Three takeaways from Celtics making it a series with blowout Game 5 win over Heat


We have ourselves a series.

After dropping the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics that looked like the best team in the NBA for stretches in the regular season have shown up the last two games. On Thursday night they took a double-digit lead early and turned Game 5 into a “sit your stars in the fourth” win for Boston 110-97 (and it wasn’t that close).

Miami still leads the series 3-2 and should be the favorite to advance, but doubt is creeping into Heat Nation. The Heat need to close this out Saturday in Game 6. Otherwise all bets are off.

Here are three takeaways from Game 5.

1) It was the best of Boston…

Those of us who picked the Celtics to win this series did so because they had two elite stars, great depth, the third-best defense in the NBA this season and plenty of shooting. They were the better team, both on paper and during the regular season.

What we expected was the team that didn’t show up until the second half of Game 4. There is something about these Celtics — for the past few years, through three different coaches — where they need to make it hard on themselves, put their backs against the wall, before they played at their peak.

“I didn’t know the answer,” Jayson Tatum said postgame about why that is. “For some odd reason, even last year, we seemed to always make it tough on ourselves. But I do know you can see the true character of a person, of a team, when things aren’t going well.”

That elite team showed up again from the opening tip of Game 5, which is why Boston had a double-digit lead midway through the first that lasted until the final minutes of garbage time.

Everything went right for the Celtics in the first half. Jaylen Brown found his shot and had 15 points (3-of-5 from 3). As a team the Celtics shot 11-of-25 from 3 (44%). Their defense was sharp leading to 10 forced turnovers, which allowed them to get some easy transition buckets. They handled the Heat zone (hitting the 3s helped there). They had eight offensive rebounds for 13 second-chance points.

The Celtics were up 61-44 at the half. Maybe the hottest Celtic on the night was Derrick White, who had 24 points by the time the final buzzer sounded.

Most of what worked for Boston continued after the break, to the point Erik Spoelstra chose not to play Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo in the fourth quarter, resting their legs for Game 6 on Saturday. In the end, the Celtics have four players scoring 20+ points (White, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum).

The Celtics did an excellent job on Adebayo, who was allowed to attack in isolation early in the series but is now finding multiple defenders on his drives. Boston is doing much better at shrinking the floor. Also defensively, Robert Williams has handled switches much better in the last couple of games.

Offensively, everything worked. The Celtics’ two offensive bellwethers are 3-point shooting (16-of-39 for the game, 41%) and Tatum getting downhill and attacking (5-of-6 shooting in the paint for the game, he was aggressive). Both were on display Thursday.

If Boston can do those things in Game 6, we likely see a Game 7.

2) It was the worst of the Heat

One off game in a series, especially when up 3-0, happens. Game 4 was forgivable if not ideal for the Heat.

Game 5… that was a punch to the gut. Miami still leads the series 3-2, but Boston has confidence heading into a critical Game 6. The Celtics have upped their intensity and level of play in the last two games and the Heat need to match it.

Two straight ugly losses for the Heat, has that impacted the team’s mood?

“Who cares about mood?” Erik Spoelstra asked? “We have a gnarly group. I think so much of that is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the Conference Finals. One game doesn’t lead to the next game… We beat them by whatever in Game 3. It just doesn’t matter. It’s about collectively preparing and putting together a great game. We’ll play much better on Saturday.”

It’s not a short list of things Miami needs to turn around in Game 6:

• Stop turning the ball over (16 turnovers, 11 in the first half, gave the Celtics momentum).
• Attack and get to the free throw line
• Jimmy Butler has to get back to being the best player in the postseason, 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting will not get it done.
• Bam Adebayo needs to be a leader and step up as well
• The Heat need Gabe Vincent back (he missed Game 5 with a sprained ankle, his status for Game 6 is up in the air).

But it’s all got to start with Butler. They need playoff MVP Butler back.

3) Saturday’s Game 6 isn’t technically the Heat’s Game 7, but…

Miami can lose on Saturday and their season is not over, they would still fly back to Boston for a Game 7 on Monday.

The Heat also want no part of that Game 7.

Game 6 is not the Heat’s Game 7, but it’s thisclose to being precisely that. It feels like a Game 7.

“We can and we will win this series,” Jimmy Butler said.

However, the Celtics have made it a series with some suspense as to the outcome now. These Celtics becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from 0-3 down to win a series is still a long shot, but it also fits the personality of this inconsistent, up-and-down team.

It feels like the winner of Game 6 will advance to the NBA Finals, which start June 1.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.

Coaching carousel update: Nick Nurse has strong, not universal, support in Milwaukee


Five open coaching jobs remain around the NBA: Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.

Here is the latest on the searches to fill those openings.

• Nick Nurse may be the first domino to fall with him having drawn interest from the Suns, Bucks and 76ers. Nurse has strong support in Milwaukee, but it’s not universal, reports Ian Begley of

So it’s worth noting that, as of earlier this week, Nick Nurse’s candidacy had strong support within the organization. Though not all key stakeholders in Milwaukee were aligned on Nurse, per SNY sources.

• Nurse has interviewed in Phoenix as well. Their top target was current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, according to multiple reports, but Begley reinforces what has been reported here at NBC Sports and other places: The Clippers are not expected to part ways with Lue. Even if they do, the Clippers will not let their coach walk to a division rival in Phoenix.

• Momentum appears to be building behind Suns’ assistant coach Kevin Young getting a promotion in Phoenix, with Marc Stein reporting he got a key endorsement.

Word is Young, who has also interviewed for the head coaching vacancies in Milwaukee and Toronto, has received a strong endorsement from Suns star Devin Booker.

• It would be risky to put a first-time head coach in charge of a contender in Phoenix. If new owner Mat Ishbia goes that route, look for the Suns to get a former NBA head coach to be his assistant (don’t be surprised to see that in Boston next season as well, where Joe Mazzulla is expected to remain as coach).

• Nurse, former Nets’ head coach and current Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin remain the finalists for the Bucks head coaching job. Stein reports Giannis Antetokounmpo is “intrigued” by Griffin.

• Toronto’s coaching search could be influenced by which direction team president Masai Ujiri decides to take the roster, something else up in the air. From ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“In talking to folks that have been in touch with the Raptors recently, the Raptors don’t seem to know which direction they’re going to take. Whether or not they are going to focus on re-signing Fred VanVleet, extending Pascal Siakam, potentially making other roster upgrades. Or whether or not they’re going to send Fred VanVleet in a sign-and-trade, maybe investigate moving other players be it OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam.”

• Multiple reports have Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners to be the next head coach in Detroit. Pistons’ ownership reportedly backed the Brinks truck up to Monty Williams’ house but he was not interested, Stein reported. The buzz has been that GM Troy Weaver is backing Ollie.

• The only coaching vacancy filled so far this offseason is Ime Udoka taking the job as the Rockets’ head coach.

Karl Malone pulls in $5 million with auction of 1992 Dream Team memorabilia

USA Men's Basketball Team vs Croatia, 1992 Summer Olympics
Richard Mackson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

At one of Karl Malone’s car dealerships in Utah, the Hall of Famer used to display some of his memorabilia from the 1992 Dream Team — game-worn jerseys from Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, among other items.

Wednesday night, Malone auctioned off 24 pieces of that memorabilia, netting him a cool $5 million, something reported by Darren Rovell at the Action Network.

The biggest seller was a game-worn Michael Jordan jersey from the USA’s 127-76 thrashing of Lithuania in the medal round, it went for more than $3 million.

Other items sold include $360,000 for a Larry Bird game-worn jersey and $230,400 for a Charles Barkley uniform.