LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After the Boston Celtics walked into the locker room at halftime of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, having produced a second straight lackluster first half in a series they trailed 3-1, they knew something had to change.
So, before they returned to the court for the second half, point guard Kemba Walker had a simple message for his team.
“What I remember from halftime is Kemba saying, ‘We just need to settle down a little bit,'” Jaylen Brown said. “We just had to dial in a little bit and once we did, I felt like we were fine.”
It was a directive Boston took to heart. And, as a result, the Celtics still have basketball left to play.
A 41-point explosion in the third quarter, including 17 points from Jayson Tatum, turned what had been a game Miami firmly controlled on its head and allowed Boston to surge to a 121-108 victory. The series resumes Sunday night for Game 6.
Anyone who watched Boston slog through the first half couldn’t have been sure such a turnaround was possible. Like in Game 4, the Celtics seemed to be sleepwalking much of the time, allowing the Heat to gobble up several loose balls and settling for far too many jumpers instead of aggressively attacking the paint.
That changed, however, in the second half. Boston came out swinging in that third quarter and looked like a completely different team, at one point going on a 20-3 run to turn a 60-51 deficit into a 71-63 lead. The Celtics wouldn’t relinquish the advantage the rest of the way.
“I just thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and our offense followed suit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But [the Heat are] very hard. … Like, it’s easy for me to sit up here to say to be at our very best and get stops on every possession.
“This is a heck of an offensive team, a heck of a well-coached team, and hard to guard.”
The Celtics made them look easy to guard in this one. Miami shot 7-for-36 from 3-point range, including 4-for-28 by its starters. Boston swarmed Miami repeatedly in that second half, and then converted that aggressiveness into action at the other end, relentlessly attacking the rim and either scoring or getting to the foul line.
It was a combination that prompted Stevens to say during a “Wired” segment on ESPN’s broadcast of the game that this was “in all sincerity, the first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the last few games.”
So what changed?
“Everybody was so anxious, eager to make a play, make something happen,” Tatum said. “We know what’s at stake: We lose and go home.
“But, at the same time, we’ve got to relax a little bit. Take a deep breath. We know how important every possession is, but we’ve still got to just relax a little bit and play the game, and that was kind of the message at halftime.”
It was one Tatum embodied, as he came out firing in that third quarter, with those 17 points nearly matching Miami’s 25 in the quarter by himself, and setting the tone for Boston’s turnaround. Tatum admitted to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after the game that he’d had trouble sleeping the past couple nights ahead of taking the court for Game 5.
Tatum, who finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 43 minutes, said that restlessness came from a place of him wanting to get back onto the court after his own uneven Game 4, in which he went scoreless in the first half before exploding for 28 in a second-half comeback that, unlike in Game 5, wound up falling short.
“I mean, we were down 3-1,” Tatum said. “Frustrated. Give them credit, they’ve been playing well, they deserved to be up 3-1. It was frustrating. Not supposed to be feeling good about being down 3-1. I was just really anxious to play, get back out there, just give [ourselves] a chance.”
Boston was able to give itself a chance, and keep its season alive, because of a group effort in that second half. Brown had 28 points and eight rebounds. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter combined for 23 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes, and outproduced Heat star Bam Adebayo in the process.
But, more than anything, it was because of a renewed commitment to energy and effort — as well as that friendly reminder from Walker to relax and let the game come to them — that breathed fresh life into Boston’s season.
“We were playing a little bit fast, a little bit antsy,” Brown said. “We were trying to win the game in the first half. And we just needed to stay with it, keep making the right play and just settle down a little bit. When we did, the shots started going in, our defensive intensity was good, we gave up less baskets in the third quarter. And we looked like the team we all know and love.”
Indiana Pacers’ new coach Nate Bjorkgren says he wanted job because of team’s talent
INDIANAPOLIS — New Indiana Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren went right to work Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after accepting the job, the 45-year-old former Toronto Raptors assistant started explaining his plan.
He expects the Pacers to move the ball and take more 3-pointers. He wants the defense to be more disruptive. He promises not to get locked into rotations and will be willing to take risks. Perhaps most important, he believes there needs to be more communication between coaches and players.
Those are exactly the traits president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard hoped to find when he embarked on a coaching search two months ago.
“There are people in this world who bring energy and you like being around them,” Pritchard said after introducing Bjorkgren on a Zoom call.
“I think the litmus test is when those guys call you, you can’t wait to pick up the phone. Nate has those characteristics, and when he went through his presentation he created a vision that I could physically see in my mind how he was going to coach. We knew he was the right guy.”
The proof will come in time.
But the first-time NBA head coach certainly presented a different kind of vision, one Pacers fans may embrace after watching years of stodgy, half-court basketball.
Bjorkgren wants to shatter those norms. He prefers an evolving style that conforms only to circumstances.
“We’ll be a fun team to watch,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of movement on both sides of the ball, different guys handling the ball, pushing it up the floor. We want to utilize the 3-point line. My approach to defense is you change and change quite frequently, between quarters, after timeouts, during an 8-0 run. I think that’s the disruptive part.”
