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.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.