NBA Playoffs: Celtics turn back the clock to take Game 1 over Heat, but may lose Kevin Garnett to suspension

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Garnett_Game1.jpgIt looked like the same old Celtics we’ve seen this season. Outworked, outhustled, down double digits in the third quarter.

And then all of a sudden, they hopped in the Hot Tub Time Machine during a timeout.

And out popped the Celtics from the 2008 Championship run to lock down the Heat and take Game 1 for the Celtics, 85-76.

It was everything we told you it would be: physical, slow, brutal, and deliberate. But behind Quentin Richardson’s three pointers and Dwyane Wade’s attack, the Heat built a 14 point lead. Which promptly evaporated behind a defensive run by the Celtics defense which rivaled anything you’ve seen in your life. They were everywhere. Always in position, hammering the bigs down low, crashing the boards behind Glen Davis’ best game of the season, and forcing shot clock violations and rushed shots. On offense, Paul Pierce had it going. Everything was looking golden for the C’s. Then the fight happened.

Kevin Garnett has long made a reputation as the kind of player that
likes to get into his opponents’ head with physical behavior and
bombastic words. But tonight, he may have lost his cool in the worst way
and it may cost him a suspension in the NBA playoffs.

Late in the fourth quarter, Paul Pierce drifted left on a possession and made a routine pass. An earlier shoulder stinger injury he had flared up and the fell into the Heat bench in pain, before slumping to the floor in pain. Kevin Garnett walked over his teammate to check on him, right in front of the Heat bench. Quentin Richardson came over to the bench (he was the one guarding Pierce when he was injured). At that point, some sort of altercation happened. It’s not known at this time whether Richardson said something to ignite Garnett or if Garnett just acted unprovoked, but Garnett elbowed Richardson away lightly, which then caused Richardson to verbally respond.

The two got in each other’s faces, and the next thing you know, Udonis Haslem is in there, and Glen Davis is in there looking for a candy bar, and all of a sudden all hell breaks loose, all while Pierce is still on the ground. Somewhere in the scrum, KG threw a pretty vicious back elbow which landed squarely in Quentin Richardson’s jaw. Then KG either ran out of the huddle or was pushed, depending on who you’re talking to, all while still running his mouth.

Glen Davis tried to get back into the scrum, but Doc Rivers, in possibly the greatest moment of his coaching career, grabbed the volatile portly pounder and threw him back to the bench like an angry dad grounding his son for roughhousing.

The ramifications were Garnett’s ejection, which enabled the Heat to pull within five, but Wade was unable to connect on the ensuing possession after the technical free throw and the Celtics hung on.

Here are the possible ramifications from this game:

  • Garnett could very well be suspended for Game 2. The elbow was clearly thrown and that’s clear video evidence. He also comes across as the villain in this circumstance, having elbowed Richardson once to start the fight and once at the apex.
  • Udonis Haslem could be suspended for interceding in the fight.
  • If the league feels like it can collect enough evidence that leads to the conclusion that Richardson enflamed the incident, he could face a suspension.
  • Nothing could happen since it’s clear both sides were in the wrong.

By the way, if you’re worried about Pierce, don’t be. Five minutes later he was totally fine. (That sound you hear is every Laker fan in the world taking a breath to make wheelchair jokes. Save ’em.)

Neither team can feel bad about this game in total. The Heat led by 14 in the late third on the road, and needed a horrific second half (32 points total for the half, ye gods) to fall. The Celtics were able to flip the switch and get the win, and now have remembered the gear they need to be at to win a championship. Buckle down, readers. This one’s going to be brutal and long.

