Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Two

Dwyane Wade helps Heat overcome stellar game from Rajon Rondo


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.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.