Grizzlies are In; Suns are Out; Six Playoff Matchups TBD

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sunset in phoenixWell, the Phoenix Suns gave us an interesting season. And for that, we thank them as we bid them adieu and wish them good luck in the draft lottery. Their chances of winning are slim: They get five ping-pong balls out of 1,000. Good luck with that.

Not much of a consolation prize, eh?

The Western Conference playoff race came to a close of sorts Monday night when the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Suns 97-91 in a thrilling game that featured 15 lead changes in the fourth quarter. It was the fourth straight victory for the Grizzlies, who were my preseason pick to make it to the NBA Finals, along with the Indiana Pacers. Good luck with that, too, eh?




The Grizzlies, however, are NOT locked into the eighth spot. They can avoid the San Antonio Spurs, who swept them in the regular season, if they defeat the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night in one of several games that will have playoff seeding implications.

As of now, the only first-round matchups that are set in stone are Indiana-Atlanta in the East, and Houston-Portland in the West.

Scotto: Brooklyn Nets are Legit Contenders After Sweeping LeBron — UPDATED

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LeBron James trophyNo team has done what the Nets have done. And going into the playoffs, what they’ve done should not be dismissed.

On Tuesday, the Brooklyn Nets became the first team ever to post a 4-0 season series sweep over LeBron James since he entered the league more than a decade ago.

After being crowned by the Nets, James took out his frustration on TNT’s Craig Sager during a postgame interview when asked if Brooklyn was Miami’s biggest challenge in the East.

“Get out of here, Craig,” James replied. “Next question.”

While James avoided the question, there’s no denying it – Brooklyn has a legitimate chance to win the East now.

StatBox NBA Finals Breakdown: LeBron and Wade finally coexist to lead Miami title win

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LeBron JamesThrough the first six games of the NBA Finals, there was just one really important thing the Miami Heat just could not seem to accomplish offensively: successfully integrating Dwyane Wade and LeBron James together on the floor.

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra found the right group of players to pair with LeBron to succeed offensively against the stingy San Antonio Spurs defense. James was put at the power forward position and paired with Mario Chalmers (who can handle, shoot and ably execute the pick-and-roll), a nominal big man (usually Birdman Andersen) and a rotating cast of 3-point shooters so eloquently described by Chris Ballard as “spacers.”

The problem was that when Wade was on the floor with James, this rhythmic flow of pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick, and pick-and-pop was disrupted by Wade’s space-eating, ball-stopping, isolationist play on offense. And Miami was suffering mightily because of it. As described in Wednesday’s StatBox column, LeBron was a minus-56 with Wade on the floor through the first six games of the Finals and plus-48 without him.

On Thursday night, in a Game 7 which James described as the biggest game of his life, the two superstars finally found a way to not only efficiently coexist with one another, but to thrive together on the floor and deliver Miami its second straight title, 95-88 over the Spurs.

Dwyane Wade“It took everything we had as a team,” Wade said after the game. “This is the hardest series we ever had to play. But we’re a resilient team and we did whatever it took.”

(MORE: Hamilton: In and After Game 7 of the NBA Finals, History Had Repeated Itself)

James had a Game 7 performance for the ages, scoring 37 points on 12-for-23 shooting and 5-for-10 from three, tying Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn for the most points scored by a Game 7 Finals winner in history, but it was the strong play of Wade that helped Miami win its second straight game for the first time since winning its final game against Chicago in the second round and Game 1 of the Eastern Finals against Indiana. Wade did disrupt the flow of the “LeBron & Friends” offense at times, but his jump shot on Thursday was superb, to the tune of an 11-for-21 night with 23 points. And not only did the duo combine for 60 points, they corralled a combined 22 rebounds as well.

“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.”

Shane Battier Miami was able to turn the corner in large part because of its capable spacer du jour, Shane Battier. Battier was benched for a couple of games, in favor of Mike Miller, because of his spotty play, but he transitioned from spotty to on-the-spot at just the right time. When the Spurs defense broke down and the inevitable double-team came James’ way, Battier was ready to set his feet and launch. Battier ended up with 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting, all from three, and his second NBA title to show for it.

The Heat’s top nominal big man of the night was ultimately the Birdman, who was a plus-11 in 19 minutes of play and made up for the no-show that was Chris Bosh. Bosh managed to not score a single point in the biggest game of his life, while registering a plus-one in 28 minutes played.

Mario Chalmers may not have had the best shooting game, he scored 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting and 1-for-7 from three, but he was a huge help defensively in the second half. San Antonio did a really good job of driving to the basket in the first half, while it seemed like Miami settled for jumpers during the first 24 minutes. Those roles basically reversed in the second half, with Miami as the active aggressors and San Antonio unable to find its way into the paint enough.

