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Celtics are too old? More like too good.

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Celtics are too old? More like too good.

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A week ago, the Boston Celtics were too old. Three games later, they're one win away from the NBA finals. And Miami -- the team that was constructed with hopes of supplanting Boston as the power in the Eastern Conference -- is suddenly in big trouble. Kevin Garnett finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce scored 19 -- including a huge 3-pointer over LeBron James' outstretched arm with 52.9 seconds left -- and the Celtics beat the Heat 94-90 on Tuesday night, taking a 3-2 lead in the East finals that now shift to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday night. "We've done nothing," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We're playing a heck of a basketball team. So just because we're going to Boston, I told them, we have to play. They're not going to give it to us. We have to go get it." James finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds for Miami, though he went 8 minutes without scoring in the final quarter. Dwyane Wade scored 27 for the Heat, who got no more than nine from anyone else. "We wouldn't want to be in this situation but we never get too high or too low in a series," James said. "We had an opportunity to come home and take a lead, but we didn't. So we have to go up to Boston and win a game." Pierce's 3 put Boston up 90-86. Miami got within two points twice, and argued that it should have had a steal with 8.8 seconds left. Instead, a foul was called on Udonis Haslem, Garnett made two free throws, and the Celtics knew they had just stolen one on Miami's home floor. Now all they need is one home win of their own to clinch a trip to either Oklahoma City or San Antonio for Game 1 of the NBA finals. The title series starts June 12. "Right now," Celtics guard Ray Allen said, "the next game is Game 7." The Celtics were down by 13 points in the second quarter, then down nine in the third, and answered both times -- prevailing on a night where they shot just 41 percent, and got outrebounded 49-39. "We stayed with it," Garnett said. "We had a rough first quarter, first half. We got our stops and made our run ourselves. And when we had to, we had stops." Allen and Mickael Pietrus scored 13 apiece for the Celtics, who got 10 from Brandon Bass. Pietrus hit two huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for Boston, which remained perfect with this core when facing maybe the most pivotal situation a best-of-seven can offer -- a Game 5 with a series tied 2-2. Pierce, Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen are now 9-0 in that scenario. "We came in with the right focus," Pierce said. "That was key for us." So Game 5s are magical for Boston. Sometimes, they are for James as well. And sometimes -- this one included -- they're not. James' most memorable moments have come in Game 5s, like the epic 48 points where he just carried Cleveland on every possession down the stretch at Detroit in 2007, and the 120-88 loss to the Celtics in 2010, his last home game with the Cavaliers. This one offered more theater, of course. James hit a 3-pointer to give Miami a two-point lead with 8:10 left, closed out on Pierce to force an airball on the next possession, and eventually Miami pushed the margin out to 78-72 on a layup by Wade with 6:17 to play. On that play, James looked gassed, gasping for air as he stood near the baseline. Those might have been the last gasps the Miami home crowd sees this season. Boston closed on a 22-12 run. "Every time we got them down, they made runs," James said. "They made us stagnant offensively, got stops and got back in the game." Boston tied the game twice early in the third quarter, before Miami peeled off nine straight points to go up 59-50. Four players scored for the Heat during that quick burst, highlighted by Shane Battier's corner 3-pointer and a lazy turnover from Rondo, who threw the ball into the backcourt without being pressured by any Miami defender. But just as they did in the first half when Miami looked poised to pull away, the Celtics rallied -- and then some. A 15-1 run gave the Celtics a truckload of momentum and 65-60 lead going into the fourth, capped by Keyon Dooling connecting on a 3-pointer from near the Miami bench with 2 seconds left. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter, and the game was tied for the final time when Wade made an acrobatic layup with 1:39 to play. Miami never led again. "We played hard," Battier said. "We just didn't play intelligent." Miami didn't lead by more than eight points at any time in the three previous games of the series. The Heat changed that quickly, and maybe it was fitting that Chris Bosh got them their first double-digit advantage since Game 1. Bosh came off the bench for his first minutes since straining a lower abdominal muscle in Game 1 of Miami's second-round series against Indiana. His three-point play with 1:17 left in the opening quarter -- punctuated with a stare-down for some cheering fans -- capped a 24-13 Miami run to open the game. James made a 3-pointer with 9:39 left in the half, and the Heat went up 31-18. The Celtics did what Miami did to them in Games 3 and 4 at Boston. They started chipping away. Miami missed 15 of its final 17 shots of the first half, with four turnovers thrown in there as well, and the Celtics took advantage. After James' 3-pointer, Boston outscored Miami 22-11 to close the second quarter -- Garnett got six of his eight first-half points in the final 3:09 -- and the once-sizable Heat lead was down to 42-40 by intermission. "We just told our guys, Hang in there, just hang in there, don't overreact,'" Rivers said. "The longer we're in the game, the better we'll play." That was the way Game 5 went. And the series has gone the same way. NOTES: Dorell Wright, a member of the 2006 Heat championship team and now with Golden State, was in attendance. A denim-vested Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks -- Miami's first-round playoff foe -- was seated courtside, and former Celtic Glen Davis was near the Boston bench. ... Wade scored seven points in the first 4:22 of the game. He didn't score again in the first half, and after scoring 26 points by halftime of the series-clincher against Indiana, he has 29 points in five first halves against Boston in this series. ... Pierce said before the game that he does not expect to need offseason surgery to repair the sprained MCL in his left knee. "No complaints," Pierce said.

