds to play, and fans in Miami began streaming for the exits. Arena staffers in yellow shirts lined the baselines and the court across from the team…
Jun 19, 2013, 12:53 PM EDT
Now that the drama of Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett headed the Clippers trade talk has subsided, it’s time for everyone in Boston to act like adults and end this soap opera. To that end, Rivers and Celtics GM Danny Ainge are expected to sit down face-to-face Wednesday and talk, Ainge told the Boston Herald.…
Jun 19, 2013, 12:07 PM EDT
PBT’s own Brett Pollakoff tweeted this out when the Heat were down 5 with: 28 seconds left and the Heat had called a timeout. “Fans in Miami heading for the exits.” Thousands of them. Not anywhere near a majority, but enough to reinforce the stereotype. Plenty (again, far from all) fans in Miami fit the…
Jun 19, 2013, 11:21 AM EDT
Gregg Popovich is the best coach in basketball right now. One of the best of all time. He has four rings and built a culture in San Antonio that has them in NBA Finals 14 years apart and with consistent 50+ win seasons in between. But he is not perfect. He made a couple decisions…
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