Boston Celtics' Pierce is defended by Miami Heat's Wade and James in Eastern Conference Finals NBA basketball playoff series in Miami

Miami’s athletic defense is biggest hurdle for Boston to clear

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It wasn’t the technical fouls. It wasn’t the officiating period (Miami shot 23 free throws, Boston 21). It’s not about fatigue. It’s not something being more physical can solve. It is not something zone defense is going to solve. The core problem the Boston Celtics have to overcome against the Miami Heat is something very basic.

Miami is by far the more athletic team.

That’s a problem when Boston tries to defend LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, however Game 1 showed it is the other end of the floor that is the bigger issue — Boston scored just 33 points in the second half and that’s why Miami won handily 93-79.

Boston has to find a way to score against the Heat. Consistently. This is not Philadelphia — 79 points won’t have you in the game. But this is like playing a better version of the Sixers defense, something the Celtics couldn’t solve effectively last round.

And the Celtics need to solve it fast. They need ball movement to negate the wing shot blocking LeBron and Wade bring, they need to knock down threes. Because if Boston loses Game 2 Wednesday night and has to win four out of the following five against the Heat, they are in serious trouble.

Boston scored less than 20 points in three of the four quarters of Game 1. Boston shot 25 percent in the first quarter, 27 percent in the third quarter. The problems were inside and out — they had eight shots blocked within three feet of the rim, but they also were 4-14 from three (and you want to say that’s an off night from deep remember Boston shot just 27.8 percent from three in the playoffs coming into this game).

Boston did have the second quarter, where they put up 35 points and shot 59 percent. Boston’s offense found its groove as Rajon Rondo started to drive the lane, kicking out to open guys who knocked down the open look, including a Paul Pierce corner three, a kickout to Kevin Garnett for a 19 footer and even Rondo himself knocking down a midrange jumper. The second quarter even saw Ray Allen hitting a three.

“In the second quarter I thought (Rondo) was attacking, attacking,” Rivers said in his televised press conference. “(The rest of the game) I thought he was reading a lot instead of just playing by instinct. I think sometimes his IQ hurts him, he’s trying to read the defense. And you can’t read and play at speed.”

In the third quarter Miami ratcheted up the pressure on Rondo — who Wade called “the head of the snake” with the Celtics — going with long defenders. That included Wade and LeBron at points trying to cut him off and take away his looks. The end result was Boston scoring at a 77 points per 100 possessions performance in the second half (for some comparison, the Bobcats had the worst offense in the league and averaged

Rondo finished with 16 points but on 20 shots and seven assists. Most of his shots came in the paint (16 of the 20) but he hit just seven of those because of the athletic and aggressive defense challenging everything.

“It’s going to be tough, because he’s probably the number one unpredictable guy we have in our league, in terms of how he forces his action,” LeBron said of Rondo. “A lot of his points come in transition where you want to load him and he sprays out for threes.”

Boston did some things they wanted to do in this game — they slowed the pace way down and made the Heat grind it out for the most part. They also got to the line and certainly can pick up some easy points by shooting beter than 11-21 from the stripe.

But the bottom line is this is the Heat, not Philadelphia — 79 points is not going to have you close to winning. Boston needs Ray Allen to find his groove and knock down open looks. It’s going to be tough with LeBron James on him but Paul Pierce can’t go 5-18 shooting. As a team the Celtics can’t shoot just 39.5 percent.

Boston did establish Garnett (23 points on 16 shots) but they have to get Rondo going setting up other guys – he had 2 assists in the second half. Part of that is him, part of that is guys need to move better off the ball to create good looks, then they need to knock down the shots when they get the looks.

Boston is going to come out in Game 2 more physical. They may play some zone. But all of that will be moot if they don’t put the ball in the basket a whole lot more.

And if not, this series will be over very quickly.

Pelicans searching for right plan with DeMarcus Cousins in fold

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis #23 react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins hoisted up extra shots near one another after practice, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry stood in a far corner of the club’s practice gym, trying to explain why New Orleans hasn’t won in three games since the All-Star big men became teammates.

“We have to become more consistent, and the only way you can become more consistent, I think, is that you’ve got to consistently have the same people out there so that you’re learning the ins and outs of a system and learning the ins and outs of each other,” Gentry said Monday.

“I do feel good about the progress we’ve made the last three games, and I think we’re just going to continue to get better,” Gentry added. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve got to do it on the fly. That’s really tough to do in some situations.”

The trade that brought in Cousins last week sent three guards – Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway – to the Kings. New Orleans then added two free agent guards – Hollis Thompson and Jarrett Jack – to the regular rotation in the past week.

