NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic Game 5: Magic find their form, pull within game of Celtics

13 Comments
Thumbnail image for Howard_Davis.jpg
You can talk about Perkins’ suspension. You can talk about Rajon Rondo’s second consecutive sub-par game. You can talk about Garnett and Pierce both struggling from the field. But the biggest reason the Orlando Magic won game five of the Eastern Conference Finals is that they played like the team who won 59 games in the regular season and dominated the first two rounds of the playoffs. They got Howard going without having to force-feed him in the post. They dominated the paint on defense and contested every shot. And most of all, they hit those three-pointers they love to shoot so much.
Yesterday, the three-point shot was what allowed the Suns to tie up their series with the Lakers. On Wednesday night, it was Orlando’s faith in the three-ball that allowed them to make the conference finals competitive again. After being held scoreless for the first two minutes of the game, Vince Carter jump-started the Magic offense with a three. Rashard Lewis hit a three of his own on the next Magic possession, and the onslaught from beyond the arc would continue for the next 45 minutes of the game. 
After struggling mightily from deep over the course of the first three games, the Magic finally found some success with the three-point shot in game four; on Wednesday night, they opened the floodgates. The Magic hit eight three-pointers in the first half, and went 13-25 on threes over the course of the game. Instead of dumping the ball to Howard and hoping the ball would return to their shooters for open looks, the Magic came out looking to get their three-point shooters going first and then setting up Howard. It was a subtle adjustment, but it was the key to the game. 
When the Celtics lost Jameer Nelson on the pick-and-roll, he would pull up for a three. When they sagged back to try and stop someone from getting into the paint, that player would toss it back to the corner for a three. When the Magic got an offensive rebound, they would kick it out for a three. Catch-and-shoot, off the dribble, off a screen, it didn’t matter. The Magic never hesitated to let it fly, and with their home crowd giving them confidence, they never stopped hitting them. 
The Celtics didn’t have a horrible offensive game, but Orlando was able to impose their will on that end. KG never got comfortable down low, the Magic packed the paint on Rondo in the half-court and kept him from getting out in transition, they never lost Ray Allen on screens, and they never gave Pierce any open shots in the half-court. They swarmed the ball on the perimeter, and Howard was there to contest every shot inside, even getting a chase-down block on Rondo at one point.
The Magic weren’t as red-hot in the second half as they were in the first, but with Perkins off the floor, they were able to use their size advantage to wear the Celtics down by drawing foul after foul after foul. The Celtics were able to hang around for a while, but two quick-trigger threes by Jameer Nelson and a Pietrus dunk put the Magic up by 18 with five and a half minutes to play and effectively ended the game.
Not that long ago, it looked like the Magic were on the verge of getting swept. If Perkins’ suspension holds, the Celtics will either have to win without Perkins at home or win in Orlando to make it to the NBA finals for the second time in three years. Sometimes your luck can change just that fast in the world of professional sports. 

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

3 Comments

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”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.