Shaq's injury not so bad for the Cavs

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In rolling past the Celtics in the second half last night, the Cavs unveiled something that has become a favorite of many a hardcore basketball fan this season: the small-ball lineup. The fact that LeBron James defies the very concept of position gives Cleveland incredible flexibility in assembling their on-court rotations, and the added versatility of Antawn Jamison gives them more options than ever before.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s not such a bad thing that Shaquille O’Neal might miss a few games with injury.

The terrific Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer argues against the idea (to an extent), claiming that “it is a not a way to play all the time…It is more effective when used
to throw off opponents, especially when they are not prepared for it.” I couldn’t agree more with the latter; teams will almost certainly struggle against the small-ball look if they’re prepared for a more conventional Cavalier lineup. But I don’t think that means it can’t be effective on a full-time basis, especially when, as Windhorst concedes, Anderson Varejao is one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in basketball.

That’s a huge advantage to have, and while having a giant of a center that can get some easy buckets down low is quite the advantage as well, a stretch of small-ball could actually allow the Cavs to improve on their fourth-ranked offense (in points per 100 possessions) without any drop-off in their seventh-ranked defense. There’s no need to worry about whether or not O’Neal will show on the pick and get back to his man in time, because Varejao’s already been there and back.

Rebounding is certainly a concern, but if the frontcourt consists of LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao — two forwards that rebound pretty well relative to their position and a center that’s top-20 in rebounding rate — I don’t think the sacrifice on the boards would be particularly significant. And as an added bonus, the low-maintenance Varejao would be logging major minutes alongside Jamison, allowing Antawn not only the playing time necessary to get acclimated to the new sets and his teammates, but also the touches.

The problem comes in relying too heavily on J.J. Hickson, Jawad Williams, and Darnell Jackson. None of the above is particularly accomplished as a defender or rebounder, and though each brings something to the table (be it energy, shooting, etc.), playing those three for extended minutes could poke some holes in Cleveland’s plan. The real victim of Shaq’s injury is Cleveland’s depth; these three role players could find themselves in more prominent roles over the next few weeks, and though Hickson has been effective this year, that’s not necessarily a great thing for the team.

Not having Shaq in the mix does hurt in terms of establishing consistency heading into the playoffs, but supposing O’Neal’s thumb didn’t just fall off in the middle of the night, small-ball can be a short term fix. And it can be a brutally effective one, if Mike Brown isn’t afraid to let his imagination run wild.  

Celtics rally late, overtake Clippers in overtime 139-134

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 10:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball against Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers on February 10, 2016 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas had 36 points and 11 assists, including a fade away jumper that sent the game to an extra period, to help the Boston Celtics overtake the Los Angeles Clippers 139-134 in overtime on Wednesday night.

Jared Sullinger added 21 points and 11 rebounds. Jae Crowder finished with 19 points, and Avery Bradley added 18 points as the Celtics won their eighth straight at home.

Boston played the second half without big man Kelly Olynyk. He left late in the first half with a bruised right shoulder.

The Clippers led by five late in regulation, but went without a field goal for more than three minutes.

Chris Paul led the Clippers with 35 points and 13 assists. J.J. Redick added 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds.

The loss spoiled what may be Clippers’ forward Paul Pierce‘s final game in the Boston Garden. The 38-year-old played 15 seasons with the Celtics and was facing his former team for the eighth time.

The Clippers opened overtime with a four-point play by Redick.

After a Celtics miss, he was fouled again on a 3-point attempt, and connected on two of his three free throws to give Los Angeles a six-point lead.

Boston didn’t go away, and eventually tied it on a jumper by Evan Turner. Turner then put the Celtics in front 135-132 via a three-point play – his seventh straight point – with 1:33 left.

Both teams traded baskets, before Pierce came up short on a 27-footer that was rebounded by the Celtics.

Los Angeles had a chance to tie it up, and Jamal Crawford‘s long 3-point attempted nearly banked in before rimming out.

Los Angeles led 120-117 with 56 seconds to play in regulation after Thomas was fouled on a driving layup. He missed his ensuing free throw, but it was rebounded by Sullinger. He connected on the first of his two free throws to trim it to 120-118.

Following a pair of free throws by Redick, Thomas gave the Celtics life again with a teardrop jumper.

Paul missed a long jumper with the shot clock winding down on the Clippers next possession, but Jae Crowder was called for a loose ball foul with 23.3 remaining

Jordan misfired on both ensuing free throws, and Thomas tied it with fade away jumper.

Paul had a good look at a jumper that would have won it regulation, but it bounced off the side of the rim at the buzzer.

TIP-INS

Clippers: The Clippers did not have a field goal for the final 3:29 of regulation. … Paul had 10 points and five assists in the first quarter. It was the 37th time in his career he’s had at least 10 points and five assists in a quarter. That’s the most in NBA since 2005-06.

Celtics: Improved to 10-3 in the second game of back-to-backs.

Kobe Bryant with spin move around LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The game itself went about how you’d expect one between a title contender and a high lottery team to go — the Cavaliers 120-111 win over the Lakers was never really in doubt.

But the fans in Cleveland wanted to see some vintage Kobe Bryant, and they got it late when he spun around LeBron James and hit the reverse lay-up.

LeBron had 29 points on the night, and Kyrie Irving had 35. Kobe finished with 17 and got a standing ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Suns’ Markieff Morris, Archie Goodwin get in scuffle on the bench

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Just another magical day in the Valley of the Sun, where clearly Jeff Hornacek was the problem….

During an early timeout in the Suns’ game at Golden State, Markieff Morris tried to explain something to Archie Goodwin, who is seated. This conversation gets heated quickly, and teammates eventually have to step in and separate the two teammates.

The Suns have shopped Morris around as the trade deadline approaches, this isn’t going to help his value.

After the game, Morris said the two are close (which is true) and this was just like two brothers having a fight — they will get over it quick.

Kawhi Leonard drains game winner to beat Orlando (VIDEO)

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This is how much Gregg Popovich trusts Kawhi Leonard on offense now: Tie game with 13.3 seconds remaining, and the play design is a 1-4 flat isolation for Leonard. It’s the kind of play teams will call for LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Popovich just called it for Leonard.

And he was rewarded with a game-winning bucket.

Leonard finished with 29 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 21, and the Spurs head into the All-Star break with a 45-8 record, on pace to win 70 games this season. And that still would only get them a two seed.