NBA Playoffs: Celtics turn back the clock to take Game 1 over Heat, but may lose Kevin Garnett to suspension

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Garnett_Game1.jpgIt looked like the same old Celtics we’ve seen this season. Outworked, outhustled, down double digits in the third quarter.

And then all of a sudden, they hopped in the Hot Tub Time Machine during a timeout.

And out popped the Celtics from the 2008 Championship run to lock down the Heat and take Game 1 for the Celtics, 85-76.

It was everything we told you it would be: physical, slow, brutal, and deliberate. But behind Quentin Richardson’s three pointers and Dwyane Wade’s attack, the Heat built a 14 point lead. Which promptly evaporated behind a defensive run by the Celtics defense which rivaled anything you’ve seen in your life. They were everywhere. Always in position, hammering the bigs down low, crashing the boards behind Glen Davis’ best game of the season, and forcing shot clock violations and rushed shots. On offense, Paul Pierce had it going. Everything was looking golden for the C’s. Then the fight happened.

Kevin Garnett has long made a reputation as the kind of player that
likes to get into his opponents’ head with physical behavior and
bombastic words. But tonight, he may have lost his cool in the worst way
and it may cost him a suspension in the NBA playoffs.

Late in the fourth quarter, Paul Pierce drifted left on a possession and made a routine pass. An earlier shoulder stinger injury he had flared up and the fell into the Heat bench in pain, before slumping to the floor in pain. Kevin Garnett walked over his teammate to check on him, right in front of the Heat bench. Quentin Richardson came over to the bench (he was the one guarding Pierce when he was injured). At that point, some sort of altercation happened. It’s not known at this time whether Richardson said something to ignite Garnett or if Garnett just acted unprovoked, but Garnett elbowed Richardson away lightly, which then caused Richardson to verbally respond.

The two got in each other’s faces, and the next thing you know, Udonis Haslem is in there, and Glen Davis is in there looking for a candy bar, and all of a sudden all hell breaks loose, all while Pierce is still on the ground. Somewhere in the scrum, KG threw a pretty vicious back elbow which landed squarely in Quentin Richardson’s jaw. Then KG either ran out of the huddle or was pushed, depending on who you’re talking to, all while still running his mouth.

Glen Davis tried to get back into the scrum, but Doc Rivers, in possibly the greatest moment of his coaching career, grabbed the volatile portly pounder and threw him back to the bench like an angry dad grounding his son for roughhousing.

The ramifications were Garnett’s ejection, which enabled the Heat to pull within five, but Wade was unable to connect on the ensuing possession after the technical free throw and the Celtics hung on.

Here are the possible ramifications from this game:

  • Garnett could very well be suspended for Game 2. The elbow was clearly thrown and that’s clear video evidence. He also comes across as the villain in this circumstance, having elbowed Richardson once to start the fight and once at the apex.
  • Udonis Haslem could be suspended for interceding in the fight.
  • If the league feels like it can collect enough evidence that leads to the conclusion that Richardson enflamed the incident, he could face a suspension.
  • Nothing could happen since it’s clear both sides were in the wrong.

By the way, if you’re worried about Pierce, don’t be. Five minutes later he was totally fine. (That sound you hear is every Laker fan in the world taking a breath to make wheelchair jokes. Save ’em.)

Neither team can feel bad about this game in total. The Heat led by 14 in the late third on the road, and needed a horrific second half (32 points total for the half, ye gods) to fall. The Celtics were able to flip the switch and get the win, and now have remembered the gear they need to be at to win a championship. Buckle down, readers. This one’s going to be brutal and long.

Some closing notes:

  • If you want an unsung hero, try Tony Allen. The man who was an afterthought coming into the season, and tradebait at best, finished with 14 points, 3 steals and 2 blocks, and was the primary defender on Wade during the drought for the Heat. Allen has been better than advertised all year, and really made a statement in this game.
  • Glen Davis like I said earlier, had possibly the best game of his season, crashing the board and converting a huge and-one in the fourth. The round mound of astound crashed to the floor on nearly every play, but also came up with the ball in almost every instance.
  • Michael Beasley was a no-show, going 3-8, and just being invisible for most of the game. He came up with three offensive boards, but couldn’t convert on several of them.
  • Jermaine O’Neal got worked by Kendrick Perkins, who not only limited and frustrated him on the defensive end, but then came in with several drop step hooks on the offensive end. Huge game for Perkins.
  • Dwyane Wade is ridiculously good at basketball, but even he can’t beat three Celtics zone-guarding him, with two perimeter players sandwiching his lateral movement and KG lurking at the elbow.
  • Quentin Richardson could be a a big turning point in this series, as he had a big game. Of course, we’ll have to see if he’ll be around next game.

