NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics

Celtics unable to capitalize on momentum, Miami Heat force Game 7

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The Boston Celtics had an excellent opportunity to close out the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, setting up a meeting with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals. LeBron James would not allow that to happen, however, and the Heat cruised to an easy 98-79 victory en route to forcing a Game 7 back in Miami on Saturday.

It was an epic performance considering the circumstances for James — maybe not unlike Rajon Rondo’s heroic performance earlier in the series. But this game was a bit more important considering the Celtics would have been on their way to the NBA finals with a win. Miami fans wouldn’t have to fret, however, as James put the Heat on his back  to give Miami all of the momentum.

In a game that would likely feature LeBron-led headlines regardless of the outcome, James was simply the star he’s supposed to be as he finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. The most interesting part about King James’ performance was his array of offensive execution as he found several different ways to obliterate the Celtics offense while they attempted to adjust their defensive assignments (Brandon Bass seemed to do the best, but that was only until James started moving without the ball — and faster than Bass, to boot). It was an excellent, clutch performance when the Heat needed it most and, luckily for the Heat, it seemed to rub off on his teammates.

Considering James’ performance, it’d be pretty easy to look at the box score and assume the rest of the team was ineffective. Instead, though, Miami only allowed James to do his thing until Boston forced them to do something different. And, when they needed to do something different, Dwyane Wade was effective, Shane Battier knocked down his jumpers and Mario Chalmers played his role well while knocking down three of his four 3-point attempts.

It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong for Boston on Thursday night, but it’s probably safe to assume the “veteran presence” that has been praised as one of the positives for this team was turned into a negative as they simply looked old, slow and … after giving up 30 points to James in the first half, absolutely bewildered. A couple of the key factors easily found in the box score, though, would be that the Celtics made just 1-of-14 3-point attempts while losing the rebound battle by a 10-board margin.

Rajon Rondo was the team’s leading scorer with 21 points, but his 10 assists were essentially canceled out with seven turnovers. And Kevin Garnett came back to earth with 12 points and a disappointing five rebounds. Neither was as lackluster as Paul Pierce, though, as he struggled on both ends: “The Truth” was the primary defender early on LeBron, allowing him to get into a rhythm, and couldn’t answer on the other end, mustering up just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting. Bass was probably the best Celtics starter with 12 points, seven rebounds and the best defensive effort on James, but the Boston offense simply wasn’t working well enough to make anything effective happen.

It seems like Boston’s had the sort of problem they did Thursday night — stagnant offense, questions of them being too old, a struggling star — at least once in each series thus far in the playoffs (and every so often during the regular season, too). It’s yet to seriously hamper them thus far, though, considering they’re still just one win away from reaching the NBA finals … and will have another chance to close out the series on Saturday night.

It’s going to be tough for the Celtics to rebound on the road following the Game 6 disaster, but resiliency is key for tough teams. Unfortunately, regardless of resiliency, Boston also needs to find an answer for the now-clutch King James.

Knicks have Carmelo Anthony confident of more post-Olympic success

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony speaks to reporters during NBA basketball training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Associated Press
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Carmelo Anthony couldn’t wait to get started.

Maybe that’s because he looks at the New York Knicks and sees real NBA talent around him for the first time in a few years.

Or perhaps it’s because he knows his most successful seasons have come following the Olympics.

Whatever the reason, Anthony is talking like someone who believes his team is going back to the playoffs – and maybe going far once they get there.

“Like I said yesterday, I haven’t been excited like this in a long time to actually get going and ready to create something,” Anthony said Tuesday after the Knicks held their first practice.

The Knicks haven’t been exciting at all recently. Anthony had never missed the postseason until New York fell just short in 2014, and now he’s been shut out three straight years. The Knicks tumbled to a 17-65 finish two years ago, when Anthony was limited to 40 games before knee surgery, and went 32-50 last season.

Anthony often tried to carry the scoring load himself during those last two seasons, but he doesn’t see a need now. The Knicks traded for Derrick Rose, signed players such as Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings, and expect big things from Kristaps Porzingis after his All-Rookie campaign.

Anthony has repeatedly said how excited he is to play with Rose, who believes he can make the game easier for the 32-year-old forward.

