NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics Game 3: This one is on the Magic players

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SVanGundy.jpgThe Orlando Magic got punched in the mouth. They fell to the ground. And they didn’t even try to get back up.

Let’s not take anything away from the Celtics, they came out hungry, they came out wanting to end it. And they did. Well, sure, they still have to play one more game, but the Celtics came out and played like a team ready for the Finals and a banner. The Magic played like a team ready to go home.

This was not about Xs and Os adjustments, that was Game 1. The Celtics came out with their plan, by Game 2 the Magic came back with their adjustments. But it is moot for Stan Van Gundy to draw up changes when the players don’t execute. The inside-out offense doesn’t work when you shoot 26 percent from three. This wasn’t about strategy.

The Magic need to ask where their fight was. They may have lost anyway, but they rolled over and played dead.

“It seemed like tonight our bodies was here but our minds wasn’t,” Dwight Howard said in a televised press conference on NBATV after the game. “It seems like our hearts wasn’t there, too.”

The Magic were one of the two best executing teams in the Association this season — they ran their offense beautifully (Utah was the only other team that did that). But in Game 1 in this series the Celtics got physical, and when knocked off their game the Magic looked lost. They never fought back.

Tonight Boston took their effort to a new level. And Orlando…

“I thought there were several in the first half, hustle plays like that all went their way,” Van Gundy in his televised interview. “I mean they were a step ahead of us on every play. I though they worked harder than we did. I thought they out competed us.”

Van Gundy tried to throw himself on the sword in his post game press conference, but this is not really on him. Maybe there were little things he could have done — go to JJ Redick a bit earlier, for example — but when a team comes out flat for an Eastern Conference Finals game that is on the players. Howard admitted as much.

There needs to be accountability in the Magic locker room — and that starts with Howard and the other leaders.

“What I said to them after the game was there are a lot of guys in this room that have worked very hard to bring this franchise up a long way… to make this team to where it is a contender, to where it has gained respect and everything else,” Van Gundy said. “And that game out there tonight, not just the score but the way it went tonight is disappointing because that is not who we are, that is not who we worked so hard to become.

“Between right now and Monday night there is going to be a lot of soul searching, a lot of pulling together. The easiest thing to do, for anybody to do when things go badly is to escape…. And try to escape blame as much as you can so it goes to someone else. It takes very mentally mature people to stand up and say no, I’m a part of this…

“If we don’t have that kind of toughness, we shouldn’t be here anyway.”

It doesn’t look like they do. And that is on the players.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.