Boston Celtics v New York Knicks - Game Three

Winderman: Celtics advantages came courtesy Riley, Heat

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Rare is the NBA playoff series when the opposition opens with a 3-0 lead without playing a game.

That, however, essentially, will be the case with the impending Heat-Celtics Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Heat will take on the Celtics with a decided deficit at center, point guard and backup power forward.

In each case, a potential Heat answer can be found on the Celtics’ roster, an answer the Heat had within their grasp at one stage.

At center, the Heat allowed Jermaine O’Neal to walk last summer without as much as a free-agent offer. While O’Neal says he turned down a Heat contract, word from within the Heat was that none was extended. If you look back at last year’s Heat-Celtics first-round playoff series, you probably could appreciate why: O’Neal shot 20.5 percent, averaging 4.2 points and 5.6 rebounds, as if on his last legs.

Yet, you look at O’Neal’s re-emergence against the Knicks and then at the Heat’s current mix in the middle, and it sure seems like advantage Boston, even if Shaquille O’Neal can’t make it all the way back, even with Kendrick Perkins out of the Celtics mix. For the Heat, the choices are current starter Zydrunas Ilgauskas, banished starter Erick Dampier, resident thug Jamaal Magloire and Joel Anthony, a player whose energy is essential to the second unit.

Then there is the issue at point guard, and the frightening things Rajon Rondo is about to do. In March, the Heat summarily dispatched Carlos Arroyo to the waiver wire in order to add Mike Bibby to the mix. Bibby currently can be found in the midst of shooting misery. Beyond that, there is Mario Chalmers, who is wildly on and off again.

While Arroyo is an afterthought for the Celtics, the Heat played their most efficient ball of the season when Arroyo was the starter. Now the Heat will have to face that reality head to head.

Then there is the issue at reserve power forward behind Chris Bosh. With Udonis Haslem yet to make it back from his November foot surgery, the best the Heat can offer as a counter to what Boston delivers in Glen Davis is Juwan Howard. Asked and answered.

But there was another option for the Heat at the buyout deadline, when Pat Riley added Bibby. At the time, Troy Murphy’s options where whittled down to the Heat and Celtics. Danny Ainge won that one, in what currently comes off as more of a blocking move than any overwhelming need for Murphy, who has been bench-bound since.

The irony in Celtics-Heat is that three Boston afterthoughts — O’Neal, Arroyo and Murphy — could have been usable pieces for the Heat in what is about to follow.

Advantage Ainge.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Heat players past, present throw support behind David Fizdale heading to Memphis

David Fizdale
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The Memphis Grizzlies have found their man — Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale has been offered the head coaching job in Memphis. He’s a smart coach who earned the trust of elite players and was a key part of the staff that helped Miami to a couple of rings.

It’s a good hire. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what a couple Heat players from that era had to say.

Mario Chalmers had a first-hand view — he was traded from Miami to Memphis in the middle of last season. The point guard who went the other way in that deal, Beno Udrih, also helped push the deal along.

Fizdale is going to be a popular hire with the players. That said, if the Grizzlies can’t keep Mike Conley in free agency the team is going to have struggles this season, regardless of who coaches them.

Watch Kevin Love drop 25 points on Toronto

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Before Game 5, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue told Kevin Love just to stay aggressive. Channing Frye told him the same thing.

Love took that advice to heart. From the opening tip of Game 5, Love was attacking — backing down the overmatched Luis Scola and knocking down threes. Love had 12 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 25, helping spark an easy, 38-point Cavaliers win in Game 5.

Now, can Love do this on the road in Game 6?

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.