Deron Williams

It was raining threes in Brooklyn as Nets hand Heat first loss of playoffs

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In a virtual must-win Game 3 at home the big-spending Brooklyn Nets threw out a starting lineup making $68.6 million.

But it was two guys making a combined $4.6 million and coming off the bench that were the spark.

Andray Blatche was attacking inside and had 15 points, shooting 5-of-7 inside 8 feet and keying the Nets in the first half. Mirza Teletovic had nine points in the third quarter (12 for the game) knocking down threes, all the while doing a good job defending LeBron James.

Combine that with the Nets having a hot shooting night from three, hitting 15-of-25 from beyond the arc, and the Nets got the win they needed.

Brooklyn pulled away in the third quarter and cruised to a 104-90 win, handing Miami its first loss of these playoffs. Miami still leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 coming Monday night.

The tale of this game can completely be told from beyond the arc.

Brooklyn not only hit 15-of-25, they were 11-of-18 from above the break. Johnson led the way hitting 5-of-7 on his way to 19 points n the night.

The Heat started out 2-of-2 from three then proceeded to hit 1-of-16 through the heart of the game. Miami hit a few more late to make the numbers look a little better, but in the third quarter the Nets did a much better job of getting back in transition to take away easy buckets, they clogged the paint to take away driving lanes and the Heat did not make them pay with the three ball.

The Nets played with a new energy (call it desperation?) from the opening tip. Early on Deron Williams was pushing the tempo, finding Johnson for a couple threes in transition. Nets attacking more in transition 15-10 early.

Yet they couldn’t pull away early because Miami opened hitting 8-of-11 shots, and because of LeBron James — he had 16 of his 28 points in the first quarter. The Heat put up 30 in the first frame and looked like they could just outscore the Nets. This was a two-point game at the half, the Nets up 51-49 and, like the first two games, it felt like the Heat were just waiting to kick it into another gear.

But from there the Heat just could not knock down shots, even missing a lot of open looks — they had just 14 points on 17 open jumpers, according to Synergy Sports. Teletovic did a good job on LeBron taking away easy driving lanes, turning him into a jump shooter in the second half. LeBron still had 28 points and was the one Heat player looking like he wanted to end the series Saturday night. Dwyane Wade had 20 points but needed 18 shots, Chris Bosh had a dozen points on 11 shots.

Meanwhile the Nets went on a 9-0 third-quarter run to pull away because they had balance. D-Will dished out 10 assists, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined for 24, Shaun Livingston was attacking the rim and finished with 12 points.

This felt like a playoff game — it got testy at points. Pierce got called for a flagrant foul for grabbing LeBron James by the shoulders (he made the shot anyway). Ray Allen and Alan Anderson got double-technicals after they got in a little pushing match after being tied it. The series got physical.

It was an impressive outing from the Nets all around, but there remains one question:

Can they repeat that performance?

They shot 52.8 percent as a team and you can expect Miami to bounce back with a new level of energy Monday night. Brooklyn is going to have to stay hot in this series, they are going to need guys coming off the bench with big nights, they are going to need it all.

And they are going to need it Monday night, because they are in trouble if they head back to Miami down 3-1.

Rajon Rondo strangely runs behind Rick Carlisle during play (video)

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This would be ignored – still odd, but ignored – if it weren’t for their history.

But Rajon Rondo running behind Rick Carlisle during the Mavericks’ win over the Bulls raised a couple eyebrows in curiosity and drew a few chuckles. What was Rondo doing?

At least Carlisle explained why he didn’t call timeout before Wesley Matthewsgame-winning 3-pointer. The Dallas coach had Rondo in mind.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Mike D’Antoni: “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s not exactly Seven Seconds or Less Part 2 in Houston, but it may be closer to Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate vision.

The Rockets are 32-12 with the third-best offense in the NBA (Toronto and Golden State), and it’s an analytics wet dream of threes and shots at the rim. It’s all come together because James Harden bought in. Steve Nash ran the offense brilliantly but differently — Harden is as good or better with his style (which gets him to the line more often).

The brilliant Howard Beck at Bleacher Report got everyone to talk about the Rockets rapid rise and how it all came together. It’s must read. Plus there are some brilliant quotes, starting with Harden about D’Antoni pitching the move to point guard:

“I thought he was crazy,” says Harden, who earned his stardom at shooting guard….

Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”

“People always ask, ‘You traded for him; did you know he was this good?'” (Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says. “I’m like, ‘F–k no!’ I mean, we thought he was extremely good and better than other teams probably did.”

But not top-five good or, say, top-three, which Morey would make the case for today.

Harden is MVP-level good. What’s more, the Rockets are knocking on the door of contender good. The pedestrian defense isn’t there yet (18th in the NBA for the season, 15th for the month of January), questions about depth and if young key cogs like Clint Capela can grow into the roles the Rockets need them to, and there are the health concerns considering the histories of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

But the Rockets are dangerous right now and could reach the Western Conference Finals this season if healthy and things break right (their style and athleticism would be a tough test for the Spurs).  And the story of how it all came together is fascinating.

Carmelo Anthony on talk with Jackson: “We didn’t break bread….It was a short conversation”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2016 in New York City. 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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t long. It wasn’t outwardly contentious. But you can bet it was colder than the weather outside Madison Square Garden in January.

Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony sat down and talked about Anthony’s future with the Knicks Tuesday, with Anthony reiterating again he doesn’t want to be traded. And since he has a no-trade clause and two years on his deal after this one, he has the power.

Anthony seems done with the entire topic and is ready to move on. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“The conversation was not that long. We didn’t break bread,’’ Anthony said. “We didn’t have hours of conversation. It was a short conversation.”

This entire topic came up when Phil Rosen — a Phil Jackson confidant who swears he’s not a surrogate — penned an article saying Anthony was willing to accept a move to the Cavaliers or Clippers (or maybe the Lakers). The move felt like a classic Jackson mind game move where Anthony was forced to respond to it — and Anthony seems done with the drama.

“I’m done asking why,’’ Anthony said. “My focus is playing ball at this point. My focus is these guys. That’s all I care about at this point. Making sure these guys stay strong and positive and have their head on right and not be a distraction to them.

“I’m committed [to the Knicks]. I don’t have to prove that to anybody. I don’t have to keep saying that and keep talking about it. I know for a fact people know that and people see that.”

Anthony is ready to move on, is Jackson? Or do we see another mind game move coming?

Anthony isn’t going anywhere, not in the short term. Even if Anthony would entertain a trade to those mentioned, markets, you think the Cavaliers would like to give Kevin Love‘s minutes and some of LeBron James‘ touches to 33-year-old Anthony? You think Doc Rivers would swap 27-year-old Blake Griffin for ‘Melo? Anthony is expensive and while he can still score the other limitations in his game make it very hard to trade him.

Jackson is the master of convincing guys to do what he wants and think it’s their own idea, but I have a hard time seeing that happening with Anthony.

Kevin Durant reflects on “AAU basketball” of Durant/Westbrook/Harden Thunder

Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden
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If MVP voting took place today, James Harden and Russell Westbrook would be in a photo finish for the win — they are the clear first and second choices in that race. Third could well be Kevin Durant, who is having a strong and efficient season in Golden State (it’s who Dan Feldman and I said we would pick third during the PBT Podcast, although certainly guys like LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard and others are in the mix).

Remember when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were all on the same team? The NBA’s ultimate “what if?”

Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News got Durant to reminisce about those days (the Warriors play the Thunder and Rockets this week).

“It’s easy to say we were supposed to be together for the rest of our careers, but it didn’t play out like that,” Durant said. “I think all three of us will have memorable careers. And it’ll be a journey we’ll always remember, something that’s different and unique, playing with two different guys who are doing incredible things in the league right now. But when you look back, think about the fun times instead of what could’ve been.”

Could they have ruled the NBA for a decade?

“No. We never looked at it that way, like we could be best of all-time,” Durant said. “It was really AAU basketball, man. We were just having fun. We weren’t listening to anyone on the outside, media, none of that. It was just pure fun. When we did hear something about the group, it was like, what is this? That was so foreign to us because we never paid attention to it.”

It was Harden that was traded — he wanted and deserved the max, the Thunder has spent on Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. They weren’t willing to pay the costs — the luxury tax bill would have come calling — to keep all three. The other side of that debate: Could Harden have continued happily in his sixth man role? This guy dominates the ball now (he leads the league in time of possession this season), would he have stayed coming off the bench to win?

“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”

Maybe, and maybe that would have been enough. It’s all moot now.

But what if?