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.

Sixers Jabari Parker upgraded to “probable,” will decide after warm ups

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day. Embiid had been out with a concussion and orbital bone fracture.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.