Celtics-Heat Game 5: Heat play to stereotype, wilt while Celtics take control of series

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This game felt like the entire Miami Heat season — there were spurts of athletic, beautiful play, but they couldn’t sustain it. They wilted after the All-Star break. They wilted in the second and third quarters of this game when they shot just 29 percent in the face of Boston’s pressure. They could not make the plays at the end, reverting to hero ball.

The Celtics — those “old” Celtics with the tired legs — out ran the Miami Heat down the court all night long. They out worked inside a Heat team that was at home and got one of their big three back. Boston played with more energy and precision.

Boston ground Miami down, wore them down and executed better with an 18-8 run in the final minutes to win 94-90 and take a 3-2 series lead. Boston can close it out and punch their tickets back to the finals Thursday night on their home court.

Both teams played right to their stereotypes. And Miami is never going to hear the end of it.

Boston played poorly in the first half, but they used defense and grit to keep it close. The Celtics started the game 4-of-17 shooting. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo combined to shoot 7-for-29 to open the game. But late in the second half Boston started getting the ball inside to Garnett (who finished with 26 points) and they just found a way to hang around. They were down two at the break.

They withstood another Heat rally and after three quarters were up five — they threw a mix of zone and man-to-man defenses at the Heat that kept Miami off balance.

“They had a great rhythm in that first eight minutes of the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game in a televised press conference. “We had to do something, honestly, just to take them out of that rhythm.”

They did. Boston is a great defensive team and Miami can be pressured out of its system and into poor isolation plays. Miami shot just 39 percent as a team and players not named LeBron James (30 points) or Dwyane Wade (27) shot just 31.4 percent. Miami also shot just 26.9 percent from three and that was key — they couldn’t stretch out the Celtics defense and make them pay.

Chris Bosh was supposed to help change that, and he did at first. Bosh’s played pretty aggressively from when he stepped on the court and just and having athletic body out there helped the Heat spacing. Bosh’s got his first bucket when he got deep position after Greg Stiemsma helped off him on a Wade/LeBron pick-and-roll. Bosh got the ball deep and hit a turn around bank shot. But that didn’t last. At the end of the third he was part of the lineup that got taken apart, so he didn’t play in the fourth.

In the end, Miami played to their stereotype of individual ball with no team concepts on offense. It was all LeBron and Wade, no other Heat player scored in double digits. And those two guys are not enough against good team basketball. It was that way last year in the finals, it is the same way this series against Boston.

Miami was up 6, 78-72, with 6:13 left and they wilted. It started when Wade made a fantastic block on Brandon Bass that Rondo saved to Mickael Pietrus for a three. Boston remained calm. They kept defending. They kept grinding and getting balanced scoring — five Celtics scored in double figures (Pierce had 19). They weren’t great but with their defense they just have to be good enough.

And they fight for it. In a way we just have not seen the Heat do when tested. For the second straight game, LeBron and Wade didn’t even go to the interview room to take questions. It doesn’t look good, it looks like a group of individuals and not a team.

It’s hard to see how that changes before Game 6, but if it doesn’t this series will be over.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.