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.

Memphis picks up first win since restart, beats Oklahoma City

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dillon Brooks scored 22 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their first win since the restart with a 121-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Ja Morant had 19 points and nine assists for the Grizzlies.

Memphis shot 55% and avoided falling into a tie with Portland for eight place in the Western Conference standings. Memphis is one game ahead of Portland, two games ahead of San Antonio, 2.5 ahead of Phoenix, and three games up on New Orleans and Sacramento.

Chris Paul scored 17 points and Luguentz Dort added 16 for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points on 3 for 13 shooting.

The Thunder looked nothing like the team that rolled past the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Oklahoma City missed a chance to move into a tie with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the West.

Oklahoma City led by 18 in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies rallied to take the lead in the second. Memphis led by nine in the final seconds of the first half. Danilo Gallinari hit a 3 for the Thunder with 4.6 seconds left, then Paul stole the inbounds pass and hit a corner 3 to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 63-60 at halftime.

The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 32-18 in the third quarter to go up 95-78 at the end of the period.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.