NBA Playoffs Celtics Heat: Anatomy of a heart-breaker

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Dwyane Wade talked to his hand and destroyed the Celtics to get the Heat a game in Miami. But most people consider this series to have ended when Paul Pierce stuck the dagger in in Game 3. It was a maelstrom of both the Celtics’ excellence and the Heat’s failure to execute. The Heat watched as one of the best clutch performers in the game drove in an isolation set, having a foul to give, and a help-defenders in range. They then watched as Pierce drove to his favorite spot on the floor, the elbow, jab-stepped-back and drained the game winner. 3-0, Celtics.

If anyone can lead a team back from 0-3, it’s Dwyane Wade. But that shot was pretty devastating for the Heat and also showed that the Celtics can still execute in those big-time playoff situations. And that Paul Pierce is still the Truth. Here’s how it broke down.

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Overloading the near-side with Allen and Garnett is a risky but productive decision. While you’re compacting defenders, you’re also creating more space for Pierce to work. If he has to pass, they’ll need a quick shot anyway, so the cross court pass isn’t really feasible. Miami for its part is playing “standard” situational defense, looking to deny penetration while also sticking to shooters. The proximity they have to the shooters will slowly erode as this play goes on.

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To be fair to Beasley, he’s got to maintain position between the roll-man and the basket. It’s hindsight to say he should have denied the pass, but even a momentary hedge might have cost the Celtics another second. And “biggest C on the floor” is obviously sarcasm, as it’s Michael Finley out there, shedding Wright.

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It’s at this point everyone watching at home can see the car wreck before it happens and yet they are all helpless to stop it. You know where Pierce is going but you can’t stop him from going there. This is where the Celtics take a disadvantage in the overload into an advantage.

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Haslem now has to keep position in case they swing the ball to Allen and his man can’t clear the screen. He’s also got to maintain proximity to Garnett to prevent the mid-range jumper. And in trying to maintain these two responsibilities, man-help on Pierce becomes less and less feasible.

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And yet there’s hope. The Heat still have a foul to give, with 5.4 seconds left. Haslem is right there to provide help, but he’s still a little shallow. There’s good spacing all over. This is the last time things are going right for Miami on the final possession.

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With 1.5 left, Ray Allen’s not even ready to receive a pass. The rest of the Celtics know what’s coming. The Heat, somehow, do not. Haslem has backed off instead of pulling to the danger zone. Dorell Wright can just literally reach out, foul Pierce, and force a reset with a little over a second remaining. If Haslem flashes, Pierce has to adjust and dish to Garnett for an 18 footer. Still a pretty good shot, but not an in-rhythm ISO from the elbow for a big-time player at his favorite spot.Instead, Haslem’s concerned about the drive.

Pierce meanwhile engages in the mid-drive jab-step, feigning inside while dragging his right foot back for the pull-up. This game is over and the Heat don’t even know it.

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Wright can’t be blamed here. He kept good spacing at the top of the key, hung with him, dropped back to not pick up a blocking foul when Pierce feigned inside, and leaps to contest right as Pierce is pulling up. He’s literally milliseconds late. And that’s all Pierce needs.

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Look how close Wright is there. He’s jumping from further away, trying to extend, and it’s just not enough. It’s enough to make it a tough shot for Pierce, but that’s what Pierce thrives on. He’s in the outside corner of the danger zone, and that’s all she wrote.

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Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.