Heat-Celtics Game 5: Bosh will be the difference, not Rondo


No doubt, Rajon Rondo has been fantastic against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. He had a 44-point game, he dropped 15 and 15 on Miami in Game 4 and led Boston to even the series. For Celtics fans wanting to be convinced he was the bridge to a strong future, he has been that and more.

But Boston’s offense has not been dominant in this series — they averaged 93.9 points per 100 possessions against the Heat last game (worse than every team’s regular-season average save the Bobcats) and scored just 28 points in the second half. They won that game because of their defense.

And that’s why Chris Bosh will be the story of Game 5 — all signs point to him playing and he rapidly improves everything the Heat do on offense. He may be rusty to start, but just his presence changes things. Miami is back home and will put up plenty of points in Game 5, numbers Boston will be hard pressed to match.

No matter what my NBC Sports Network colleagues think, Bosh is the key, not Rondo to Game 5.

(UPDATE: Bosh might have more on his mind than just basketball, with the news out that a masseuse died at his house.)

It’s been obvious all series — when Kevin Garnett is off the floor suddenly LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are on an open highway to the rim. And not some East Coast toll road either, this is a California six-lane super highway. Nobody gets in their way and the Heat make runs. Garnett has been the guy at the heart of keeping Wade in check (well, that and Wade’s knee).

However, Garnett cannot help off Bosh the same way he helps off Udonis Haslem or any of the other Heat big men — Bosh will knock down the shot and make him pay. Garnett and the other Celtics big men will have much tougher decisions to make on help rotations.

Don’t just take my word for it.

“(Bosh) helps (the Heat), because all the trapping we’re doing is harder because he stretches the floor,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a Monday press conference. “He’s long. We can close out on the ball and get a hand on the ball (when Battier or Haslem shoot). You can’t do that with Bosh. It will be more difficult.”

Right now, Wade or LeBron come off the high pick and Boston shows no respect to the roll man — that changes, because Bosh can both roll or pop out and score. Even if he’s rusty to start, you can’t just leave him. And that opens up everything for two of the best attacking wings in the game.

Miami has really only played near their peak in spurts these playoffs, but when the Heat felt their backs were against the wall, they have stepped up. This is a backs-against-the-wall game, and the Heat their trio back.

We’ll hear about how Boston is a scrappy, veteran team — and they are, this will not be easy — but Wade and Haslem have rings, LeBron has been to two NBA finals, and this is not an inexperienced Heat team.

The Heat have fought through nine games without Bosh and won enough to keep moving on, but they were not themselves. You get a feeling Game 5 is the kind of place they show up on fire — particularly on defense. That is where it shows when they relax. Miami can’t do that Tuesday night.

We know Boston will bring its fire, we know Rondo will play well, we know what they can do. If Miami doesn’t bring its “A” game, Boston will have the chance to close this series out at home. But Bosh makes it easier on the Heat to be the team they need to be. Much easier.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

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James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.