NBA Finals: Heat top Spurs to repeat as champs

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NBA Finals: Heat top Spurs to repeat as champs

MIAMI -- Victory in Game 7 brought more than another crown for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. It validated the team and its leader, forever cementing their place among the NBA's greats.

For the vanquished San Antonio Spurs, it simply compounded the misery of a championship that got away.

James led the Heat to their second straight title, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 95-88 victory Thursday night in a tense game that was tight until Miami pulled away in the final minute.

Capping their best season in franchise history -- and perhaps the three-superstar system they used to build it -- the Heat ran off with the second straight thriller in the NBA's first championship series to go the distance since 2010.

Two nights after his Game 6 save when the Heat were almost eliminated, James continued his unparalleled run through the basketball world, with two titles and an Olympic gold medal in the last 12 months.

"I work on my game a lot throughout the offseason," said James, who was MVP for the second straight finals. "I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out here and (have) the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate. The ultimate. I'm at a loss for words."

He made five 3-pointers, defended Tony Parker when he had to, and did everything else that could ever be expected from the best player in the game.

The Heat became the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2009-10, and the first team to beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

"It took everything we had as a team," Dwyane Wade said. "Credit to the San Antonio Spurs, they're an unbelievable team, an unbelievable franchise. This is the hardest series we ever had to play. But we're a resilient team and we did whatever it took."

Players and coaches hugged afterward -- their respect for each other was obvious from the opening tipoff of Game 1 through the final buzzer.

A whisker away from a fifth title two nights earlier, the Spurs couldn't find a way to win it all in what was perhaps the last shot for Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili to grab another ring together.

"In my case I still have Game 6 in my head," Ginobili said. "Today we played an OK game, they just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane (Battier), too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and seeing it vanish is very hard."

They were trying to become the first team to win a Game 7 on the road since Washington beat Seattle in 1978, but those old guys ran out of gas just before the finish.

Fans stood, clapped and danced as the clock ticked down, when every score was answered by another score, each stop followed by a better stop. The Heat pushed their lead to six points a few times midway through the fourth but San Antonio kept coming back.

Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, but missed a shot and follow attempt right under the basket with about 50 seconds left and the Spurs trailing by two.

James followed with a jumper -- the shot the Spurs were daring him to take earlier in the series -- to make it 92-88, sending San Antonio to a timeout as Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" blared over the arena's sound system.

He then came up with a steal and made two free throws for a six-point lead, and after Ginobili missed, James stalked toward the sideline, knowing it was over and that he was, once again, the last one standing.

Wade had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who overcame a scoreless Chris Bosh by getting six 3-pointers and 18 points from Shane Battier.

"It was a great series and we all felt that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I don't know if `enjoy' is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I'm starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back. And you need to do that, to put in perspective. So it's no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team. And you can live with that as long as you've given your best, and I think we have."

Streamers fell from the arena ceiling onto the fans for the second year in a row, but this one meant so much more. A narrow escape in Game 6 was still fresh in everyone's mind.

They were down 10 in the fourth quarter of that one before James led the charge back, finishing with a triple-double in Miami's 103-100 overtime victory. This one was nearly as tight, neither team leading by more than seven and the game tied 11 times.

Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Spurs, who had been 4 for 4 in the championship round. Ginobili had 18 points but Parker managed just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

"Just give credit to the Miami Heat. LeBron was unbelievable. Dwyane was great. I just think they found a way to get it done," Duncan said. "We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game, we just couldn't turn that corner."

The Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra collected the Larry O'Brien trophy again from Commissioner David Stern, presiding over his final NBA Finals before retiring next February.

He couldn't have asked for a better way to go out.

James avenged his first finals loss, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs on 2007. That helped send James on his way to South Florida, realizing it would take more help to win titles that could never come alone.

He said he would appreciate this one more because of how tough it was. The Heat overpowered Oklahoma City in five games last year, a team of 20-something kids who weren't ready to be champions yet.

