LeBron James misses free throw as Celtics top Heat for third time

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If you hate LeBron James, as much of the Western world does, today was quite a day for you. After being largely the only reason the Miami Heat were even in the game against the Boston Celtics, James clanged the first of two free throws down two with ten seconds left, then failed to save the inbounds pass he deflected. Celtics 85 Heat 82. Boston wins for the third straight time this season, wins the season series, and dominates the Heat in the third quarter despite missing three key players. At this point, no one in their right mind believes Miami has a shot against Boston in an expected Eastern Conference Finals.

The game was relatively close, with the Heat leading at halftime thanks to some smart ball movement and sound defense. In reality, this game was close because both teams played terribly. As you’d imagine in a 85-82 game, the offenses were both horrific. Final offensive efficiencies were 97.7 for Boston and 94.3 for Miami. A slow paced game with low efficiency. The very model of “playoff basketball” which was downright painful to watch for most of the game. The Heat turned the ball over 17% off the time, thanks in large part to one of Dwyane Wade’s worst games in memory, as far back as… the last time he played the Celtics.

For whatever reason, the Celtics have the book on Wade. He got the same kind of fadeaways he’s hit for years, the same kind of floater opportunities, the same kinds of baseline runners he always hit. And yet he shot 6-17 from the floor, with 6, count ’em, 6 turnovers, as the Celtics’ work of bringing constant ball pressure simply melted him down.

For the Celtics? Just about as ugly of a game. Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Ray Allen combined to shoot 10-34 from the field, including an 0-10 performance from Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett led all Celtics with 19, but in reality, it was the bench, short-handed as it was, that carried the Celtics. Glen Davis had 16 point son 6-11 shooting and Von Wafer dropped in 10 points including two huge second half three-pointers. But really, it was the Celtics defense, constantly pressuring, constantly contesting, doing what they’ve done for seasons, and dragging this game down into the mud. The Heat almost never got out in transition, missed open threes, and failed to draw fouls, even when they were fairly obvious.

The story will be James, despite 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists to go with 4 turnovers, and he was the best player on the floor for the Heat, and that’s with Chris Bosh dropping 24 points on 11 shots with 10 rebounds. Sounds like a great game, right? Bosh was once again pushed around, muscled out, and generally overpowered by a tougher, stronger, more determined Boston squad. Bosh may have been the biggest reason the Heat scored all day, but he was also the biggest reason the Celtics’ frontcourt wound up with 40 points between Garnett, Davis, and Kendrick Perkins.

So now the Heat have lost three straight to the Celtics, and have been outclassed in each, despite relatively narrow margins. They had every reason to win this game, needed to win this game, had an opportunity to win this game. But just as before, they failed to show the kind of cohesion, focus and effort.

And LeBron missed a free throw.

Notes:

  • Bosh did the majority of his damage off the pick and pop, which he should. The Celtics were determined to attack James again on the drive and surrender mid-range jumpers, and Bosh hurt them. But not enough in the end.
  • The Heat’s ball movement when it wasn’t turning the ball over was actually excellent. They created open looks with the extra pass and played with precision.
  • The Celtics on the other hand just buckled down and played playoff basketball. Nothing fancy, just simple passes leading to tough, contested shots that they forced down.
  • Anyone who enjoyed watching this game, Boston or Heat fan, is a masochist.
  • Ray Allen popped a wide open three in transition after stripping Wade in the first quarter. From then on out, the Heat did a good job of running him off the perimeter.
  • Joel Anthony finished with a +5 in this game, which should probably destroy this metric for all time, and I like the metric. Anthony was constantly out of position, gave up offensive rebounds, failed to close off the baseline, and was often scrambling to recover.
  • Rajon Rondo played with great defensive intensity, bodying up LeBron in the post, though he was clearly afforded more contact by the officials because of his size.
  • Mike Miller had an open look at the game winning shot, but as usual, the Heat’s execution wasn’t quite right, and Miller wound up with an off-balance three that missed badly. Oh, and Wade missed a tip back attempt just for good measure (the Heat would have still been down 1).
  • Mario Chalmers had two bad plays and was essentially yanked for the remainder of the game. Considering how Wade played running point, you have to wonder about that decision.
  • Rajon Rondo had a triple-double and shot 50% from the field.

(For more on Heat-Celtics III check out our official recap.)

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.