5 things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3

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The series is tied, and teams are 11-0 when winning the third game of a 2-3-2 series tied 1-1. The Heat have looked unstoppable and then collapsed. The Mavericks have looked overwhelmed and then charged back to victory. Anyone who thought this series was going to be quick or easy has had a lesson in the realities of just how good these two teams are. This thing is more than likely going the distance, but whoever wins Game 3 will have a huge leg up in the series.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3.

1. Inside Men

LeBron James admitted Saturday that he needs to attack more. He and Wade went into hero mode early in the fourth quarter and the result was a stalled offense for the Heat that allowed the comeback. Wade’s one drive inside five minutes did net points off of free throws. James has to be more aggressive. He made a lot of noise Saturday about how Shawn Marion can’t guard him one-on-one. James needs to prove that to be the case in Game 3 by staying aggressive. Then again, you could replace Marion with just about any defender in the league and you have the same situation that always exists with LeBron. Needing to be aggressive. Too often being passive.

2. A Swift Kick in the Glass

Whichever team won the offensive rebounding battle in this series has taken the game. Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler came out much more active on the glass in Game 2 and it paid off. The Heat need those extra possessions. In particular, Joel Anthony needs to make his presence felt. Anthony is known as the “no-stats All-Star” on the Heat, but he needs to actually fill up the box score with rebounds on both ends. Udonis Haslem has too many responsibilities and James and Wade have too much attention on them. Anthony needs to contribute with effort and know-how.

3. Whoa, Boy

Take out the fourth quarter of the Mavericks and you have a disappointing loss on the backs of a game filled with missed opportunities. The Mavericks had an ungodly amount of turnovers in Game 2 and it very nearly cost them. As much as offensive rebounding was the correction Rick Carlisle talked about before Game 2, turnovers are his sticking point before Game 3. The Mavericks were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get away with it in Game 2, but that won’t happen again. They have to cut down on mental mistakes and make smarter passes. As the series goes along, both teams are starting to attack the dribble and passing lanes more. Whoever can outsmart the opponent’s attack while not forcing things too much will have an advantage that could tip the series. In particular the Mavericks in the fourth quarter started being aggressive on the perimeter in gambling and attacking passing lanes on the drive and kick. The Heat have their own turnover issues to worry about.

4. For the Love of God, Double Dirk

The Heat chose not to double Dirk Nowitzki at the end of Game 2… or did they? Dwyane Wade bailed out his teammate Chris Bosh by saying the Heat “screwed up” their rotations, which means that someone was supposed to come help. Dirk Nowitzki even said he was surprised to find himself open when he spun around Chris Bosh like he was standing still (as he was standing still). If the situation repeats itself, Udonis Haslem told reporters he didn’t know if they would necessarily double Dirk. If that actually happens again and we have a repeat of Game 2, I’m going to write up a pink slip for Erik Spoelstra just in case Pat Riley needs it, despite the fact that Spoelstra’s done a remarkable job in the postseason. They have to double Dirk Nowitzki and live with the consequences.

5. The Totally Reliable Unreliable 3-point Shooters

Jason Kidd and Mario Chalmers all of a sudden are having a shooting contest. Who saw that happening? We keep waiting to see when Kidd’s 3-point attack is going to stall, but he really has worked to add that part to his game and he’s making defenses pay when they, as above, double Dirk. Mario Chalmers has been the Heat’s zone buster. And had the Heat managed to survive Game 2 in overtime, he would have been a hero for his clutch 3-pointer. All of a sudden this series has become about which set of unreliable shooters gets hot. A key thing to watch will be if one team is cold and gets in a deficit if they keep going for the 3-pointer in the hopes of the home-run ball. The Mavericks did that for three quarters in Game 2 and it almost cost them. The Heat did that for the majority of the fourth quarter and it did cost them. Whoever can adjust gets the cookie in Game 3.

