Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Three

Celtics-Heat Game 5: Erik Spoelstra vs. the depths of pressure

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The thing you have to understand is that I don’t think you can really study Erik Spoelstra and think he’s a bad coach. His preparation, his devotion, his work ethic, his approach, most of his tactics, and his overall intelligence make it pretty hard to validate what so many people say about him, just because he’s at the head of a team they hate, one he didn’t assemble, ask for, or prematurely celebrate with.

And he seems like a genuinely great guy.

Which is why it’s really hard to write this, and I take zero pleasure in it. Spoelstra’s spent his entire career in pro basketball in Miami. He worked his way up from video guy sleeping in the tape room to head coach of the most talked about team in the world.  So the fact that he may wind up being the fall guy is just brutal.

But there’s just no way around it. Erik Spoelstra has gotten worked in this series. Now, that’s no terrible damnation. Phil Jackson was worked by Rivers in 2008. Stan Van Gundy in 2010. Rivers is a brilliant motivator who has also gotten really incredibly good at tactical adjustments. But in a series like this you look at what cost Miami a game they could have won. And Spoelstra’s decisions account for a lot.

For starters, Joel Anthony was a DNP-CD Tuesday night. Anthony wasn’t going to make a huge difference in the game. But in a game where the Heat were slaughtered late by offensive rebounds and Kevin Garnett inside, Anthony might have helped. Instead, Spoelstra elected to play Udonis Haslem heavy minutes, despite Chris Bosh saying he was ready. They needed a presence inside, Spo turned to reliable, safe Haslem, who the Celtics funneled the ball to and watched him drop it. This isn’t Haslem’s fault, he’s not an offensive weapon (and surely Anthony would have done no better at catching and finishing), but he’s also out-sized. Spoelstra wanted a small lineup to battle the Celtics’ small lineup, not factoring that with KG, their small lineup was bigger than Miami’s.

Since Game 2, Spoelstra hasn’t been able to counter the Celtics’ use of Garnett and Boston’s counter to the Heat’s front. When the Celtics adjusted to the Heat fronting Garnett, Spoelstra did not throw different looks at them. He did not switch up his coverage. He just did more of it. And watched the 900-year-old Garnett decimate them. Garnett has played his face off in these Conference Finals, beyond what he’s done all year and is an all-time great. The Heat also opened up a welcome sign for him in the paint.

And then late, he’s running plays with LeBron James standing in the corner. Some of this is on James. But even looking back to last year’s semifinals when James nailed key three-pointers over Boston, they were off the dribble, gauging the defense. Spot-up? Not so much. But those were the looks James got in the fourth. They needed to activate their MVP, create space by any means necessary. Instead they let Wade trying and slice through four Celtics defenders. Another fail.

The motivation matters, too. Spoelstra told Doris Burke on ESPN in the interview before the fourth that Boston had “got into (Miami’s) mind a little bit.” He actually said this. On national television. In the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not that he said it, it’s that he was so obviously wrapped up in it happening. The Heat were frustrated and falling apart and Spoelstra couldn’t pull them out of it. That matters. Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe they should be able to on their own. But he’s part of it.

So Spoelstra has been worked over, and it’s a crushing assessment of a guy who never asked for this. But he’s here, it’s his responsibility, and if someone is likely to take the fall this summer should the probable happen and Boston close them out in Game 6, it’s going to be Spoelstra. Spoelstra didn’t collapse, the Heat did. But Spoelstra just hasn’t done enough to help the Heat win this series. Someone has to be held accountable.

And we know it won’t be LeBron.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suggests Seattle starts a petition to bring back Sonics

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, left, signs autographs for fans during the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a dumb idea about the Sonics.

So, he posted it to Twitter:

Yes, because this is how the NBA decides where to place teams.

Seattle’s City Council voted not to sell part of a street to Chris Hansen, essentially blocking a new arena – which is probably for the best. Why build a stadium when you might not even get a team? NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league isn’t expanding anytime soon, and no franchise appears imminent to move.

But a petition could change all that do nothing – except rile up Wilson’s fans, no matter how detached the idea is from reality.

Kyle Lowry, in historic postseason slump, shoots at arena until nearly 1 a.m. (video)

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) and Jonas Valanciunas walks towards the bench during the second half against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Toronto. Miami won, 102-96.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Raptors’ Game 1 loss to the Heat ended at 11 p.m last night.

