I’ve never really quite gotten behind the Most Improved Player award or the 6th Man of the Year award. Two guys can be playing on teams that are just as good, put up the exact same numbers, play the exact same amount of minutes, and play defense just as well as the other one. But if one of those guys comes off the bench, he’s eligible for an award and the other guy isn’t. Likewise, if one guy had a bad year the year before, he becomes eligible for an award that the other guy won’t be. (I suppose you could say all of this about the rookie of the year award as well, but every NBA player is a rookie at some point.)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — There have been two undeniable truths about the Miami Heat this season.
They must make 3’s to win.
They aren’t invincible with sizable leads.
The Boston Celtics have scouting and analytics teams that undoubtedly know these trends. But, really, so would anyone who simply can read a boxscore.
Take away Miami’s 3’s, and the Heat are easier to beat. The Celtics proved that again in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals when they extended their season with a victory — and will aim to take the same tact Sunday night when they meet the Heat again in another must-win for Boston.
“They’re going to hit some shots, they’re going to make some plays,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “They’ve got some good players. We’re just trying to make it as tough as we could.”
The Heat have played 87 games this season and shot below 20% from 3-point range in just three of them — one of them being Friday night, when the Celtics prevailed 121-108 to cut Miami’s lead in the series to 3-2.
Miami was 7 for 36 from deep, just 19%.
For whatever reason, 31.1% is the magic number for Heat 3-pointers this season. When the Heat shoot 31.1% or worse from beyond the arc, they’re 2-17 (.105). When they shoot better than that, they’re 53-15 (.779).
“Regardless of whether it’s going in or not, that can’t affect your commitment on the other side of the floor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And it felt like it did.”
The Celtics confined most of their Saturday plans to a film session; the Heat were doing the same along with some optional workouts. Heat center Bam Adebayo, who blamed himself for the Game 5 loss despite teammates saying otherwise, said he would spend some of Saturday on the floor looking for answers.
“This team has good resolve,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Saturday. “I thought we showed that last night. We’ll have to continue to show the ability to be able to handle good and bad throughout a game.”
Even though the disappointment was clear Friday night, the Heat still understand where they are: a No. 5 seed, one that didn’t even make the playoffs last season, one win from the NBA Finals. Miami needed two tries before ousting Milwaukee in the second round, saying then it learned at what level a team needs to be to win a closeout game.
The Celtics provided them another reminder of that Friday night, when they outscored Miami 70-50 after halftime and erased a 12-point second-quarter deficit.
“As you go on, the wins get harder and harder,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said. “And doing what we want to do and advancing from this round is going to be the hardest thing we’ve done all season and our in our athletic careers for many of us. Fortunately, we have coaches and guys that have been there and know what it takes.
“But this is certainly a reminder — to think that we were just going to have a good first half and just kind of coast to a victory in this stage of the playoffs, we’re misguided for thinking that.”
Miami is 55-32 this season, and 18 of those losses have come in games where the Heat held a double-digit lead. Boston has beaten Miami four times this season, rallying from at least 11 points down in three of those games — including a pair of 12-point comebacks in this series.
Miami has lost games this year where it led by 10 points once, 11 (four times), 12 (five times), 13 (once), 14 (twice), 15 (once), 20 (once), 22 (twice) and 23 (once).
It ultimately may not have changed anything, not the way LeBron James was playing, but the Jamal Murray in Game 5 did not look like the Jamal Murray who had helped lift the Denver Nuggets to that point. He was clearly bothered and not moving with the speed and fluidity he had throughout the playoffs.
“I have a big bruise on my foot. Just hurt me all game,” Murray said after the loss that eliminated Denver from the playoffs. “I changed shoes and that didn’t help. Yeah, I have a bone bruise. I don’t like to tell everybody what I got. I just like to play through it. Yeah, I was in pain, but it’s cool.
“I was out there. I was struggling a little bit today. Eighty-something days in the bubble and a lot of minutes, I didn’t have the energy I needed to have for my teammates today. Without me moving as hard or cutting as hard or scoring as much… I could have played a lot better this game.”
Murray finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting and dished out eight assists, and part of what slowed him down was the Lakers’ assigned LeBron to guard him for stretches. That said, Murray was not moving like the guy who carved up Utah or who dropped 40 on the Clippers in Game 7. Still, he was out there still trying.
“He was our leader,” Nikola Jokic said of Murray. “His energy through the whole playoffs. He was banged up. He was injured before, even when I came here [to the bubble], he was a little bit banged up… But he’s a dog. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. He’s an amazing shooter. He played amazing.”
Like his coach and teammates, Murray was frustrated to be going home but looked back with pride at the leap the Nuggets made this postseason.
“We proved we can challenge the Clippers, who were the favorites. We proved we can challenge the Lakers,” Murray said. “And it’s only our second year in the playoffs. I wish things went differently, but I’m just proud of our guys, proud of everything we have done, everything we have accomplished. It’s not the end goal, but to make it this far and surprise as many people as we did, it’s a good feeling.
“So just try to come back next year and try to come back stronger.”
And there were four.
The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.
Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:
• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
• Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA Finals will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 30, if Miami closes the Easter Conference Finals out in six games. If the series goes seven games the Finals will start on Friday, Oct. 2.
Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat
Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109
Game 5: Celtics 121, Heat 108 (Miami leads series 3-2)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8:30 p.n. (ESPN)*
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets
NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results
No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3
No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1
No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3
NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1
No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2
No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3
No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3
No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1
No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0
No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0
No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0
The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.
LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.
LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.
“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”
The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).
LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.
The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.
The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.
“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”
However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.
Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.