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David Aldridge

tony parker, tim duncan and manu ginobili
The Spurs' trio of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan is once again on the brink of a title.

That last Finals win always toughest in a championship trek


Posted Jun 17, 2013 1:50 PM

One game away.

Players battle for six months, through injuries, slumps, superior opponents, off nights, trade rumors, arguments with spouses, sick kids, feuds between teammates, lineup changes, everything. You get to the playoffs, and everything clicks. The role players step up, the starters stay healthy, the defense becomes stifling and you win three rounds. And you're in The Finals. And you're playing a team just as good as you are.

You win one game. Then two. Then three.

One win away.

The Spurs are one win away, after beating Miami in Game 5 of The Finals Sunday. And while it is a cliché to say the 16th win of the playoffs -- the one that gets you the ring and the parade -- is the hardest one to get, there's no doubting that getting that close produces the most anxiety.

There are dozens of Hall of Fame players who have never been one win away from the ring. Among them: Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, Bob Lanier, Dave Bing, Walt Bellamy, Chris Mullin, George Gervin, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller. And many more. Far more NBA players have never been in that position than have been.

"I've never gotten to the point where I think I take it for granted how hard it is to get to The Finals," said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who was in that position two times as a player, once each with the Bullets and Lakers and five more times as an executive with the Lakers.

"So much has to go right," Kupchak said. "You have to have the talent. You have to be healthy. You have to stay healthy. Referees, luck of the draw, all of it. I've never, personally, taken it for granted how hard it is to get to The Finals."

This is the fifth time San Antonio has been on the brink of a championship. Three of the previous four times, the Spurs closed things out the first chance they got, beating the Knicks in five games in 1999, the Nets in Game 6 in 2003 and the Cavaliers in Game 4 in 2007. (San Antonio brought a 3-2 lead home against Detroit in 2005, lost Game 6, but won Game 7, with Manu Ginobili closing heroically down the stretch.)

"You know, the first thing is I never think of it as that close," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday. "I always think of it as far, far away. I always have. So I don't have that problem. I don't get excited about, 'oh my gosh, we're right there.' That doesn't enter my head.

"What I think about is how difficult that next game is going to be, and how many things we have to do well to get that done. And I think that's a much more healthier approach. At least it is for me. And the other thing I do is keep very, very busy, so I don't think about it too much."

Last year was the first time coach Erik Spoelstra got that close with the Heat. In 2011, the Heat and Mavs were tied 2-2 in The Finals, but Dallas won Game 5 at home and closed out Miami at American Airlines Arena in Game 6. Last year, Mike Miller's seven 3-pointers (see below) led Miami's closeout win over Oklahoma City.

"You probably know what I'm going to say," Spoelstra said Friday. "You have to be absolutely disciplined right now more than ever in the process. You can't talk about a win away from a game to play for. That will only muddy up your mind. The only thing we can control is how will we approach tomorrow, and what is our mindset."

It's hard, though, for everyone to get and maintain that level of focus.

"I think, obviously, you cannot stop yourself from thinking that way, you know," Dwyane Wade said Sunday night. "Last year, we had an opportunity, we were up 3-1. I couldn't go to sleep that night. All I thought about was all we have to do is one more, and we're champions. So obviously you're going to think that way. You also have a game to play."

The first time Kupchak had a chance at a closeout, he was a second-year reserve forward for the aging Bullets, who knew they were running out of time for their nucleus to break through. After routing Seattle at home in Washington in Game 6 to tie The Finals, the Bullets had to travel across the country to play in Seattle in Game 7.

Kupchak tried to take a nap the afternoon before Game 7. It was impossible.

"The first time around, unfortunately, I didn't have great success in college," Kupchak said. "We always had 24, 25 wins at North Carolina, but we never got to the [NCAA] finals. In '78 it was a feeling of disbelief that I'm actually going to play in a Game 7, and tonight we could be world champions. It was in Seattle.

"I remember Wes Unseld was policing the hotel the night before and the day of, making sure everybody got their rest. I remember looking down the hallway and there was Wes, making sure everybody got their afternoon naps. He had been to The Finals two times and they had gotten swept two times. At his age, he wasn't about to let this opportunity slip through his fingers."

Unseld hit clutch free throws down the stretch and won the Finals Most Valuable Player award as the Bullets won the 1978 Finals, 105-99. It remains the last time a road team won a Finals Game 7.

Seven years later, Kupchak was finishing up his career as a player, after suffering numerous back and knee injuries. He was injured throughout the 1983-84 season and, thus, didn't play in Game 7 of the 1984 Finals, which Boston won. It was the eighth time in eight tries the Celtics had beaten the Lakers in The Finals.

