NBA Finals Check-In: Friday Practice Notes
Live from Miami…
For the media, off-days during the NBA Finals maintain a specific format: We get access to the last 30 minutes of one team’s practice, then 30 minutes to barrage every member of that team with questions, then 30 minutes to barrage every member of the opposing team with questions, then access to the first 30 minutes of that team’s practice. Pretty basic. Here are some notes from today’s session:
• The Spurs were up first, which meant we got to see the final 30 minutes of a Pop-led practice…except there was no Pop-led practice. The Spurs are old, really old, so they basically had an off-day, save for some stretching and light dribbling. About 10 minutes after we were let on to the court to find one or two Spurs guys standing around, the rest of the Spurs filed in, headphones on, sneakers in their hands, warm-up pants and jerseys dangling everywhere. Then a bunch of the guys rolled around the floor a bit, stretching their legs out with a plastic rope-thing and the help of a Spurs trainer; on the other end of the floor, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair practiced banking in lay-ups off the inside of their forearms. Impressive stuff.
• The media session that followed was a bit more fun. There were tons and tons of clichés spewed—everyone’s happy they got the first win, nobody is satisfied; everyone knows the Heat are going to come back a lot tougher, nobody isn’t prepared for that.
• More importantly! I spoke to Matt Bonner about his New Balance kicks, which are literally out of production. “I’m down to these and two more pairs,” he said, pointing down. “I just brought these out, so they’ll get me through the rest of the season. I’ve got two more pairs for next year. I usually go through three pairs of season.” So he’s cutting it close, I noted. “Very close. If I was smart, I’d try to find something this summer that’s comfortable besides these.” Why not just ask the New Balance folks to make him some new, custom ones? “No, these are so old they don’t make ‘em anymore. I tried, trust me. I even went on eBay. Nothing.”
• Kawhi Leonard was posted up at one of the on-court podiums, which was rough for him, because he isn’t much of a talker. He was asked what he thinks of “this part,” the aspect of the Finals that involves chopping it up with feisty reporters. “I don’t like it at all,” he said. “‘What happened in the game?’ Y’all see what happened in the game.” He was also asked if this whole situation has hit him yet, the fact that he’s an important member of a team playing in the NBA Finals in just his second season, and he answered gloriously: “Yeah,” he said. “I know that I’m playing in the Finals.”
• Tracy McGrady was particularly awesome. One media member asked if the veteran swingman would be ready if his number is called. “Is a pig’s p**** pork?” he responded. Um, sure. He also talked about how he was completely ready to embrace his end-of-bench role with the Spurs organization because they were clear with him from the jump, as opposed to other teams (“after Houston”) that made playing-time-related promises to him that were unfulfilled, which led to problems. There’s been a lot of speculation regarding what that (or those) “after Houston” franchise is, but the common belief is that his not-so-successful time in Atlanta was rooted in more than a little bit of miscommunication.
• Coach Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker answered questions in the interview room. Some quotes:
• Pop: “We’ve never labeled it as someone’s team. It’s our team. It’s not my team or Tim’s team or Manu’s team or Tony’s team. It’s our team.”
• Pop: “I don’t take much from game to game. It’s about what you do in trying to execute that and trying to pick up things on the other team’s weaknesses or strengths as you go. But from game to game, it’s a new deal.”
• Pop: “I have no clue what your question is or what it means, so I’ll pass on it.”
• Parker, on the game-winning shot: “It was a crazy play. I never panicked. I tried to recover the ball, because as soon as I tried to drive I was already losing the ball. And after that it was chaos, and I tried to recover the ball. When I was on the ground, I had time to look up at the clock, and I knew it was 1.7. So I had time to pump-fake and get a shot up. It was definitely a little bit of luck, and me not panicking.”
• Parker: “They should do a statue for [Duncan] outside the AT&T Center. He means so much to the city and to the organization and the level that he’s playing all those years. Only respect for that.” A reporter asked what the statue would look like. “Looking mean. Something like that.”
• After the Spurs’ 30 minutes were through, the Heat took the floor for some media time. Birdman Andersen posted up on the side of the court, and a series of reporters strolled over and asked him questions one by one. Bird’s back-story is obviously pretty unbelievable, and after a Chinese reporter asked him to empty his memory bank from the time he spent hooping in China over a decade ago, I asked if he’s had a second to just stop, take it all in and think about how crazy it is that he’s playing a huge part in the NBA Finals after what’s taken place in his life over the past half-decade. Well, no, he has not: “Nah, I ain’t got time for that, man. I gotta focus on the task on my hands, and that’s trying to beat the San Antonio Spurs. I ain’t got no time to reflect on my journey or nothing like that—I’ll do that over the summer. Right now my main focus is the San Antonio Spurs.” Fair enough.
• Coach Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were the Heat’s interview room representatives. Some quotes:
• Spo on his team’s fatigue down the stretch in Game 1: “There’s no excuse at this point in the year. We’re mentally preparing for a long series. This is the final push, and regardless of how we’ve gotten here, we just have to be ready for whatever it takes. And that didn’t have a factor, the last series, [or] on last night’s game.”
• Wade: “Playoffs ain’t fun, man. I’m sorry to bust anyone on the outside’s bubble. As a player in the Playoffs, you have no joy until it’s over and you won. If you don’t win, you have no joy for a while. So for us it’s the grind every day as a team of trying to win the series, trying to win four games in the series.”
• Wade: “You want to win every game. That history-repeats-itself-hopefully thing, that would be great. But right now we have to figure out how to make the adjustment to win Game 2. We’re playing against a very, very good team. Very intelligent, smart team. And we have to break the code. We have to crack the code. And have to figure out how to be more effective in Game 2 than we were in Game 1.”
• LeBron: “Every game presents different challenges. I’m not sure what the gameplan they’ll have tomorrow [will be]. It may change. I know Sunday, I know we’re going to make adjustments as we’re going into Game 2. We’ll see what type of gameplan I come out with on Sunday. It would be dumb of me to reveal it today.”
• Then for the Heat’s first 30 minutes of practice…well, Spo wasn’t insane enough to run a legitimate practice with a massive press corps watching, filming and taking notes. Half of the Miami players fired jumpers on one end, while the other half (LeBron, Wade, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis) had a halfcourt shot competition on the other. (No idea who won, though Wade did sink a few.)
And…that’s that. We’ve got a similar session again tomorrow, and I’ll have a report up shortly after that, and then will be back here live-blogging Game 2 Sunday night. See ya then.