A lot of that second half success on defense had to do with LeBron’s incredible defense on Tony Parker, who had just 10 points and four assists on 3-for-12 shooting, but for taking care of its pesky Danny Green problem. Miami said it would contain Green after his great Game 5, and it did more than that. Not only did Green miss 11 of his 12 shots on Thursday, he dribbled himself into trouble on two notably important occasions, leading to turnovers and Heat points on the other end. And while Manu Ginobili showed us glimpses of his acrobatic, whirling-dervish style of play, his key late turnovers essentially ensured the Heat of its title.

It would make a lot of sense for Miami to employ the “LeBron & Spacers” lineup going forward, but the Heat needed one last effort from Wade to take the title. On Thursday night, Miami’s largest problem quickly turned into its most celebrated solution.

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

StatBox NBA Finals Breakdown: Six things we learned from the incredible Game 6

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Let’s forget about the adjectives, the cliches and the hyperbole. Tuesday night’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals was the best Finals game in a really, really long time for many reasons. Clutch shots, transcendental performances, controversial calls and decisions and several signature moments all factored heavily into Miami’s 103-100 overtime win over San Antonio to force Thursday night’s Game 7. Here are several things we can take away from this unbelievable basketball night.

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StatBox NBA Finals Breakdown: This time, it’s the backcourt leading the Spurs’ championship chase

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Manu GinobiliThe original Spurs championship team was based heavily on the frontcourt duo of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Times have changed for San Antonio. While Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are integral parts of the Spurs’ team, of course, the team’s fortunes and outcomes in this year’s NBA Finals have been largely dictated by its backcourt.

While Danny Green has had a sensational NBA Finals, and would probably be named MVP if San Antonio ends up winning, the story in Game 5 were backcourt mainstays Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Ginobili had his first 24-point, 10-assist game in five years and Tony Parker was 10-f0r-10 within 10 feet of the basket, as San Antonio went on another third and fourth quarter run to defeat Miami 114-104 Sunday night.

“We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn’t really helping the team that much,” Ginobili said after the game. “And that was the frustrating part.”

Ginobili’s presence and role in the San Antonio offense has been, and will be, essential to the team’s success. Ginobili has played over 30 minutes twice this series and taken double-digit shots in those two games. Unsurprisingly, the Spurs won both those contests, Games 1 and 5. He took 11 total shots in the Spurs’ two defeats to Miami, and Gregg Popovich certainly realized that San Antonio would only win if Ginobili played a major role.

(RELATED: SHERIDAN COLUMN- Ginobili channels the past- or a pep talk- to give Spurs 3-2 lead)

Popovich inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup Sunday, and it was no coincidence that San Antonio became the first team to shoot at least 60 percent from the field in a Finals game since the 2009 Magic.

“He’s such a huge part of what we do and how far we’ve come. You can see it tonight in how we played and the results of the game,” Duncan said.

Tony ParkerParker’s presence was also felt the most in those first and fifth games, San Antonio wins. Those were the only games in which Parker played over 35 minutes, shot over 50 percent from the field and scored at least 20 points. He had 26 Sunday night on 10-for-14 shooting and made a determined effort to do his scoring damage near the hoop.

Parker is averaging over 21 points per game in the playoffs, but just over 16 in these Finals. San Antonio was fortunate enough to get great nights from Green and Gary Neal in the Game 3 blowout, but it’s been Parker’s scoring ability that helped propel the Spurs in their other two wins. But as important as Ginobili and Parker have been, another key backcourt member may be the Spurs’ most important piece of all.

Green has certainly had a historically brilliant NBA Finals, already setting the record for most 3-pointers made in a Finals series and threatening the all-time single-season playoff record, and he could be the biggest reason why the San Antonio Spurs hold a 3-2 series lead on the Miami Heat. He had 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting in Game 5.

When Green has been on his game offensively, the Spurs have defeated the Heat in this series. There’s no disputing that after checking out the splits:


Green Min FG % 3 FG% Points Assists Reb
Wins 34.67 53.8 60.7 21 0 5
Losses 33 64.3 80 13.5 2.5 2.5

Danny GreenHis field goal percentage has been much better in San Antonio’s two losses, but only because he’s been more tentative to shoot in those games. Green has averaged 13 shots in Spurs wins this series, compared to just seven in losses. He’s scoring 7 1/2 more points per game in wins than in losses, and is averaging 2 1/2 more rebounds in just 100 more seconds per game.

So it should come as no surprise that San Antonio is averaging over 106 points per game in wins and just over 85 points per game in losses. That’s an enormous disparity, and it’s largely due to the efforts of San Antonio’s indispensable backcourt trio that have taken unique paths and roles during the series.

We certainly expected Parker to be an impact player in the series, but did anyone expect Green to be the consensus pick for team MVP this series? And while Ginobili is surely up there in age, he virtually disappeared in three of the series’ five games. But in the most important Finals game this season to date, it was the Spurs’ backcourt that answered the call and excelled in the year’s highest leverage situation. For the Spurs to ultimately capture the championship, it will not be up to the big men to close out the series, but three guards who shined the brightest when it mattered the most.

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.