This came against a respected group of Spurs whose trio has combined for more than 100 playoff victories together and wanted one more in case this was San Antonio's last rodeo.

Duncan is 37 and Ginobili will be a 36-year-old free agent next month, the core of a franchise whose best days may be behind them.

Meanwhile, it's a potential dynasty along Biscayne Bay, but also one with a potentially small window. Wade's latest knee problems are a reminder that though he came into the NBA at the same time as James and Bosh, he's a couple of years older at 31 with wheels that have seen some miles.

James can become a free agent again next summer with another decision -- though hopefully not another Decision -- to make. He's comfortable in Miami and close with Wade, and the Heat have the leadership and commitment from owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley to keep building a championship core around him.

Why would he want to leave?

San Antonio's most recent title came at James' expense. The Spurs exploited the weaknesses in James' game though knew someday they would be gone, Duncan telling him afterward that the league would someday belong to James.

And James simply isn't giving it back.

He came in averaging 33.8 points in Game 7s, already the best in NBA history, and was even better in this one.

He can't be defended the way he was six years ago, too strong inside and too solid from the outside. He drove Danny Green back like a tackling dummy to convert a three-point play in the second quarter, then knocked down a 3-pointer for the Heat's next score.

Heat fans, criticized over the last two days after many bolted before the finish Tuesday and then tried to force their way back in, weren't going anywhere early in this one. The game was too good.

And there was another celebration to watch.

The Heat had the classic championship hangover through the first few months of this season, too strong to lose at home but not committed enough to win on the road, where they were just 11-11 following a 102-89 loss in Indiana on Feb. 1.

They won in Toronto two nights later on Super Bowl Sunday and didn't lose again until well into March Madness, running off 27 straight victories before falling in Chicago on March 27 and finishing a franchise-best 66-16.

The small-market Spurs have always been a ratings killer, but interest grew throughout this series in their attempt to toppled the champs. Game 6 drew more than 20 million viewers, a total that Game 7 was expected to top.

And the games got better, too. Games 2-5 were all decided by double digits, neither team able to carry its momentum from one game to the next.

This one was back and forth for more than three quarters, with Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer at the buzzer giving Miami a 72-71 lead heading to the final 12 minutes of the season.

Game 6 could have shaken the Spurs, who were so close to holding the trophy that officials were preparing the championship presentation before Miami's rally. The Spurs held a team dinner late that night, figuring the company was better than having to dwell on the defeat alone in their rooms.

The pain of that game or the pressure of this one had little effect on their veterans but brought out a change in their leader, the subject of some rare second-guessing for his rotations near the end of the collapse.

The famously blunt Popovich was in a chatty mood pregame, actually preferring to stay and talk even when there were no more questions, saying the busier he was, the less he'd worry.

"It's torture," he said earlier of Game 7s. "It's hard to appreciate or enjoy torture."

But it sure was beautiful to watch.

The sport's most pressure-packed game had a nervous start, each team making just seven baskets in the first quarter and combining for seven turnovers. The Spurs took an early seven-point lead, but a pair of 3-pointers by Battier during an 8-0 run helped Miami take an 18-16 lead.

The Heat nursed a narrow lead for most of the second quarter, and after San Antonio went ahead in the final minute of the period, James tipped in a miss before Wade knocked down a jumper with 0.8 seconds left to send the Heat to the locker room with a 46-44 edge.

Notes
Home teams are 15-3 in Game 7s of the NBA Finals. ... Miami improved to 5-3 all-time in Game 7s in the postseason and became the fourth team to win the final two games at home since the finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, joining the Lakers in 1988 and 2010, and Houston Rockets in 1994. ... Green was just 1 for 12, going 1 for 6 behind the arc. He started the series by making 25 3s in the first five games, a finals record for an entire series.

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers fans packed Los Angeles City Hall chambers to witness the mayor and other officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in honor of the retired NBA superstar.

Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday's declaration is the city's way of thanking Bryant for his excellence on the court and philanthropic efforts across Los Angeles.

Bryant attended with his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He called the experience "surreal" and jokingly said someone would have to explain to his unborn daughter why "daddy has a day named for him."

Fans cheered and chanted Bryant's name as he was presented a framed proclamation by Mayor Eric Garcetti and council President Herb Wesson.

Bryant played his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA championships.

Lakers: No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, vet Yi Jianlian signed
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have signed top draft pick Brandon Ingram and Chinese NBA veteran Yi Jianlian and re-signed center Tarik Black.

Ingram was the No. 2 overall pick in this summer's draft. The Duke product's rookie contract is expected to be worth more than $23 million over four years.

The 28-year-old Yi hasn't played in the NBA since 2011-12 with Dallas. The former No. 6 overall draft pick by Milwaukee spent five seasons in the NBA, averaging a career-best 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for New Jersey in 2009-10.

Yi spent the past four seasons with the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangdong Southern Tigers. He is an eight-time MVP of the CBA, winning four championships.

The 6-foot-11 Yi averaged 20.4 points per game for China at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Black has averaged 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in two seasons with the Lakers.

Timberwolves: Towns chosen as face of 2K mobile app
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has been tabbed to be the face of 2K's mobile companion application to NBA 2K17 video game, which is set to launch on Sept. 8.

The reigning rookie of the year will be the icon cover athlete for MyNBA2K17, the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements for Towns. The NBA 2K franchise has been the No. 1 selling NBA video game for the last eight years.

"I've been a dedicated NBA 2K fan since I was young, and being selected as the face of MyNBA2K17 is an incredible milestone this early in my career," Towns said on Wednesday. "Playing MyNBA2K and NBA2K is an essential part of my offseason and keeps me grounded during the season with all my travel. I love that I will have the opportunity to connect further with my fans through MyNBA2K17."

The free app connects players to the NBA 2K17 console game and includes facial scanning technology. That allows fans to design players for the game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 using their own facial features. The app also allows users to watch 2KTV on their mobile devices and play quick games and season tournaments against users around the world.

Towns also has deals with Nike and Samsung among others and made a guest appearance on the Disney television show "Gamer's Guide to Pretty Much Everything" this summer.

On the court, he is teaming with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn to try to end the Timberwolves' 12-year playoff drought.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' opening night roster

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' opening night roster

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' opening night roster.

Camerato
The Sixers' roster is overloaded as it stands in late August. Decisions and moves will have to be made by opening night to narrow down and balance out the roster. Let’s break down the potential opening night outlook (15 players, active and inactive) as the team is today. Of course, the roster could look completely different if the Sixers were to make a trade to clear up their logjam of bigs in the frontcourt. 

There are toss-up scenarios with overlaps. First off, Richaun Holmes and Carl Landry, the second-year player and the veteran. They fill similar needs and often were alternated on the court. Landry’s experience gives him the edge on the active roster with Holmes beginning on the inactive list. 

What was once a position of need is now one of abundance. The Sixers signed two true point guards this offseason in Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. Ben Simmons plays point-forward and will assume floor general responsibilities during the season. Even if he is not slotted into the one-spot specifically, Simmons often will be running the court. This could leave T.J. McConnell as the odd man out. The undrafted McConnell was the underdog story of last season. He earned his minutes by grinding it out on each possession and garnered high praise from Brown, who frequently referred to him as a “marine.” The Sixers' needs are different this season at the point guard position, though, with backcourt versatility highly valued. During summer league, Brown said, “We’ve got Sergio and T.J. as who you’d stamp off on and say that’s a true point guard.” Out of the two, Rodriguez has the edge over McConnell. 

Point guard Kendall Marshall’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season ($2.04 million). Given his lack of playing time last season and the additions at his position, it seems unlikely he will be back with the Sixers. 

