Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers

Everything is no big deal to the Miami Heat, including blowout to Boston Celtics

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There is no “maybe this is a good thing” here for the Miami Heat. There should be no “just the wake up call they needed.” This team, with the aspirations it has, should not be looking for wake-up calls. They should be looking for toe tags. Miami’s 91-72 loss to the Celtics on Sunday should not be considered a positive thing in any way. There is no silver lining. There is no reassuring bright side. There is only the boot print left on the Miami’s neck and backside, imprinted with 16-11-14, Rajon Rondo’s triple-double he not-so-casually spit on the reigning East champs on national television.

And there’s nothing surprising about it.

This is who Miami is, capable of whipping reigning NBA champion Dallas three days earlier, then turning around and falling apart against the Celtics, their biggest rival over the past two years, a team that despite last year’s playoffs, likely feels it’s better. This is the same Miami team that torches the Lakers in their first meeting and gets trounced in the second, the same Heat that toppled the Bulls when they had Derrick Rose and lost to them when they didn’t.

It’s the same Heat that looked invincible in the Eastern playoffs and laughable for the final four games of the Finals. They are a good team, a great team when they choose to be. But they seldom choose to be. And it shows in their reactions to things like Sunday.

Consider this, from the Miami Herald:

James is right. They do have to hit shots. But that’s not what you say. That’s not how you lead. You say you have to put guys in better spots. You take the responsibility of being the best player on the planet. But of course, that’s not what was said. From the Sun-Sentinel:

“This was a good, old-fashioned you-know-what,” LeBron James said after going without an assist for only the second time in his career. “We’ve got to own it, and we’ve got to get better.

“We’ve got to figure it out before the playoffs. . . . We understand we have to fix this right now.”

The Heat are now 6-5 in their last 11 games overall and 3-7 in their last 10 road games.

“You’ve got to figure it out,” said guard Dwyane Wade, who was victimized by a humbling blocked shot by Celtics guard Avery Bradley and shot just 6 of 17. “We’ll figure it out. That’s what good teams do.”

via Miami Heat, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade take on Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce. – South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com.

There isn’t a sense this is unacceptable to Miami. This game can’t have surprised them. They knew Boston, desperate to cling to their fading chances at a championship, would circle this game. They knew this was a crucial opportunity to illustrate to everyone that Miami is read for a playoff run.

And they were blown out in the most Heat-way possible, looking totally underwhelming, as if the energy simply could not be spent.

This is kind of a recurring pattern, when you look at the Heat’s comments last year. A loss resulted in Wade’s “the world’s a better place” comment. The Finals disaster gave us LeBron’s “wake up tomorrow” speech. In general, the Heat’s response to every low point since they joined together in 2010 has been “eh.”

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The concept of effort in the NBA is kind of ridiculous. If you’re a superstar, you’re not lazy. There are lazy guys, guys who have either already succeeded or simply have physical advantages that make them think they don’t have to work (being tall). But anyone who is successful works their faces off. That’s the thing. You could dismiss the Heat if they were a bunch of talented underachievers who never showed any potential for excellence. But they’re not. They’re made up of the elite.

James is talented? That’s nice. He built that freakish body of his into a super-human machine and put the abilities to go with it, which aren’t natural fits for a frame like that. Wade is gifted? Sure. He also put in the time and effort to be able to hit those impossible layups. Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, all have done the work to be some of the best basketball players on Earth. So why do they continually have these games where it looks they’re not giving it everything?

It’s easy to just say every team loses. It does. But it’s different with this team. If it was just a cold shooting night, if it was just the Celtics executing better, if it was just the Warriors, the Thunder, the Lakers playing better, you can understand that, it takes nothing away from them. Every team loses. But this team was formed with the intentions of being one of the greatest of all time. It was that boldness that created such a backlash against them. But if you’re going to set that kind of standard? You had least better submit every ounce of sweat you can into reaching them.

But then, can you say the same for yourself? Have you committed to unparalleled effort in each of the biggest moments of your life? This is a regular season game against a likely 4 or 7 seed. That doesn’t even crack the top 50 of the most important games of these players’ careers. And yet it was an opportunity to say something meaningful. And instead, they largely laid down. Again.

This game means nothing in the grand scheme, except for this: If the Heat want the benefit of the doubt, they have to win a title. To win a title, they have to play consistently. And that’s not something that’s granted. It’s developed. The Celtics and Lakers have slept through regular season stretches in the past and won titles. And still this feels different.

The Heat are still a mystery, the most frustrating one you’ll find.

Thunder get off to fast start, survive wild ending to win 98-97, even series with Spurs

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, center, scramble with San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, right, for a loose ball as time expires in the second half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. Oklahoma City won 98-97. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Associated Press
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When the playoffs are all over, and all the confetti has fallen at the parade celebrating the 2016 NBA champion, we are still going to be talking about this game. The Spurs and Warriors gave us everything — great shooting, leads and comebacks, and a wild, controversial ending.

