Heat-Celtics Game 7 Preview: The thing about chaos is it’s fair

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You want to know the truth about this game, the hidden, ugly, “no one will talk about it because it’s like running a news report on the Disney Channel about how Santa isn’t real” truth?

Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics? All that drama, all the impact on legacies and careers and the huge mega-importance of this game?

It’s a coin flip. Game 7 is nothing but a coin flip.

In reality, Game 6 was as well. These two have battled to the marrow throughout this series. All that talk bout officiating and conspiracies and clutch? That’s a result of two evenly matched teams going down to the wire in nearly every game. The gap in point differential, after the Heat blew the Celtics out of the water in Game 6? 1.7. That’s it. The two teams are separated after six games by less than a bucket. There is no better team. And we hate that.

We abhor the idea of the better team not advancing. It strikes a chord in us that fires off our cognitive dissonance alarms like nothing else. The better team has to win. But what if there isn’t one?

Boston’s offense has overperformed in this series. You can talk about clutch players and experience and rising to the occasion all you want. I think there are times when those cliches hold true. This is not one of them. They’re facing a dominant defense in its own right, and to be honest, they take a lot of pretty terrible shots. I don’t care what’s in your guts or between your legs, you’re not going to hit contested pull-up jumpers at a high rate, especially not from mid-range, and especially not against a defense as good as this one. But here it is. And there are concrete reasons that go beyond luck. Rajon Rondo’s singular brilliance. That play where he tip-passed it to Mickael Pietrus is a great example. But think about what had to happen there. Wade has to block Bass just right. Not so hard that it flies over Rondo’s head, not soft so that a Heat player collects it. He has to tap that ball just right, and that’s on Rondo and his brilliance. But he has to get it just over James also reaching. Pietrus has to have the wherewithal to stand in the corner and be ready for the catch, Mickael Pietrus being known for his heady play and stable mind on the court, and then has to knock down a massive shot. This is part glory of championship teams, and part ridiculousness of chaos. Anyone breathes different on that court and the entire story changes.

Think I’m just bagging on the Celtics? Try this. Miami? Just as much of an outlier. LeBron James has an off-balance jumper. He just does. George Karl has talked about it. David Thorpe at ESPN has talked about it. Coaches and scouts and experts have talked about it. He doesn’t trust his jumper, but he feels the need to go to it. If Michael Jordan never existed, LeBron James is the best player, ever. I firmly believe that, and not because he’s No.2 behind Jordan. He’s not. But having grown up and watched Jordan like so many kids of his generation, the push-off on Russell, the shot over Ehlo, he learned the same thing. You win games by hitting big jumpers. This, from a 6-8, 280 lb. hulking monster of unstoppable force is insane. But it’s what he is. And in Game 6? Every outlier came home to roost. Does that take away from his ability or the magnificence of that game? Absolutely not. Hitting those shots takes a phenomenal amount of concentration, just like Pietrus’. It takes the ability to create those shots in the first place. It takes resolve and determination and God-given ability, all of which James showed in an absolutely brilliant performance from stop to finish.

It’s also not bloody likely to happen again. Can it? Sure. Will it? Again, it’s not probable.

What does this tell us about Game 7? It sets up the same things we knew before. It comes down to who makes shots. Sounds simple, right? But that’s not what a series is about. It’s about adjustments and counter-adjustments and effort and preparation and more than anything talent and execution. But Game 7’s are about who has it that night. The Lakers had it in 2010. The Spurs had it in 2008. The Celtics had it vs. Philadelphia, the Clippers vs. the Grizzlies, the Lakers vs. the Nuggets. It doesn’t always mean both teams are even. But one team will have the extra arc on the ball to tilt it in, the rims will forgive one team more than the other, and that will determine all of this. So much pressure, so many consequences, so many lives changed, and it all hinges on the wings of a butterfly, the temperature in the arena, the bead of sweat trickling down LeBron James’ forehead. Think about that when you compare it to your life’s biggest moments.

We’re all victims and subjects and participants in chaos, and in fate, and here’s really no place better to be.

These teams are incredibly evenly matched and the outcome does not determine who is the better team. They are both great teams. The Celtics can blow them out, the Heat can blow the Celtics out, it can be an overtime or triple-overtime or an ugly or beautiful game and it won’t change what we’ve learned. These teams are both worthy of the Finals. One goes, one goes home. That’s life. That’s chaos.

That’s fair.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

Associated Press
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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.