NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 2: How Ray Allen got his groove back (and the Celtics, too)

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Allen_pure.jpgIn June 1992, Ray Allen was doing what every other basketball crazed 16-year-old in the nation was doing — watching Michael Jordan rain threes on the Portland Trail Blazers. Six of them in Game 1 of the finals. Leading the Bulls to a crushing of the Trail Blazers.

Tonight, Ray Allen was better than that. He was better than anyone has been from deep in the finals.

Others had bested MJ for a night, too. Scottie Pippen hit seven threes in the finals once, so did Kenny Smith. But those guys were both secondary scorers on a team — they were the outlet when the main man was covered. They were not the guy expected to carry the load. They were not 34 years old at the time.

Allen is those things, and he carried the load like Hercules. He was better than Pippen and Smith.

Allen started 7 for 7 from three and finished 8 for 11 from beyond the arc. More threes than any other player has ever made in a finals game. He carried Boston though the first half with 27 points, and the Celtics went on to win 103-94 to even the series.

“Mike, I’m going to tell him his were a lot easier,” Allen joked.

Three nights before Allen wasn’t joking around. He was frustrated; he had been sitting with fouls. It made him a little tentative. He became a facilitator, not a shooter, and the Lakers won comfortably.

Sunday night Allen was running off the multiple screens he always get and there just seemed to be more room. His first couple threes were good looks, and he got in a rhythm. And when one of the greatest jumper shooters ever to lace up a pair of high tops gets going, there is nothing anyone can do. He had 27 first half points and almost single-handedly kept his team in it.

“Well, it makes me a better coach, I can tell you that,” Doc Rivers said of Allen’s jumper. “And when you draw up these plays and he makes them, you feel a lot smarter.”

The only way to stop Ray Allen when he gets like this is to get the ball out of his hands, but the Lakers are poorly matched up to do that. Because Los Angeles puts the longer Kobe Bryant on Rajon Rondo, Derek Fisher has to chase Allen around all those picks. Fisher is not that fast and Allen has a few inches and can shoot over him easily. Fisher’s strength is to be able to bump people off their line, but Allen got to any spot he wanted on the floor.

“Well, you know, when (the referees) take away any bumps, when Fish is trying to make (Allen) divert his path and they don’t allow him to do that, they call fouls on Fish and that really gives him the opportunity to take whatever route he wants to make off the pickers,” Phil Jackson said, longing for the days of the legal hand check. “That makes it very difficult.”

In the second half the Lakers adjusted, switching a big off onto Allen as he came off a strong-side pick, forcing Allen to shoot over the long arm of Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol. It worked, Allen was just 1 of 3 and had an airball from deep in the second half.

But it opened up other things for Boston, because on the switch Fisher had to guard Big Baby or Kendrick Perkins in the post. Then there was Rondo, who was taking the game over on his own in the second half.

But by then the Celtics were in a groove they never got in during all of Game 1. You can thank Ray Allen and one of the best shooting games ever in the finals for that.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

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Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.

Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee undergoes surgery to fix core-muscle injury

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DENVER — Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee underwent surgery to fix a core-muscle injury.

The team said Plumlee had the procedure performed Thursday morning by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

Plumlee is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and be ready for training camp in the fall. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed out on the postseason.

The 28-year-old Plumlee was acquired by Denver as part of a deal in February 2017 that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Nuggets last September.