So when the Lakers took a 3-2 series lead back to Boston in the 1985 Finals, they had a lot more on their minds than most teams.

"We kind of felt some pressure about the ghosts of series past," Kupchak said. "Not only were we winning a championship, but it was kind of redemption for the Jerry Wests and the Elgin Baylors, who had played them so many times but could never beat them. For the organization it was a feeling of, as much as we talked about the present team, you couldn't get the past out of your head. And you wondered, is it going to happen again?"

It didn't. Led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 29 points (he became, at 38, the oldest Finals MVP), the Lakers finally slayed their biggest dragon, winning Game 6 on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden, 111-100.

"I'd only (been) in L.A. for three to four years," Kupchak said. "(James) Worthy had been there a few years, (Bob) MacAdoo for two or three years. For us, yeah, winning in Boston, it's great to win Game 6 in Boston Garden. But for everybody, when we returned to L.A., everybody who had lived through the 60s, that became something for them, that you beat the Celtics on the parquet floor.

"I grew up in New York. And when I was in Washington, the Celtics weren't very good. So I didn't have that Lakers blood in me yet, those 20 years. But the people in L.A., they had to let you know how good they felt, that you beat the Celtics and you beat them in Boston."

Three years later, it was the Lakers who were the dragons.

"You become consumed with winning that last game," said Pistons president Joe Dumars, recalling his team's 3-2 lead over the Lakers in the 1988 Finals. "In '88, we knew it wasn't going to be easy to close them out."

They didn't. Aided by a controversial foul call on Bill Laimbeer at the end of Game 6 that led to two Kareem Abdul-Jabbar free throws, the Lakers escaped with a 103-102 win. (That was the game where Isiah Thomas sprained his ankle in the third quarter, yet returned to score 25 points) And L.A. held on to win Game 7 as well, sending Detroit into an offseason of soul-searching.

The Pistons were a focused, driven team the next season, when they returned to The Finals for a rematch with the Lakers. When Byron Scott (in practice before The Finals) and Magic Johnson (in the second half of Game 2) each went down with hamstring injuries, it was just a matter of when the Pistons would vanquish L.A., not if. Detroit jumped to a 3-0 series lead and completed the sweep two days later, with Dumars scoring 23 points and earning Finals MVP honors.

"The next year," Dumars said, "it was simply about handling your business and wrapping the series up."

When the Spurs came back home to San Antonio for Game 6 of the 2005 Finals, up 3-2 over the Nets, they were coming off of a big Game 5 win in New Jersey. But they still had not won a title in a non-lockout season. They were not the dynasty they would soon become.

"I would walk every night -- late, every night -- in my neighborhood," recalled Bruce Bowen, the Spurs' shutdown small forward of that era. "I would walk with my uncle, and we'd just talk about life. Trying to get my mind off the game. I tried to do something to exert myself (physically) a little bit, but more or less (the walks) put me in the mode of being like I was in high school. It's hard to be in the mode of 'I'm going to just keep everything simple.' It's not. Because it's not that way. I didn't go out to dinner. Everything was brought to the house. Because I just didn't want to deal with everybody saying 'oh, we're going to do it, right?'"

The Spurs closed the Nets out in Game 6 behind the unlikely duo of Speedy Claxton and Stephen Jackson.

"That was during an era where everybody wanted to do their own thing -- I need the ball, I need the ball," Bowen said. "Speedy bought into the whole concept of what he could do with a powerful big. Look at all the pick and rolls he got, that elbow jump shot? You don't get that when you go one on one."

Now comes another year and another chance for the Spurs. Miami, though, has players on its roster like Wade and LeBron James who have been where San Antonio is. They know what that pressure is like. The Heat broke through last season, giving James his coveted first ring and Finals MVP award. Now he is on the other side, as he was with the Cavs in 2007 and with the Heat in 2011. You don't sleep any better down 3-2 than when you're up 3-2.

"We've been here before," James said Sunday. "And like you said, we've been on both sides of the fences. We'll see what happens, and we've got an opportunity to do something special. And we look forward to it."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parenthesis; last week's rankings in brackets)

1) San Antonio (2-1) [1]: Is that Rudy Tomjanovich I hear warming up in the back?

2) Miami (1-2) [2]: The Lakers were the last team to trail 3-2 in The Finals but win Games 6 and 7 at home to win the title, in 2010, over the Celtics.

3) Indiana [3]: Season Complete.

4) Memphis [4]: Season Complete. Could George Karl's strong relationship with Grizzlies assistant GM Stu Lash help Karl get Memphis' coaching job? If so, good.

5) Oklahoma City [5]: Season Complete.

6) Golden State [6]: Season Complete.

7) New York [7]: Season Complete.

8) Chicago [8]: Season Complete.

9) L.A. Clippers [9]: Season Complete.

