Miami Heat's LeBron James celebrates after scoring against the Boston Celtics in Miami

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.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.