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Five observations from Wizards' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, as Kelly Olynyk steals the game

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USA TODAY Sports

Five observations from Wizards' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, as Kelly Olynyk steals the game

The Washington Wizards opened their 2018-19 regular season with a 113-112 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Olynyk does it again: A ghost from the Wizards' past returned on Thursday night to spoil the season opener in Washington, a game that up until very late seemed destined to go their way. The Wizards got several key stops late in the fourth quarter, but failed to box out Kelly Olynyk, who reeled in a Dwyane Wade miss and dropped in a go-ahead layup with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Olynyk had been booed all night by Wizards fans every time he touched the ball. Though he has changed teams, they still remember his dustup with Kelly Oubre Jr. back in the 2017 playoffs when he was with the Celtics. Olynyk heard it all night, but ended up sealing the win. Man, what a gut punch for the Wizards to start the season off.

Wall looked good: He may be wearing a headband and sporting a new hairstyle, but the John Wall who showed up on Thursday night to carve up the Heat defense looked awfully familiar. It was a version of him we didn't see much of last year in what amounted to a lost season due to missed games and injury-hampered play.

Wall looked a lot like the All-NBA force we saw two years ago when he put up career numbers and had the Wizards on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals. Against Miami, he got to the rim with little to no resistance and collected 18 points in the first half alone. He finished with 26 points, nine assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. He shot 9-for-16 from the field.

One of the most intriguing parts of this season as it pertains to Wall is the potential he has with Dwight Howard, who in theory should make things a lot easier for him as a lob-devouring pick-and-roll monster. But Wall showed vs. the Heat he has the same spark we have seen over the years, the electric driving ability that was missing for so much of last season. 

He can create his own offense whenever he wants to. Imagine when he has Howard's help setting screens and drawing attention in the paint.

No Howard: Howard was a gametime decision and the Wizards ultimately made the call to sit him out. They say he's feeling great and getting better, but just hasn't had enough practice time to jump into the regular season line of fire.

It seems like Howard is very close and could be ready on Saturday when the Wizards host the Raptors. If not, he will still travel with the Wizards on their five-game road trip through the Western Conference.

With Howard out, head coach Scott Brooks appears to have more trust in Jason Smith to be the backup center rather than Thomas Bryant. Though he did go small with Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at center, that was only after Smith got into foul trouble.

Howard's absence was seen especially in the rebounding category. The Heat beat the Wizards on the glass 55 to 40 and Miami had 22 offensive boards. Though we haven't seen Howard in action with the Wizards, it's a safe bet they would have done better rebounding the ball with him on the floor.

Foul troubles: Howard's absence was compounded by key Wizards players racking fouls at an accelerated rate. Ian Mahinmi, who started for Howard, got his fourth just 15 seconds into the second half. By the end of the third quarter, Morris, Jason Smith and Bradley Beal also had four fouls by the end of the third quarter. Beal finished with five. 

