NBA Playoffs: Boston defenseless against Miami

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Boston is down 2-0 to Miami. It feels a lot worse.

Celtics fans can take solace that the Celtics are heading back to the Garden, but it’s hard to see how that — or Shaq or anything else — is going to make a big difference in this series.

For two games, Miami has robbed Boston of its strengths.

It has taken Boston’s identity, and added youth and athleticism.

For one, Boston’s defense as been laid to waste. In Game 2 Miami won 102-91, putting more than 100 points on the vaunted Celtics defense. They scored at a 114.6 points per 100 possessions pace after reaching 107.6 in Game 1. For some perspective, on the season Boston gave up just 97.8 points per 100 possessions during the season.

Miami’s offense attacked off the dribble then used quick passing and motion off the ball to expose the weak side defenders. To add to that, Miami went on its best runs when they forced turnovers and got out in transition before the Celtics could set their defense. And when all else failed, Miami just drained threes over the top of it.

That Miami was able to get inside the heart of the Celtics defense brings us to the other strength ripped from Boston — Miami was again the tougher, more physical team.

Boston tried to punish anyone who dared dribble penetration, but Miami took the punishment and still scored inside, hitting 12-of-16 shots at the rim. Miami was more aggressive and that is why they got to the free throw line 14 more times. (Sorry Celtics fans, that wasn’t the refs. If you shoot jumpers you don’t get to the line, and your guys started for the outside shot as the game wore on.)

While the Celtics overload on defense, on the other end of the floor the Heat stay balanced and count on their athleticism to challenge shots and create turnovers. It’s working, as Boston made of point of trying to get the ball inside but ended up shooting just 14-of-27 at the rim with Miami making a number of blocks inside.

This wasn’t some blowout from the start, Boston stayed close. Early on it was because of Kevin Garnett, who hit some face up jumpers in the first half (he finished with 16 points on 20 shots). In the second half Rajon Rondo awoke from a six-quarter slumber and started to push the tempo and attack the rim.

Boston tied the game at 80-80 with 7:30 left — then Miami went on a 14-0 run, capped off by a LeBron put back dunk off a Wade miss that pretty much signaled the end of the game.

Or, think about Game 2 this way: Miami’s big three had 80 points on the Celtics defense, Boston’s big four combined for 56 points. James led everyone with 35 on 25 shots.

For a while in the fourth quarter Boston was relying on Glen Davis for steady post scoring as their offense, and that is the sign of big trouble — there is a reason he is open. Meanwhile LeBron and Wade and were creating shots for themselves and teammates.

Miami has a confidence now, one that starts with its defense but touches everything they do. You can sense it, every time Boston makes a run Miami answers. They had LeBron James draining threes and on one turnover James just bowled over Rajon Rondo. Or they had Wade absolutely spinning Kevin Garnett around and breaking Ray Allen’s ankles for a three.

Boston is not out of this series mathematically. But it’s hard to imagine them wining four-out-of-five after watching the first two games, after seeing the Heat physically dominate. Really, right now it’s hard to imagine Boston winning more than one.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.