“He’s been here the longest, he’s went through a lot of things here, experienced a lot, so this is his team,” Rose said. “Me and Jo – I can only speak about me and Joakim – we’re coming in here, we’re battle-tested. Our job is to make his job as easy as possible and if it’s sacrificing, it’s sacrificing. Whatever he wants us to do, we’re going to do it. We don’t want no problems, we just want to win.”

The only time Anthony’s done that lately is in the Olympics.

He won his third gold and fourth medal overall in Rio, both records for a men’s basketball player. While most players crave a break after the long NBA season, Anthony said he was “in the best shape that I’ve felt in a long time” after playing this summer.

Olympic competition has provided him with a boost before.

The 2008-09 season, after his first gold medal, remains his most successful team season as a pro. He had never even won a playoff series before leading Denver to the Western Conference finals, averaging 27.2 points in 16 games before the Nuggets were eliminated by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.

He didn’t win another series until 2013, coming off his second gold medal in London. He led the NBA with 28.7 points per game in carrying the Knicks to the Atlantic Division title and eventually the East semifinals.

He didn’t do it alone back then, with Chauncey Billups in the backcourt in Denver, and Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire in the frontcourt in New York. The Knicks believe this team, like those, is filled with players who will earn Anthony’s trust.

“We’re hoping that, again, the level of talent that is on the team will lead to him not thinking, `I have to do everything,”‘ coach Jeff Hornacek said.

Anthony hosted most of the roster in Puerto Rico over the summer for basketball and bonding, so he’s gotten to know his teammates off the court.

He likes what he sees.

“I don’t know how great we can be,” Anthony said. “I don’t want to put kind of no ceiling on that, but we control our own destiny at this point.”

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Who will start at power forward for Bulls? “It’s an open competition.”

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 29: Nikola Mirotic #44 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. 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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Four-fifth of the Chicago Bulls starting lineup this season is locked in: Rajon Rondo at the point, Dwyane Wade at the two, Jimmy Butler at the three, and Robin Lopez at center.

But who starts at the four? Taj Gibson? Nikola Mirotic? Bobby Portis?

Fred Hoiberg isn’t letting anyone know quite yet, via our friend Sean Highkin of The Athletic.

The conventional wisdom has been that Mirotic would get the start because with Rondo/Wade/Butler teams could just pack the paint, clog driving lanes, and force them to shoot jumpers. Mirotic shot 39 percent from three last season and could be a stretch four that opens driving lanes for the three guys who like to slash to the rim. The downside there is defense, which is why Gibson can’t be counted out.

Expect Hoiberg to try a lot of combos trying to figure out what works. That’s what preseason games are for.

Jahlil Okafor’s hands dwarf a basketball (photo)

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
Nick Laham/Getty Images
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It’s cool the 76ers had a baby-sized basketball for Jahlil Okafor to hold.

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

Wait. That’s a regulation NBA ball?

Stephen Curry on his pending free agency: “I want to be back here. I like playing here.”

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, and Stephen Curry pose for photos during NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Next summer, Stephen Curry will be a free agent.

With 100 percent certainty, he will be a max player.

With 99.9 percent certainty, he is not leaving the Golden State Warriors, if you talk to other teams around the league.

Still, when he heads to his hometown of Charlotte and a few other spots, he’s going to be asked about it. The topic came up on Tuesday, the first day of Warriors training camp practices, and Curry tried to shoot the idea of him leaving down. Here is the exchange, via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Are you optimistic about your chances of coming back next offseason?

“Yes,” Curry said.

 

Kevin faced this a ton last year in almost every city he went. Are you gonna talk to him at all about that, how he handled it?

“Maybe,” Curry said. “But I’m not gonna let it distract me at all. I want to be back here. I like playing here. And that’s it. The rest of it is about what we’re gonna do this year.”

There are a lot of teams hoarding cap space and planning to make a run at free agents next summer, but no teams are setting their sights on Curry as happened with Durant. Where there was a sense around the league Durant wanted to look at his options and could be swayed, that is not the sense with Curry. He’s not going anywhere.

Maybe Curry plays the final couple years of his career back in his hometown of Charlotte, where his father played, but that’s a long ways off. At midnight July 1 next summer the Warriors will offer Curry a five-year max contract, he will sign it, and nothing will change in the Bay Area.