Celtics find their offense in Rondo, Heat still pull out OT win

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There are occasional games where the Celtics offense looks good. Games where Rajon Rondo looks like the best point guard in the land, driving the lane and knocking down threes. Games where the Celtics and passing and cutting and scoring with the shots they want.

Boston had one of those nights Wednesday. In a series where they were expected to struggle to score Rajon Rondo dropped 44 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. He scored all 12 Celtics points in overtime. Ray Allen was knocking down threes. Paul Pierce had 21. Boston put up 111 points. Their offense showed up.

And the Heat still won in overtime 115-111 to take a 2-0 series lead heading back to Boston.

“It’s tough to have (Rondo) play that way and not win the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. “He basically did everything right. We had a lot of opportunities to win the game.”

This one is a punch to the gut for Boston. This was the game they needed to win. They played with the energy and resolve of a younger team, they were physical and just took the game to the Heat. Boston pushed Miami off the spots on the floor they wanted to be, Boston cut off the penetration. It worked.

They led by 15 in the first half, and while you knew a Heat run was coming the Celtics fought those runs off and had chances to win it. They will regret not doing so.

In the end, the Heat made plays. Miami showed the kind of resiliency we usually just credit to veteran teams like the Celtics. LeBron James got the offensive rebound on his own miss at the end of regulation robbing the Celtics of a last shot. (LeBron would miss a second attempt to win in regulation, a 20-foot jumper over Rondo when he should have attacked more. Then late the Celtics struggled to stop the LeBron/Dwyane Wade pick and roll. Wade attacked and got a key and-1 over Kevin Garnett. On the whole Boston did a good job on Wade, trapping on the pick-and-roll with bigs and trying to take the ball out of his hands. It’s why the picks set by LeBron worked so well — you can’t trap off him. Wade finished with 23 (LeBron had 34).

The Heat kept attacking — they took 47 free throws as a team. It’s a sign they were trying to get to the rim. LeBron took 24 free throws alone and helped Paul Pierce to foul out.  The Celtics as a team only took 29 free throws. They think they got robbed (and they did at a key point in OT when Wade fouled Rondo on the head and it was not called).

Udonis Haslem stepped up with some timely key shots, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Boston just does not have people they can turn to for that kind of bench scoring — the Celtics had 7 bench points. It’s not enough. That kind of effort from the starters and to not get a win hurts.

Boston heads home and needs to replicate that offensive performance — their offense has been a roller coaster all season but this time the Celtics have to find a way to do it again. And a little better. Get a few more calls at home and make it stick.

Because now they have to win 4 of 5 from the Heat. And with their athletes, you know the Heat will keep making plays.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.