Kyle Lowry didn’t finish shooting until nearly 1 a.m.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

Beyond his half-court buzzer beater to force overtime, Lowry scored four points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Lowry, via Arthur:

“I passed up a lot of shots,” Lowry said after a 102-96 loss, cradling a basketball an hour after the game, after going to the team’s practice court to shoot postgame. “I passed up a ton of shots. The poor shooting, I think that’s what it did to me tonight.

“I’m going to hang out here for a little bit and just be in the gym, try to get back to just enjoying it, being in the gym, and having fun . . . I shoot the ball well when I’m by myself, but I’m by myself . . . it’s weird . . . I have (been through slumps like this), but not at this time, and that’s what sucks. Playoffs, all eyes are on you. So it sucks that I’m playing this bad when all eyes are on me, because I know I’m way better than this. So I’ve got to pick this s— up.”

Lowry is being more selective, waiting for only the shots he believes he has the best chance of making. And he’s still missing them at an alarming clip! That’s a major problem.

Unfortunately for him, this game wasn’t an aberration.

Lowry’s field-goal percentage – 30.6 – is the lowest in the playoffs since the NBA-ABA merger (minimum: 100 attempts). His teammate, DeMar DeRozan, isn’t far behind at 33.1%.

Here’s the full “leaderboard:”

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The Raptors came to expect so much from Lowry, who should make an All-NBA team for his regular-season performance.

But this postseason has been a disaster, Lowry’s scoring average fell from 21.2 in the regular season to 13.0 in the playoffs. It’s one of the biggest drops in the league this year:

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Stephen Curry, Lowry, Blake Griffin and DeRozan are the only premier scorers on that list.

Curry has an excuse. He has played just 38 total minutes in two injury-shortened games. Lowry is averaging 39 minutes per game. Likewise, nobody expected Blake Griffin to near his early-season output after injuries and suspension.

And at least DeRozan showed some signs of shaking loose in Game 1 against Miami. No longer hounded by Paul George, DeRozan scored 22 points (albeit on 9-of-22 shooting).

But Lowry has been a colossal disappointment, which speaks to both the high standard he has set for himself and the low marks he’s hitting now.

Maybe he’s banged up. Maybe playoff basketball, where teams can better scout individual players, doesn’t suit him. Maybe he just hit a cold stretch at the worst possible moment.

No matter the cause, it’s difficult to see Toronto advancing with its biggest star struggling so mightily.

Can Lowry fix this?

He’s at least putting in the time.

Report: Larry Bird still hasn’t told Frank Vogel about his future with Pacers

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Addressing coach Frank Vogel on Monday, Pacers president Larry Bird said: “What I don’t want to do is leave Frank hanging — there’s other jobs out there he could get.”

Two days later, Vogel is still left hanging.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

If Bird’s statement isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is.

Vogel is a good coach, and based on what we can see from the outside, the Pacers should keep him. But if Bird is waiting this long to give Vogel a new contract, that’s probably a telltale sign.

I doubt this lasts past tomorrow. Bird won’t want to get grilled about Vogel’s job status then do it all over again once he makes a decision. And at face value, Bird has the decency to end this saga before Vogel misses on the Rockets job (which I think would be an excellent fit) or any other.

Warriors GM Bob Myers: Stephen Curry doesn’t know when he’ll return, nobody does

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, center left, sits on the bench during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Stephen Curry said there’s a “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 Saturday.

The bad news: Warriors general manager Bob Myers says Curry isn’t qualified to make a definitive statement.

Myers on 95.7 The Game, as transcribed by Diamond Leung of The Mercury News:

“I know everybody wants to know is it going to be Saturday, is it going to be Monday? It’s in that range, but it’s hard to say. But those games (3 and 4) are so close together.

“I don’t know if he’s coming back (ahead of the two-week timetable),” Myers said. “Nobody knows. He doesn’t know. He thinks he is, but that’s good.”

The good news: Myers puts Curry on a similar timetable. With Golden State leading the Trail Blazers 2-0, it probably doesn’t matter whether Curry returns Saturday, Monday or next Wednesday for Game 5.

As long as he’s healthy enough to stave off a potential Portland comeback and produce in the conference finals, the Warriors can’t ask for more.