LeBron James misses free throw as Celtics top Heat for third time

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If you hate LeBron James, as much of the Western world does, today was quite a day for you. After being largely the only reason the Miami Heat were even in the game against the Boston Celtics, James clanged the first of two free throws down two with ten seconds left, then failed to save the inbounds pass he deflected. Celtics 85 Heat 82. Boston wins for the third straight time this season, wins the season series, and dominates the Heat in the third quarter despite missing three key players. At this point, no one in their right mind believes Miami has a shot against Boston in an expected Eastern Conference Finals.

The game was relatively close, with the Heat leading at halftime thanks to some smart ball movement and sound defense. In reality, this game was close because both teams played terribly. As you’d imagine in a 85-82 game, the offenses were both horrific. Final offensive efficiencies were 97.7 for Boston and 94.3 for Miami. A slow paced game with low efficiency. The very model of “playoff basketball” which was downright painful to watch for most of the game. The Heat turned the ball over 17% off the time, thanks in large part to one of Dwyane Wade’s worst games in memory, as far back as… the last time he played the Celtics.

For whatever reason, the Celtics have the book on Wade. He got the same kind of fadeaways he’s hit for years, the same kind of floater opportunities, the same kinds of baseline runners he always hit. And yet he shot 6-17 from the floor, with 6, count ’em, 6 turnovers, as the Celtics’ work of bringing constant ball pressure simply melted him down.

For the Celtics? Just about as ugly of a game. Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Ray Allen combined to shoot 10-34 from the field, including an 0-10 performance from Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett led all Celtics with 19, but in reality, it was the bench, short-handed as it was, that carried the Celtics. Glen Davis had 16 point son 6-11 shooting and Von Wafer dropped in 10 points including two huge second half three-pointers. But really, it was the Celtics defense, constantly pressuring, constantly contesting, doing what they’ve done for seasons, and dragging this game down into the mud. The Heat almost never got out in transition, missed open threes, and failed to draw fouls, even when they were fairly obvious.

The story will be James, despite 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists to go with 4 turnovers, and he was the best player on the floor for the Heat, and that’s with Chris Bosh dropping 24 points on 11 shots with 10 rebounds. Sounds like a great game, right? Bosh was once again pushed around, muscled out, and generally overpowered by a tougher, stronger, more determined Boston squad. Bosh may have been the biggest reason the Heat scored all day, but he was also the biggest reason the Celtics’ frontcourt wound up with 40 points between Garnett, Davis, and Kendrick Perkins.

So now the Heat have lost three straight to the Celtics, and have been outclassed in each, despite relatively narrow margins. They had every reason to win this game, needed to win this game, had an opportunity to win this game. But just as before, they failed to show the kind of cohesion, focus and effort.

And LeBron missed a free throw.

Notes:

  • Bosh did the majority of his damage off the pick and pop, which he should. The Celtics were determined to attack James again on the drive and surrender mid-range jumpers, and Bosh hurt them. But not enough in the end.
  • The Heat’s ball movement when it wasn’t turning the ball over was actually excellent. They created open looks with the extra pass and played with precision.
  • The Celtics on the other hand just buckled down and played playoff basketball. Nothing fancy, just simple passes leading to tough, contested shots that they forced down.
  • Anyone who enjoyed watching this game, Boston or Heat fan, is a masochist.
  • Ray Allen popped a wide open three in transition after stripping Wade in the first quarter. From then on out, the Heat did a good job of running him off the perimeter.
  • Joel Anthony finished with a +5 in this game, which should probably destroy this metric for all time, and I like the metric. Anthony was constantly out of position, gave up offensive rebounds, failed to close off the baseline, and was often scrambling to recover.
  • Rajon Rondo played with great defensive intensity, bodying up LeBron in the post, though he was clearly afforded more contact by the officials because of his size.
  • Mike Miller had an open look at the game winning shot, but as usual, the Heat’s execution wasn’t quite right, and Miller wound up with an off-balance three that missed badly. Oh, and Wade missed a tip back attempt just for good measure (the Heat would have still been down 1).
  • Mario Chalmers had two bad plays and was essentially yanked for the remainder of the game. Considering how Wade played running point, you have to wonder about that decision.
  • Rajon Rondo had a triple-double and shot 50% from the field.

(For more on Heat-Celtics III check out our official recap.)

Adam Silver on trade demands: ‘That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for’

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CHARLOTTE – Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis have taken turns dominating the news cycle with trade requests.

“That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

The NBA even fined Davis $50,000 for his trade request.

“I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come,” Silver said. “And I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”

I’m sure Silver dislikes all trade demands. But in context, I think he meant specifically public trade requests. Because trade requests are quite common. Deep-bench players often ask to get moved, hoping a new situation will increase playing time. Those requests rarely become public.

But Irving’s, Leonard’s, Butler’s and Davis’ trade requests all did. Yet, only Davis’ drew a fine.

It seems the difference was Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, putting his name behind it. Irving, Leonard and Butler leaked their trade requests through anonymous sources.

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate, that conversations take place behind closed doors, where players or their agents are saying to management, ‘It’s my intention to move on for whatever reasons,'” Silver said.

