What Heat-Celtics means to the Miami Heat

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The Miami Heat want to be great.

Greatness is such a bizarre concept. How often is it used outside of sports? Politics. Spirituality. Business. Show-business. And all those things are complex and contextual. But it’s what we pursue. If the Boston Celtics symbolize that single-minded obsession with gold, the Heat are pursuing something that almost goes beyond rings. They want to cement themselves as great. It takes a special kind of arrogance to pursue that as a goal in and of itself, but then, that arrogance is a product of talent and ability. It is that drive for greatness that brought the Triad together, it is what turns so many off of them. But it’s there, and if we want to talk about them as adults and not self-righteous judge and jury, we do need to recognize it. The Heat want to be great.

The Miami Heat can’t be great without beating the Boston Celtics.

You have to have a villain, and guess what? The Chicago Bulls don’t work because of their youth and relative unknown identity. The Lakers don’t fit because there’s no counter of identity. But the Celtics? The Celtics eliminated James’ Cavaliers. They eliminated Wade’s Heat. And they have made it clear that they neither respect, nor acknowledge any team that lays claim to the East, especially the Heat.

The Celtics represent the old guard, the Pistons to the Heat’ Bulls, the Pistons to the Heat’s Celtics, the team that stands in their way. It doesn’t matter that this is the conference semifinals, not the conference Finals. It doesn’t matter that the Bulls await the winner, licking their young chops while the two go to what will likely be an abject war. This is what they’ve waited for, and this feels like the kind of drama they have to experience.

The Celtics are Miami’s mirror image. Three stars, one the franchise icon, who unite to try and do something extraordinary. The Celtics adopted chemistry and commitment. The Heat have preached chemistry and a commitment to business. The versatile small-forward. The iconic shooting guard. The long power forward. The Celtics are so much like the Heat, but just a little bit closer, a little bit of a better fit, a little bit able to mesh. And if the Heat want to advance, they have to come together like the Celtics did.

The Celtics hate this team. They’ll act dismissive. They’ll talk about it being just another opponent, and how it’s on to the next one if they were to win. But this team hates how they celebrated while the Celtics were still smarting from losing Game 7 of the Finals by a quarter without their starting center. They hate the adulation of the individual over the team. This is more than just a playoff series, it’s a validation of Ubuntu versus the most talented team the Celtics have ever faced. Miami can’t allow a team that disdains them to get this win. If the Heat have been driven to shut up the haters, losing to the Celtics would mean surrendering to the biggest collection of them all.

The Celtics are the villain, the bad guy, the team that took it to them in the regular season and exposed them early and often. The Heat need this series to vanquish those demons. The confidence they’ll have were they to beat Boston, the big bad Boston Celtics, would be enough to carry them as far as they want to go. That’s not a dismissal of the very talented Bulls and Lakers, it’s a testament to the mental edge Boston has carried over Miami.

The Celtics bring defense. The Heat bring defense. The Celtics are individually magnificent. The Heat have some of the most talented players in the league. The Celtics return to their team concept just as the Heat do, for strength and guidance. The identities of these teams are not so different. Garnett whispered in LeBron’s ear after the Celtics defeated the Cavaliers last year. What he said isn’t known. But you have to wonder if it is the way these Celtics have tortured James for three years that drove him to abandon his home and responsibilities as the franchise player (as was within his rights to do) and join Wade and Bosh. The Celtics will make you crazy. They just keep coming, just keep hammering, and just keep challenging you at every position.

The unstoppable force meets… the unstoppable force.

No team embarrassed the Heat like the Celtics did this year, not even the Bulls. This matchup has it all for the Heat. Revenge. Vendettas. A philosophic difference between basketball for basketball’s sake, and basketball as a portal to fulfillment of all life has to offer, including, yes, greatness.

The world does not exist past this series for Miami. It is their entire universe. They may simply not be ready for this challenge, they may not have had enough time together. That doesn’t matter. The moment is here by which they’ll be jumped, their careers put into perspective. The game is the same it was at the start of the year.

You want to be great?

You gotta beat Boston.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.