10) Denver [10]: Season Complete. Nuggets will interview ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins this week after having interviewed Pacers assistant Brian Shaw last week.

11) Brooklyn [11]: Season Complete.

12) Atlanta [12]: Season Complete. Hawks add veteran assistant Darvin Ham to Mike Budenholzer's staff for next season.

13) Boston [13]: Season Complete. I don't blame Danny Ainge for trying. If he can get players and picks for a coach, more power to him.

14) Houston [14]: Season Complete.

15) L.A. Lakers [15]: Season Complete. It will be a shock if the Lakers use up the potential bonanza of cap room they'd have in 2014 for the likes of LeBron James by doing a deal for Blake Griffin. Just don't see it.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Are we in a small-ball phase, or is this here to stay?

Mike Miller used to be a screen-and-roll guy ... and a pretty good one. When he came out of Florida in 2000, Miller was viewed as a slasher and driver, an athlete who could take people off the dribble and finish at the rim. He could shoot 3-pointers, to be sure; he was ninth in the league in made threes his rookie season, when he won the league's Rookie of the Year award with the Magic. But he had a complete offensive game.

That Mike Miller hasn't been in the NBA for a few years. That game is no longer what keeps him employed.

"One thing I've learned about the NBA is that it takes its own course," Miller said Saturday. "And you've got to do what you (can) when you're put in different situations. Obviously, on this team, when I signed up for this team, I pretty much knew. It was gonna help clean up on the rebounding, be active and knock down shots. That's what you signed up for."

Miller, 33, has a bird's-eye view of how the NBA game has evolved the last few years. At each of his stops along the way, he's been asked to do less and less playmaking and more and more shooting. During these Finals, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put Miller in the starting lineup in Game 4, where his 3-point ability would force the Spurs to put one of their big men out on the perimeter to stifle Miller.

But that would open up space in the paint for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who'd found their alleyways clogged up the first three games. The gambit worked in Game 4; even though Miller could only squeeze off one shot, his presence tilted the floor. His reputation, bolstered by the seven 3s he made last year in the deciding game of The Finals -- and his blistering shooting against San Antonio (he made nine of his first 10 threes in Games 1-3) -- made the Spurs go even smaller.

They put Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup in place of center Tiago Splitter, giving San Antonio a three-guard lineup, with Kawhi Leonard playing the four. The Spurs have used Gary Neal in three-guard lineups as well.

"You look at what's successful," Neal said. "At the end of the day, you look at what's winning at this stage, and of course, the Miami Heat are the defending champions, and they've done it with small ball, with LeBron at the four."

Even in the playoffs, teams have no issue going small, smaller, smallest. The Knicks thrived with Carmelo Anthony at power forward this season. The Warriors drove the Spurs crazy in the second round with their downsizing, moving Harrison Barnes to power forward after David Lee's injury in the first round against the Nuggets.

Denver flooded the court with speed, not size, en route to winning a franchise record 57 games. The Rockets literally didn't run any plays for long stretches, simply devolving to an endless series of pick and rolls with their guards against the Thunder -- there were usually three on the floor -- until someone either drove for a layup or found an open 3-point shooter.

Everybody is looking for stretch fours who will keep the paint open for drivers. Everyone is trying to emulate Miami, where James operates in the post better than he ever has and the Heat destroy most opponents on the weakside, opening up shots for Miller and Ray Allen. The Thunder do the same thing with Kevin Durant at the four.

Yet, the debate rages. Memphis pounded opponents all season with Marc Gasol in the middle and Zach Randolph at power forward, and point guard Mike Conley seemed to be able to find room in the paint to be productive.

Indiana pummeled the Heat for six games with its big-boy lineup of 7-foot-1 center Roy Hibbert and 6-foot-9 David West at power forward. But in Game 7, Miami's gnats buzzed the Pacers' bigs, Hibbert couldn't get a touch for minutes at a time, and the Heat blew Indiana off the floor.

"There's games I see where Memphis will play Z-Bo, and Gasol, and they play great, and they just dominate somebody, and you go, I don't know, maybe it's crazy, maybe they're the smart ones," New York's Steve Novak said recently. "But I would say that my overall opinion is that, yes, that's where the game's going. It's just faster, guys are more athletic. I think in the end, on a more consistent basis, you find bigs who have trouble keeping up on a long-term basis, like an NBA season, with the speed of those mobile bigs, a guy like a Tyson (Chandler). I do think that the evolution of the game is going that way."

Like Miller, the 6-foot-10 Novak is a specialist, a hired gun who lives in the short corner when he comes in and waits for the ball to rotate his way, off of ball movement universally known as "swing-swing" -- two passes that should move the ball from the strong side of the offense (where Anthony probably has it) to Novak, on the weakside.

