Celtics come roaring back as Hayward returns

Today: LeBron and Lakers play rare Sunday game against Nuggets

The Boston Celtics came out with a ferocity and won a tough game against the Miami Heat last night to pull the series to 2-1. Despite almost succumbing to yet another late Heat push in the 4th quarter it was a clear that this Boston team isn’t afraid of a little challenge.

Back in the Western Playoff race, the Nuggets and Lakers are set to take on NFL Sunday as the Nuggets search for answers in the post.

Celtics just NBA Jammed the Heat

For someone who writes about basketball as I do, there’s a constant battle between oversimplification, and inventing reasons to explain how one team’s players just outperformed their counterparts.

The Celtics, after coming out flat in two losing efforts to open the series came out of the gate with aggression, finished with 60 points in the paint and 30 free throw attempts, both of which were postseason highs.

With a freshly returned Gordon Hayward coming off the bench, Boston found a renewed sense of attack. Even though Hayward didn’t exactly stuff the stat sheet, his well-rounded presence (six points, five rebounds and four assists) was a timely and effective counter to the Heat’s bench lineups.

Again, I run the risk of oversimplifying a game that involved a fairly detailed game plan that Boston installed to defeat a swarming Miami defense that has reliably flummoxed teams during these playoffs.

But maybe the Heat have been overachieving?

This is a team that is playing rookie Tyler Herro heavy minutes (33 minutes per game). Undrafted Duncan Robinson is 6th in per game minutes. These are good, young players, but they’re facing a veteran and battle-tested Boston Celtic team.

Denver needs to adjust to the Lakers

Coming in, we identified Anthony Davis outplaying Nikola Jokic as one of the main deciding factors to watch. In game one, it was all Davis, and that’s a major issue for Denver. Though not a problem unique to the Nuggets, they just don’t have anyone well suited to cover this guy:

Toss in a shockingly effective Dwight Howard, and significant early foul trouble for Denver’s stars, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel is considering starting Dwight Howard in Game 2. Howard, who discovered a time machine or something, looked as dominant as he ever has. When he clocked in to start the second quarter of game one, it was a tone changer that Denver was never able to recover from. He blocked two shots, had two steals, and drew five fouls as the Nuggets got caught on their heels - both by the physicality of the Lakers attack, as well as the frequency of ref whistles.

This is a mid-day game (4:30 p.m.  PST on TNT), going up against the NFL. It will be interesting to see how many people are watching this game. Denver seems to thrive by first getting way behind in a playoff series, so I guess this one doesn’t start till the Nuggets are down 3-1?

Prediction: Lakers are better again, even without a ton of friendly referee whistles.