NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Pierce comes alive as Celtics even series

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In game four, the stifling defense of the Boston Celtics was once again able to keep the Lakers from doing what they wanted to do on the offensive end.

For the second game in a row, the Lakers had trouble establishing their post game (Bynum being limited to 12 minutes certainly contributed to this), and the Lakers had all sorts of trouble swinging the ball and making clean passes when the Celtics trapped their ballhandlers.

For the second game in a row, the Laker offense was almost entirely dependent on Kobe Bryant throwing up deep, contested jumpers from the perimeter. Because Kobe is Kobe, he was able to have a solid game, managing to fling in 33 points and shooting 6-11 from beyond the arc.

However, Kobe turned the ball over seven times and didn’t get one basket at the rim all game — Kobe managed to make something out of nothing a few times thanks to pure talent and skill, but he was never able to get the Laker offense going the way he wanted to. 

The Celtics were able to contain the Laker offense in game three as well, but thanks to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combining to go 5-25 from the field, Boston failed to take advantage of Kobe and the Lakers faltering on offense. Pierce and Allen didn’t exactly look like world-beaters on Thursday night, but they managed to do enough to get Boston a 96-89 win and even the series at two games apiece.
Pierce and Allen started the game off strong; Allen got a transition layup a minute into the game to break his horrifying field-goal drought, and Pierce scored or assisted on five of Boston’s first six field goals. Allen certainly didn’t have a great game, finishing with only 12 points and one assist, but he wasn’t a liability, and he made some shots that should give him some confidence going into game five. 
Allen playing like he actually knew what he was doing out there kept the Celtics competitive. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson’s energy off the bench gave the Celtics the lead. And Paul Pierce playing like the Captain of an NBA Finals team sealed the deal for the Celtics. 
After the Lakers cut the lead to six points with 2:50 remaining in the game and Kobe starting to get that look, Kevin Garnett grabbed a Ray Allen miss and allowed Pierce to re-set the offense. Pierce ran the clock, made his move, went to his favorite spot on the floor (the right elbow), elevated, and drained his signature step-back jumper to put the Celtics up eight. After Kobe answered with a fadeaway of his own, Pierce made a (controversial) and-1 to put the Celtics up by nine with 1:16 to play. After that, a Rajon Rondo steal and layup all but sealed the game for Boston. 
Paul Pierce certainly isn’t the fastest player in these finals. He’s strong, but not overpowering. He’s a good shooter, but he needs time and space to get a deep jumper off. More than any other “superstar” in these finals, Pierce is capable of being a relative non-factor for long stretches of time. Pierce likely knows all of that. He also knows that if he can get himself his second ring and the Celtics their 18th banner, it won’t matter whether he averaged 30 points per game or 3 points per game in the finals. 
With two Hall-Of-Famers and one other all-star in the Boston starting lineup, Pierce’s job isn’t to be the best player on the floor. His job is to grab that one extra loose ball, draw that one extra foul, make that one extra step-back that the Celtics his team needs him to get. On Thursday night, Pierce was able to do just that. If he can do just enough two more times, he’ll officially enter his name into Celtics lore. 

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.

Did Russell Westbrook really block a teammates shot to get ball back during Game 5?

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Well, this video plays right into the hands of the anti-Westbrook crowd.

The knock on Russell Westbrook‘s season-long triple double and MVP candidacy is that he is chasing stats, padding his numbers at the expense of efficiency and making the Thunder a better team. Basically, he’s looking out for himself and to heck with his teammates.

Which leads to this fourth-quarter video from Game 5.

It sure looks like Westbrook blocks Jerami Grant‘s shot to get the rebound (we only have the one camera angle here).

I would argue that this was just Westbrook being uber aggressive — the only way he ever plays — and he was going hard for the rebound and not noticing it was his teammate about to get the ball. Westbrook just wants the ball and gets it. But he also wants to win and would not have taken the ball out of Grant’s hands had he seen who it was in time to react.

Game 5 — where the Rockets eliminated the Thunder — was a microcosm of the Westbrook debate. Westbrook finished with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City was +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but was -18 in the 6:07 he sat. You can read whatever you want into those numbers.

Much like the video above.

Former Pacers’ star Danny Granger on Paul George: “you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana”

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There was a time when Paul George was an up-and-coming but raw young player on an Indiana team led by Danny Granger. It was when Granger went down injured that George was thrust into a larger role, where he thrived in the trial by fire.

Granger knows what it’s like to be the star player of the Pacers, and he knows George, so on Bill Reiter asked Granger his thoughts during an episode of CBS’ “Reiter Than You” and Granger’s answer was not what Pacers fans wanted to hear.

“You look at him in that press conference (after losing to Cleveland) and his face and the dejection on it – the guy wants to win. Money don’t make everybody happy, but winning and success and your craft, that does fill a void that a lot of these players have. So you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana, I’ll tell you that.”

Oh, Pacers fans will fault him. Even if he’s traded.

Pacers’ decision maker Larry Bird isn’t going to do anything until he sees if George makes an All-NBA Team, because if he does Indiana can offer him the new “designated player” contract this summer worth around $80 million more guaranteed than any other team can offer. George will not walk away from that.

However, if, as expected, George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Bird is going to have to revisit the idea of trading George, who can be a free agent in 2018 — and the sense around the league is he will walk away at that point if the Pacers are not contenders. (There are a lot of Lakers’ rumors there, but whether George would leave a team where he is dragging lesser players to a low playoff seed and a first-round exit in Indiana for the same situation in his old hometown is up for debate.)

Bird isn’t going to deal George for pennies on the dollar at this point — think the Kings’ trading DeMarcus Cousins — but if some team comes through with a legitimate quality offer of young players that can help jump start the rebuild in Indiana, he may have to jump at it.

Either way, Granger is right that you can’t blame George for wanting to move on, but plenty of fans will anyway.

Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley keep trading insults in postgame press conferences

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley were having their war of words during Tuesday night’s close-out game that ended the Thunder season, and they both picked up technical fouls for it.

The two continued that postgame speaking to the media.

Westbrook was up first, and he was asked what happened between him and Beverley (see the video above).

“He was talking about he was first team all-defense, but I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about because I had 42 at the time, I don’t know, maybe he was dreaming or some s—.”

You know the media was going to ask Beverley about that.

“He said no can guard me I’ve got 40 points, I’m like, that’s nice but you took 34 shots to get it.”

So, no Christmas card exchange for those two.

For the record, Westbrook finished the game with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but he was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter as he started to wear down. The Thunder were +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but were -18 in the 6:07 he sat to get rest. The game was almost a Rorschach test for what you think of Westbrook on the season — he wasn’t terribly efficient, but he carried OKC as far as he could, that just wasn’t as far as James Harden could take a superior Rockets’ team. If you were in the Harden (or Kawhi Leonard) for MVP camp, you can point to the inefficiency and the end result. If you’re team Westbrook you can point to the raw numbers and what happened in the limited time he sat.

Also, Beverley is going to make an NBA All-Defensive team. If he doesn’t make the first team, that’s more about the time he missed due to injury (and a good field of guards who can defend) than his play.

Beverley has the advantage now of being able to turn his attention to how to defend Tony Parker (or maybe Mike Conley), as the Rockets are advancing to the next round.