NBA Finals: Spurs throttle Heat in Miami again

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NBA Finals: Spurs throttle Heat in Miami again

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- Here they are again, back on the brink of a championship.

It slipped away from the San Antonio Spurs last year, but it would take something special -- historic, actually -- to stop them now.

The Miami Heat would have to make the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history.

"They're the two-time champs, they're a great team, and there is still one more game," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "We have to win one more game."

Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and 14 rebounds, and the Spurs routed the Heat again, winning 107-86 on Thursday night to open a commanding 3-1 lead.

The Spurs can win their fifth NBA championship with a victory at home in Game 5 on Sunday and avenge their seven-game loss to Miami last year. They have three chances, and the way they're dominating the Heat, they might need just one.

"I'm pleased that they performed as well as they did while we've been in Miami, and that's about as far as it goes," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Now we've got to go back home and play as well or better."

LeBron James had 28 points and eight rebounds, but Dwyane Wade was just 1 of 10 through three quarters and finished with 10 points.

"They smashed us," James said. "Two straight home games got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these last two games. It's just that simple."

No team has overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals, and the way the Heat were outclassed twice on their home floor makes it hard to imagine the two-time champions being the first.

"We put ourselves in a position where it is about making history," James added.

Parker added 19 points, and Tim Duncan had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs, who shot 57 percent from the field and are hitting 54 percent in the series.

The Spurs lost twice in Miami to end last year's finals, their only defeat in the championship round. They won their two games in South Florida this time by a combined 40 points.

San Antonio's surprising dominance has Miami on its heels, and unless Miami can figure things out quickly, the Heat's two-year championship reign will come to an abrupt end.

If this was the last home game of the season in Miami, it looked and sounded nothing like the ones to end the last two years, which featured confetti falling and trophies raised. This one had the unfamiliar sound of boos late in the first half and a chant of "Go Spurs Go!" with under 3 minutes left from the San Antonio fans who remained long after many of Miami's had bolted.

A Heat win Sunday would force a Game 6 in Miami Tuesday.

The Heat had followed their last 13 postseason losses with a victory, but now at the end of a fourth straight season that has gone the distance, they might be out of gas. Miami seemed to lack the energy -- or maybe effort -- to defend San Antonio's precision ball movement for the full 24 seconds, and time after time the Spurs ended up with a shot from somebody who didn't have a defender nearby.

Not quite as sharp as when they shot a finals-record 75.8 percent in the first half Tuesday night, the Spurs were still plenty good enough to open another huge lead by halftime, and they withstood every attempt Miami made to make a run.

"We were expecting a reaction from them but we were ready for it, so we just did the same thing," Spurs forward Boris Diaw said.

The Spurs knew their defense had to be better, realizing their once-in-a-lifetime, 19-for-21 start in Tuesday's 111-92 Game 3 victory covered the fact that they allowed Miami to make more than 50 percent in the game.

They held Miami to 35 percent in the first half.

"They played great and I can honestly say I don't think any of us were expecting this type of performance," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

San Antonio blew the game open late in the second quarter with seven straight points, capped by Leonard's soaring follow dunk that made it 55-33.

James, who battled cramps in Game 1, left the court and briefly returned to the locker room midway through the first quarter Thursday. But he had 10 quick points in the third quarter to bring Miami within 13, but San Antonio pushed it to 81-57 after three and never looked back.

Notes
Under Popovich, the Spurs have won 15 of the 18 best-of-seven series in which they led 2-1. ... The Heat hadn't lost back-to-back games in the playoffs since dropping three straight against the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.