NBA Playoffs: The Celtics survive the Knicks

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Well, it’s been an interesting first round so far, hasn’t it? The Knicks were the latest underdog to give the home team a lot more than it bargained for in the series opener, and they were probably one shot away from stealing a game in Boston on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, poor late-game execution cost them game one, but they were still able to show the Celtics that they are more than capable of making this a very tough series for Boston. Some quick takeaways:

The good news for the Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire was the best player on the floor for much of the game. The Celtics couldn’t stop Stoudemire’s inside-out game, which was nearly perfectly balanced: Stoudemire made 6 of his 9 jump shots and 6 of his 9 shots inside the paint. The bad news? The Knicks apparently completely forgot about that late in the game, and Stoudemire wasn’t touching the ball or involved in any way on the Knicks’ final possessions.

Boston was essentially the polar opposite of the Knicks down the stretch — while the Knicks relied on off-the-dribble jumpers and basic isolation play, Boston won the game thanks to two straight well-executed sets out of time-outs. The first set got Kevin Garnett a quick alley-oop dunk to cut the lead to one with 37 seconds to play; the second got Ray Allen a clean look at the go-ahead three with 11 seconds remaining when New York had no timeouts. There aren’t many ways around it: Mike D’Antoni was flat-out outcoached.

The Celtics should have two main worries coming out of this game: Rajon Rondo’s ineffectiveness and their lack of depth. Ray Allen was the only member of the Fantastic Four that shot well, but you can forgive off shooting nights from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett since they rely on jump shots so much. Rondo isn’t a jump shooter or a volume shooter, but he’s historically been one of the most efficient scoring guards in the NBA. It’s no secret that the Celtics are an entirely different animal offensively when Rondo is on his game than they are when he isn’t — a 5-14 night isn’t how you want to see Rondo start the series off.

What may be even more troubling is Boston’s lack of depth. Glen Davis is Boston’s only reliable bench player, and he went 1-8. Jeff Green has been a disaster. Injuries have prevented Delonte West from getting into any kind of a groove this season. Nenad Krstic played for four minutes, missed a wide-open mid-range shot badly, and was promptly asked to sit down again. New York’s bench outscored Boston 23-8, and New York isn’t supposed to have a bench. That’s something to worry about for the Knicks.

The Knicks had a great shot to win a road game, and they let it slip through their fingers. Those losses are never easy to bounce back from, especially if the injury Chauncey Billups suffered at the end of game 1 will have an impact on his status for the rest of the series. Still, they now know that they can hang with the Celtics for 48 minutes, and they just might be able to give them a real run for their money in this series.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.