Marcus Smart on Game 7: ‘It’s not going to be pretty’

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Game 7s are not pretty basketball. Everyone is tight, shots clank off the front of the rim, and players tend to think rather than just react, sucking the flow out of the game. It’s a game for grinders.

Marcus Smart is good with that, and he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN the team is preparing for this style.

“It’s not going to be pretty. You got to be able to get down and get dirty. You can’t go out and try to look pretty. You have to be ready for a dogfight. We got to be ready to come up with our nose bloodied. We got to be ready to come out with our mouth bloodied. We have to come out ready to fight.”

If Boston is going to win this game, they will do so with the physical, smart, and unrelenting defense that carried them all season. That’s their grit. Without Kevin Love (out with a concussion) the Celtics have one less scorer to worry about, but things do not necessarily get dramatically easier — LeBron James is going to get his buckets, but can the Celtics keep George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and the rest of the role players from helping out with big nights of their own.

Which one of these teams is better positioned to win a grinding, sloppy game? Who is willing to dive on the floor and give that little extra effort? A case can be made either way, but Sunday night will decide it.

Report: Warriors’ Patrick McCaw cleared, will be available for Game 6

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We haven’t seen Golden State’s Patrick McCaw on an NBA court since March 31, when he was undercut by Sacramento’s Vince Carter and took an ugly, nasty spill.

McCaw is finally cleared by the team doctors and will be active on Saturday night for Game 6 against Houston, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Golden State Warriors are planning to activate swingman Patrick McCaw for Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

McCaw, on paper, would help the Warriors — he’s a 6’5″ switchable defender who can provide some offense in transition. That’s especially true if Andre Iguodala is out for Game 6 (his status is a game-time decision). McCaw played about 17 minutes a night for the Warriors during the regular season.

However, the idea of taking a second-year player who has not been on a court in six weeks and throwing him into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals — a win-or-go-fishing game for Golden State — is risky, at best. Don’t expect him to get on the court unless this is a blowout.

Kevin Love in concussion protocol, listed as out for Game 7

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As if winning a Game 7 on the road against a younger, more athletic team that has not lost on its home court all playoffs was not difficult enough, things just got harder for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kevin Love has a concussion and is not expected to play in Game 7 on Sunday.

While it is technically possible for Love to clear out of the concussion protocol in 24 hours, it is highly unlikely. He would have to pass a rigorous physical test and have no concussion-related symptoms, something cleared by both the team doctor and a league-approved neurologist. This is something that tends to take days if not weeks to get over.

Love was injured just five minutes into Game 6. Love had set up position in the midpost and was setting a screen for George Hill, who was curling out to the arc. Jayson Tatum was trailing Hill and he banged heads with Love. It wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and did not return to the game.

LeBron James is going to have to carry even more load in Game 7, and now more pressure falls on George Hill (the bellwether for this Cavs team), J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and others to step up without Love there to space the floor and get buckets.

Report: Raptors interview Spurs’ assistants Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka for coaching job

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It’s not officially a coaching search until some Spurs’ assistants are interviewed.

So it looks like the Toronto Raptors’ search is underway.

Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri fired Dwane Casey right after Casey’s peers voted him Coach of the Year for leading the Raptors to 59 wins and the No. 1 seed in the East. That said, after several frustrating years of running into the brick wall that is LeBron James in the East, maybe the Raptors did need a new voice and some changes to try to take the next step (especially with Boston and Philadelphia coming on fast in the East hierarchy).

But if you’re going to fire a 59-win Coach of the Year kind of guy, you better have an impressive replacement in hand or at least a clear plan.

Ujiri reportedly wanted Mike Budenholzer, but the former Hawks’ head coach took the job in Milwaukee after meeting with Toronto.

The leading candidate for the job is still considered to be Nick Nurse, the Raptors’ assistant who was in charge of their changed and improved offense last season. The Raptors also interviewed two other internal candidates, assistant coach Rex Kalamian and G-League coach Jerry Stackhouse.

Casey, by the way, is the target of the Detroit Pistons.