NBA Playoffs: Celtics overcome Carmelo’s 42, take 2-0 lead

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The Knicks have certainly made the first games of their series with the Boston Celtics interesting.

In Game 1, the Knicks were able to take the Celtics to the wire thanks to the stellar offensive play of Amar’e Stoudemire. In Game 2, back spasms limited Stoudemire to four points in only 16 minutes of play, but the game still came down to the final few possessions thanks to a virtuoso scoring performance from Carmelo Anthony.

Carmelo recorded a game-high 42 points and 17 rebounds in game two, and he was an absolute monster from everywhere on the floor. Carmelo shot 8-17 on shots outside of the paint, with four of those shots coming from beyond the arc. Anthony had a few catch-and-shoot opportunities, most of his jumpers were of the tough, contested variety, which makes his shooting performance extremely impressive. Anthony was also able to work inside effectively and crash the offensive glass, and kept constant pressure on the Celtics with his blend of athleticism, shooting touch, and toughness around the basket on offense.

It was a reminder of why the Knicks gave up so much for Carmelo — even with Stoudemire and Billups on the sidelines and no other real scoring threats on the floor for the Knicks, Anthony was able to give the defending Eastern Conference Champions a scare because of his ability to score from anywhere on the floor at any time.

The Celtics were able to overcome Anthony’s onslaught thanks to the play of Rajon Rondo and late-game execution. Game 2 illustrated a fundamental philosophical debate in NBA coaching — after missing a shot, should teams risk giving up a fast-break and crash the offensive boards, or should they give up the chance for a second shot and get back on defense? The Knicks opted to do the former, and outrebounded the Celtics 53-37 despite a lack of size up front.

The Celtics opted to do the latter, and were able to absolutely burn the Knicks in transition. Every time the Knicks turned it over or missed a shot that led to a long rebound, Rajon Rondo and company were off to the races. Rondo was absolutely unstoppable in transition, and was able to get to the basket over and over again — Rondo scored 30 points despite shooting only 1-6 on shots outside of the paint, and 7 of his 13 field goals came in the first seven seconds of a Celtics possession. When the Knicks did manage to stop Rondo in transition, the mismatches the Celtics’ fast tempo created led to easy shots on the secondary break. Mike D’Antoni may be the most well-known advocate of fast-break basketball in the league, but he watched his team get torched in transition in Game 2.

In the final moments of the game, the Celtics’ superior execution proved the difference once again. After Carmelo Anthony hit an impossible three to put the Celtics up three points with 2:36 remaining, Doc Rivers called a time out and instructed the Celtics to double team Anthony whenever he touched the ball, wherever he was. His gambit worked, and the Knicks came up empty on their next three possessions.

With 19 seconds to go, Jared Jeffries was able to get open off an Anthony double-team and lay the ball in to put the Knicks up one, but Rivers again had an answer. He called a post-up for Kevin Garnett, who went right at Jeffries and took and made his first go-ahead field goal in the final seconds of a game since becoming a Celtic. The Knicks then forced the ball out of Anthony’s hands on the ensuing possession, rotated to Jeffries when he caught the pass, picked off a pass intended for Bill Walker, and took a 2-0 series lead.

The Knicks now find themselves in the same position as the Pacers — they played extremely well and gave the favorite a scare, but will still need to win the next game to keep any realistic hope of advancing. One advantage the Knicks will have is that Madison Square Garden will be a madhouse if the game goes anything like the first two games of the series did — if the Knicks can get healthy and play a full 48-minute game against the Celtics, they’ve shown they’re capable of tying up the series before it goes back to Boston.

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.