NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 3: The Triad have found the nexus

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In Miami’s 91-86 win over Oklahoma City Sunday night, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade scored 35 points on 34 shots. That’s a bad ratio. It would indicate that LeBron James (29 points on 23 shots) carried the team. But that’s off, you have to consider everything. The metrics, the plays, the context of the series, the matchups, everything. You have to see the whole board to identify what we saw in Game 3, and in this series.

And what we see is the Triad finding the nexus of their talents, playing together, playing well, and playing at the apex of their potential together, in terms of execution. The shots aren’t falling? That’s fine. The process matters more than the results in the course of a seven-game series ( as long as you win, right?).

What we saw in Game 3 was Dwyane Wade using the pick and roll and the Thunder’s adaptation to push the defense to the perimeter to find Chris Bosh inside for all three of his buckets. That forced the defense to adapt. That opened the perimeter for James to create inside. Their offensive rebounding forced adaptations. And James cutting inside, forcing the defense to slide to help, the doubles they forced, the intensity and execution created more and more opportunities.

But it was the defense that did it.

From the beginning, this Heat team was built on the concept that they had to play amazing defense to win. They had learned from losses to Boston and Orlando that the path to the title was through their defense, that their best use of their athleticism and talent was to extend and control the game defensively. This is a team that outshot the Knicks, outmuscled the Pacers, and outran the Celtics. Now they are grinding OKC down, behind the efforts of the Triad.

Chris Bosh had the best 3-12 game you’re going to find. 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He posted a -7, but that stat doesn’t cover the late game impact he had. Bosh has also created a ton of possession for Miami by diving on the floor. He’s set the tone.

And that shouldn’t be overlooked, here. The Miami Heat are no longer “too good to try” in terms of these loose balls. They’re getting to the 50/50 balls and outworking the young guys. They look hungrier, more poised, and tougher. Those are nebulous things, but we see it with certain plays. Gone is the indecisiveness. When Wade works in isolation, LeBron’s no longer standing on the perimeter when Wade launches. He’s crashing the offensive glass. Wade’s no longer coasting possessions when LeBron works in the post. He’s cutting to the rim. They’re creating extra possessions and attacking early in the shot clock.

The uneasiness of how to make these players fit is gone, and much of it is seen in an approach that simply has stopped trying to out-think the opponent. The Heat aren’t waiting to make sure things are perfect. They’re using their talents, executing, and forcing things. Defensively, they’re attacking, attacking, attacking and the result in Game 3 was a Thunder team on its heels. There are times when it just seems too much, with Bosh making the smart play, Wade making the aggressive play, and James making the best play, often on one possession. It’s not dominant. It stalls at times. But they are close, so very close to that point where there’s just no way to beat them.

Still, the Thunder hang, hitting tough shot after tough shot, which is to their credit. And in Game 4, everything can be reversed, the Triad can go back into the mud, and it can end just like that. But in an ugly game, the Big 3 are creating what they need to, producing what they need to, building the team they want to.

They’re two games away from a championship.

Whether they stay here in the nexus may decide if those two wins are attainable.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.