"It's not the makes," Spoelstra is fond of saying, "it's the attempts."

Small ball lead to an avalanche of 3-pointers this season. The NBA's 30 teams attempted a combined 49,067 threes this past regular season, an average of 1,635 per team.

During the regular season, the Knicks set league records for 3-point attempts (2,371) and makes (891) in a season. More than a third of their regular-season shots came from 3-point range. The Rockets also broke the previous league record for 3-point attempts in a season, jacking up 2,369. (The Lakers also attempted more than 2,000 threes.) The Warriors' Steph Curry broke the single-season record for threes, making 272.

"I think with any good team, the weakside, it has to be a weapon," said Novak, who made 149 threes this season. "Whenever you play too heavily on one side of the court, it hurts you. From a pure basketball mindset, when you stay on one side, defenses are able to guard you so much easier. Our ability, I think, to have guys on the floor, on both sides of the floor who are weapons, has been big for us. And when we've played our best is when we remember that."

Spacing has never been more crucial for teams to operate successfully.

"You take guys like LeBron, for example, they're gonna load," Miller said. "You've got to create action on the weakside. The reason you've got to do that is you've got to make people accountable on the weakside, so they can't just ball watch or double team. Your job on the weakside now is to make people account for you. And if they don't, you've got to be able to knock down shots and put people in movement. San Antonio does an exceptional job of that, and as we're playing together more and more we're doing a better job as well."

The Spurs' Matt Bonner played with Miller at Florida for a year, then chartered his own path to the NBA. But they do similar things for their teams. Bonner also lives outside the arc, a power forward in name only -- though he's capable of the occasional floater.

Bonner thought his road to surviving in the NBA was by working harder than anyone else, being the first guy into practice and the last guy to leave. And that's true. But his shot is the main reason why he's stuck around, including during the 2010-11 season, when he lead the league in 3-point percentage.

"I started figuring out how I could stay on the court," Bonner said, "and keep a competitive edge on the dozens of guys that are coming for your job year in and year out."

But Bonner isn't sure the stretch four, or the small game, is a permanent development. The Grizzlies are big. The Lakers were big this season, again, with Dwight Howard simply replacing Andrew Bynum in the middle, and Pau Gasol still manning power forward -- at least for part of the season. Bonner played a lot against the Lakers in the first round, not much against the smaller Warriors, more against Memphis and, now, not much against Miami, as the Spurs have downsized more and more to match the Heat.

"I think of myself as a big," Bonner said, "and then, occasionally, I can go small if we're playing against a team that goes small, with a slower guy, if that makes sense."

Miller came to the Heat to try and win a ring, which he did in 2012. He's staying for the chance to win a couple more. His body has broken down for stretches this season, but he's in great shape now, at the most important time. And he's ready to fire at will, the latest evolution in a game that's always changing.

On occasion, though, he'd like to dust off the player he used to be.

"You always miss it," Miller said. "But I don't miss being on vacation in April. It's give and take. Obviously, that part of my game wasn't good enough."

He's laughing. All the way to the bank -- and, last year, at least -- to the parade route.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

We love you, Denver! City by the Bay! From Dimitar Kazarmov:

If you know some of the guys in the run for the Denver Nuggets coaching position, please tell them not to take the job. As far as I think, the next one to coach Denver will have no other option, but to jeopardize his coaching reputation.

The successor for George Karl in Denver has a choice situation ahead.

Consider the following: a team coming off a 38-3 home court performance, Coach of the Year award and the 3rd seed in the West. But a team built to play in only one way -- run. With this roster, a coach cannot play another way and will not have a chance to incorporate his own philosophy without having to sacrifice wins. But expectations are sky-high on this team and no one will tolerate that.

Add in the mix Andre Iguodala`s pending free agency, an owner unwilling to spend and one that wants more minutes for JaVale (McGee) and you get not exactly the best place to make a name for yourself in the business.

Respectfully, I think a lot of folks disagree with you, Dimitar, despite the Nuggets' decision to fire George Karl. The Nuggets have a boatload of young talent, they have management determined to make a push in the west, and they have great fans who support them. It's a very coveted gig, which is why Lionel Hollins and Brian Shaw are so interested in the position.

He has people to see and things to do. From Ian Bailey:

Why are The Finals so long? The second game should be two days after the first one on Thursday, on Saturday, June 8, then games Monday, June 10, Wednesday, June 12, Saturday, June 15, Monday, June 17. As well, the format should be 2-2-1-1-1, not 2-3-2 with the team with the best regular season record gaining home court advantage. Games should start at 8 p.m. EDT to capture the largest possible ratings. Higher ratings means higher advertising revenues and more money for the league. Regular season should be 62 games and playoffs should be best-of-five for the first two rounds, Another consideration would be first round byes for conference winners (similar to the NFL) and then play the lowest seeded team in the second round.

