The Celtics’ mystery identity, the Wizards wing it with new hire and Shams goes 1-on-1

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Tina Turner was one of the most incredible music icons of all time. Rest In Power.

Feeling The Heat?

Is Boston maintaining its identity?

Something very interesting occurred to me as the Boston Celtics’ second-half run in Game 4 turned the matchup from a close game to a forgone conclusion. Normally, Boston looks like it’s having a great time. The Celtics have some muted personalities, but they also have very fun ones. Guys like Marcus Smart and Grant Williams aren’t normally afraid to talk. Al Horford has some fun antics he’ll toss around as things are going well. We don’t see Jayson Tatum celebrate a ton, but he’ll let loose a little when he has it going.

We didn’t really see much of that on Tuesday night. Looks can be deceiving when watching on TV versus in person, but the TNT crew is pretty good about capturing everything relevant in real time. After big Smart and Williams 3-pointers, the Celtics appeared eager to celebrate and maybe talk a bit. However, considering the series’ first three games, adding fuel to the Miami Heat’s fire didn’t seem best.

Are the Celtics afraid to be themselves? We saw toned down language of just “don’t let us get one” as a threat to not give back any momentum in this series. We’ve heard Jaylen Brown say Miami is playing above its abilities. In Game 3, Smart retorted something similar to Jimmy Butler when referencing Boston beating Miami last year.

None of that came through in the broadcast’s second half. It made me wonder if the Celtics were trying to be more businesslike or simply avoid galvanizing Miami’s wrath, as we’d seen in the first three games of the series. If it’s the former, that makes sense considering the Celtics’ margin of error is gone.

If it’s the latter? I don’t know if anybody can buy the possibility of the Celtics pulling off the first-ever 0-3 comeback if they’re afraid to talk trash. We must wait and see what the environment is in Boston tonight. If the Celtics come out early and build a lead with a frantic crowd behind them, do they start feeling it’s safe to be confident? Or will the Butler problem for them reign supreme and keep their lips tightly shut?

Whatever gets them to extend the series is obviously the way to go, but I don’t know if it’s easy to pull that off while muting your personalities – essentially playing scared in the trash-talk department. Unless … they’re going with the Sean Archer/Castor Troy method.

Time for a Shams update!

The Latest From Shams

One-on-one with a future lottery pick

I sat down with Alabama’s Brandon Miller for an interview that aired on Stadium yesterday. He is set to be a high pick in this year’s NBA Draft, with most mock drafts, including one from our own Sam Vecenie, having Miller among the top-three picks and considering him in the running for the second overall pick.

Victor Wembanyama is, of course, one of the obvious picks and locks for the No. 1 overall choice in a long time.

“I feel like I’m No. 1, but you can’t beat 7-5, 8-foot wingspan,” Miller told me.

Miller discussed several topics, including how he became a defensive force after taking his first charge in college, modeling his game after Paul George when he was on the Indiana Pacers and much more.

There is no question about Miller’s talent and his ability to instantly impact whichever franchise selects him. He will be one of the first names called on draft night. But question marks surround his involvement in delivering a gun to a teammate on the night of a tragic shooting that led to the death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris. The case’s details are now widely known, and Miller has been cleared of any legal wrongdoing in the matter, but this tragedy will linger over him.

“It’s definitely (been) a learning lesson,” Miller told me. “One thing I learned is you always have to be aware of your surroundings, and just where you’re at at all times.”

Miller told me the situation led him to counseling and a life lesson that changed him.

“I’ve never really opened up to anyone about anything,” Miller said. “At first, it was hard. It felt kind of weird. I didn’t really know this person. What can they do for me? And, then, after a while you start loosening up and just get comfortable with your counselor.”

Back to you, Zach.

By The Numbers

Why the Celtics trail 3-1

With their backs against the wall, the Celtics corrected themselves in Game 4 by finally looking like a 2 seed. Here are some key data points to explain why Boston got down so bad in the first place:

3-point shooting: In 39 of the Celtics’ 99 games this season, they’ve shot under 35 percent from deep. How has that affected them?

  • Boston opened the series shooting 34.5 percent on 3-pointers in Game 1 before declining in Game 2 (28.6) and Game 3 (26.2).
  • On the season, Boston is 15-24 when shooting under 35 percent from deep, meaning nearly 75 percent of its losses are due to poor 3-point shooting.

Point guard matchup: Neither team relies on a traditional point guard, but I’m not sure many people could have predicted Gabe Vincent thoroughly outplaying Marcus Smart. Through four games:

  • Vincent: 17.5 points, 2.3 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 58/50/94 shooting splits, nearly 78 percent true shooting and a 10 percent turnover rate. Plus-34 when on the court.
  • Smart: 9.8 points, 7.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 36/32/73 shooting splits, 52 percent true shooting and a 17.5 percent turnover rate. Minus-nine when on the court.

Which one looks like they’re going against last year’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year?

Secondary stars: We’ve seen plenty of criticisms against Bam Adebayo and Jaylen Brown in postseasons current and past. Here’s how they measure up through four games:

  • Adebayo: 16.3 points, 4.0 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 57/0.0/74 shooting splits, over 62 percent true shooting and a 17 percent turnover rate. Plus-41 when on the court.
  • Brown: 16.8 points, 3.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 39/12/44 shooting splits, over 41 percent true shooting and a 13 percent turnover rate. Minus-37 when on the court.

Brown has been abysmal scoring the ball, and the only real advantage he’s had is turnover rate. Adebayo has been great on both ends of the floor while being aggressive on offense in ways Heat fans have been dying to see.


Wizards hire Michael Winger

A little over a month ago, the Washington Wizards fired lead executive Tommy Sheppard. He was well-respected around the league, but Washington missed the postseason three of the four years he was in charge. The Wizards finally found their next general manager by hiring Michael Winger, a highly respected executive from the LA Clippers. Winger will be tasked with getting a talented-yet-underperforming group back into the mix in the Eastern Conference.

Here are his resources for this coming offseason:

Draft picks: Nos. 8, 41 and 57 overall

Potential free agents: Kristaps Porziņģis ($36M player option), Kyle Kuzma ($13M player option), Kendrick Nunn, Taj Gibson and Jay Huff (restricted)

Players signed long term: Bradley Beal (through 2026 for $150M, 2026-27 player option for $57.1M) and Daniel Gafford (through 2026 for $41M)

The Wizards do not have cap space, and Kuzma is going to decline that player option to sign a big deal. It’s believed Washington will give him a healthy offer and try to retain him. Porziņģis has a big cap number for next season, but he could decline the player option and try to get something long term — smart strategy with his injury history.

The Wizards have a bona fide star in Bradley Beal, but what do they have after that? Delon Wright, Deni Avdija and Monté Morris are all entering contract years. This team wasn’t good enough to make the top 10. Blame injuries, but will running it back yield a different result?

Winger must ensure the Wizards start nailing these draft picks.

Bounce Passes

Jamal Murray went off in the conference finals and elevated the Denver Nuggets.

Police did a wellness check on Ja Morant after cryptic social media posts.

LeBron’s future isn’t the Los Angeles Lakers’ only worry.

Rich Hofmann answers your questions about the murky Philadelphia 76ers’ future.

Always read Sam Vecenie, especially when breaking down the draft combine.

Tom Ziller isn’t buying the forecasted historic Celtics comeback.

David Aldridge, Marcus Thompson and Tony Jones discuss The Joker’s greatness.

Hungry for offseason trades? John Hollinger suggests patience.

(Top photo: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

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