The distinction is practically nonexistent. Irving, Leonard and Butler could claim only the least-plausible of plausible deniability, and none of those three really tried to deny it, anyway.

Insisting on this level of secrecy is a disservice to fans. If a player requests a trade, he shouldn’t be punished for revealing it. The NBA usually engages fans through openness – but not here.

Silver said he was worried about the worst-case scenario – a player not just requesting a trade, but refusing to honor his contract. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement already has rules in place for that. Someone who withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins faces suspension and fines, won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent the next offseason.

For what it’s worth, Davis never threatened to hold out. In fact, he repeatedly said he wanted to keep playing if not traded. Unhappy players continue reporting to work all the time. This is not a unique situation.

Silver’s stance also also raises questions about transparency that are particularly relevant as the NBA embraces gambling. Either a player has or hasn’t requested a trade. If he has and the information is kept private, only select people will know it – and those people will have an edge in betting.

Public trade requests aren’t pretty. Neither Davis nor the Pelicans nor teams trying to trade for him appear happy with the fallout.

But I’d prefer that honest uncomfortableness to hidden tension.

Perhaps, Silver disagrees because public trade requests can create tricky situations for him. Right now, he’s still overseeing what Davis and the Pelicans do the rest of this season.

“It creates, understandably, a very awkward position between the team and their player and what their role is with the league in terms of injecting itself in the middle of what a team’s decision on playing that player,” Silver said. “These become very context-specific issues for the league office and not subject to computer programs that spit out answers.”

I agree there’s rarely an easy answer. But I’d rather lean toward transparency.

Davis decided he’d prefer to leave New Orleans. It’s his right to feel that way.

It should also be his right to disclose that to whomever he wants.

Report: Lakers ‘a little concerned’ about LeBron James’ health

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LeBron James could have returned far sooner from his groin injury, according to his agent.

As LeBron sat, the Lakers fell further in the standings. Did he wait until he was fully recovered, anyway? Or did he just wait as long as he felt he could before needing to carry the Lakers back into playoff position?

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland?

This was the biggest concern about LeBron’s injury. It’s possible to play through a groin injury, but there’s a strong possibility of aggravating it. If LeBron didn’t fully recover, he faces that risk – likely heightened by his need to play his way back into shape.

The Lakers (28-29) are three games and two teams out of playoff position. They have little margin for error. They need LeBron healthy and playing at least near his usual elite level.

I’m not convinced we can take either for granted the rest of the season.

More evidence suggests disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy fixed games

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Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy and the NBA have always been aligned on one narrative: Donaghy didn’t fix games.

Provide inside information to gamblers? Yes. Bet on his own games? Yes.

But fix games? No.

That’s the story Donaghy had to tell to avoid more jail time and the story the NBA had to sell to preserve its integrity.

It just never held up to scrutiny. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop led the charge of publicly investigating Donaghy’s claims, and professional gambler (later Mavericks employee) Haralabos Voulgaris reviewed the calls. They concluded the system Donaghy admitted to – leveraging his knowledge of other referees’ biases toward against certain players and coaches – would have lost money. The money was made on his own games.

It just fits common sense. Donaghy was unethical enough to gamble on his own games but drew the line at altering calls to win his bets? C’mon.

Now comes perhaps the most definitive account of Donaghy’s misdeeds yet, including details on the gambling operation and statistical analysis of its outcomes.

Scott Eden of ESPN:

Donaghy favored the side that attracted more betting dollars in 23 of those 30 competitive games, or 77 percent of the time. In four games, he called the game neutrally, 50-50. The number of games in which Tim Donaghy favored the team that attracted fewer betting dollars? Three.

In other words, Donaghy’s track record of making calls that favored his bet was 23-3-4.

If one assumes there should be no correlation between wagers and the calls made by a referee, the odds of that disparity* might seem unlikely. And they are. When presented with that data, ESPN statisticians crunched the numbers and revealed: The odds that Tim Donaghy would have randomly made calls that produced that imbalance are 6,155-to-1.

“He can influence a game six points either way — that’s what he told me,” Tommy Martino said as we sat in the break room of his family’s hair salon, where he’s worked since he got out of prison in August 2009 after serving 10 months.

I highly recommend reading Eden’s piece in full. It is excellent.

I’m intrigued by the idea the NBA leaked the FBI’s investigation into Donaghy to undermine a search into whether more referees were corrupt. Donaghy claimed some were.

Donaghy lacks credibility. I don’t trust him on anything, including that.

But I could also see David Stern’s NBA wanting to stifle a deeper dive into the league’s officials before it got off the ground. That’d prevent wider problems just in case this was a rare time Donaghy was being truthful.

Again, Eden’s full article is worth reading.

Stephen Curry slips three odd phrases into All-Star interviews… for Jimmy Fallon (video)

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NBA All-Stars do so many interviews over the weekend. It can be fun to spice them up.

Anthony Davis did by talking in circles.

Stephen Curry did by using phrases – “energizer bunny,” “flippin’ pancakes” and “wham bam can of ham” – for a segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.