We have gone through this before, Ian, but a refresher: Saturdays are traditionally the lowest-rated viewing nights on TV. People go out on Saturday. They go to the movies, or shows, or out to dinner. Ratings are much higher on Sundays, when people are usually home because they have work or school on Mondays. No network would want two Finals games on Saturday. Not going to happen. There is some sentiment to going back to 2-2-1-1-1 for The Finals, the schedule up until 1985, when the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 format to help ease the travel burden on the media. But I still don't think there will be a change any time soon. I don't see shortening the schedule gaining any traction any time soon.

The Mr. Congeniality Award went to, of course, Grant Hill. From Bob Lin:

A friend of mine came up with this question that a few of us NBA nerds have been mulling over:

If you were a GM and you had your pick of any player of the post-Jordan era at age 20-21 (beginning of their career), who would you choose to be your franchise cornerstone in today's NBA?

Besides the obvious qualities of talent, skill (both offense and defense), and size, you'd also want to consider locker room leadership, ego (would he be willing to structure his contract to bring in other stars and high quality role players?), work ethic, health, maturity, coachability, longevity, loyalty, and all those other things you hear about the greats.

We started by ranking the championship cornerstones: LeBron, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, KG, and to a lesser extent Dirk and Wade. Then you could throw in Durant or maybe CP3. How would you rank them?

You left out a couple of guys who should be on the list, Bob: Derrick Rose and, whatever you think of him, Dwight Howard. Now, let's get crackin'. To me, it's still LeBron at No. 1. His size and versatility are just not matched by anyone on that list. Kobe would be number two for me. No one since MJ has Kobe's will and desire not just to win, but to dominate. At 21, he was just starting to show how great he was. I'd have Shaq at three in a photo over Duncan; each was the most dominant player at his position in his era, but Shaq's physicality could not be stopped by anyone. He was a force that compromised defenses, and once he learned how to pass out of the double-team, it was all over. I'd have KG five because of his consistency over time, then Dirk at six because of the matchup problems he created with his shooting range. Durant would be seventh (for the same reasons as Dirk, but the Diggler has been at it a little longer), then Howard eight, Wade nine and CP3 at 10. Let the mass anger and arguments begin.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and suggestions for idle jobs for Baby Kardashian, who will need to figure out a way to eke out a living with such destitute parents to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (24.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .5.7 apg, .441 FG, .846 FT): Back to the Brink. Not rooting for either the Spurs or Heat, but if Miami loses, I am not looking forward to another 12 months of "will LeBron leave?" stories -- this time, with Miami playing the foil instead of Cleveland.

2) Kevin Durant: Season Complete.

3) Tim Duncan (16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2 bpg, .580 FG, .722 FT): You want to know why Tim Duncan is just a different cat than most superstars? Did you see him playing with his kids at halftime of Game 5 of The Finals Sunday -- maybe his last home game ever at AT&T Center, during what may well be his last Finals? He said Saturday that he's loving every minute of The Finals and taking it all in. Looks that way.

4) Carmelo Anthony: Season Complete.

5) Chris Paul: Season Complete.

BY THE NUMBERS

$5,000,000 -- Amount sought by Michael Jordan in a lawsuit filed against a restaurant that he claims used his name without his permission as part of a promotion. The restaurant placed an ad in a commemorative magazine issue congratulating Jordan on his Hall of Fame induction. The judge in the case ordered Jordan to appear in his court chambers last week to discuss a potential settlement.

218 -- Current weight of potential first overall pick Nerlens Noel, the freshman center from Kentucky. Noel told reporters in Washington Saturday after a pre-Draft workout with the Wizards that he's gained 12 pounds since weighing in at the Chicago camp in May at 206 pounds, raising significant questions among personnel types about whether Noel, who is also recovering from an ACL tear, would be able to hold up and take the pounding of playing in the NBA in the paint.

27 -- Players invited to take part in USA Basketball's minicamp with the U.S. men's team next month in Las Vegas. The list: New Orleans' Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson; Golden State's Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson; Washington's Bradley Beal and John Wall; Memphis' Mike Conley; Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins; Toronto's DeMar DeRozan; Detroit's Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe; Denver's Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson; Utah's Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward; Indiana's Paul George; Chicago's Taj Gibson; Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday; Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller; the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan; San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard; Portland's Damian Lillard; Houston's Chandler Parsons, Milwaukee's Larry Sanders and Charlotte's Kemba Walker.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Happy Father's Day to the best man I know, James Aldridge. He set an example of what it means to be a man, a dad and a provider that has been the foundation of my adult life. Love you, Dad. And HFD to all the dads out there who sacrifice so much for their kids and their spouses.

