NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 4: Rajon Rondo puts on a show while LeBron James doth defer too much

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rondo_james.jpgWe finally got a close one. And the Celtics finally have a hero besides Rajon Rondo.

Tony Allen came in and played a huge game for the Celtics, who evened the series at 2-2 after a 97-87 win in Boston. Allen had 18 points off the bench and finished consistently off Rajon Rondo’s drive and dish to take advantage of a doubling man-help Cavs defense. It was the performance the Celtics desperately needed with Paul Pierce continuing to play like he’s already headed for the sands of Las Vegas.

LeBron James had 19 and 8 assists, but also constantly deferred in the fourth quarter, passing up open looks over inferior defenders to opt for plays like Antawn Jamison threes (which he hasn’t hit), and Anderson Varejao 12 foot jumpers. You can imagine how that wound up.

Yet the Celtics found themselves only up 2 with less than four minutes to go.

Luckily for them, James kept passing,and Rajon Rondo took over. While James was passing in traffic to heavily defended big men who struggle to finish anyway, Rondo did everything you can imagine. Drove to the basket for runners off the glass, drove and dished to his bigs for wide open dunks, and got a clutch offensive rebound and putback to ice the game. The most memorable play will be a ball-fake in transition to freeze LeBron James on a chasedown block attempt. Rondo saw him coming, ball faked to get James in the air and dished behind him to a wide open trailer for a dunk. It was an incredible play, just one of the many we’ve seen from Rondo this postseason.

So now the Celtics find themselves right back in the series, and the Cavs know they just let an opportunity to drive the dagger slip through their fingers. There are things to take away from this game for both teams.

The Cavs learned that the they can take Kevin Garnett with Antawn Jamison’s quickness. Jamison’s perimeter game wasn’t falling, but he did have two massive jams off slow rotation and bad positioning by Garnett. They also learned that there’s a time and place for James to defer to his teammates and a time and place for the LeISO set that everyone criticized the Cavs for. And they learned that the Celtics will not be rolling over in this series.

The Celtics learned that Tony Allen is the player they’ve been searching for off the bench, and that if you aggressively double James off the pick and roll, you can force the Cavs into shots they can’t hit from players you want shooting. They learned that the gap between Rajon Rondo and the rest of the club is even wider than we thought, and that they don’t need Paul Pierce to win.

Game 5 is Tuesday and now we’re back to the Cavs facing a must-win. While Orlando finishes off the Hawks and will get to rest, these two will continue bloodying each other. This one’s going the distance, most likely.

Steve Kerr: “Not going to rule out” Stephen Curry for Game 2 vs. Blazers

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27:  Injured Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts on the bench with Shaun Livingston #34 and Anderson Varejao #18 during their game against the Houston Rockets in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 27, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Stephen Curry might be back sooner than expected. It’s been one week since he suffered the sprained MCL in his right knee that led the Warriors to rule him out for at least two weeks, but head coach Steve Kerr said Saturday that there’s at least an outside chance he could play Tuesday in Game 2 of Golden State’s second-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Via ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

https://twitter.com/ESPNSteinLine/status/726489715398991872

Obviously, the smart money is on Curry not playing this early in his timetable. But the fact that it’s even on the table would seem to indicate that, barring a setback, he’ll be back for at least some of the series, which tips off Sunday.

Carmelo Anthony undecided about playing in Rio Olympics

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 11:  Carmelo Anthony #20 of the 2015 USA Basketball Men's National Team shoots during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on August 11, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Since Chris Paul withdrew from this summer’s Olympic team, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are the only players left from the 2008 team. If they played this summer in Rio de Janeiro, they would have the chance to be the only men’s basketball players ever to win three gold medals. But James is still undecided, and Anthony tells The Vertical‘s Michael Lee that he is also still weighing it:

USA Basketball has provided Anthony his only opportunity to win at a high level since he became a professional. Anthony sounded optimistic in March that his surgically repaired left knee wouldn’t prevent him from going after an unprecedented third gold medal. But since then, Chris Paul withdrew, citing the need for rest, and left Anthony and LeBron James as the only players from the 2008 team remaining in the Team USA selection pool. “It definitely would help,” Anthony said, if James decides to make one more run, but Anthony isn’t close to making a final decision.

“That’s at the top of the sport, of any sport. I think if you have the opportunity to do it, and enjoy it, and take advantage of it, I think you should do it. [The Olympics are] the throne for sports as a whole,” Anthony told The Vertical. “I’m going to take a little more time to think about it. I’m not in a rush. NBA season is still going on, so I’m going to see how I feel physically. Am I ready to take on – I don’t want to say burden, but – that load? If I’m ready, I’ll do it. If not, my body won’t lie to me.”

Anthony turns 32 next month—if he does play, it will undoubtedly be his final run with the national team. But his concerns about rest are valid, even though he was healthier this year than he was last season, when he had season-ending knee surgery. James’ decision will be even more interesting: he cares deeply about his place in history, but he’s had absolutely no time off since 2011, between five straight Finals runs (and likely a sixth) and the 2012 gold-medal run with the Olympic team.

If Anthony ultimately decides not to play, it would open up another spot for a forward, which could go to the likes of Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler. All of this is worth keeping an eye on as July’s training camp gets closer.

Paul Pierce “50/50” about playing next season

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Paul Pierce may have played his final NBA game. After the Clippers’ season-ending loss to the Trail Blazers on Friday night, the 18-year veteran was noncommittal about his future. Here’s what he said, via CSNNW.com (video above):

For each year the last couple of years, I’ve thought long and hard about walking away from the game. The process will continue this summer as I think long and hard, as I get older in age, talk to my family, see how my body feels. I don’t want to make an emotional decision right now, so I’ll sit down with my family and think about it. It’s just gotta hit you one day. You just never know. You don’t know. Right now, it’s 50/50. I’ll see how I feel when I wake up, if I feel like getting ready for next season. If I don’t feel that feeling, that fire’s not there, it’s going to be tough,

Pierce wasn’t as effective with the Clippers as they’d hoped he would be when they signed him, coming off a big playoffs with the Wizards last season. If he does decide to walk away, he’s a surefire Hall of Famer who will go down as one of the best forwards of his generation.

Report: Ty Lue still has assistant’s contract with Cavs

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers in action against the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  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 David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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When the Cavaliers fired David Blatt midseason, they promoted Ty Lue to head coach, without an interim tag attached. The job was his. But apparently, he has yet to sign a new contract that reflects his new title with a pay bump, and is still under contract as an assistant despite being the team’s head coach.

From ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:

As the Cavaliers prepare to face the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs, head coach Tyronn Lue continues to guide the team without having signed a new contract since he took over for David Blatt, multiple sources said this week.

Lue, 38, was promoted from associate head coach to Blatt’s successor on Jan. 22, with Cleveland general manager David Griffin parting ways with Blatt despite the team’s conference-best 30-11 record at the time. Even without a new contract, Lue never had an interim title attached to his position.

According to the report, Lue’s current contract runs through next season, with a team option for the following year, and Lue fully expects to be back. He hasn’t interviewed or shown interest in any of the other head coaching jobs that are open.

Still, until he signs a new contract, this is just another piece of uncertainty hanging over the Cavaliers.