Bjorkgren developed his coaching style working largely with Raptors coach Nick Nurse.
Nurse first hired Bjorkgren as an assistant in 2007 with the Iowa Energy. Following their first season together, Bjorkgren described how he and Nurse held daily whiteboard sessions to discuss strategy.
It was there, in the G-League over the next seven seasons — three as Nurse’s assistant, four as a head coach — where Bjorkgren learned the value of flexibility. With small coaching staffs and ever-changing rosters, Bjorkgren managed to go 126-74 with the Dakota Wizards, Santa Cruz Warriors, Energy and Bakersfield Jam before joining the Phoenix Suns in 2015.
“You have to adapt very early and quite often,” Bjorkgren said. “You could be at a shootaround and two guys get called up and another is going overseas so you have to coach on the fly. You have to know the next guy will be there and that’s the part of the coaching, keeping everybody ready at all times.”
He put those lessons to work when he was reunited with Nurse in Toronto two years ago.
In Bjorkgren’s first season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard led the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed to its first NBA championship. Leonard’s departure in free agency last summer didn’t change much in terms of philosophy or success.
The Raptors still went 53-19, still earned the second seed in the East and still reached the conference semifinals before losing to Boston in seven games.
So when Pritchard saw Toronto’s 23-12 postseason record over the past two seasons and compared it to the Pacers’ playoff mark of 3-16 over the last four seasons, he was sold.
“I think it’s important to take risks in the NBA today,” Pritchard said. “We think that helps you down the line. Maybe not early, but down the line in the playoffs and that’s where we want to get better.”
The biggest offseason question for Pritchard is the future of two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo, who can become a free agent after next season.
“He feels good about the team. He’s talked to me about how he thinks this team can be very good,” Pritchard said. “We hear a lot of things, but until it comes to me, I don’t really worry about that.”
And perhaps Bjorkgren, with his new approach, can help convince Oladipo to stay.
“I wanted this job so bad because of the talent on this team,” Bjorkgren said. “As you know, they’re great basketball players, and they’re even better people. Just getting to know them more in the last 24 hours is really special to me, and I look forward to getting to know them more as we move forward.”
NBA draft to be held virtually at ESPN studios on Nov. 18
The 2020 NBA draft on Nov. 18 will be held virtually and hosted from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut, the NBA and ESPN announced Thursday.
Commissioner Adam Silver will be in studio at ESPN to announce the selections for the first round, and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will be in studio to announce the second round.
Top players will join the telecast virtually.
The NBA draft presented by State Farm will air live on ESPN, ESPN Radio and the ESPN App at 7 p.m. ET.
How former NBA star Nate Robinson ended up boxing on Mike Tyson’s undercard
Nate Robinson’s alarm goes off before the sun rises. The NBA’s lone three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion rolls out of bed — no snooze button allowed — to get ready to train. The 36-year-old isn’t currently focused on returning to the basketball court but is instead pursuing a new endeavor that has him to the gym six days a week, twice a day.
At age 36, with no prior professional or amateur experience, Robinson is getting ready for his first boxing match. “It’s brutal. Waking up early, running six or seven miles, it’s something I’ve never done in my life and I’m doing it at 36, so it’s definitely making me feel young and energetic,” Robinson told ESPN. “It’s really tuning me in to another part of myself that I never knew I had.
“But I just want people to respect me as a person, as an athlete and as a boxer because I’m going through it,” he continued. “I’m not taking it easy and going through the motions. What they’ll see Nov. 28 is a Nate Robinson that really put in work to really get to this point, and I hope I surprise a lot of people because a lot of people think I’m gonna lose.”
Robinson will enter the ring that night for a six-round bout against famed YouTuber Jake Paul (1-0, 1 KO) on the undercard of Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. Robinson’s camp started at the end of August and is expected to wrap almost a week and a half before the fight date. His team includes strength and conditioning coach Chris Denina — who typically works with Robinson in the mornings — and boxing trainer Francisco “Paco” Reyes of Tenochtitlan Boxing Club in Renton, Washington, who oversees the evening sessions.
“We’re really pushing him and molding him to be more of an endurance athlete. And Nate’s a very explosive athlete,” Denina said. “There’s certain things, which are nice, that I don’t really need to work on. It’s mainly just his conditioning and making him use his body in ways that he’s never really done on the basketball court.”
When the idea of training Robinson was originally presented to Reyes, his initial reaction wasn’t positive.
“Hell no,” Reyes said, not wanting his gym to become some sideshow for an ex-NBA player whom he didn’t know much about. Eventually he was persuaded.
“I realized that he was serious about it when he came back after that first sparring session,” Reyes said. “Not a lot of people come back after the first sparring session, but he came back, he wanted more, he wanted to keep going, and that really got my interest. A lot of people will come and spar and are like, ‘Oh, no, I’m good,’ but not Nate. He has the heart.”
