NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 4: The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning

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Look, there’s two ways this can go. If the Cavs come out and blow doors off hinges and win this game, the series is essentially over. Boston’s veteran crew knows better than to waste valuable vacation days, no matter what cliches they throw out about taking it one game at a time. or, Boston can respond, do what they should have done in Game 3, take care of business at home, and restart this series into a best of three.

And really, at this point, would either surprise you?

We’re probably due for a close one, but so far it seems like if one team takes control, the other team sits back, puts its feet up, and chills out.

For the Cavaliers, you can only hope for a game like Game 3. James was in another universe, able to knock down everything. If he’s in that zone, the Celtics will have very little response. That’s what happens with the best player in the NBA. But there are other adjustments you can make.

For starters, The Celtics have to be more aware of Antawn Jamison off the cut. He did significant damage in Game 3, curling off screens for floaters and jumpers. Getting him in open space makes him a significantly better weapon than he’s been in ISO. The Celtics need to trap or at least switch to make sure there’s someone with Jamison to prevent the entry pass.

Offensively, get back to what worked. Rajon Rondo is a revelation. But he’s still not a great jump shooter. In Game 3, the Cavaliers forced him to go to his mid-range game, and that’s a recipe for disaster. His mid-range and three-point shooting has improved, but it isn’t reliable by any means. The C’s need to use the pick and roll to get Rondo attacking the basket, not settling. If the Cavs double on the screen, Rondo has to initiate the perimeter rotation to open up the three point shooting. Simply settling will not work.

And finally, Paul Pierce has to get going. He’s been simply dreadful, and what’s worse, the worse he shoots, the more he shoots. He’s got to respond today by being a leader, getting his elbow jumper going, and creating his own shot. The Celtics can’t live with an offensive disaster from Pierce again.

The Cavaliers need to keep Anthony Parker on Rondo, whose length kept Rondo in check, and use Delonte West to give them a change of pace guard.

Expect this one to get ugly.These two have been on the brink for a while. I’d expect a couple more hard fouls to get tempers flaring. Should be entertaining, in the least. Has to be more competitive than the last game, right?

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.