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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What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.

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Boban? Crowder? Holmgren? Exploring player votes for All-Star starters

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Four NBA players — not one as a joke, but four… as a joke — voted for injured Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to start the NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA All-Star Game starters were announced Thursday, chosen from a weighted vote of fans (50%), media (25%) and current players (25%).

While most NBA players may take their All-Star Game starter votes seriously, some do not — they vote for friends, college teammates, guys with the same agent, or just whoever they feel like.

Which is comedy gold once we comb through the public vote (Note: names are not attached to who cast a vote, but we do see who got votes). This season, that list of players getting at least one vote to be an All-Star starter include:

Bol Bol (Orlando Magic, he got six votes)
Willy Hernangomez (New Orleans Pelicans, he got five votes)
Juancho Hernangomez (Toronto Raptors, he got three votes)
Omer Yurtseven (Miami Heat, he got three votes)
Georges Niang (Philadelphia 76ers, he got five votes)
Ochai Agbaji (Utah Jazz, he got four votes)
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Oklahoma City Thunder, he got three votes)
Bismack Biyombo (Phoenix Suns, he got three votes)
Jae Crowder (Phoenix Suns, he got two votes)
Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat, he got two votes)
Blake Griffin (Boston Celtics)
Boban Marjanovic (Houston Rockets)
Kemba Walker (Dallas Mavericks)
Kendrick Nunn (Los Angeles Lakers)
Ish Smith (Denver Nuggets)
Torrey Craig (Phoenix Suns)
Luka Garza (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings)
Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers)
R.J. Hampton (Orlando Magic)
Johnny Davis (Washington Wizards)
Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers)
MarJon Beauchamp (Milwaukee Bucks)
Paul Reed (Philadelphia 76ers)

That is just a fraction of the entire list.