Shawn Long, Brandon Paul and James Webb III participated in the Sixers' summer league and signed non-guaranteed deals. They are fits for the Sixers' NBA Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, F/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
Carl Landry, PF
Nerlens Noel, F/C
Jahlil Okafor, F/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
Hollis Thompson, SG
Richaun Holmes, F/C
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F

 

Haughton
For the first time during his tenure as Sixers head coach, Brown will make roster decisions primarily based on ability instead of injuries, reaching the salary cap floor, etc.

With that being said, there should be only a couple tough decisions to make regarding the final 15 that make the team.

Point guard slots will go to Bayless, Rodriguez and McConnell. Marshall's status remains up in the air. However, the Sixers signed Bayless and Rodriguez as free agents for a reason and McConnell has again proven worthy of a spot.

The wing is where things start to get a little interesting. Covington and Grant are locks at small forward, but there will be five shooting guards in camp battling it out. Henderson certainly gets a nod after the Sixers went after him in free agency. I also believe that Stauskas will get another season to prove his worth. That leaves Thompson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Paul. I believe Thompson, with his ability as a spot-up shooter on a team stacked with big men, will get an opportunity to stay for the final year of his contract. First-round pick Luwawu-Cabarrot will also get a spot and spend the season developing in the D-League, while Paul will be shown the door.

The Sixers know they have a loaded frontcourt, but that also means they understand not everyone can stick around. No. 1 overall pick Simmons, Saric, Noel, Okafor and Embiid are no-brainers for the final roster. The final spot all comes down to how the Sixers feel about their leadership. If they think new veterans Bayless, Henderson and Rodriguez can handle the job, then Holmes gets to stick around. If not, then Landry will return to give the young bigs a seasoned vet to lean on. In the end, Landry should get the call. Holmes is a nice find as a second-rounder, but with the potential star power on the Sixers' frontline, he would just be wasting away on the bench with no real potential of significant playing time.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, F/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
T.J. McConnell, PG
Nerlens Noel, F/C
Jahlil Okafor, F/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
Hollis Thompson, SG 
Carl Landry, PF 
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F

 

Hudrick
If Stauskas can ever figure out how to make his shot fall consistently in NBA games, he'd be an excellent fit on this team. That's the skill that can separate him from the other guards on the roster. If he can't, then his minutes will slip. The Sixers have legitimate NBA players in their frontcourt with the free-agent additions of Bayless, Henderson and Rodriguez. Stauskas will have to perform or take a seat.

I don't think Thompson makes the club this year. Thompson can shoot the basketball, a skill this team certainly lacks. But Thompson often looks lost on defense and isn't a great ball handler. Not that Stauskas will be making any All-Defensive teams any time soon, but Stauskas' contract is guaranteed for $3 million. Thompson's is just a shade over $1 million. Brown may like Thompson, but he also likes Stauskas, at one point comparing him to Manu Ginobli (he said it, not me). Thompson is the odd man out.

Holmes misses out simply because of the numbers. He'll get a ton of minutes with the 87ers down in the D-League. Sure, Holmes is another big man, but I'd hold on to him. If the Sixers move a big (or two) having a player like Holmes in the system could come in handy. I also like his ability to play in an uptempo style, running the floor and hitting the occasional jumper.

I can't see a scenario where the Sixers don't keep McConnell in some capacity. Bryan Colangeo has said he'll utilize the D-League more than the team has in years past. Think of it like baseball: McConnell is a depth point guard in the "minors," ready to join the big club in case of injury while still getting valuable playing time in Delaware.