All in all, it was a physical game between the teams, one that included a confrontation in the third quarter between Wall and Derrick Jones Jr. that resulted in a technical foul for Wall. It all started when Smith and Hassan Whiteside got tangled up on the floor. Wall came over and gave Jones a shove and some words to follow.

That play likely would have resulted in a technical foul last year as well, but it's worth noting the league has expanded its definition of 'hostile acts.' That type of stuff will not fly at all anymore. 

It was an interesting chicken-or-the-egg situation on Thursday because the quick whistles definitely contributed to some frustration between the teams.

Otto still deferred: Much of the talk about Otto Porter Jr. in recent years has been the need for him to shoot more often. He's the most efficient player on the Wizards, yet is the clear No. 3 option in the offense. That chatter reached a new level this preseason as Brooks joked to Wizards beat writers that they have permission to yell at Porter if he doesn't shoot.

So far, it was much of the same for Wizards swingman. He took seven shots in the game and only had three at halftime. Two of those came on the same play, as he missed a layup and then sank the putback. Porter didn't attempt a single three and had only nine points.

The Wizards want Porter to take more shots than he did last season (11.5 FGA/g), but it won't be easy. Keep in mind he posted that number when Wall missed 41 games and with Marcin Gortat as the center. Howard didn't play in this one, but when he returns he is going to expect more shots than Gortat was used to.

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NBA, G League to offer $125,000 contracts to elite prospects

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USA Today Sports

NBA, G League to offer $125,000 contracts to elite prospects

The G League will begin offering "select contracts" worth $125,000 next year to elite prospects who are not yet eligible for the NBA, a move that could slightly lessen the handful of one-and-done players at the college level.

There is no determination yet on how players will be identified as potential targets for such a contract. The G League said Thursday that it is establishing a working group to develop that process and other criteria, and that there will be no cap on how many players could be signed to a select deal.

"We recognize that talent assessment is inherently subjective," G League President Malcolm Turner said. "But as the name would suggest, this working group will be charged with identifying the relevant pool of players who may be offered a select contract. It's not as if any player can unilaterally raise their hand and dictate that they will join the league playing under a select contract."

Players will be eligible to sign the select deal if they turn 18 by Sept. 15 prior to the season that they would spend in the G League. The move follows recommendations released earlier this year by the Commission on College Basketball, a group that was chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was tasked with reforming the college game.

The commission report said "elite high school players with NBA prospects ... should not be `forced' to attend college."

Turner said the move addresses that concern.

"We've tried to answer the basketball community's call for an alternative in a timely and thoughtful way," Turner said.

Players who receive the select contracts all will become eligible for the NBA draft the following year. Their rights would not be retained by an NBA club beforehand, no matter which G League affiliate they wind up with.

Under current rules, players are not eligible to enter the NBA draft until they are a year removed from high school -- though that is expected to change through an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players in time for the 2022 draft.

The G League has allowed 18-year-old players in the past, but never before under any elite designation.

While it is apparent there are still details to be ironed out -- such as how these select players will be allocated to G League teams -- NCAA President Mark Emmert said he appreciates the G League's plan.

"Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many," Emmert said. "However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball."

And this could put the G League and some big-name NCAA programs on a collision course.

Players can sign letters of intent to play for a Division I school in the 2019-20 season starting next month, and there's nothing to suggest that some of the top recruits -- whether they've signed or not -- won't consider going to the G League for $125,000 instead of college next season. That means the potential is there for some awkward situations if a player signs with a school, and later backs out of that commitment to turn pro.

The G League's working group is expected to be formed and functioning within the next couple of weeks, but it's unclear when the process of players contacting the league and vice versa will begin. It is expected that there will be an advisory council to tell athletes who contact the G League about their potential eligibility for a select deal, much like how college football players can ask about their potential NFL draft status.

"There might be some collision points, but our role and what we intend to do is educate and inform the marketplace," Turner said. "We're also not going to be targeting those who have already made their decisions."

Earlier this year, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James called the NCAA model "corrupt" and said he would suggest to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver a plan to expand the G League and turn it into more of a farm system with an eye on truly preparing young talent for the NBA.

"As the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league," James said in February, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "And if kids feel like they don't want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time."

Through the first two nights of this NBA season, 35 rookies -- most of them having left college early -- made their debuts. Of the 35, only five scored more than 10 points in their first game.

 

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