“We’ve just got to stay with it,” Pelicans forward Solomon Hill said. “Minutes change for people, and we have new roles that we have to learn.”

That seems to be the case for everyone but Davis and Cousins. Davis has averaged 35.3 points and 10 rebounds in the past three games. Cousins has averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds despite being limited to less than 30 minutes per game by foul trouble. During a loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday night, Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes before fouling out.

However, Gentry has noticed instances when Davis and Cousins may be trying too hard to defer to one another.

“They are producing in the team concept, but unfortunately right now, after three games, they’re much better when one or the other one is off the court,” Gentry said. “We have to find a way to make that work when both of them are on the court.”

That might not be an issue on Wednesday night, when Cousins is expected to serve a one-game suspension for receiving his 18th technical foul this season Sunday night in Oklahoma City. He’ll only play if the league rescinds that technical on appeal from the club.

Cousins’ arrival also seems to have affected point guard Jrue Holiday‘s game in unexpected ways. Holiday averaged 21.4 points and eight assists in the 10 games before the trade. Since, he has averaged 10 points, six assists and 5.3 turnovers.

Davis said part of Holiday’s problem is that “he’s looking to be a pass-first point guard.”

“We don’t need him to come out and try to be a guy who’s getting 15 assists. That’s not who he is,” Davis said. “He’s a great scorer and a great defender. … When you’ve got two guys that you want to give them the ball as much as possible, you just overthink a lot.”

Holiday said he appreciates the advice but added that it’s hard to ignore the temptation to pass to Davis or Cousins when “they’re so dominant in the paint.”

“We’re trying to figure something out that’s new to us and trying to get as good at it as possible as quick as we can,” Holiday said.

The Pelicans often don’t practice the day after ending a road trip, but Gentry decided to bring them in on Monday and instead give them off on Tuesday, which is Mardi Gras, a state holiday in Louisiana. Davis and Cousins were invited to ride in the historic Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade – the same one in which Louis Armstrong rode in 1949.

Gentry thought it was important to encourage participation in Mardi Gras, suggesting that those who’ve never experienced it in person don’t have “any idea of the magnitude of what it means to the city and what it means to the people.”

Perhaps the chance to celebrate Mardi Gras like a local will inspire the Pelicans to make Lent, which starts Wednesday, more festive than usual for area basketball fans.

NBA quickly reverses course, says Dwight Howard should not have been ejected Monday

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 27: Dwight Howard #8 of the Atlanta Hawks is ejected from the game following his second technical foul against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at TD Garden on February 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Dwight Howard was sent to the showers early in Boston Monday night, picking up two technical fouls in the third quarter of a game between two teams fighting for playoff seeding in the East.

The first one was unquestioned, Howard pushed Al Horford after a foul.

Five minutes later, Howard got a second technical for doing a pull-up on the rim after a dunk.

That’s two technicals, and Howard was ejected. The NBA didn’t wait for the Last Two-Minute Report to say that was a bad call.

Note that the league is saying that Howard should still have gotten the technical foul called, just not been ejected for it. According to NBA rules, “non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls” such as calling too many timeouts, delay of game, an untucked jersey and hanging on the rim, are technical fouls but do not count toward an ejection from the game.

Personally, I think the Karmic scales in the universe are balanced after Howard did this to a Celtics fan who really wanted his jersey.

The ejection was moot in the grand scheme. Not long after Howard was tossed, the Hawks went on an 8-0 run and pulled away to beat the Celtics anyway, 114-98. Dennis Schroder led the way with 21 for the Hawks.

Three Things We Learned Monday: No Kyle Lowry, so DeMar DeRozan steps up with game winner

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after hitting the game winning shot against the New York Knicks during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2017 in New York City.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We know things get weird and busy for you, like trying to convince police not only did your dog eat your homework he shot your girlfriend, so you missed out on a busy Monday around the NBA. We got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Kyle Lowry’s out, so DeMar DeRozan steps up with game-winner to beat Knicks.
Monday started with harsh news for the Raptors: Kyle Lowry needed wrist surgery and was going to be out until around the start of the playoffs. Yes, he played in the All-Star Game through it (and was in the three-point contest), but the surgery is there to remove loose bodies, something that builds up over time rather than happening in one traumatic moment, it just caught up with him. It happens.

It just happened at a bad time — with the trade deadline additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the Raptors were trying to make a push back up to the three seed (at least) and set themselves up for a deep playoff run. They want out of the four seed, which would mean facing Cleveland in the second round. In the three games since the trades the Raptors defense has been improved, but now where will the points come from?

