NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics

Celtics could cripple Hawks with another win to end the weekend

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The Boston Celtics haven’t played exceptional basketball during their NBA Playoffs series against the Atlanta Hawks, but they’ve got the job done well enough to take a 2-1 lead heading into Sunday evening’s game at the Garden. Atlanta’s going to have to come up with some road magic of their own to end the weekend, however, if they’re going to keep the series competitive.

Since the Hawks posted their opening game victory, they’ve struggled running any sort of offense in the second half — and it didn’t help that Josh Smith missed Friday’s game with a leg injury, either, taking away the team’s best offensive threat from the series’ first two games. On the other end of the spectrum, the Celtics have watched Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo both put together big games to help Boston squeak out wins to take the lead in the series.

It’s difficult to try and predict anything based on what has happened in the first few games between these two teams, however, considering the key players will be changed once again for Sunday’s Game 4. First it was Ray Allen being absent from the lineup, then Rondo was suspended for Game 2, Smith missed Game 3 due to injury and now — on Sunday — it appears nearly all of the main contributors expected to play in this series (Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia are still absent) will play on Sunday … unless, of course, Avery Bradley’s “game-time decision” due to a shoulder injury is turned into a DNP or the sprained ankle Tracy McGrady suffered on Friday night has flared up.

All of that said, the Hawks’ backs will be against the for Sunday’s game. A 3-1 deficit isn’t impossible to come back from, of course, but the momentum the Celtics have already built without playing their best basketball certainly won’t be dampered if they’re able to pick up another win at home.

For the Hawks to win, they’ll need to figure out how to stop Rondo from penetrating — Kirk Hinrich’s seemed to play the best defense on him this series, for what it’s worth — while hoping Pierce doesn’t go into hero-mode and the tandem of Jason Collins and Ivan Johnson are able to keep Kevin Garnett from breaking out a retro scoring performance. Atlanta will need to rely on Joe Johnson and “Smoove” Smith, provided he’s healthy, on the offensive end while making sure the stagnant offense that has appeared in the second halves of Game 2 and 3 don’t appear again in Game 4.

Boston doesn’t have as many problems to worry about considering they’ve pulled out wins playing less than stellar basketball their past two games anyway. The Hawks will likely have some answers for Rondo and Pierce after being beat by them the past two games, but there’s a reason they’ve been referred to as the Big Four in the past — and Garnett or Allen likely wouldn’t mind reminding the national viewing audience, either, if anyone’s forgotten.

The onus is on the Hawks to show that they belong and, if it doesn’t happen on Sunday night, anything else will likely be too little, too late.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something — two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. It goes against the trends of the NBA, but that has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic — who came in third in the Rookie of the Year voting — wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.

Will Jaylen Brown’s intelligence, non-conformity keep some teams from drafting him

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11:  Jaylen Brown #0 of the California Golden Bears brings the ball up the court against the Utah Utes during a semifinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 11, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Utah won 82-78 in overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Professional sports organizations are not a fertile ground for people who are both smart and not looking to fit into a traditional mold. Old-school coaches want conformity. It is a bigger deal in the more militarized operations of football teams (college and NFL), but plenty of NBA teams are not looking for guys who ask “why?” instead of “how high?” when told to jump.

Enter Cal’s Jaylen Brown, a likely top six pick in this NBA draft.

He’s already broken with tradition and not hired an agent to represent him on his first contract (the players’ union will do that for him) and that is just a piece of his personality. Marc Spears talks about it and with Brown in a fantastic piece at The Undefeated.

This is the kind of 19-year-old NBA draft prospect who, for instance, chooses to enter the draft without an agent, a young man who one NBA executive said could be deemed “too smart for the league….”

The NBA assistant general manager also said that Brown’s high level of intelligence and inquisitive nature could intimidate some general managers and coaches. He added that he is a good kid who “doesn’t fit the mold of a so-called basketball player.”

“He is an extremely intelligent kid,” the NBA assistant general manager said. “He took a graduate school class at Cal in his freshman year. He is a person who is inquisitive about everything. Because he is so smart, it might be intimidating to some teams. He wants to know why you are doing something instead of just doing it. I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s a form of questioning authority. It’s not malicious. He just wants to know what is going on. Old-school coaches don’t want guys that question stuff.”

I think this is the kind of teams should want in an organization, the kind they should seek out. I’m not a fan of blind allegiance. Honestly, if a coach can’t explain why he wants you do do a specific drill or run a certain action on the court, that’s on him. Everything should have a purpose.

Go read the entire piece. His style may turn some organizations off, but not the good, modern ones. And whatever team does draft him they get quite a player. Here is what PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson said about Brown.

Solidly built, Brown loves to use his body to attack the basket, often leading to an above-average amount of free throw attempts. He relies on his physical ability more than skill right now, but once he has some momentum on the way to the rim, he is hard to stop. His shooting, both mid- and long-range, isn’t particularly strong right now, but it’s not like his shooting form and motion are broken. With his body, Brown is also able to move to the low post in the right match-ups, using his strength to bully his way to the rim. Brown has improved as a defender this year, and is capable of guarding multiple positions, though he still needs some work on the basics.