Celtics-Heat Game 4: Boston out executes Heat, evens series 2-2

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Boston owned the first half with a sharp offense.

Miami played defense for the first time since their plane landed in Boston in the second half and tied it up.

But with everything on the line at the end of the game and in overtime it came down to execution, and the veteran Celtics were better at it. Not a lot — it was 4-2 in overtime. It was grinding, not pretty. But that counts just the same. Boston won 93-91 and the Eastern Conference finals are tied 2-2 heading back to Miami.

Boston won this with one half of hot offense and four quarters and an overtime of defense. What they have done amazingly well is cut off the transition points of Miami — they have taken away the easy, showtime buckets that fuel the Heat. Old legs? Not even close. Boston has looked more spry the last two games.

That started from the opening minutes of Game 5. Boston walked on the court attacking, Rajon Rondo was getting the lane, carving up the Heat defense with passes and shots. He has been amazing this series, and he finished this game with 15 points and 15 assists. Boston went on 10-0 run early and that had team up 14. Boston got a dozen first quarter points from Paul Pierce, shot 59 percent and put 34 points up in the first 12 minutes. Boston had seven three pointers in the first half. That carried through the half as Boston was up 14 and had 61 points at the break.

Then Miami started playing intense defense in the second half, particularly trapping Rondo and taking the ball out of his hands. Behind that the Heat’s rotations were sharper and they started to challenge whoever had the ball. Miami played far more physical ball. Boston scored just 12 points in the third quarter. Boston had 16 in the fourth.

Miami also started to really take advantage of every time Kevin Garnett sat down. They attacked and without KG’s defensive leadership out there Boston could not stop LeBron James (29 points) or the Heat from getting to the rim.

But what Boston did late was make stops and one more shot — this game was tied 81-81 with five minutes remaining in regulation. Both teams were pushing, clawing and getting fouls. Some interesting fouls. Some questionable fouls. Both Pierce and LeBron fouled out in overtime and there were questionable calls all night both ways.

In the end, Boston played good defense and made one more shot.

Miami had its looks. But with the final shot in regulation and overtime Miami didn’t execute as well as the Boston defense.

In regulation what coach Eric Spoelstra drew up… well he said after the game it fell apart, what it became was a LeBron James isolation where when the triple-team came he tried to pass out of it and… it was just not good.

“It was another multi-layer thing to try to get LeBron on the run,” Spoelstra said. “The play broke down a little bit, so he had to put the ball on the floor and make a play. He had the right idea. I think (Haslem) was open for a count there in the corner. But you have to pass over a 7-foot-6 guy, so it wasn’t really a clean pass.”

Then at the end of overtime, with 14 seconds to go and Miami down 2, the Heat actually ran a play to get a switch so Marquis Daniels was on Wade, which led to a clean look at a step back three as time ran out. Clean but not a good shot. Thing is, Wade shot 26.8 percent from three this season, 27.8 percent in the playoffs. Him taking a twisting three is not good execution, it is not high percentage shot. And if you go earlier you might get an offensive rebound. Miami executed neither.

And so the series is tied 2-2. Game 5 is going to be when the Heat figure out how to take a step forward or they will fall short — Boston is a veteran team they are going to defend, they are going to execute. Just like they did in Game 3 and 4.

If Chris Bosh is back in the lineup can Miami execute better? Either way they had better. The playoffs are about growth and if Miami doesn’t do it before Game 5 this series could end quickly.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.

Mavericks reportedly front runners to land Al Horford, Lakers and Clippers also interested

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Al Horford is moving on from Boston, the latest blow in a year where the Celtics went from “they will be in the Eastern Conference Finals every year for the next five years at least” to “they’re okay but have a lot of work to do.” It’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

So where does Al Horford play next season?

How about next to Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas?

That’s the buzz, with the two Los Angeles teams trying to get in the conversation, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard.

Dallas makes sense for both sides.

The Mavericks have the cap space to offer Horford the $20 million or more starting salary he wants, reportedly he seeks $100 million across four years (he opted out of a $30.5 million season in Boston for the security of more years). Dallas has $31.3 million in cap space, even after Dwight Powell opting in. While they likely will reach a max deal on a new contract with Porzingis, the Mavs have his bird rights so they can sign Horford then go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis (who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury).

On the court, Horford can both be paired with Porzingis — two bigs teams have to defend out to the three-point line — and help limit the young big man’s minutes. While not young at 33 (and the Mavs may regret the final year of a four-year contract), Horford is the kind of glue big man who can do everything well, giving coach Rick Carlisle a lot of options. Horford can score in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good man defender and can protect the rim, and all that versatility makes him valuable. He can fit into the Dallas frontcourt rotation with Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber.

That versatility would make him a great second addition to the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard chooses to leave the Raptors to join Doc Rivers’ squad (he Leonard stays the Clippers are out of this running). While Los Angeles start Ivica Zubac at the five, Horford would be an upgrade and they still have Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Horford also could mix in at the four for the Clippers.

For the Lakers, who are looking for a third star, they could sigh Horford at a $20 million starting salary (with raises from there) without having to go through the salary cap gymnastics it would take for them to clear cap space to land someone like Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker.

Horford has fans all over the league and will have options, but Dallas is aggressive and there is a logical fit there.