Some closing notes:

  • If you want an unsung hero, try Tony Allen. The man who was an afterthought coming into the season, and tradebait at best, finished with 14 points, 3 steals and 2 blocks, and was the primary defender on Wade during the drought for the Heat. Allen has been better than advertised all year, and really made a statement in this game.
  • Glen Davis like I said earlier, had possibly the best game of his season, crashing the board and converting a huge and-one in the fourth. The round mound of astound crashed to the floor on nearly every play, but also came up with the ball in almost every instance.
  • Michael Beasley was a no-show, going 3-8, and just being invisible for most of the game. He came up with three offensive boards, but couldn’t convert on several of them.
  • Jermaine O’Neal got worked by Kendrick Perkins, who not only limited and frustrated him on the defensive end, but then came in with several drop step hooks on the offensive end. Huge game for Perkins.
  • Dwyane Wade is ridiculously good at basketball, but even he can’t beat three Celtics zone-guarding him, with two perimeter players sandwiching his lateral movement and KG lurking at the elbow.
  • Quentin Richardson could be a a big turning point in this series, as he had a big game. Of course, we’ll have to see if he’ll be around next game.

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Report: Raptors would’ve fired Dwane Casey if they lost in first round

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 23:  Dwane Casey the head coach of the Toronto Raptors disagrees with an offical's call in the game against the Indiana Pacers during game four of the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 23, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri on Dwane Casey before the playoffs, via Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

If we don’t go past the first round, what’s going to happen? Coach Casey deserves to be the coach. He deserves to be our coach in the future.

Casey was coming off an impressive regular season. Toronto won a franchise-record 56 games, and Casey finished fifth in Coach of the Year voting.

But would the Raptors really keep him if they lost in the first round as the higher seed for the third straight year?

I know what Ujiri said. But it’s one thing to like Casey as a coach – I do – and another to watch another first-round upset unfold in front of your eyes. The experience of seeing four losses to the Pacers can change someone’s mind – and reportedly would’ve changed Ujiri’s.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Toronto might have been one gaffe by Pacers coach Frank Vogel in Game 5 away from bowing out in the first round again, a crusher that would have cost Casey his job, per several league sources.

Of course, the Raptors beat Indiana in seven games, slipped past the Heat in seven games and have beaten the Cavaliers twice in the Eastern Conference finals. That ought to preserve Casey’s job, even if Toronto is eliminated in Game 6 tonight.

The Raptors are at the point where they need a quality playoff coach. For the better part of three straight postseasons, Casey didn’t look like one. He still hasn’t come close to answering all the questions about him, but he has created enough doubt about his postseason proficiency.

Casey has done quality work transforming the Raptors. Unless they’re more certain he can’t get the deeper in the playoffs, they should keep him and give him a chance to try.

Billy Donovan: Warriors’ free-throw advantage over Thunder was ‘the difference in the game’

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Why did the Warriors beat the Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals last night?

Andrew Bogut‘s rim protection? Kevin Durant‘s and Russell Westbrook‘s teammates not doing enough? Stephen Curry‘s late defense?

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan:

The difference in the game was the fact that they went to the free-throw line 34 times.

The discrepancy tonight for free throws, for whatever reason, that was really, to me, the difference in the game.

Yes, Golden State shot 34 free throws to the Thunder’s 24 – and made 31 to the Thunder’s 20 – in a 120-111 win.

But nine of the Warriors’ attempts and makes came in the final 1:02, beginning with a curiously timed Donovan technical foul and then Oklahoma City intentionally fouling. The Thunder also hacked Bogut earlier in the fourth quarter, and he went 1-for-2 at the line. Remove those, and the free-throw attempts are 25-24.

It was a little surprising when Oklahoma City intentionally fouled Klay Thompson down nine with 55 seconds left. Trailing teams should generally begin fouling sooner than they do to increase variance, but most don’t. They usually defend in those situations, which makes me wonder about a deeper motivation.

Did Donovan, realizing the Thunder were going to lose anyway, get a technical foul then order intentional fouling sooner than usual so he could complain about the free-throw disparity and lobby for more favorable calls in Game 6?

