Shaquille O’Neal announces his retirement

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UPDATE 4:38 pm: Shaq spoke with Jackie McMullin of ESPN Boston and explained his decision. It was all about health.

“I really, really thought about coming back,” he said, “but this Achilles is very damaged and if I had it done the recovery would be so long we’d have same outcome as this last year — everyone sitting around and waiting for me.

“I didn’t want to let people down two years in a row. I didn’t want to hold Boston hostage again.

“I’m letting everybody know now so Danny (Ainge) and the organization can try to get younger talent. I would love to come back, but they say once the Achilles is damaged it’s never the same. I don’t want to take that chance.”

2:58 pm: It’s not a huge surprise, but it is the sad end of an era.

Shaquille O’Neal is retiring.

In a very fitting and low-key way, the guy who always connected with the fans announced it himself on a video sent straight out to those fans through twitter.

“We did it, 19 years baby. I want to thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first, I’m about to retire. Love ya, talk to you soon.”

Shaq played 19 NBA seasons and had hoped to play a 20th, but his body betrayed him this past season. What looked like a routine Achilles and calf injury never healed stretched from February through the end of the playoffs, and he just couldn’t will his body to come back for one more run at one more ring.

It was that body that will have him going down as one of the great centers to ever play the game.

He was 7’1″, 325 pounds, one of the biggest and strongest men in a league of guys who won the genetic lottery. But with that came a quickness of foot, spin moves from his early days that were as good as any big man in the league. He was nimble, period. Let alone for someone who could simply power his way to the basket any time he wanted.

Shaq was the No. 1 overall pick out of LSU in 1992, taken by the fledgling Orlando Magic. He and Penny Hardaway put that franchise on the map, turning an expansion team into one of the most entertaining teams in the league, a team with real stars. They made it all the way to the NBA finals, but were never able to bring the Magic a title.

Then he bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers in a move where you can still see the scars in Orlando. But for Shaq it led to the most memorable moments of his career.

While a tempestuous relationship with Kobe Bryant led to as much drama off the court as on it, the Lakers won three-straight NBA titles from 2000 to 2002. That run included maybe the signature shot of his career, an ally-oop finish off a Bryant pass that was part of a 15-point fourth quarter comeback by the Lakers over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Shaq finally angered Lakers owner Jerry Buss to the point that when it came time to choose between him and Kobe, Shaq was sent to Miami where he teamed up with a young Dwyane Wade. Within a couple years the Miami Heat had a title, Wade leading the way and Shaq accepting a role as the secondary guy (a role his ego never let him accept with Kobe).

There went on to be stints for Shaq in Phoenix, Cleveland and finally Boston as he chased one more ring, one more run at glory. But it was not to be. In part because the body that had been so dominant for so long had started to break down, and that was a process Shaq could not stop.

But through it all, wherever he went, Shaq was loved. In an era of aloof players, he connected with people. He was like a big child still excited to play a game for a living. That’s what and why he is loved. He was an early adopter of twitter. Even last year, when he’d just show up on a park bench in Boston, people would flock to hang out with him.

He finishes with a certain place in the Hall of Fame waiting — He is a four-time NBA champion, a 15-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA finals MVP, an NBA MVP, three-time All-Star MVP. He was the most dominant player of his generation (he would argue ever).

He will be missed. The era has ended.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.