Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

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


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.

Did we mention LeBron James was dunking all over Knicks? Watch for yourself.

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LeBron James isn’t the only story out of the NBA season opener — Kyrie Irving had 29 points, Kevin Love had 23, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose were shotmaking.

But mostly, LeBron James was dunking. And racking up a triple-double (19 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). But mostly just dunking. Like you see above. Or there is this alley-oop.

Or, there was this putback throwdown.

And we can throw in a block on Courtney Lee just for fun.

Cavaliers moving ball, LeBron James dunking in season opener

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on in the first quarter against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers were not in mid-season form on opening night — they started the game 3-of-12 from the floor and were 4-of-21 from three in the first half.

But they were showing flashes.

Like the LeBron James dunk above. Or this stretch of ball movement below.

The Cavaliers led the Knicks 48-45 at the half.

Watch LeBron James’ speech after getting his ring in Cleveland

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“At this point, if you’re not from here, live here, play here, dedicate yourself to Cleveland, then it makes no sense for you to live at this point — Cleveland against the world!”

And with that, the Q went nuts.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers got their rings and raised a banner in Cleveland — the first title banner in that city in 52 seasons (although the Indians are trying to have their say on the matter across the street). It was emotional for everyone in the building, and particularly the hometown boy LeBron.

Check out the full ring ceremony.

Best foot forward: 76ers’ Embiid set for long-awaited debut

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, of Spain, during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) With a dunk contest, half court shots and “Juju on that Beat ” dancing contest finished, Joel Embiid turned back toward Philadelphia 76ers fans at an open practice.

Instead of scurrying off to the locker room, Embiid stuck around for selfies with fans sitting on all sides of the court, stretching mobiles high over his 7-foot-2 frame to squeeze as many fans as he could into each snapshot .

Embiid even entertained in 1-on-1 games – against little kids.

Embiid has the joyous personality of a kid himself. Social media posts include him crushing on Rihanna or teasing an Australian-born teammate that he’ll get deported if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. The 76ers posted a Vine last season of Embiid throwing down a between-the-legs dunk at warmups that blew up NBA-centric Twitter feeds and offered fans a fleeting look at the potential ahead.

“Philadelphia’s going to love him,” coach Brett Brown said.

The city has waited 29 months to love the 22-year-old Embiid for his impact on the court.

The Sixers have stripped the bubble wrap off Embiid and the No. 3 overall pick of the 2014 draft is set to make his debut Wednesday night against Oklahoma City after two foot surgeries, countless days of rehab, gallons of Shirley Temples and inherited expectations that he is the savior for a woebegone franchise that has made a farce of competitive basketball.

Embiid, who grew up playing soccer and volleyball and didn’t play basketball until 2011, is no longer the raw project out of Kansas. He’s grown 3 inches and beefed up to about 275 pounds to better handle the daily grind of battling the NBA’s biggest big men.

“Where I was three years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” Embiid said. “My game has gotten so much better. The past three years, if you watch the game tape, I’m not the same guy.”

Embiid had a fantastic freshman season with the Jayhawks, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. He blocked 72 shots to earn Big 12 defensive player of the year honors.

He might have been the No. 1 overall pick in `14 – a spot that went to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins – had he had not suffered from a balky back and needed surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot shortly before the draft. Embiid, who knew only his native Cameroon before college, failed to really adjust to life without daily organized basketball. His weight ballooned, and he was booted from a road trip because of a petulant attitude. Part of his weight gain was blamed on a junk food diet washed down with that mix of ginger ale and a splash of grenadine garnished with a maraschino cherry commonly known as a Shirley Temple .

His personal life was rocked in October 2014 when his 13-year-old brother Arthur died in a car crash in Africa.

“It’s been really hard,” Embiid said.

Embiid was expected to anchor the rebuild in 2015 for a Sixers organization that had scorched their roster and abandoned a competitive season in hopes of gobbling lottery picks. But a second surgery of the navicular bone on the right foot in August 2015 cost him his sophomore season.

Embiid was devastated but handled his time off with greater seriousness in his workouts and a mission to return as a dominant center. The 76ers even shipped Embiid to a sports science facility and sports medicine hospital in Qatar to rehab.

“When I left college, I felt I wasn’t ready for NBA life,” Embiid said. “But since I’ve been in the league, the support I’ve had around me from (former president) Sam Hinkie, the coaching staff, they’ve just been on me. That’s what I usually need. When somebody’s on me, I can usually do better.”

The Sixers played it safe this year and held Embiid out of summer league. Brown, in his fourth season, entered training camp with a cautious plan to limit Embiid’s minutes and games when the schedule is packed.

Embiid, well, he left his training wheels in the dust.

He averaged 11.6 points over all seven preseason games. Embiid played 20 minutes a game as the preseason ended and Brown said he would consider playing his starting center more often. Brown would ideally lessen Embiid’s load early and help him avoid the same fate of other centers who had careers curtailed by foot injuries, like Yao Ming and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

In the preseason, Embiid flashed some wow moments that had his teammates hooting and hollering on the bench. But Embiid sometimes tried too hard to be the showstopper and was a turnover machine.

“At times, he just reminds me of a yearling, trying to find his balance,” Brown said. “He wants to score. He wants to dominate. How about the passion he plays with? You can’t coach that. And he has `it.”‘

So who plays with him? The Sixers have had more key players out with injuries under Brown than they have had competing for playing time.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick this year, is sidelined indefinitely with a broken bone in his right foot. Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick in the `13 draft, is out at least a month after surgery on his left knee. Starting point guard Jerryd Bayless is sidelined with a ligament injury in his left wrist. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia’s leading scorer and rebounder, is restricted as he recovers from surgery on his left knee.

The Sixers went 10-72 last season and have won 27 games in Embiid’s two seasons on the bench.

“Having to sit on the bench and watch us lose almost every night has been hard,” Embiid said.

Embiid took note of the hype that happened across the street during one of his visits to the Philadelphia Eagles sideline. Carson Wentz went from unknown rookie to whipping fans into a “Wentzamania” frenzy with his quick start.

“I think it’s our turn,” Embiid said.