Knick show better poise, execution in clutch to beat Celtics

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If we told you first thing this morning that the team that executed better at the end, that showed the more poise under pressure — and after the whistle — was going to win the season opener between the Knicks and Celtics, we all would have thought it would be the veteran combo from Boston.

Nope. Carmelo Anthony drew the late foul (on a borderline call but the refs will blow the whistle on the reach from behind almost every time) and sank free throws, while both Marquis Daniels and Kevin Garnett missed good looks and the Knicks come away with the 106-104 win at Madison Square Garden.

The Celtics were playing without Paul Pierce, and they could have used his offense and shot creation against a spotty Knicks defense — there were moments at the rim with Tyson Chandler and other spots the Knicks looked good, then there was the whole third quarter where they looked like the Knicks of old.

This game pretty much summed up what we can expect from the start of this NBA season — sloppy and inconsistent. That’s what you get after shortened training camps.

To start the game the Knicks ball movement was spectacular — they had 34 points on just 24 possessions in the first, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com. The Knicks were up 10 at the half and the Garden faithful were loving it.

Then in the second half the Celtics cranked up the defensive pressure and the Knicks were suddenly an ugly isolation team again. Meanwhile, Ray Allen found his stroke (he finished with 20) and Rajon Rondo was being aggressive like he will need to be all season for Boston (31 points and 13 assists).

The game was tied at 104-104 with just under a minute when the sloppiness impacted the game — first Carmelo lost the handle coming off an Amare Stoudemire screen and the ball rolled out of bounds. Then the Celtics were forced to pass to the open man — Brandon Bass three feet from the rim — but Chandler sent one ball back and Bass got stripped on the recovery.

Next time down the Knicks halfcourt offense was non-existent so Tony Douglas threw a dangerous lob to Carmelo, who caught it at the elbow and tried to spin toward the basket, only to have Marquis Daniels reach from behind, get almost all ball but also get the call. (Note to Celtics fans, that call is not why you lost, the first half might be a better reason for one.) Anthony drained two free throws.

Again the Celtics depth hurt them on their first try late in the game, the Knicks did a good job taking away a few options including Rondo’s drive so he kicked to Daniels for a wide open corner three, which he missed. Daniels was in because Pierce was out. But Rondo tracked down the rebound and Celtics got another chance with 4.4 seconds left.

And it was a good look and chance — Bill Walker of the Knicks essentially picked his own man (Chandler) off Garnett who had the ball (Walker was trying to track down Rondo). Garnett got a clean look from about 16 feet out, with Walker on a late close. KG missed.

Then this happened.

Nice poise, KG. Shouldn’t be any fines or suspensions on this one, but the Knicks are not going to back down from Celtics is the message. They are feeling good about themselves.

Carmelo had a game-high 37 points, Stoudemire had 21. Brandon Bass had 20 in a nice showing for Boston.

What a way to start the season, and it’s going to be fun when these two meet again.

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.