For the record, I'm saddened that I can't add Luwawu-Cabarrot to the active roster, but we have to be realistic. I thought he showed chemistry with Simmons in summer league action, moving well without the ball and hitting the occasional spot-up three, but he needs the minutes in the D-League.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, PF/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
Carl Landry, PF
Nerlens Noel, PF/C
Jahlil Okafor, PF/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
T.J. McConnell, PG
Richaun Holmes, PF/C
Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, G/F (begrudgingly)

NBA Notes: Kobe Bryant starts $100 million investment fund

NBA Notes: Kobe Bryant starts $100 million investment fund

NEW YORK -- Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant is moving to Wall Street, announcing the formation of a $100 million venture capital fund to invest in media, technology and data companies.

The fund, known as Bryant Stibel, is being co-managed by investor Jeff Stibel. The two met through mutual friends, Stibel said.

Bryant Stibel has already made investments in 15 companies, including LegalZoom and home juicing company Juicero, according to their website. The firm was founded in 2013, but is going public now with the retirement of Bryant from the Lakers.

Stibel said the firm is focused on companies at all stages of growth.

"We are actively looking for great entrepreneurs, but we are in no hurry to deploy capital," he said.

Bryant earned roughly $680 million in salary and endorsements during his 18-year NBA career, according to Forbes, and has been in the process of transition from professional athlete to businessman. Bryant created a company in 2014 called Kobe Inc. to help handle his image.

Timberwolves: Rubio ready to mentor Dunn
RIO DE JANEIRO -- When Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden were hired to take over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the expectation within in the organization and around the NBA was that they were coming in to make significant changes to a franchise with the longest-running playoff drought in the league.

Ricky Rubio heard his name floated in the constant trade rumor mill, never more than after the Wolves selected Providence's Kris Dunn, another point guard, with the fifth overall pick in the June draft.

Rubio remained quiet throughout the summer, putting all of his focus into grieving the loss of his mother and then joining his national team to prepare for the Olympics. Now that the Rio Games have concluded and Rubio has earned a bronze medal with Spain, he said he is looking forward to returning to Minnesota to work with Dunn and reiterated his desire to remain with the Timberwolves and help turn them into a winner.

"Really it's a challenge. When a young guy like him who has a lot of potential comes, I think we can really play together," Rubio told The Associated Press. "But if we don't (share the floor often), I can really help him" (see full story).

Bucks: Team signs veteran guard Jason Terry
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Bucks have signed free agent guard Jason Terry.

The team announced the signing Monday. Terms were not disclosed.

Bucks general manager John Hammond calls the 38-year-old Terry "a true professional who understands what it takes to be successful" in the NBA.

The 17-year NBA veteran spent the last two seasons with Houston. Terry played in 72 games, including seven starts, with the Rockets last season, averaging 5.9 points, 1.4 assists and 1.1 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-2 guard was selected by Atlanta with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft and spent the first five seasons of his career with the Hawks.

Terry then played eight seasons with Dallas, including the Mavericks' 2011 NBA Championship team. He also has played for Boston and Brooklyn.

USA: Transition time for U.S. national team
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Mike Krzyzewski is heading out, Gregg Popovich is coming in and maybe LeBron James would even come back.

It's a time of transition for both the U.S. Olympic team and international basketball and it starts, as usual, with the Americans on top.

The U.S. won its third straight gold medal Sunday, beating Serbia 96-66 in the final game for Krzyzewski, who led the program for a decade and became the first coach to win three Olympic gold medals. He also guided the Americans to a pair of world championships, an 88-1 record and from the bottom back to the top.

"It's been a joy," Krzyzewski said. "I've been so lucky to have been given this opportunity."

Now it goes to Popovich, the other coach Jerry Colangelo considered before choosing Krzyzewski after taking control of USA Basketball in 2005. Like Krzyzewski, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Popovich is a military man who attended the Air Force Academy and has built one of sports' most successful organizations while winning five championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

Krzyzewski has used the military as an inspiration for USA Basketball, referring to playing for the team as service and sacrifice, and Popovich should be an ideal choice to continue that relationship.

"You have the best guy in the world who's going to coach the team now and that says a lot for the program that's been developed," Krzyzewski said (see full story).