Boston fights back but Miami relentless, too much for C’s

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Boston would not get steamrolled. You’ve got to give them that. When Dallas found themselves getting overwhelmed early by the aggressive and up-tempo version of the Heat on Christmas Day, the Mavs rolled over and played dead.

Not Boston. They scrapped and zoned all the way back to make it a game.

But in the end the shorthanded Celtics fell to the Heat 115-107. Miami is 2-0 and looks better than they did last season (and the fans have a new hero in Norris Cole). Boston joins the Mavericks and Lakers as recent champions starting the season 0-2 (with a back-to-back in New Orleans on Wednesday).

It’s hard to describe how Miami is playing at a different tempo than their opponents right now. There are college football games early in the season where a young program goes in to challenge a national power and early on you can see the upstarts don’t have the size and athleticism, they look overwhelmed. It takes them a while to find their footing.

That is how Boston looked at the start. Overwhelmed and slow. Miami’s pressure is relentless in their new system — they were always aggressive on defense but now are trying to turn every miss and steal into a chance to run. And that means high percentage shots, like a monster LeBron James dunk early right over Rajon Rondo. Miami shot 81.8 percent through the first eight minutes of the game with Dwyane Wade and LeBron leading the way, and they shot 70 percent well into the third quarter.

Miami not only is trying to run more but they are far more aggressive trying to get to the rim in half court sets. One of their first possessions the got Chris Bosh the ball 15 feet out on the wing and he faced up and drove right at Jermaine O’Neal for two. Playing against Boston and Kevin Garnett seems to bring out the best in Bosh — and he’s knocking down that three trailing on those fast breaks. When Marquis Daniels was on LeBron, they posted him up. Miami is trying to find and exploit mismatches, and doing it much faster than before.

Boston hung around thanks to Rondo (who was looking to score) and 61.5 percent shooting themselves. Boston was also draining the long ball — Ray Allen had six threes and as a team the Celtics shot 12-of-19 from beyond the arc.

Still, it looked like a Heat runaway. But midway through third Doc Rivers decided to try the zone — the first time anyone remembers Boston in a zone — and that slowed the Heat down. Miami missed shots on eight straight possessions to end the third quarter and the Celtics got on an 18-6 run and cut the lead to at 91-83. And we had a ballgame.

Then in the fourth Boston went away from the zone and Miami was a little more patient on offense and suddenly the lead was back to 13. So Boston went back to the zone and their starters, the Heat started to turn it over.

Miami had better adapt better to the zone — flash LeBron or Bosh into the middle of it, have James Jones shooting over the top — because after this game they are going to see a lot more of it going forward.

Boston in the fourth quarter did what they have done for years – take away your primary scoring options and dare anyone else to beat them. Norris Cole did just that with 14 fourth quarter points. He finished with 20 total and more importantly played fearlessly but with the control of a veteran in the clutch. I don’t think Cole should ever have more shots than Bosh (16 to 11) but it worked. And he could have Mario Chalmers job if he keeps this up.

Boston had to play the Knicks and Heat on the road to start the season and do it without Paul Pierce. That might be 0-2 under the best of circumstances. They fought in this game. They are a good team that will be there later.

But Miami looks like a relentless machine. A team that has figured out an up-tempo style that suits them. One they will only get better at. A team that defends hard.

Miami was two games away from a title and they look better than they did last season. Much better. Which is scary for the other 29 teams.

Malik Monk: I thought Knicks would draft me

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Malik Monk to the Knicks was predicted and reported as a possibility. And when the No. 8 pick came up, the Kentucky guard was still on the board.

But New York – then still run by Phil Jackson – passed on Monk to draft Frank Ntilikina.

Monk, who wound up being drafted No. 11 by the Hornets, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“Me, my agent, everybody in my agency, my family — we thought we were going to New York,” Monk told the Daily News last week after a posing for his Panini trading card. “It was here, my agent is here (based in New York), a great agent, everybody thought it was going to be here. Went to dinner with (Jackson), had a great workout, everything was positive.”

Naiveté and/or wishful thinking by someone who had never been through the draft process before? Perhaps.

But Monk’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, is quite experienced.

What did the Knicks do to make the Monk camp believe they’d draft him? Misleading in those situations can grate agents, though if Jackson did that, at least New York eradicated the problem.

Report: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James didn’t meet in Miami

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Another day, another disputed rumor involving LeBron James.

This time it’s one about him meeting with Kyrie Irving in Miami.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

I just got off the phone with folks about an hour ago. They said LeBron James and Kyrie Irving never met at all. They were both in the city of Miami. But, I was told, it is quite possible to be in the same city and not see each other. They never met. They never talked.

Whether or not they’ve already met, Irving and LeBron might need to address their problems soon

The Cavaliers might not have their high asking price for Irving met before the season, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert already discussed the possibility of Irving returning. LeBron and Irving might have to reconcile a future as teammates.

Malcolm Brogdon: Charlottesville was white supremacism and terrorism

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Rookie of the Year and Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon – who played four years at the University of Virginia, which became the epicenter of white-nationalist protests – was asked about the events in Charlottesville and his thoughts on the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Brogdon, via Sports Illustrated:

It was pretty shocking. To see this happen at a place that I call home is sort of jarring for me.

But, if I were to be honest, the level of hate and blatant racism that still dominates the minds of so many Americans today, it’s not shocking to me. I think at the end of the day, you have to call it what it is. I think this is white supremacy, and I think it’s domestic terrorism. I think we live in a country where we go overseas, and we fight other people’s wars, and we fight terrorism overseas internationally. But we don’t want to fully acknowledge the terrorism that goes home domestically.

So, I think it’s a shocking event. But it’s not surprising sort of the hate that is still around.

My thoughts about it have never changed. I’m a person that thinks things should not be glorified that did not do the country any justice. For example, these statues stand still, but all they do is divide people. At this point in time, I think that America needs to be unified. And the statues are clearly something that’s not unifying people. It’s going to continue to create a divide within our communities. And I think they have no place in our society right now.

Kudos to Brogdon for calling spades spades.

Racism is still a problem – not one we’re comfortable discussing, which only exacerbates the problem. It must be acknowledged to be solved.

“Terrorism” is too often a term we reserve for only crimes committed by Muslims. A white supremacist driving his car into a group of counter-protestors – killing one – is almost certainly designed to terrorize them.

But I disagree with Brogdon that the statue should be removed because it’s divisive. It should be removed because it glorifies someone who led a war against the United States to protect the racist institution of slavery.

Unity is nice, but unifying around what? Brogdon might find that the people who agree with his call for unity have a different vision than he does.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+