Celtics 92 Sixers 91: Tell us you didn’t see this coming

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

The Boston Celtics play badly for 2.5 quarters, scrap and grind their way to get the deficit into reasonable territory, then turn on the jets while the other team does a series of remarkably stupid things, going away from everything that had worked the entire game through, eventually losing as the Boston crowd goes berserk.

Celtics 92, Sixers 91, Boston wins Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series.

The Sixers have a lot to feel good about, sure. Andre Iguodala played a phenomenal game, hounding Paul Pierce, scoring 19 points, adding 6 rebounds and 6 assists, including some dazzling passes. Spencer Hawes gave good effort against Kevin Garnett who continues his playoffs-MVP-level play. Doug Collins had some effective lineup adjustments and the Sixers really pushed the tempo. There were times it looked like they could break it open

They did not. And once it was within range, you knew what would happen. The Celtics simply took over with poise and defense. And the Sixers? Well they started doing things, like, oh, say this:

source:

Yup. It’s not the number. It’s where.

Lou Williams was talked about as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate for much of the year, at least as a “if not Harden” runner-up. But he showed in Game 1 the “trick or treat” he comes with. Great floater? Absolutely. Spot-up threes? Yes, sir. Mid-range pull-up after mid-range pull-up? All the time. It’s the same offense that sunk the Hawks, and the Sixers, after passing brilliantly for 2.5 quarters, ran willingly into the arms of predictable offense against a defense primed to encourage it.

It’s not easy to get good shots on Boston. But the Sixers too easily handed it over.

So on a night where the Celtics didn’t play well, where Boston’s crowd was catatonic for 3/4 of the game, where Paul Pierce didn’t play well, Ray Allen didn’t feel well, and the Sixers made a great series of decisions for much of the game, Boston walks out with the win. This is the pattern, and we’ve seen it over and over and over again.

Boring old Boston, ripping them apart piece by piece.

More than anything, the game shows the incredible enigmatic brilliance of Rajon Rondo. Rondo didn’t play well. That’s just something you’d have to watch the game to see. Because when Rajon Rondo plays badly, he can still have this line: 13 points, 12 rebounds, 17 assists, and 4 steals, along with three plays at the end of the game to clinch it for Boston. Rondo looked disinterested and disgusted with having to play for most of the game. He also keyed the comeback, hit the shot to give the Celtics the lead late in the game, and closed out the Sixers like they were a little brother. He missed nine of 15 shots and had seven turnovers. But he still produces, still closes, and still wins the game. And then gives a snotty post-game interview. That’s Rondo.

So Boston wins Game 1, as expected, and despite struggling, still won. Even when things don’t go Boston’s way this postseason, they go their way, or they make them go their way just enough. A big win for Boston, and their path to the Eastern Conference Finals is down to 3.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.