2) The Nuggets could certainly hire Lionel Hollins, who interviewed there late last week, or Brian Shaw. But giving assistant coach Melvin Hunt a chance wouldn't be bad, either. Nor would waiting until after The Finals to interview Miami assistant David Fitzdale, who is going to be an outstanding coach when someone gives him the chance. Fitzdale has been central to developing Miami's high-octane offense.

3) It didn't get the national attention of Jason Kidd's hiring in Brooklyn, of course, but Mo Cheeks will get the train rolling forward again in Detroit. He has the firm but calm personality and solid coaching chops that will allow Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to continue their development. I saw him do what I thought was a very good job first-hand in Philadelphia, and I think he'll do an equally good job for the Pistons.

4) It's been a pleasure watching these Finals. The nightly chess match between Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra; the pride of the Spurs and the passion of the Heat; watching LeBron and D-Wade attack, and watching Tony Parker gut it out on a bad hammy; the improbable performance of Danny Green and the professional play of Ray Allen. This series has it all if you love pro basketball.

5) Did you see the Jay-Z/Samsung spot Sunday night previewing his new album, dropping on the Fourth of July? Man, I'm not even in his demographic, and I want to download it now. He is incredible.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) I love Doc Rivers. And Kevin Garnett. And Paul Pierce. But if the Clippers start trading their young assets, including players and picks, as compensation for letting Rivers out of his Celtics contract so he can be in L.A. with KG and The Truth, they're nuts. The Clips are far, far from a finished product, and while I have no doubts Garnett and Pierce have a little tread on their tires, the short-term gain of a year or two with them is not worth the long-term pain of losing the ability to continue building the roster. It especially is a gamble when there are perfectly good coaching candidates, including Messrs. Hollins and Shaw, that are available -- and who would allow you to keep those assets to continue building the roster.

2) Croatian forward Dario Saric is apparently pulling out of the Draft for good, with his agent telling ESPN.com Sunday that he'll file the paperwork for withdrawing by Monday's deadline for international players to pull out. Heard the Pelicans were especially enamored with him and may well have pulled the trigger on him at seven in the first round. Does nothing to help an already shaky Draft, but you wonder why the 19-year-old Saric, rated third among small forwards on my Big Board, would take a chance on coming in next year, in a Draft that is potentially one of the best ever.

3) As of this writing there was yet no loss of life in the collapse of that outdoor deck in Miami behind a sports bar where fans were watching the Heat play San Antonio in Game 4 of The Finals. Hope that remains the case.

4) Not a huge Phil Mickelson fan, but you had to feel for him Sunday, after a sixth runner-up performance in the U.S. Open.

5) Dear Hollywood: how many Superman movies do we need? We know: he's from Krypton. He's strong. He is here to help us. He works at the Daily Planet. Lois Lane likes him. Lex Luthor does not. (For that matter, Hollywood, how many movies do we need where the White House is blown up?)

6) Tough love, Skip!

Q & A: DANNY GREEN

Like most NBA players -- most humans, one would imagine -- Danny Green prefers to be dressed before starting his postgame interviews. And Green is especially meticulous about his clothes, and having the right lotions and gels applied before facing the media. Looking the part and acting the part is as important as being the part, a lesson Green learned the hard way in San Antonio before his star turn in these Finals.

Twice waived by the Spurs in part because Coach Gregg Popovich didn't see enough fire in the now 25-year-old from North Carolina, Green had to recalibrate. He'd been a second-round pick by the Cavaliers in 2009, playing one season with LeBron James before James left for Miami, but had been cut after his rookie season as Cleveland overhauled its roster. After the Spurs waived him a second time, Green got read the riot act both by Popovich and Green's college coach, Roy Williams -- you're going to keep getting cut until we see a little more fire out of you. Green took those words to heart in NBA Development League stints in Austin and Reno (where he played with Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak) after the lockout ended, and showed the Spurs enough that they gave him a third shot in early 2011.

Green hasn't been out of the rotation since, breaking into the starting lineup this season at two guard, where he was expected to provide strong perimeter defense and make the occasional 3-pointer. Last season, Green struggled mightily in the playoffs, and was benched by Popovich in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City. But a year later, Green has performed in the playoffs -- and in The Finals, so far, he's been spectacular.

Green has emerged as the Spurs' most consistent scorer, averaging 18 points per game in the first five games of The Finals against Miami -- including 27 in Game 3, when Green made seven threes -- and has already set The Finals record for made threes in a Finals with 25, breaking Ray Allen's mark. Through Game 5, Green is shooting a ridiculous 65.8 percent (25 of 38) behind the arc. Of course, the Spurs got "lucky" again by believing that Green could be a valuable part of their rotation, signing him to a three-year, $12 million deal when he came back. His current production makes that a bargain of a deal going forward.

