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.)

Stephen Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.

 

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.