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.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.