Celtics-Heat Game 7 Preview: Five things to watch

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With so much on the line in Game 7, what are the things that will decide this game? What does it come down to? Here are five things to watch as the Boston Celtics meet the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night.

1. For the love of God, stop trying to front Kevin Garnett with Udonis Haslem. The Heat have stuck with this plan for five games and it’s murdered them nearly every time. Rondo can throw a lob pass in-between two crossing speedboats with his eyes closed. So, no, he has not struggled to find the lob to Garnett underneath, resulting in easy scores time and time again. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has sacrificed Udonis Haslem to the former T-Wolf time and time again, despite Haslem having neither height nor athleticism to challenge the entry pass. It’s like building a fortress wall, but only having it be about four feet high. The Heat had more success in Game 6 with timing their double once Garnett goes into his shooting motion in the post rather than upon the catch (where Garnett is more likely to simply pass out). They need to stick with that. They also need to get some help from the Gods by having Garnett miss his 18 footers on the pick and pop. That’s a primary reason Haslem is out there, to have the speed to challenge those shots. He has not been able to. There’s no good answer for stopping Garnett, it’s impossible. There are, however, less awful ones.

2. Keep with the strategy from Game 6 on LeBron James. Sounds nuts, right? But if LeBron James is hitting mid-range jumpers, you’re in trouble, big trouble, awful trouble anyway. Not a lot you can do. Doc Rivers will live with it day in and day out. You take your chances with the jumper. If he hits it, you’ve been beaten by one of the best players in the history of the game who had himself a historic day. You live with it. The temptation is to send doubles at James. The Celtics don’t really do that. Ever. They’ll challenge you with help on drives, but they’re not going to send two defenders at James in a face-up situation from mid-range unless things get really bad. It’s a bad idea. James is an incredible passer, and you’re setting yourself up for easy looks underneath by doing so.

3. Someone unreliable is going to have to have a day. Shane Batter, Mickael Pietrus, Mario Chalmers, Keyon Dooling. One side or the other is going to get hot from the arc and hit shots that honestly, they have very little chances of making regularly. Chalmers and Pietrus can shoot, but in this situation, with these stakes, against this defense? The odds aren’t with them. So what?! Welcome to the circus! Whee! Someone’s going to start nailing threes and that’s going to kill the other team and their fans who will say “We got beat by THAT GUY?!” Like I said, coin flip, man.

4. Drop the Bass. Welcome to Chapter 2 in “Things Erik Spoelstra has done in this series which makes my skull pound like an early Black Keys album is being played  at excruciating volume.” Spoelstra has stuck Battier on Bass. Battier is better matched up with Kevin Garnett than Bass. That’s crazy, but think of it. Garnett’s not going to slam his shoulder into Battier and score underneath. He’s going to take turnarounds based on muscle memory. Battier is susceptible to the lob, but is much better suited to combat that than Bass’ muscle underneath. Bass isn’t going to bust out any great post-moves. He has two shots. The mid-range jumper, which is deadly, and a muscle-in layup underneath. I get that the Heat have limited options, but they’re going to have to either put Joel Anthony or James on Bass. They can’t live with Battier getting crushed underneath. Boston on the other hand can win this game on Bass’ back, making him a hero and entering him into Celtics lore. Kind of a big deal.

5. The Great Big Bosh question. How much can he play? Will he start? A lot comes down to Bosh. The Heat have played better with every minute Bosh is on the floor. They need him, and they need him to deliver, at both ends. The biggest pressure is on LeBron James. The next biggest pressure is on Dwyane Wade. The next biggest pressure is on Erik Spoelstra. After that, it’s Bosh, and his impact could determine not only this game and this season, but the future of the Big 3 in Miami.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.