NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics

Celtics unable to capitalize on momentum, Miami Heat force Game 7


The Boston Celtics had an excellent opportunity to close out the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, setting up a meeting with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals. LeBron James would not allow that to happen, however, and the Heat cruised to an easy 98-79 victory en route to forcing a Game 7 back in Miami on Saturday.

It was an epic performance considering the circumstances for James — maybe not unlike Rajon Rondo’s heroic performance earlier in the series. But this game was a bit more important considering the Celtics would have been on their way to the NBA finals with a win. Miami fans wouldn’t have to fret, however, as James put the Heat on his back  to give Miami all of the momentum.

In a game that would likely feature LeBron-led headlines regardless of the outcome, James was simply the star he’s supposed to be as he finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. The most interesting part about King James’ performance was his array of offensive execution as he found several different ways to obliterate the Celtics offense while they attempted to adjust their defensive assignments (Brandon Bass seemed to do the best, but that was only until James started moving without the ball — and faster than Bass, to boot). It was an excellent, clutch performance when the Heat needed it most and, luckily for the Heat, it seemed to rub off on his teammates.

Considering James’ performance, it’d be pretty easy to look at the box score and assume the rest of the team was ineffective. Instead, though, Miami only allowed James to do his thing until Boston forced them to do something different. And, when they needed to do something different, Dwyane Wade was effective, Shane Battier knocked down his jumpers and Mario Chalmers played his role well while knocking down three of his four 3-point attempts.

It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong for Boston on Thursday night, but it’s probably safe to assume the “veteran presence” that has been praised as one of the positives for this team was turned into a negative as they simply looked old, slow and … after giving up 30 points to James in the first half, absolutely bewildered. A couple of the key factors easily found in the box score, though, would be that the Celtics made just 1-of-14 3-point attempts while losing the rebound battle by a 10-board margin.

Rajon Rondo was the team’s leading scorer with 21 points, but his 10 assists were essentially canceled out with seven turnovers. And Kevin Garnett came back to earth with 12 points and a disappointing five rebounds. Neither was as lackluster as Paul Pierce, though, as he struggled on both ends: “The Truth” was the primary defender early on LeBron, allowing him to get into a rhythm, and couldn’t answer on the other end, mustering up just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting. Bass was probably the best Celtics starter with 12 points, seven rebounds and the best defensive effort on James, but the Boston offense simply wasn’t working well enough to make anything effective happen.

It seems like Boston’s had the sort of problem they did Thursday night — stagnant offense, questions of them being too old, a struggling star — at least once in each series thus far in the playoffs (and every so often during the regular season, too). It’s yet to seriously hamper them thus far, though, considering they’re still just one win away from reaching the NBA finals … and will have another chance to close out the series on Saturday night.

It’s going to be tough for the Celtics to rebound on the road following the Game 6 disaster, but resiliency is key for tough teams. Unfortunately, regardless of resiliency, Boston also needs to find an answer for the now-clutch King James.

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.