DeMar DeRozan. He had 37 Monday night against the Knicks, including the game-winner in Madison Square Garden.

This is going to have to be the norm for DeRozan and the Raptors for the next month or so — DeRozan is going to have to carry the offense. Other guys can score — Ibaka will get some buckets, Jonas Valanciunas will have good nights, as will Cory Joseph and Norman Powell — but buckets and shot creation will fall heavily on DeRozan. With the win over the Knicks the Raptors moved past the Wizards into the three seed in the East, if they stay there will fall in large part on DeRozan, he has to step up.

2) Dwight Howard ejected, then NBA says it was a bad call. Doesn’t matter, Hawks beat Celtics anyway.
Dwight Howard got tossed in the Boston Garden Monday night for picking up a couple technical fouls. The first one was well deserved, pushing Al Horford after a foul.

The second came for doing a pull-up on the rim after a dunk.

The NBA didn’t wait for the two-minute report to say that was a bad call.

Interesting. The NBA says that should have been a technical, however “non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls” such as calling a timeout when a team doesn’t have one, delay of game, having an untucked jersey, and hanging on the rim should not count toward an ejection.

Doesn’t matter, not long after he was tossed the Hawks went on an 8-0 run without him that stretched into a 22-11 run, and the Hawks pulled away to beat the Celtics anyway (a rough loss for Boston in the playoff chase, see No. 1 above). Dennis Schroder led the way with 21 for the Hawks.

Maybe hanging on the rim shouldn’t have gotten Howard tossed, but consider the Karmic scales balanced after he did this to a fan who wanted his jersey.

3) Stephen Curry goes ice-cold 0-of-11 from three. Not that it matters, Warriors beat Sixers 119-108. Here is Stephen Curry’s shot chart from Monday night in Philadelphia.

Stephen Curry shotchart

That’s redder than a certain district of Amsterdam, and notice that Curry was 0-of-11 from three.

Didn’t matter, these are the Warriors we are talking about. And while the Sixers are scrappy under Brett Brown, they don’t have Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons or anyone that really scares opponents anymore. Kevin Durant had 27 points, Klay Thompson added 21, and while the Warriors as a team shot 20 percent from three they got the win in Philly 119-108.

Sit back and enjoy KD’s work on the night.

Seth Curry, Mavs hand Heat third loss in 19 games with 96-89 win

Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry (30) shoots against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. The Mavericks won 96-89. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) — Seth Curry scored 29 points, Harrison Barnes added 24 and the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami 96-89 on Monday night, handing the Heat just their third loss in 19 games.

Curry looked a little like famous older brother Stephen Curry of Golden State by hitting two long 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the latter giving Dallas a 90-89 lead. The Mavericks rallied from 14 points down in the first quarter and let an 11-point third-quarter lead get away.

Two games after scoring a career-high 31 points in a loss at Minnesota, Curry was 5 of 7 from long range to help the Mavericks improve to 2-0 with forward-center Nerlens Noel, who came from Philadelphia before the trade deadline.

Goran Dragic scored 24 points for the Heat, who went scoreless over the final 4:37 as a three-game winning streak ended.

Hassan Whiteside, a free agent target for Dallas last summer, had 19 points and 19 rebounds. Now the Mavericks are preparing for a future with the 22-year-old Noel, who had a crowd-energizing block from behind on Whiteside and finished with six points and six rebounds.

Dragic finished a 9-0 Heat run with a 3-pointer that bounced high off the front of the rim and went in for an 89-84 lead. But Miami missed its last seven shots, and the Mavericks scored the final six points on free throws after Curry’s go-ahead shot.

Curry scored 11 points in the second quarter, including a three-point play that gave Dallas its first lead at 48-46 after the Mavericks trailed by 14 in the first quarter. He had another flurry late in the third, hitting a long 3 and a pull-up jumper for the final five points as Dallas took a 78-69 lead into the final quarter.

TIP-INS

Heat: C Willie Reed won’t need a boot or crutches to treat bursitis in his right ankle. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Reed was day to day. … The visit to Dallas was the Miami’s last road game against the West this season.

Mavericks: Coach Rick Carlisle said G J.J. Barea is at least a week away from returning from a left calf strain that has sidelined him the past 16 games and for 33 of the 41 games he has missed this season. … G Quinn Cook, undrafted in 2015 out of Duke, made his NBA debut a day after signing a 10-day contract, getting two points and two assists in 17 minutes. … Seth Curry had a big night while his brother had a most miserable one. Stephen Curry was a career-worst 0 for 11 from deep in the Warriors’ win over Philadelphia on Monday.