Kevin Garnett remains beating heart of these Celtics

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At age 36, Kevin Garnett has been the most important player in the Eastern Conference finals.

Because of his play, the Boston Celtics knocked off Miami 94-90 in Game 5 and are on the doorstep of returning to the NBA finals for the third time in five years. Because of him the team that everyone called too old — a team GM Danny Ainge discussed breaking up at the trade deadline — is one win away from a shot at another ring.

“He’s just amazing,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com. “Obviously we need his scoring. That’s important, but he just … he’s our life. I mean, he really is. He just does so many things that don’t have numbers to it. A lot of it is his voice. He’s in a strange way a calming effect on some of our guys, if you can ever call Kevin that, he is. He’s just been terrific for us.”

Garnett has done it at both ends of the floor. He finished the game a +4 in a four point win.

The Celtics start with defense and KG has been the beating heart of that for Boston his series — when he is on the floor their defense has forced the Heat to take jump shots (which they have often missed). When he is resting it is a layup parade for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The difference is stark.

At the other end, starting in the second quarter Boston was able to establish him in the post and Miami doesn’t have an answer for him, especially since he can also pop out and knock down a midrange shot. Garnett had a team high 26 points in the Game 5 win.

For KG, the two ends of the floor are not separate, one can flow out of the other. Again from CSNNE.com.

“I let a lot of the offense come to me,” said Garnett, who also had 11 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. “I look at myself as a defensive player first. I thought some of the defensive plays I was able to make fueled me into getting some easy baskets.”

Closeout games are hard, nobody knows that better than Garnett and these Celtics. But thanks to Garnett they get a chance to do it at home, in front of a home crowd that truly lifts them to another level. A place where their role players feel more comfortable and are able to make plays.

But in the end, it will come down to Kevin Garnett if Boston is to win. He is their beating heart.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.