Cavaliers win could be blueprint for Heat playoff trouble

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Baron Davis and his swagger are a great storyline and a Heat killer. The cathartic feeling for Cavaliers fans makes headlines and the legions of Heat haters happy.

Heat fans will rightfully counter this is one relatively meaningless game. And they’re right, this one game doesn’t matter.

Rather, what should worry Heat fans is how Cleveland’s front line — primarily Ryan Hollins and J.J. Hickson — dominated the Heat inside. The Cavs were longer, more athletic, controlled the paint and with it the game. And this is Cleveland, not Boston or Orlando or other potential playoff matchups the Heat have in their future.

It was the length and quality play up front that earned the Cavaliers a 102-90 win, one which will be their signature victory of the season (even more than wins over the Celtics and Lakers).

Long-standing concerns about Miami’s interior play had been alleviated for the past several weeks when Chris Bosh played well, but Tuesday night he was atrocious and played down to the worst of his reputation. He was soft and passive. Frankly, it’s a reputation that is not really fair but gets reinforced by nights like this on a big stage, when he shot 5-for-14 with just four rebounds, was fumbling the ball in traffic, played almost no defense and finished a -24. The Heat would have been better with Joel Anthony playing big minutes.

Hollins’ key plays against Bosh came when the score was tied 83-83 in the fourth quarter. He blocked a Bosh shot, had a monster dunk off a Davis assist (Davis seemed to have his hand on all the key plays) and also drew several fouls getting to the line. He and Anthony Parker made up a 12-0 run that gave Cleveland a lead it never relinquished.

Hickson was just too athletic for Miami’s front line, and he finished with 21 points and 12 boards.

Cleveland’s big men were moving well without the ball and that exposed the terrible defensive rotations of the Heat this night, which was their other big flaw. Penetration by Davis got the help, but all night long nobody on Miami helped the helper. That left big men cutting (or Parker at the arc) open and the result was good look buckets for the Cavaliers.

But it was also one of those nights for Cleveland where even the bad looks fell. That’s where Davis and his swagger come in. He hit a three to start the game, he hit a ridiculous one before the half on a broken play with a hand in his face. He made spectacular passes and hit layups all night long.

Davis brings good and bad to the table, but when he is confident it rubs off on teammates and it did this night. It is the best of Davis, and he can still bring it some nights.

The last time Miami Heat lost to a sub .500 team was Jan. 12 to the Clippers (as Tom Haberstroh of ESPN reminded us), when Davis dropped 20 points and nine assists before he was traded to Cleveland. Tuesday night was Davis’ first start as a Cavalier and seemed to be in on every key play.

It means little in the grand scheme. LeBron is still in Miami, Cleveland still has the worst record in the NBA and the Cavaliers still have major rebuilding in front of them while the Heat are contenders. The only thing it did was put the Heat three losses behind the Bulls (meaning ‘kiss that top seed goodbye’) and one behind the struggling Celtics in the loss column. But we’re talking about home court in the playoffs, and that’s what Cleveland used to talk about, not potential draft picks.

But for one night, one game, that didn’t matter and Cavs fans soaked it up.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.