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How the Heat’s unsung heroes gave Miami a 3-1 lead



The 2020 playoffs have been a showcase of shocking comebacks, ungodly individual exploits and buzzer-beaters, and beautiful team performances. But not every postseason game can be a work of art. Those instant classics linger in our memory, but every team that advances to the NBA Finals trudges its way through a bog or two.

For the Miami Heat, their 112-109 Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics was anything but elegant. There were glimpses of the two-man dance of Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, and Jimmy Butler found 24 points in places he usually does. But very little on Wednesday night came easily until the closing possessions.

There was one exception: Tyler Herro.

In a choppy affair with so many ugly possessions, Herro was playing in a different game. He sizzled from beyond the arc, showed off his ball skills off the dribble, and crashed the glass. His 37-point output not only paced the Heat — it saved them.

After outplaying Miami minute-for-minute most of the series, Boston is now in a precarious spot, down 3-1. The first two-and-a-half quarters were a quagmire. After attacking from the outset in Game 3 to great effect, the Celtics were tentative again in the first half of Game 4.

Jayson Tatum endured a hellacious scoreless first half, then came out of the locker room with a vengeance after intermission — one of the more bizarre, bifurcated individual efforts of the postseason, but his second-half outburst kept the Celtics afloat.

There were glimpses of vintage Heat when it counted most, including a crucial 3-point bucket from Dragic that captured the collective basketball IQ that has propelled this No. 5 seed to the doorstep of the Finals. In just four seconds, the ball traversed four zones of the court from Butler to Adebayo to Andre Iguodala and finally Dragic to put the Heat up three possessions with 1:36 remaining.

With the huge hockey assist, Adebayo was the fulcrum of that possession, just as he has been at so many big moments in this Miami bubble run. Late in the fourth quarter, he appeared to have difficulty moving his left arm. He finished the final frenzied minutes of the game, but with the left arm dangling without much vigor. Adebayo’s health is crucial to the Heat’s success on both sides of the ball, and the next two days could be long ones as the Heat and their big man.

The Heat are now just one game away from the NBA Finals, and would be just the third team seeded fifth or lower to reach that stage. Though it would have seemed improbable just a short time ago, they have the composition of a team entirely up to the task: a gritty closer, a multi-purpose big man, shooters all over the floor, veteran savvy and, after Game 4, a young playmaker with championship-level confidence. — Kevin Arnovitz

Herro flashes All-Star potential

Tyler Herro continued his scorching postseason run, exploding for 37 points in 36 minutes, setting the NBA record previously held by Andrew Toney for most points off the bench by a rookie and becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to score 30 or more in a playoff game before the age of 21.

For the second straight game, Herro was the best player on the floor, having scored 59 points in his last 72 minutes on 22-of-39 shooting. Throughout the series, the 20-year-old showed the confidence of a veteran All-Star, constantly in attack mode, staring down the Celtics bench after makes and giving Miami a much-needed spark with his energy and bucket-getting mentality.

Herro’s never-ending self-belief comes as little surprise, as he’s long been praised for his swagger and edge, even pre-dating his “I’m a bucket” moment in Lexington.

But Herro’s evolution from off-ball, quick-action scorer at Kentucky to more of an on-ball, pick-and-roll threat has been a key development in Miami’s postseason brilliance.

A lot of Herro’s damage is by way of spot-ups, handoffs and cuts, like we saw from Devin Booker before him. Herro used only 25 pick-and-roll possessions in 37 games during his freshman season at Kentucky, yet has looked far more comfortable creating for himself and his teammates in the NBA. Veteran teammates deferred to him down the stretch and he looked calm and collected bringing the ball up the floor, getting Miami into its offense and making timely reads.

Herro dribbled into several mid-range pull ups, splashed a deep rise-and-fire triple against a drop coverage, sprinted into catch-and-shoot 3s, converted a one-legged runner, and made a handful of heady drop offs and kick-outs to open teammates with either hand.

Beyond this series, Herro’s evolution as a true ball-screen scorer and poised playmaker, in addition to his non-stop off-ball movement, gives him considerable long-term upside that few scouts saw when he was drafted 13th overall. In the interim, it’s not just Herro’s scoring that lifted Miami to a pivotal Game 5 victory.

Herro has turned himself into an elite positional rebounder, averaging 7.5 boards this series at 6-6 with a lean frame and negative wingspan. He’s willing to crack down from the weakside or stick his nose in traffic to corral loose balls. The rookie is also active in Miami’s zone, stunting at shooters to make them second-guess letting it fly. Even if he’s undermanned physically at times, he’s willing to put his body on the line to contain penetration.