Too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Game 5 against Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate after a play against the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the last 33 years, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com records go back, teammates have each scored at least 30 points while shooting less than 40% in a game three times:

  • Kevin Durant (40 points on 12-of-31 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (31 points on 11-of-28 shooting) in a Western Conference finals loss to the Warriors last night
  • Durant (30 points on 10-of-27 shooting) and Westbrook (30 points on 9-of-26 shooting) in a first-round loss to the Grizzlies in 2014
  • Durant (37 points on 7-of-20 shooting) and Westbrook (36 points on 10-of-26 shooting) in a regular-season loss to the Nuggets in 2013

Yes, every time it has happened, it has been Durant and Westbrook. And each time, the Thunder have lost.

Oklahoma City reverted back to this losing formula against Golden State in Game 5. The Thunder’s offense turned stale, the ball sticking with Durant and Westbrook as it had so many times in years prior – years that all ended short of a championship and with questions swirling about offensive creativity.

Simply, Thunder looked like the same old Thunder.

Durant and Westbrook scored 64% of Oklahoma City’s points, a mark they hadn’t hit since the season’s second game – a double-overtime win over the Magic in which Durant and Westbrook scored 18 of the Thunder’s 22 overtime points and were the only Oklahoma City players to play all of both extra periods.

Here are the percentage of the Thunder’s points scored by Durant and Westbrook in each playoff game:

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The Thunder have shown this isn’t a winning game plan for them. They’re 2-4 when Durant and Westbrook score at least 59% of their points, 6-7 when it’s between 54% and 59% and and 58-21 otherwise.

This is not to blame Durant and Westbrook. Though they might have hunted their own shot a little too often in Game 5, their teammates didn’t do nearly enough.

Oklahoma City’s other players scored a series-low 40 points – and 10 of those came on 4-of-4 shooting from Anthony Morrow, who had been out of the rotation. Dion Waiters – who, I believe, had been the biggest key for the Thunder going from very good in the regular season to elite in the playoffs – scored no points on 0-of-4 shooting in 27 minutes after averaging 10 points per game in the series’ first four contest. Enes Kanter, who had been an offensive positive, was an effective no-show, scoring one point in just six minutes because his defense made him mostly unplayable.

Durant and Westbrook are playing better than ever, but their supporting cast’s rise had been huge in these playoffs. The crew had been amazing relative to previous postseasons. Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson and the rest just didn’t sustain it in Game 5.

The second-lowest scoring output by the Thunder’s other players in this series came in Game 2, which Oklahoma City also lost. Here are the points by Durant’s and Westbrook’s teammates in each game of the Western Conference finals, Thunder wins in blue and losses in orange:

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Durant, via James Ham of CSN Bay Area:

“No,” Durant said emphatically when asked if he and Westbrook sometimes forget about the players around them. “That’s who we are, we’ve got to be aggressive. When they’re going in, you won’t say anything.”

“But we happened to miss some tonight,” Durant continued. “But we were aggressive. We were right there. We had an opportunity to win the basketball game. That’s what we we do. That’s how we play, like it or not.”

Durant and Westbrook should be aggressive, but it’s on their teammates to limit the stars’ attempts – to provide outlets when the defense hones in on Durant and Westbrook. The Thunder’s other players didn’t do that last night, so Durant and Westbrook forced shots.

This gives credence to the theory that role players don’t travel well. Perhaps, this will instantly change for Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City.

As great as Durant and Westbrook are, they need help. They’ll justifiably take the offensive burden when no other option presents itself, and it’s the lesser of two evils. But when games go that direction, there’s an inevitable conclusion: The Thunder usually lose.

Watch Stephen Curry’s late lockdown defense (video)

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Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant might not think much of Stephen Curry‘s defense – Durant gave a great and tremendously honest answer – but Curry was at his defensive best late in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the Thunder last night.

Curry locked up Durant multiple times. Also included in that clip: Curry’s rebound in traffic, because rebounding is a key part of defense.