Heat exorcise some demons in win over Celtics

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Let’s get this out of the way for the Boston faithful. The season series? Already went to the Celtics 3-0. The Celtics still have a good shot at the second seed and homecourt advantage in the second round. It was a mid-April game in the last week of the regular season for a Boston team that notoriously does not care, and cannot be bothered by the regular season. There is every reason to wince at the sting here and move on, confident that the Celtics will put in a performance like they did against the East last year, blowing past everyone once the second season started. One game, in the regular season, means very little.

But man, 100-77? Anyone who says they saw that coming is lying.

The Heat took it to the Celtics’ front door on Sunday, and the result has to at least carry an ounce of doubt into Boston’s heart of hearts. Everything that could go wrong for the Celtics, did. Everything that could go right for the Heat, did. Rajon Rondo, who blistered the Heat in the first three meetings had 5 assists and 3 turnovers, and shot just 3-8. Dwyane Wade, who was plagued by disoriented, terrible play in the first three meetings, had a huge impact, driving, kicking and playing tremendous defense.

The result is even more mind boggling for Boston since they started so strongly. The first six minutes of the game were a continuation of what we’d seen from the Heat and Celtics in October. Crisp, clean ball movement from Boston. Sloppy, slow, isolated play from Miami. Then suddenly, the Heat started clawing, and worked their way into a small lead. The third quarter was all Miami. The game? The game was all LeBron’s.

27 points on 19 shots, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and a block for James, who for once used his aggression at the rim to create opportunities for his jumper instead of the other way around. The real turning point of the game? When Jermaine O’Neal decided to send a message, and wound up waking up the Heat.

That started a run of chippy play in which the Heat were the aggressor. Chris Bosh picked up a technical for arguing a call on a scramble, and then turned that, no joke, into some seriously tough play. Bosh had a huge block in the third, and then a crucial and-one to stop a Celtics run in the fourth. Instead of pulling up for the fadeaway J, Bosh went right at the rim, absorbed the contact and finished.

But if you want to get past all this and into what really killed the Celtics, after James? The Celtics nabbed 10% of all available offensive rebounds, just 3 of them. 3. The Heat? They grabbed 40% of all available misses on offense, for 15 extra possessions.

No one wants to say Kendrick Perkins’ name here. But it’s unavoidable. The Celtics were a terrible team on the offensive glass even with Perkins. But they weren’t this bad, and at least they could prevent the other team from getting that many. The key with offensive rebounds isn’t getting your own, it’s preventing the other team from getting them. Makes it that much harder to defend, that much harder to keep your defense set, that much harder to maintain position. Perkins may not have nabbed any himself, but he would have helped to keep Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony from getting nine total.

The Celtics can dismiss this. They’ve earned the right after turning on the afterburners and blazing past the East last year in the playoffs after a terrible end to their regular season that went on for months. But there’s no way to stop the concerns being spoken in Boston about this team after the trade. They don’t seem like the Celtics of old, in attitude or execution. No one’s counting them out. But even in a single loss in the season series they’ve already won, this game brings with it even more erasers being taken out for the Celtics’ penciled spot in the Finals.

Some notes:

  • Jeff Green was put on LeBron James for a stretch in the 3rd and 4th quarters, as he was brought on in part to match up with LeBron. That did not work out well. And when I say that, I mean it in the same way that I say “going swimming did not work out well for that girl in the beginning of “Jaws.”
  • Glen Davis is in a bad, bad place right now. And instead of getting back to what he does best, attacking the glass, getting easy and sometimes overly difficult ridiculous shots underneath, drawing fouls, he’s operating space, relying on his jumper, trying to replicate Kevin Garnett’s pick and pop range abilities. Davis was 3-11 Sunday. Glen Davis took more shots than Ray Allen.
  • Speaking of Allen, Wade did a phenomenal job closing out on him on three-pointers. Instead of giving up as he had in the first three meetings, he committed to running Allen off. The result was Allen going 4-9 for just 13 points. Containment.
  • Joel Anthony had the game of his life Sunday with 7 points and 10 boards, including a nice dunk off a LeBron drive, spin and dish off. He played aggressively on defense, disrupted passing lanes, and played with energy. If the Heat are going to get role players to step up in the playoffs, Anthony playing well would be a huge boon.
  • Mike Miller sprained his thumb in the first half, and did not return.
  • Juwan Howard hit a shot. That’s how bad things got.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.