NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: How Boston can end the season tonight

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Nobody gave Boston much of a chance heading into these playoffs, mostly because they hobbled and sleptwalked their way through the regular season. Ever since the playoffs started, the Celtics and their ultra-powered defense have taken their game to a whole other level, and now they’re one win away from being NBA champions. However, getting that win will be anything but easy. Here’s how the Celtics can win in LA and end this series tonight:
1. Get Ray Allen Going

In Boston, the Celtics were able to take two out of three games without Ray Allen hitting a single three. In Los Angeles, it took a record-breaking shooting night from Allen to get them a win. This game will be tougher for the Celtics than the last two wins were, and they will need Pierce and Allen to get them points in their half-court offense. Ray Allen has the talent, and he’s still much taller than Derek Fisher. If he can use his screens, spot up in transition, and stroke in some threes, he’ll cement his legacy as one of the great shooters of all time.
2. Control the Paint

Los Angeles has owned the paint for most of the playoffs, but Boston’s physicality is starting to wear on them. Perkins, Garnett, and Glen Davis have to continue pushing Gasol off of his spots, even in the pinch post, and force the Lakers to rely on their outside game. If the Lakers get frustrated and start launching shots, that will lead to…
3. Rajon Rondo must be a nightmare in the full-court game

Earlier in the finals, the Lakers limited their mistakes, packed the paint, and turned Rondo into a half-court player. In Boston, Rondo was able to hound the passing lanes on defense, force the Lakers into making turnovers, and get the Celtics running on offense. The more dynamic and worry-free Rondo plays, the more dangerous the Celtics become. 
4. Trust the defense and don’t panic

Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau trust this defense. When Dwight Howard had some big games in the conference finals, they didn’t throw doubles on him and let Orlando’s shooters get good looks. When Kobe got hot in game five, they didn’t panic and let him set up the Laker bigs. Kobe will likely get his, but the Celtics can’t let Kobe or the crowd get them away from the way they play defense. They have to stay at home, make good rotations, and use their traps and pressure to create fast-break opportunities. 
5. Believe they can win

I said it about the Lakers, and the same thing goes for the Celtics. Paul Pierce has to believe he’s about to get another Finals MVP. Rajon Rondo has to believe he’s the best point guard in basketball. Kevin Garnett has to play like the best defensive player in basketball and one of the most complete seven-footers ever to play the game. Perkins has to control the paint and his own emotions. Ray Allen has to believe his next three is hitting all net. Tony Allen has to believe he can guard Kobe. Big Baby has to believe he can take rebounds away from the Lakers’ hulking frontline. Nate Robinson has to believe he’s in the game for a reason. 
Throughout the playoffs, the Celtics have been winning because they have an incredible belief in themselves, their game plans, and their ability to make plays when it counts. In Los Angeles, they will have to be their own biggest fans to win. If they can put one more good game together, they’ll have plenty of their other fans setting up a parade for them when they get home. 

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.