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Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

Heat Celtics
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.

Attacking Jamal Murray sparks Nuggets, who hold off Lakers for Game 3 win

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Down 0-2 to a LeBron James team, the Denver Nuggets’ backs were against the wall.

The Los Angeles Lakers learned — like the Jazz and Clippers before them — that the Nuggets have a couple more gears when their season is threatened.

Jamal Murray attacked from the opening tip, set the tone for Denver, then when the Lakers made it interesting late, stuck the dagger in the Los Angeles.

“I didn’t have any doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is we won six straight elimination games…

“For some reason, this team loves the bubble.”

Denver pulled away from the Lakers in the second quarter and held on at the end to take a 114-106 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers still lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.

Murray was the best player on the floor in Game 3, scoring 28 points, dishing 12 assists, grabbing eight rebounds, and forcing the Lakers’ defense to adjust to him.

“When you look at these three series we’ve played so far, he’s starting to get the respect from the other teams, and they’re game-planning, they’re blitzing him, they’re double-teaming.”

Both Denver and the Lakers came out attacking the paint early: The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points, and they scored 34 of them in the paint (60.7%)

In the second quarter, however, the Lakers started settling for jumpers while the Nuggets kept attacking. Denver went on a 15-2 run to start the quarter — with Nikola Jokic on the bench — and Denver went on to dominate the next two quarters, leading by as many as 20.

The Nuggets got a big night from Jerami Grant, who had career playoff hight 26 points. Jokic added 22 plus 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Lakers could not get jump shots to fall. Los Angeles was 6-of-26 from three (23.1%), and worse, they scored 12 points on 24 spot-up shot attempts (stat via Synergy Sports).

LeBron James did his part — a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists — and Anthony Davis added 27, but the Lakers defensive energy, and with that transition buckets, were not there.

Until the fourth quarter.

The Lakers got much more physical and aggressive defensively, and the Lakers went on a 19-2 run, which included six straight Nuggets turnovers at one point. The Lakers went to a zone defense that flummoxed Denver.

Eventually, Murray and Jokic righted the ship. Denver stretched the lead back out and got the win. After the game, the Lakers to a man said they needed to bring that fourth-quarter energy all game on Thursday.

One thing talked about after the game was Murray’s elbow to LeBron.

“I don’t think it was blatant. I don’t know his mindset, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” LeBron said postgame.

The other thing talked about postgame — now we have a series.

Zach LaVine reacts to Chicago hiring Billy Donovan: ‘Wow, that’ll be good’

Zach LaVine Billy Donovan
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Zach LaVine learned about the Chicago Bulls hiring Billy Donovan as their head coach while playing Call of Duty.

Which means there is a recording of his real-time reaction to the news.

“Damn, we just got Billy Donovan as our next head coach… wow, that’ll be good.”

LaVine also Tweeted about the hire.

He wasn’t the only Bulls’ player excited about the hire.

Bradley Beal, a former Donovan player at Florida, loved the hire.

Donovan takes over a Chicago team that seems on the cusp of something. How big a something remains up for debate. The roster has young talent: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter, and the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Donovan is an upgrade over Boylen, both in terms of player relations and tactics, making the Bulls better.

Even with Donovan, what is the ceiling for these Bulls? Next season they are not going to be better than the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, or Nets, and likely not the 76ers or Raptors either (unless Toronto tears down the roster). That’s six. And a lot of people would put the Indiana Pacers on a level above the Bulls as well. Bottom line: Even with a coaching upgrade and player improvement, the Bulls are likely scrambling for a bottom playoff spot in the East.

The Bulls are looking beyond next year. Expect Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to spend the next season deciding who fits and who doesn’t, and shake up the roster accordingly. By then the Bulls may be in a better place to be a threat in the East.

Whatever happens, the Bulls got better with this hire, and their biggest star likes it.