Me: Does this feel like a dream?

Danny Green: Yeah, pretty much. But you can't think of it that way. You've got to continue to just treat it like a basketball game.

Me: When you're in "the zone," like you were in Game 3, what is that feeling like?

DG: It's a lot of fun, especially when you're winning. There's been times when I've been hitting shots, like in Game 2, I was hitting shots, but we were losing. But it's a lot of fun to be able to help your team, when they win big. To knock down that many shots without thinking makes the game a lot easier. When you hit one or two, it makes the offensive end of the floor a lot easier, to play basketball without thinking.

Me: It's been quite a journey for you to get here. What is the one thing that got you here?

DG: All of those things. Every level, every step of the way has helped me mature and grow as a player. When I was cut twice, I was at home for two months, and I was in the NBA D-League for two months, and luckily got called back up here. The lockout happened, and I was overseas for four months. All of those experiences helped me grow, and mature, and understand and appreciate what I have here.

Me: The second time you were cut, what happened? Where were you? What were you thinking?

DG: I went back home to New York. It was the first time that I had spent Thanksgiving and Christmas alone for a long time. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go overseas. They were talking about the lockout happening. My agent was influencing me to go over, and I almost went. I didn't want to go. So I said I want to give this a full shot, and go to the D-League and see what happens. If I don't get called up, I can always go overseas later. They had already sent papers out and I had to wait to get a letter of clearance just to play in the D-League, which took some time. Eventually I got the letter and I was just happy to be playing again, in the D-League. I was in Reno, which I thought was going to be a nice spot. It was the total opposite of Vegas. It wasn't what I expected. But at the same time, I was playing basketball again. It felt good.

Me: What kept you going?

DG: Just self-motivation. Wanting to be better, wanting to do better. Even when I was in Cleveland, I knew I wasn't going to play much. They had a lot of great players, big stars. I just tried to soak it all in, be a sponge, learn from everybody. Just work on my game, so when my (name) was called, I was ready. So every day, I lifted weights, worked out, worked on my weaknesses, worked on my strengths. That's what I did when I was at home, and even in the D-League, just wanting to get better and better, so when the time did, if it ever did come, I'd be ready. And if I didn't make it to the league, I'd be playing someplace else, and I would be ready to play.

Me: What did you think of the Spurs in '09 when you were on the Cavs?

DG: Back then, I was a kid watching them play, even before '07 (when San Antonio won its last championship), I thought the world of the Spurs, especially with Timmy and Tony and Manu. Growing up, they were a great organization. It just seemed unfair to other teams how well they played together as a group, and how easily-not easily -- they were beating teams. It was a great organization. A lot of my family has been Spurs fans since I was a kid, all the way back to the Twin Tower days. Even before Timmy got here, my uncle was a big David Robinson fan. They were fun to watch. They played great basketball.

Me: When you got the "tough love" lecture from Roy Williams and Pop, was it noise to you, or did you think, maybe I need to listen to what they're saying?

DG: All criticism is something I always take in. Obviously, from those two great coaches, how could you not take it in, or take it as noise? Some criticism, you can say it's from Joe Blow around the block, or whatever. Coach Pop and Coach Williams, they're probably saying something that can help you. I try to take every criticism into account and work on, and make some adjustments in myself to get better. This is what I'm used to. My high school coach, Coach (Tim) Cluess, who's now at Iona, he's a perfectionist, and they made the tournament. And he showed some tough love. It carried from then on, with Coach Williams and Pop. I'm from New York. My skin's pretty tough. I can handle it. I just took it in a positive manner.

Me: Were they right?

DG: Definitely. All my coaches have been right. Maybe not 100 percent on anything, but they were right for the most part, on most things. It helped me grow and be a better player.

Me: What do you remember from those talks?

DG: Pop, his biggest thing with me is being more urgent, having a sense of urgency, and that was kind of Coach Williams's thing, too. My high school coach was a little different. He just wanted perfection. I mean, they did, too. Even when we win, Coach Pop, he'll find some things to keep you humble and seeing what we could have done better. But the biggest thing from them was having a sense of urgency, and not be such a nice guy. Pop thinks I'm too nice a guy sometimes, he thinks I need to be more aggressive, have more grunt. And, obviously, we have the shirts -- everybody's gotta get a little nasty sometimes.

Me: How do you get that edge and find your way on a team that has three future Hall of Famers taking most of the shots and creating the team's persona?

DG: They make the game easier for me. My job here is to play defense and bring energy, and if they need help offensively. Luckily, sometimes I'm needed more and I can help more than they expect. But with Tony penetrating and putting pressure on the defense, Timmy being a force down low and Manu penetrating as well, they're all great passers at the same time. It makes the game easier for me, just spot up and knock down open shots.