What ultimately matters is the Thunder bounced back from a rough first game, were aggressive from the start and raced out to that early lead using their transition offense. Then a team that blew a lot of leads this season hung on through multiple Spurs comebacks and ultimately got a 98-97 win behind 29 points from Russell Westbrook and 28 from Kevin Durant (who played well at the four spot much of the night). The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Oklahoma City.

All the controversy at the end doesn’t change that fact, or that the Thunder did some things much better in Game 2.

The Thunder have had moments like this throughout the season, where they defended better, got transition points, and Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter (or someone else) would step up and make plays — but they didn’t sustain that high level of play for very long. They still won 55 games because Durant and Westbrook are talented, but we will see if they can sustain a “beat the Spurs” level of play for most of the next couple weeks.

San Antonio helped out by having their offense not as sharp, and just missing shots — the Spurs started 2-of-15 from the field and finished the game shooting just 26.1 percent from three. The missed shots allowed the Thunder to get out in transition more and get the easy buckets that fuel their offense.

But that’s not what anybody is talking about, this is:

Those final 13 seconds, when the Spurs were down 1 and the Thunder were trying to inbound the ball, is the topic of the day. The referees swallowed their whistles to the point that a rugby scrum broke out.

The most discussed part of the play was the inbound — Dion Waiters reaches across the boundary line to shove Manu Ginobili back, which is a clear foul and a change of possessions. Ginobili had stepped on the end line, which could have been ruled a technical but was not as egregious as Waiters’ blatant foul. There were a host of other fouls in those final seconds: Kawhi Leonard grabbing Westbrook’s jersey, a Spurs fan grabbing Steven Adams when he fell out of bounds and not letting him back in the play, and Ibaka hacking LaMarcus Aldridge in the final seconds.

But that’s not what decided the game. The Spurs made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of clean looks before that, things they needed at the end. Aldridge had 41 points, and Leonard added 12. However, Tim Duncan was 1-of-8, and Tony Parker was 3-of-9 — those guys are not the top offensive options anymore, but the Spurs need them to be efficient. The hustling Thunder defense had something to do with this, but that doesn’t change that the Spurs need more from these two key players.

The Thunder offense worked not because they shared the ball — as per usual, it happens only in spurts — but because Westbrook and Durant hit their shots, and because they got transition buckets.

If they can do that for a couple more games at home, they will be in command of this series. But it’s not going to be simple or easy.

Referees miss Dion Waiters push off, multiple other calls in final seconds of Thunder’s win over San Antonio

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Manu Ginobili said it perfectly after the game: This one play, this one sequence is not why the Spurs lost Game 2 of their series against the Thunder.

However, I can’t remember a time the referees swallowed their whistles on so many calls in the final seconds of a game.

Oklahoma City was up one with 13.5 seconds left (after Serge Ibaka made a silly foul on LaMarcus Aldridge shooting a three), the Thunder just needed to inbound the ball, get fouled and hit their free throws. But it wasn’t that easy.

First and most notably, Dion Waiters was trying to inbound the ball and pushed off on Manu Ginobili guarding the inbound play. That’s a foul, or a technical depending upon which rule you want to apply. But the Spurs should have had the ball out of bounds, the referees just missed that one and both Chris Webber on the call and the TNT Inside the NBA crew harped on that one. They were right.

The officials admitted as much, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Ken Mauer, lead referee from tonight’s game: “On the floor we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever. We should have had an offensive foul on the play.”

The question Thunder fans are asking: Why wasn’t Ginobili called for stepping on the out of bounds line? In the final two minutes that’s a technical (the rule book says it’s a foul if he “crosses or breaks the plane of the boundary line,” Ginobili has a toe on the line). Also Leonard had Russell Westbrook‘s jersey through that entire inbounds play.

Waiters did throw a leaping inbound pass as Ginobili stumbled backwards, and he threw it to Durant — who was held as he went for the ball by Danny Green. That should have been a foul call (although Waiters’ inbound foul would have nullified it if that call had been made).

The Spurs get the ball in a scramble for the rock and end up kicking out to Patty Mills for a corner three (not sure that was the best shot), but he missed. In the rebound scramble there could have been a few calls, but the most obvious was Ibaka hacking Aldridge trying to get a putback. It was another clear foul.

All that obscured some great plays — Ginobili with the no-look, behind the head pass to Mills in the corner, or Steven Adams with an amazing closeout to get a piece of Mills’ shot, to name a couple.

I get it, the referees don’t want to decide the game with their whistle, but when it turns into a rugby scrum there should be calls, and the referees shouldn’t be afraid to make them.

Watch LeBron James make plays when it matters in fourth quarter

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On paper LeBron James didn’t have a great fourth quarter — 2-of-7 shooting, both his buckets right at the rim, and he’d been passive for long stretches of the game.

But when the Cavaliers made a 17-2 run late in the game that earned them the Game 1 win over Atlanta, LeBron was at the heart of it all. He had assists, a key steal, and a powerful and-1 dunk. You can check out LeBron’s impressive play in the last five minutes above.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.