Dwyane Wade helps Heat overcome stellar game from Rajon Rondo

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The Boston Celtics looked like they might be on their way to a big win on Wednesday night in Miami as Rajon Rondo had his offense hitting on all cylinders in the first half. It apparently wasn’t meant to be for Boston, however, because Dwyane Wade re-ignited the Heat in the second half to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals before heading to Boston.

Wednesday night’s game had to be heartbreaking for the Celtics faithful considering they were able to watch Rondo have what may very well have been the best game of his young career. For fans just hoping for a stellar game of basketball, though, it was one of the better games in this year’s playoffs … at least as far as the guard play was concerned. Wade found a way to score 23 points in 44 minutes after just two points in the first half and, while it certainly wasn’t as impressive box score-wise as Rondo’s 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists while playing all 53 minutes, it was just enough to help Miami defend their homecourt by way of a 115-111 overtime victory.

Rondo looked like he would be garnering all the headlines early on the way to a win: his jumpers were falling, he connected consistently from the charity stripe and scored a career-high in points in what was almost a must-win game — and that’s before mentioning the near triple-double while having to be almost exhausted due to playing every minute of an overtime game. In all honesty, after Rondo’s stellar play allowed the Celtics to jump out to a 36-21 lead, there were probably quite a few people in the viewing audience anticipating a tied series heading into Friday night’s Game 3 — how bad would Boston have to play to give up a 15-point lead considering they were already able to keep Wade out of the scoring column?

Boston never ended up playing bad, basketball though; in fact, they continued to play quite well. The Heat changed their defensive schemes and were able to bottle Rondo up for a significant portion of the third quarter but, after that, the resilient point guard rebounded and returned to the scoring role he’d adopted in the first half. It was, especially considering the circumstances, one of the most impressive performances submitted in this year’s NBA Playoffs (at a minimum).

Unfortunately for Rondo and Co., though, Wade woke up in the second half.

Wade’s first half performance made it look like he was going to find his way into the headlines for all of the wrong reasons after being held to just two points, by way of a lay-up, late in the first half. He came alive after halftime, though, spurring the Heat to a  12-0 run following a beautiful block on Ray Allen breakaway. Rondo and  the Celtics eventually bounce back from that run thanks to some defensive adjustments of their own, but Wade once again turned on the jets down the stretch — on both ends of the court — allowing fellow superstar teammate LeBron James to avoid the “un-clutch” headlines while also forcing Boston to have to try and figure out how to win four of the next five games.

The Western Conference Finals matchup has shown how brilliant team basketball can be, but Wednesday night’s game in the East showed just how important individual players still can be in today’s NBA. It wasn’t as though Rondo and Wade didn’t get their teammates involved, because they did, but both players figured out what their team needed them to do and when to do it, resulting in a frenetically fun game down the stretch and into overtime.

It’s going to be difficult for Rondo to outdo himself for Game 3 back in Boston, but it had to worry the Heat that he was able to take on a scoring role  — and excel at that, even from deep — because a less-than-heroic second half from Wade would have steered this series in a whole different direction. That obviously isn’t the case, though, and now the onus is on Boston to figure out the next step in the game plan. It won’t be easy, either, considering even holding Wade to such small contributions through the first 24 minutes wasn’t enough on Wednesday night.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.