NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 1: Everything coming up Celtic Green

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Allen-layup.jpgIf they keep playing like this, who’s going to stop the Boston Celtics?

Certainly not the Orlando Magic, who walked into Game 1 against the Celtics as heavy favorites, having swept their first two series of the playoffs only to get blownout for thrre quarters, make a furious comeback that came up short, and eventually fall 92-88.

Everything you saw in the Cleveland series? More of that. The smothering Celtics defense? Check. The massive failure of the best player on the opposing team (Dwight Howard)? Check. Rajon Rondo playing brilliantly? Check. Glen Davis being annoyingly effective? Check. Ray Allen nailing shot after shot after shot? Check.

The Magic couldn’t get anything going for three quarters. Their offense looked stagnant and failed to capitalize on any of the perimeter rotations that gave them such advantages last year. Dwight Howard had one of the worst games of his career, and did all against single coverage. The MVP candidate continuously missed chip shots, failed to convert any and-ones, and missed his free throws on his way to a 13 point performance on 3 of 10 shooting.

The Magic made a late run, but the Celtics were able to hang on. The Celtics led by 20 in the third before the Magic cut it to 3 inside the final minute, but just couldn’t get past the lead as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen drained clutch free throws. The Magic comeback does give them some monetum, as Jameer Nelson was able to produce down the stretch in a key matchup against Rondo. But the Magic had dug a hole too deep.

So what were the specific elements that led to this Celtic win? Let’s do a bullets breakdown. Because there were so many.

  • Paul Pierce torched Vince Carter, who had the best offensive game for the Magic with 22. Pierce worked him  at the elbow, slipped free for threes, and hit several key shots in the fourth. Carter played terrific on offense, but if you let two of the big three loose, it’s hard to win the game.
  • Rasheed Wallace was a best, forcing Howard to go to the line, getting in his head with rough contact, nailing threes and outworking everyone. Everything Sheed said about turning it on when it counts has come true so far. 
  • Ray Allen was spectacular with 25 points, shooting 8-16 from the floor.
  • Glen Davis came in and showed off the offensive moves Howard did not, adding crucial buckets late as well as his usual whale bellyflop type energy.
  • Tony Allen had another terrific game, including an alley-oop you’ll be seeing on every highlights package for two days.

The Celtics withstood a terrific charge by the Magic from Nelson, Carter, and J.J. Redick who needs to start next game if Stan Van Gundy wants to keep Ray Allen under 20. Redick showed what we told you he would, an ability to run off Allen and limit him.

Even with the late near-meltdown, the Celtics are now in charge of the series, have a blueprint for limiting Howard without giving up perimeter shots, and have homecourt advantage again. They look more focused, are getting all the breaks (including one stretch where Pierce was granted a ridiculous continuation, followed by Rondo catching a blocked shot for a floater), and are out-executing their opponents at both ends.

Everything really is coming up green.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.