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.

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

CAMDEN, N.J. — It appears Ben Simmons took the saying about having the weight of the world on your shoulders a tad literal.

The Sixers' No. 1 overall pick walked into the team's sparkling new training complex for media day sporting a much bigger frame than when his name was called on draft night.

"I'm a lot stronger. When I started getting ready for the draft I was about 217 [pounds] and now I'm around 250," Simmons said Monday.

When you're expected to be the centerpiece of an organization that managed just 10 wins a season ago, it helps to have that extra bulk to carry those expectations. 

But Simmons isn’t just being looked at as a key to help change the franchise’s fortunes. He’s also being viewed as perhaps a once-in-a-generation talent after drawing several comparisons to LeBron James, who Simmons shares an agent with in Klutch Sports Group.

So how did the incoming rookie deal with being likened to four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion James? He went to work like someone trying to achieve those same goals.

“Just being around him and learning from his habits and what he does has just helped me overall,” Simmons said of working out with James and other NBA stars during the summer. “He’ll be one of the first guys in the gym every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is. He’s one of those guys who gets the work in and enjoys the rest of his day. Just learning from him I think I can take a lot from what he’s done. ... He’s done a lot for me. He’s helped me experience things I need to learn.

“They get in the gym and work. It’s one of those things where they don’t play around. They get straight to it. Obviously in the weight room too. LeBron loves the VersaClimber and they also brought two more in here. I’m starting to learn from what these guys do, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) also. They’re all doing the same thing, working out every day and getting ready.”

That type of work ethic will go a long way toward Simmons' earning the respect of his Sixers teammates. The group was already eager to get on the floor with him for training camp at Stockton University and get a firsthand look at the versatile forward, especially his prowess as a passer.

“The most exciting thing that I’ve seen was his passing ability,” Jahlil Okafor said of Simmons. “That’s going to help me out a lot. He’s selfless. Being with the summer league guys he was always about the team. I’ve always considered myself a good teammate and he’s a great one as well. I’m excited to work with him.”

“I think for anybody who likes to shoot or likes to score, whenever you can have a big man who is a really good ball handler, can make good decisions, has great vision, it’s always a great thing,” Gerald Henderson said. “If you can be aggressive on the offensive end you don’t always have to have the basketball to be able to be right there and score. You have somebody that can find you and really is thinking pass-first. I think it’ll be great, not only for us but just our offense in general.”

Considering that the Sixers finished 29th in scoring a season ago, Simmons knows they will need him to be more than just a facilitator. The team needs consistent scoring from everyone on the court. And while the LSU product’s jump shot was questioned during his lone year in college, he believes he has worked hard to silence those doubts.

“I usually try to take what they give me. Obviously I’ve been working on my shot a lot with all the coaches,” Simmons said. “I can shoot the ball. I’m not really worried about that. Coming into training camp, it’s one of the things I’ve been working on since LSU.”

Simmons made it clear several times that he is confident in his offensive game and that the Sixers’ logjam in the frontcourt will work itself out on the floor. One thing he’s not so sure about: that he’s even in this position.

Despite dreaming about being in the NBA since he was a kid in Australia and being groomed to be the No. 1 overall pick for years, Simmons said it’s still a bit of a surprise to be at this point.

“I think it’s still surreal for me,” he said. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Dario Saric wanted to come to the NBA. He just didn’t feel ready when he was drafted in 2014.

Saric spent the past two years furthering his basketball career in Europe after being selected 12th by the Magic and traded to the Sixers. Now 22, he is confident in his decision to start his NBA career in Philadelphia. 

“I grew up like a person first. After that, I grew up like a player to play against the best players in the world,” Saric said Monday at Sixers media day. “I think now I feel I’m ready. I feel I can give something to this team.”

Basketball itself wasn’t the issue — Saric has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has competed against top European competition, won numerous accolades, and was a member of the Croatian Olympic team this summer. 

Saric knew he could play in the NBA, but there is so much more involved in it for him. Joining the Sixers meant leaving Europe, moving to a new place to play in a new league, all at the young age of 20. 

“After NBA draft, I wasn’t ready to come here,” the forward said. “Not like a basketball player, like a man. I wasn’t ready because to take a big step, to go out of the family, to go to another country. For me it was so hard. ... I decide[d] during last season I would come here, I would try to play with the best players in the world.”

From season to season, the anticipation of Saric’s arrival grew. The Sixers' front office and staff kept in frequent contact. Saric often was in communication with head coach Brett Brown, former general manager Sam Hinkie and current president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. Assistant director of player development Chris Babcock also made trips to Istanbul to spend time with Saric.

All the while, Sixers fans eagerly awaited his decision. When he agreed to sign in July, he was taken aback by the reception. 

“I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be something like that,” Saric said. “I know people waited for me like two years to come here. I know there’s, I can say, some kind of pressure on me.” 

With that pressure, Saric hopes to bring a winning mentality from his successes overseas. Colangelo has been impressed by the sampling he has observed of Saric during informal preseason team scrimmages. He grouped Saric with 6-foot-10 rookie Ben Simmons when discussing the Sixers’ bigs with diverse skillsets.

“What I see is a versatile player, a skilled big man that can do a number of things,” Colangelo said. “When you’re talking about 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11 players that are skilled and adept at ball handling, passing, driving, kicking out, thinking team-first — it seems both players — I think that’s a tremendous asset to have.” 

Saric understands, though, there will be a transition period as he adapts to the NBA. In the short time he has been around the Sixers, he has already noticed differences in the style of play. 

“What I can see is faster,” he said. “Everybody said the first couple of months will be like that. After that you will catch that rhythm, or that speed for your eyes and you will be faster. That’s the first thing I recognized, that I saw.”

Saric also noted the difference in format of the seasons, pointing out the tightly-packed 82-game NBA schedule. With so many adjustments, he plans to lean on his network of European players in the league, past and present. This summer, he received advice from former Sixer Toni Kukoc when he worked on the Croation National Team coaching staff. Even the smallest suggestion like stretching after practice is resonating with Saric.

“Toni, he told me for sure it will be hard for you when you come, but you must try to keep work[ing] day-by-day,” Saric said. 

For the player who once didn't feel ready for the NBA, Saric quickly has been pleased with his decision to play for the Sixers this season. 

“Everything is better than what I expect,” he said.