Me: Everybody says, "well, Danny Green guessed right defensively on LeBron." You do it 10 times, you're not guessing. So how much is film work, how much is knowing his tendencies from Cleveland, how much is just being aware?

DG: I think it's all guessing. I've been lucky. They're on TV all the time. They're the Miami Heat, the defending champions, big market. So it's easy to scout them. They're on every night. And you see a lot of their tendencies, and from that, watching film on them. Obviously being with him and practicing against him every day for a year, he's a totally different player now than he was then. But that helps a little bit with the guessing. I've been a little lucky, but watching helps, in learning their tendencies.

Me: It seems like you have no fear playing against this guy, that you're challenging him to beat you.

DG: It's a basketball game. You can get injured, but it's not war, or battle. It's a basketball game. You should be fearless. You shouldn't be scared of anybody. It has to do, I guess, where I grew up, playing in New York, playing in different boroughs, coming from Long Island, playing against the city kids, you don't get respect unless you earn it. And if you come out being scared, nine times out of 19, you're probably going to get embarrassed, especially playing against the best player in the world.

Me: Did you play 4th Street in New York?

DG: I played on every street down there. I played all over New York. My father used to drop me off down there all over the place. Me and my brother played on a lot of AAU teams, sometimes four, five games a day ... playing with older kids, the best way to learn is to get dogged, to get beat up a little bit. It'll help you grow up faster. Playing with older kids, you're bound to embarrassed a few times. You don't' want that to happen again, so you'll learn quick.

Me: Who gave you the worst beat down?

DG: There's been a couple. When I was younger, I played against Charlie Villaneuva. He was one of my older guys playing when I was on the (New York) Panthers. He used to give me some beat downs, even when I was in the eighth, ninth grade, playing against guys who were only a year or two ahead of me. I had no idea who they were, but they let me know with their game who they were. And that'll help you grow.

Me: When did you start exacting some revenge?

DG: I gave my fair share of beat downs. Especially when I played with my own age group. You have some games where you're feeling good. You make a couple of shots, certain tournaments, you come out aggressive, motivated. You come out wanting to prove a point, to show people, scouts, that you're a good player, too. I felt like a lot of guys overlooked, I felt like myself was overlooked a lot of times. So you have to do some things to prove yourself, so you have to give some beatdowns in those tournaments.

Me: How gratifying is it that "the others" -- you and Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal -- have made major contributions in the playoffs, and held up your end to giving your team a chance to win the title?

DG: It's very gratifying. Especially with last year, with how we didn't show up, or didn't help, our big three against OKC. And that's when they needed us. I think that year of experience, of being in the Western Conference finals, helped us grow, helped us mature, and be prepared for this type of atmosphere, this stage.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

For real though I'm mad J Kidd got a head coaching job a year after retiring n my pops been coaching 10 years n barely gets a look

Patrick Ewing, Jr. (@pewingjr6), Wednesday, 8:03 p.m., talking about his dad, the former Knicks great Patrick Ewing, who has had assistant jobs in Washington, Houston, Orlando and, now, Charlotte, but has yet to be given a chance to run an NBA team as a head coach, despite frequently stating his desire to do so and getting multiple interviews for jobs over the years. Ewing, Jr., later Tweeted that he wasn't angry at Kidd, just at the lack of an opportunity for his father.

THEY SAID IT

"I think I should tell you, I think it's very stupid."

-- Former Nuggets coach George Karl, in an interview with the Denver Post, recalling what he says he told the team's president, Josh Kroenke, after Kroenke informed Karl the team was letting him go. In the interview, Karl says he did not demand a contract extension, and that he felt more distant last season from Kroenke and former GM Masai Ujiri than in years past.

"Watching the way he's moving now, there's a confidence. [Reporters] may not have been able to see the total work he was putting in. But he was putting in an enormous amount of work each and every day. He just never got to the explosiveness he was comfortable with. I think he's there now. He feels great, and that's the most important thing."

-- Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, to ESPN.comChicago, on Derrick Rose's improvements since the end of the season. Thibodeau told the Web site he worked Rose out the first week of June and that the former MVP was again feeling like his old self.

"So we're sitting there looking at the film, he turns it off and he says, 'Rick, I have one question for you: How does it make you feel to know that you weren't good enough to make this team?'"

-- Rick Carlisle, during his presentation to Bill Fitch for Fitch's receiving the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the NBA Coaches' Association last week. Fitch cut Carlisle before the start of the 1989 season while coaching the Nets, but immediately offered Carlisle an assistant coach's job that was Carlisle's start into coaching. The team, however, went 17-65.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.


The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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