If the Heat can’t beat the Celtics now, they’re never going to

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Okay, Miami Heat.

You lost to the Celtics in the season opener. You lost to the Celtics at home. You lost to the Celtics after you’d supposedly gotten everything figured out. This your last chance. And it’s a good one.

The Heat are in a no-win situation here. They beat the Celtics on Sunday in Miami, and the immediate calls will be about either a. how they lost the season series 3-1, b. how winning in the regular season means absolutely nothing and they have to win in the playoffs, or c. how the Celtics had mailed in the rest of the regular season.  That said, being faced with those assessments is much preferable to the alternative. If the Heat can’t topple the Celtics now, there’s no way anyone outside of LeBron’s mo… let’s not go there. Sufficed to say, no one’s going to have any faith in the red and white if they face the green in the second round should they be swept on Sunday.

The Celtics are at a lowpoint. They just had their tails kicked in by the Bulls who have lapped them in the two years since the first-round series many call the best of all time. They are .500 in their last ten, due to a combination of late-season malaise and continuing issues with chemistry and integrating new players. Jeff Green’s not rebounding. Krstic is tall, but he’s not tough, not in the Celtics’ vicious, no-quarter-given-none-asked way. There’s every reason to believe things will click into place a week from now when the Celtics open their first-round series in the Garden. But if the Heat are going to be able to topple them, now’s the time.

The biggest concern for the Heat going into Sunday’s contest? It’s not Kevin Garnett’s ability to out-muscle and out-stretch Chris Bosh both in the post and from range. It’s not Ray Allen slipping screen after screen to catch and shoot daggers that fall like rain while Dwyane Wade tries to absorb the punishment on his body from said screens. It’s not even Rajon Rondo tossing in what seems like a million assists per game against them.

It’s Glen Davis. Against Miami this season, Davis has averaged 11.6 points on a little over 8 shots per game, along with 6 rebounds, in limited minutes. You can live with getting daggered by Pierce and Allen or bullied by Shaq and Garnett. Getting roly-poly’d by Glen Davis is a different matter. Worse still is what Davis has done that isn’t in the box score. Davis has played LeBron enough in the playoffs over the past three years to know his tendencies. He knows when to shade over to take the charge, and that disrupts LeBron’s ability to finish at the rim. There will be significant regard for human life as long as Davis is on the floor playing help defense on James.

From there it gets into effort. As in, the Heat have had none. When faced with the Celtics grinding defense, they haven’t panicked or gone headlong into the mouth of madness. Instead they’ve just given up. They’ve looked like they simply wanted to surrender. Not exactly the mark of a champion. Boston should know what that look looks like. They had it for much of the fourth quarter against the Bulls Thursday night. If the Heat don’t give everything they have to try and take the Celtics down, they’re going to see them in the second round, knowing full well that the Celtics swept them in impressive fashion in the regular season. This is a gimme game for Boston.

It is a near-must-win for the Heat.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.