Heat-Celtics Game 7 Preview: The thing about chaos is it’s fair

10 Comments

You want to know the truth about this game, the hidden, ugly, “no one will talk about it because it’s like running a news report on the Disney Channel about how Santa isn’t real” truth?

Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics? All that drama, all the impact on legacies and careers and the huge mega-importance of this game?

It’s a coin flip. Game 7 is nothing but a coin flip.

In reality, Game 6 was as well. These two have battled to the marrow throughout this series. All that talk bout officiating and conspiracies and clutch? That’s a result of two evenly matched teams going down to the wire in nearly every game. The gap in point differential, after the Heat blew the Celtics out of the water in Game 6? 1.7. That’s it. The two teams are separated after six games by less than a bucket. There is no better team. And we hate that.

We abhor the idea of the better team not advancing. It strikes a chord in us that fires off our cognitive dissonance alarms like nothing else. The better team has to win. But what if there isn’t one?

Boston’s offense has overperformed in this series. You can talk about clutch players and experience and rising to the occasion all you want. I think there are times when those cliches hold true. This is not one of them. They’re facing a dominant defense in its own right, and to be honest, they take a lot of pretty terrible shots. I don’t care what’s in your guts or between your legs, you’re not going to hit contested pull-up jumpers at a high rate, especially not from mid-range, and especially not against a defense as good as this one. But here it is. And there are concrete reasons that go beyond luck. Rajon Rondo’s singular brilliance. That play where he tip-passed it to Mickael Pietrus is a great example. But think about what had to happen there. Wade has to block Bass just right. Not so hard that it flies over Rondo’s head, not soft so that a Heat player collects it. He has to tap that ball just right, and that’s on Rondo and his brilliance. But he has to get it just over James also reaching. Pietrus has to have the wherewithal to stand in the corner and be ready for the catch, Mickael Pietrus being known for his heady play and stable mind on the court, and then has to knock down a massive shot. This is part glory of championship teams, and part ridiculousness of chaos. Anyone breathes different on that court and the entire story changes.

Think I’m just bagging on the Celtics? Try this. Miami? Just as much of an outlier. LeBron James has an off-balance jumper. He just does. George Karl has talked about it. David Thorpe at ESPN has talked about it. Coaches and scouts and experts have talked about it. He doesn’t trust his jumper, but he feels the need to go to it. If Michael Jordan never existed, LeBron James is the best player, ever. I firmly believe that, and not because he’s No.2 behind Jordan. He’s not. But having grown up and watched Jordan like so many kids of his generation, the push-off on Russell, the shot over Ehlo, he learned the same thing. You win games by hitting big jumpers. This, from a 6-8, 280 lb. hulking monster of unstoppable force is insane. But it’s what he is. And in Game 6? Every outlier came home to roost. Does that take away from his ability or the magnificence of that game? Absolutely not. Hitting those shots takes a phenomenal amount of concentration, just like Pietrus’. It takes the ability to create those shots in the first place. It takes resolve and determination and God-given ability, all of which James showed in an absolutely brilliant performance from stop to finish.

It’s also not bloody likely to happen again. Can it? Sure. Will it? Again, it’s not probable.

What does this tell us about Game 7? It sets up the same things we knew before. It comes down to who makes shots. Sounds simple, right? But that’s not what a series is about. It’s about adjustments and counter-adjustments and effort and preparation and more than anything talent and execution. But Game 7’s are about who has it that night. The Lakers had it in 2010. The Spurs had it in 2008. The Celtics had it vs. Philadelphia, the Clippers vs. the Grizzlies, the Lakers vs. the Nuggets. It doesn’t always mean both teams are even. But one team will have the extra arc on the ball to tilt it in, the rims will forgive one team more than the other, and that will determine all of this. So much pressure, so many consequences, so many lives changed, and it all hinges on the wings of a butterfly, the temperature in the arena, the bead of sweat trickling down LeBron James’ forehead. Think about that when you compare it to your life’s biggest moments.

We’re all victims and subjects and participants in chaos, and in fate, and here’s really no place better to be.

These teams are incredibly evenly matched and the outcome does not determine who is the better team. They are both great teams. The Celtics can blow them out, the Heat can blow the Celtics out, it can be an overtime or triple-overtime or an ugly or beautiful game and it won’t change what we’ve learned. These teams are both worthy of the Finals. One goes, one goes home. That’s life. That’s chaos.

That’s fair.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

7 Comments

Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

Getty Images
5 Comments

It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

1 Comment

We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
Leave a comment

James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.