Baseline to Baseline, where the ghost of Ray Allen rode again

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What happened Sunday while you were singing ‘Sweet Caroline‘…

Celtics 117 Cavs 113: The Celtics’ offense in the first three quarters… wow! Rotation, penetration, and Ray Allen was in classic form. Their defense, doing what it’s supposed to, closing off angles and forcing the Cavs into a jump shooting team. Tremendous effort.

For three quarters.

Look, they held on. And we’ve already told you the downside of this game. But LeBron looked for most of this game like he was in a mental Easter egg hunt. Then he plugged in, and all of a sudden, that 20 point lead evaporated. They held on, but man. It just feels empty a bit.

J.J. Hickson has earned more time.

Spurs 100 Lakers 81: Kobe Bryant killed the Lakers.

I know.

I know.

I know.

This isn’t me saying he sucks. Or sux. Or whatever vernacular you prefer. I recognize, all haters to the left. I get that he’s still “the best closer in the game” or whatever. But take a look at this game, and you’ll see something bizarre.

What’s that? The Lakers bench scoring four points total? No, that’s not bizarre. That’s forseeable. We know this bench is bad. They’ve been bad all season, they’ll be bad all postseason, this is who they are. This is what happens when you have an All-Star or near All-Star at four of your five starting spots and one off the bench (when Bynum’s healthy). It comes with the territory.

No, it was Bryant, shooting poorly, playing badly, and not adjusting. Pau Gasol had 32 points on 20 shots. He could have used more touches. Lamar Odom shot 50% from the field, but only took 8 shots. Kobe? 24 shots for 22 points. That ain’t gonna get it done. The Lakers forced nothing, dictated nothing, and generally stood idly by while the Spurs did their thing, old school style.

They can care, they can not care, this was a game they should have won to send a message, at home, before the playoffs, and they were steamrolled.

Warriors 113 Raptors 112: Toronto can’t beat really good defenses or really good offenses. Everything in the middle, they do okay against.

Good thing they’re looking to go deep in the playoffs.

Chris Bosh missed a gimme. A laugher. A lay-in. A charity piece. The kind of shot you hit when warming up for a game of HORSE with your dad.

And in the middle of all this, Anthony Morrow really needs a chance with another squad. On Golden State? He’s just another no conscience chucker. But in Cleveland? He’d be a dagger machine. 5-7 from the arc and 10 boards. Solid.

Bosh had 42, 12, and 3 turnovers. Should have been 44.

Magic 107 Grizzlies 92: The scrum was nothing, not worth mentioning. You know who is worth mentioning? J.J. Redick. 15 points off the bench, and since Memphis’ bench is the worst in the league, the Magic won the game.

Great defender, great shooter, great ball handler. Redick’s going to get paid very soon.

Wizards 109 Nets 99: Back to back game against a team with a good stretch four? Yeah, NJ’s not winning that game, I don’t care how much they improved.

Shaun Livingston had 16 points, and played with energy and control. And if that doesn’t make you happy, you’re dead inside.

Pacers 133 Rockets 102: I remember when Houston played defense. That was when they were still in the playoffs.

A.J. Price continues to show he can play. And Josh McRoberts was beastin, filling in holes. The Rockets? Kevin Martin was terrible and no one played defense. That’s how you go home early in mid-April.

Thunder 116 Timberwolves 108: Thunder weren’t’ that good in this game.

Kevin Durant was.

Some nights, your star goes off and he gets the job done. That’s what happened.

Darko Milicic is a big loss for the Wolves. That pretty much sums up their season right there.

Knicks 113 Clippers 107: You know what drives you nuts about the Clippers? They do things badly and yet no one ever stops to say “Oh hey, we should do this more/better. They’re not shooting well from the arc? Shoot more!

Fail.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.