As he showed yet again in Game 4, Herro has the exact killer mentality that personifies this Miami group and has it one win away from an NBA Finals berth. — Mike Schmitz

Boston finds itself in a familiar situation

Teams tend to regret missed opportunities in a best-of-seven playoff series. The Celtics must be kicking themselves for the situation they’re in.

It would be one thing to be trailing the Miami Heat 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals if the Celtics had been thoroughly outplayed by their counterparts. But entering Game 4, Boston had led for 74.7% of the minutes through the first three games.

They had a disastrous fourth quarter in Game 1, and an awful stretch in the third quarter of Game 2 — losing both games. The introduction of Gordon Hayward into the series swung things further in Boston’s direction in Game 3. But trailing 2-1, the Celtics were in a position where — if something weird happened in Game 4 Wednesday night — they could be on the verge of leaving the NBA’s bubble.

Well, Tyler Herro and his 37 points was that weird thing. And the Celtics now find themselves in a massive hole.

The Celtics needed seven games to get by the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Boston lost two close games in that series, and only just managed to win Game 7 to advance past the defending champions.

Boston is in the same situation against another battle-tested team in Miami, and may not escape this time around.

There will be plenty for the Celtics to look back on with regret from this game. Kemba Walker was left on Herro for too long as he was torching Boston in the second half. Jayson Tatum was invisible for the first 32 minutes before finally getting going. Boston got lots of open looks against Miami’s zone defense, but missed most of them in the first half, then didn’t make enough of them down the stretch.

It’s the kind of thing that can happen in a playoff series. It’s also the kind of thing that a team can’t afford to let happen if it’s already blown a couple of games it should have won. — Tim Bontemps



Gorgan Dragic lobs to Bam Adebayo for the one-handed alley-oop finish.

Bam’s finds ways to contribute on both ends

Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler have spent the bubble bouncing praise off one another. Butler has repeatedly said that Adebayo is the “heart and soul” of the Heat. Adebayo usually has smiled and relayed the same message: It’s the other way around. Adebayo’s Game 4 performance, though, offered more credence to Butler’s statements.

As Tyler Herro hit shots from all over the floor and delivered a career-high 37 points, and Butler continued to make plays late in the fourth quarter that carried the Heat across the finish line — there was Adebayo delivering one more time on a variety of levels. It wasn’t just the 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals — all of which the Heat needed — it was that Adebayo continued to make plays when the Heat needed them most.

In Game 1, it was the block at the rim on Jayson Tatum that caught the basketball world’s attention. In Game 4, as he has all season, it was play after play over the course of a hard-nosed contest that pushed the Heat just one win from a Finals appearance. Adebayo doesn’t have the type of flashy offensive game that will catch attention most nights, but he continues to play with the type of steady consistency that any championship contender needs.

In what has become a common theme throughout this postseason, it looks like Butler was right all along.

Dragic’s season of the ultimate teammate

How many players who started 242 games over the previous four seasons would have accepted the role of sixth man heading into a contract year?

That is what happened when the 34-year-old Goran Dragic made the ultimate team sacrifice before the season, relinquishing his starter duties to rookie Kendrick Nunn, who went on to earn All-NBA rookie honors. Dragic thrived coming off the bench, averaging 16 points in 28 minutes.

When Nunn was sidelined during the NBA restart for testing positive for coronavirus, it opened the door for Dragic to regain his starting position.

What transpired since has set the stage for Dragic to be one of the most sought-after free agents in the offseason.

In the Game 4 win, Dragic impacted the game offensively in different ways:

  • His two assists (a Bam Adebayo dunk and Jae Crowder 3) gave the Heat a rare five-point lead halfway through the first quarter.

  • A four-point play at the end of the second quarter extended the lead to six.

  • Dragic hit a lefty layup and followed up with a 3 in the closing minutes to put Miami up seven.

He finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. For the playoffs, he is averaging 21 points on 38% from 3.

How does this set up for free agency?

Dragic ranks second on the free agent point guard board, behind Fred VanVleet.

The Heat have made a concerted effort to prioritize cap flexibility (they could have a max slot available) for the summer of 2021.

Miami can offer Dragic a one-year, $20 million contract and still have the flexibility to use their $9.3 million mid-level exception, remain below the tax line in 2020-21 and have cap space in 2021-22.

Teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers have the $9.3 million mid-level exception to offer but Dragic could double that amount by going the one-year route with the Heat.

The Heat front office will need to thoroughly analyze and put together a plan if Dragic receives an offer of more than one year. Will they spend even if that means compromising cap flexibility? As Brian Windhorst wrote, the Heat do not believe in three-year plans.

“You know me, I’m all about now,” Heat president Pat Riley said earlier this season. “We’re going to press on and we’re not going to stop.” — Bobby Marks


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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