NBA Playoffs: Fittingly Mavericks’ execution sends them to finals

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It was fitting. Maybe it was the only way it could be, with Dallas coming from behind again. Game 5 was a microcosm of the four before it in the Western Conference finals.

Oklahoma City came out and played with energy and passion. Their amazing athleticism caused problems for Dallas, but the Mavericks countered with savvy, good execution of sets and seemingly a different guy every night (Wednesday it was Shawn Marion’s turn). Dirk Nowitzki seemingly never missed (26 points on 15 shots), but still it was Oklahoma City with a healthy lead in the fourth.

Then, when the pressure really stepped up in the end, Dallas executed their plays while Oklahoma City made the mistakes of youth (like seven fourth-quarter turnovers). The result was a 100-96 win for the Mavericks that gives them a 4-1 series win and sends them to the franchise’s second NBA finals (the last was a loss to the Heat five years ago).

After a devastating loss in Game 4, many may have expected the Thunder to roll over and get this over with (like the Lakers did last series in the closeout game). But if you thought that, you don’t know this Thunder team.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, they all are old-school basketball warriors. They respect themselves and the game too much to fold like that.

And coach Scott Brooks had one wrinkle left — he went small. For long stretches the Thunder went with some smaller groupings, such as a lineup of Eric Maynor with Westbrook as the guards, Harden and Durant as the forwards and Nick Collison as center. That lineup played the entire fourth quarter.

“I knew that to win this game we had to keep moving (the Mavericks’) feet, and we put as much quickness on the floor as we could,” Brooks said afterward.

Westbrook seemed to thrive in it and he finished with 31 points and eight rebounds, some of them key ones at the end. It seemed to throw Dallas off-balance on defense, and the Thunder were getting some of the transition points they needed.

It all was a key reason the Thunder had an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But going small had a couple of drawbacks, and the Mavericks eventually adjusted and made them pay for it. Like they had been doing all series.

One drawback is that Durant is not a particularly good pick-and-roll defender and he kept getting drawn into that play. It was just part of the reason J.J. Barea had 14 points and five assists on another huge night.

The other thing is going small makes it hard to rebound. Especially because Dallas coach Rick Carlisle refused to play along with Oklahoma City — he kept in a big lineup.

Dallas took the lead when Westbrook lost the ball going for a defensive rebound, it came out and Dallas ended up with the offensive board, four guys touched it in quick succession then Nowitzki drained a 3-pointer.

Then, with the Thunder down two and less than 24 seconds on the clock, Oklahoma City needed one more stop and a basket to send it to overtime. The Thunder forced Nowitzki to miss, but Marion was able to out-jump every Thunder player on the floor and tip it out to Jason Kidd, who passed to Nowitzki and then it was all over but for the fouls and the free throws.

That was just part of a monster game for Marion, who had 26 points on 17 shots, plus eight rebounds.

In the end, Dallas executed while the Thunder made crucial mistakes down the stretch. The Thunder had just six turnovers in the first three quarters but seven in the fourth quarter alone. Like all series, the Thunder looked like a team where all its key players are younger than 22 when it got late in games.

“Their time will come, but it’s not now,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in his postgame interview broadcast on NBA TV.

It’s not, right now is the Mavericks time.

The Mavericks have the best player in the playoffs. They have a deep team where somebody different is stepping up every game. They have good defense. They have fantastic end-of-game execution.

They will have a chance to prove just how good they are one more time against the Miami Heat in the finals.

Malik Monk: I thought Knicks would draft me

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Malik Monk to the Knicks was predicted and reported as a possibility. And when the No. 8 pick came up, the Kentucky guard was still on the board.

But New York – then still run by Phil Jackson – passed on Monk to draft Frank Ntilikina.

Monk, who wound up being drafted No. 11 by the Hornets, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“Me, my agent, everybody in my agency, my family — we thought we were going to New York,” Monk told the Daily News last week after a posing for his Panini trading card. “It was here, my agent is here (based in New York), a great agent, everybody thought it was going to be here. Went to dinner with (Jackson), had a great workout, everything was positive.”

Naiveté and/or wishful thinking by someone who had never been through the draft process before? Perhaps.

But Monk’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, is quite experienced.

What did the Knicks do to make the Monk camp believe they’d draft him? Misleading in those situations can grate agents, though if Jackson did that, at least New York eradicated the problem.

Report: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James didn’t meet in Miami

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Another day, another disputed rumor involving LeBron James.

This time it’s one about him meeting with Kyrie Irving in Miami.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

I just got off the phone with folks about an hour ago. They said LeBron James and Kyrie Irving never met at all. They were both in the city of Miami. But, I was told, it is quite possible to be in the same city and not see each other. They never met. They never talked.

Whether or not they’ve already met, Irving and LeBron might need to address their problems soon

The Cavaliers might not have their high asking price for Irving met before the season, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert already discussed the possibility of Irving returning. LeBron and Irving might have to reconcile a future as teammates.

Malcolm Brogdon: Charlottesville was white supremacism and terrorism

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Rookie of the Year and Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon – who played four years at the University of Virginia, which became the epicenter of white-nationalist protests – was asked about the events in Charlottesville and his thoughts on the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Brogdon, via Sports Illustrated:

It was pretty shocking. To see this happen at a place that I call home is sort of jarring for me.

But, if I were to be honest, the level of hate and blatant racism that still dominates the minds of so many Americans today, it’s not shocking to me. I think at the end of the day, you have to call it what it is. I think this is white supremacy, and I think it’s domestic terrorism. I think we live in a country where we go overseas, and we fight other people’s wars, and we fight terrorism overseas internationally. But we don’t want to fully acknowledge the terrorism that goes home domestically.

So, I think it’s a shocking event. But it’s not surprising sort of the hate that is still around.

My thoughts about it have never changed. I’m a person that thinks things should not be glorified that did not do the country any justice. For example, these statues stand still, but all they do is divide people. At this point in time, I think that America needs to be unified. And the statues are clearly something that’s not unifying people. It’s going to continue to create a divide within our communities. And I think they have no place in our society right now.

Kudos to Brogdon for calling spades spades.

Racism is still a problem – not one we’re comfortable discussing, which only exacerbates the problem. It must be acknowledged to be solved.

“Terrorism” is too often a term we reserve for only crimes committed by Muslims. A white supremacist driving his car into a group of counter-protestors – killing one – is almost certainly designed to terrorize them.

But I disagree with Brogdon that the statue should be removed because it’s divisive. It should be removed because it glorifies someone who led a war against the United States to protect the racist institution of slavery.

Unity is nice, but unifying around what? Brogdon might find that the people who agree with his call for unity have a different vision than he does.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+