At 5-foot-9 and less than 200 pounds throughout his NBA career, Robinson developed a reputation for toughness and athleticism. In high school, he excelled in track and football, as well as basketball. At the University of Washington, he also starred on the gridiron and hardwood before deciding to focus solely on basketball. But boxing is something completely different, especially experiencing it for the first time at his age.
“It’s been a challenge learning how to breathe and fight while you’re tired,” Robinson said. “That’s been the fun part. Like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth,’ and then you have to figure it out. I never understood that until I actually got in the ring for the first time with sparring, and I knew exactly what he meant.”
Since his last stretch in the NBA in 2015-16, on a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, Robinson played basketball in the BIG3, the NBA Developmental League (now the G League), the Israeli Basketball Premier League and the Liga Profesional de Baloncesto in Venezuela. He also signed to play in Lebanon in 2018, before an injury scuttled those plans.
Off the court, Robinson appeared in the 2018 film “Uncle Drew” with Kyrie Irving, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016 and collaborated with former NBA player Carlos Boozer to launch the HOLDAT clothing brand.
These other pursuits have kept him busy, but the idea of entering the ring started over a year ago, when Robinson’s manager, Napoleon “Polo” Kerber, met Paul at an event. As he continued his search for new challenges post-basketball, Robinson agreed to fight Paul despite no professional experience.
What Robinson does carry into his fight is a longtime appreciation for the sport.
“I’ve been a fan of boxing my whole life. Me and my brother, we used to slap box and use boxing gloves in the backyard with my dad. So, it’s nothing new, it’s just real business now,” Robinson said. “I’ve played in front of thousands of people my whole life hooping, so just being able to step into a realm that I’ve never been in before is challenging for me, but it’s also fun to try to see how far I really can go with this.”
Robinson’s father, Jacque Robinson, was a legendary athlete at Washington, who entered the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame after being named MVP of the game in 1982 as a freshman. He also enjoyed a brief NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987.
Jacque introduced his son to boxing through Muhammad Ali and, a bit coincidentally since he’s fighting on his undercard, Tyson. Growing up, if you stayed at Robinson’s home for a sleepover or just for fun, somehow the gloves would get pulled out as a teacher of life. Nate’s brother, Anthony “Chicken” Stewart — who also was a running back at Central Washington University — also wasn’t afraid to get busy, either.
“We had a heavy bag in our backyard. We had weights and we had boxing gloves and my dad was like, ‘At least y’all are going to know how to fight and y’all will know how to take care of each other,'” Nate recalled. “So my dad was like, ‘If you’ve got some homies that are coming around you, and guys are being around y’all and something happens, and they run or they’re not trying to fight or protect the crew, then y’all don’t need to hang around them.'”
Robinson got into a handful of fights over the years in middle school in high school, but that was the extent to which he used his backyard boxing experiences. Until now. These days he’s receiving advice from Floyd Mayweather Jr. via FaceTime, and although he couldn’t make it, was invited to train with welterweight champion Terence Crawford.
Robinson spent 11 seasons in the NBA, and hasn’t ruled out an NBA return if there’s an opportunity.
“I do. If it’s possible,” Robinson said. “I just want the chance to show a team, even at 36, I could still play and still ball out, still be a good spark off the bench. But times have changed, the NBA has changed so much. Naw, I will never say I’m retired. They retired me. I didn’t retire.
“Of course I would love to hoop,” Robinson added. “I would love to be able to finish my career playing the game I love and showing them that I really could still ball and be effective. Even if it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, just being there helping out with whatever they need. Whatever they need me to do, I’m there. That’s what I’m here for.”
Whether or not he plays another minute in the NBA, Robinson’s connections to the league are still deep. Fellow Washington native Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls has gotten to know Robinson over the years, and has watched the transformation of Robinson’s body into a boxer. He will be tuned in to the bout.
“He is a supreme athlete. Realistically, he was one of UW’s best cornerbacks and probably could’ve been an NFL cornerback. Obviously, you know how good he was in the NBA, and right now he’s in the best shape of his life. The dude is built like a fire hydrant,” LaVine said. “I mean, like, he is stacked, so whatever he puts his mind to, I know he can get it done.
“Boxing is a whole different world, so he’s been training for the last eight or nine months,” LaVine continued. “He’s transformed his body into looking like a real boxer, too, so I don’t think anybody’s gonna be stepping to him in Seattle anytime soon.”
Outperforming expectations has become Robinson’s calling card, and that boils down to his determination and effort in everything he pursues.
“I hope I surprise a lot of people, because a lot of people think I’m gonna lose,” Robinson said. “They don’t believe in me and that’s cool. I told them, ‘S—, people didn’t believe I could make it to the NBA. People didn’t believe I’d be able to score 40 points in a game, to average 18 as a 5-foot-9 point guard playing with the Knicks. Nobody thought I was going to win three dunk contests.’
“People have been putting me behind the eight ball my whole life, but it’s something that I’m used to. I’ve been the underdog forever, and it’s just going to be sweet to know that so many people didn’t believe in me and I get a chance to show them again.”
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