Damian Lillard, Tobias Harris among the NBA Summer League standouts

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LAS VEGAS — The NBA Summer League unfortunately came to a close on Sunday night, ending a week and a half of wonderful basketball being played on the UNLV campus. Okay, so not all of the basketball was necessarily wonderful … but there were some players that helped themselves out quite a bit while spending time in Sin City.

There were a lot of options, of course, considering 24 teams took part in the annual extravaganza — with some ridiculous rosters listing up to 19 players — but the following players seemed to accomplish the most while playing in Vegas.

  • Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – Not a lot of basketball fans knew what the Portland was picking when the Trail Blazers went with the Weber State point guard early in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft. Well, if Summer League wasn’t an aberration, the Blazers selected themselves a solid-to-spectacular player. Lillard was named a Summer League Co-MVP (along with Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies) on his way to averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and at least two awe-inspiring plays in each of the four games he played. The most memorable is going to be his dunk on Keith Benson, but the pinpoint passing — exhibited here on a connection with fellow rookie Will Barton — wasn’t bad either.
  • Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies – Selby earned a vote for the NBA’s All-Rookie team this year, but the majority of the media agreed quite strongly that it wasn’t well-deserved. The former Jayhawk earned all of his Co-MVP honors over the past ten days in Vegas, though, en route to averages of 24.2 points, 2.4 steals and a ridiculous 64.3 shooting percentage from beyond the 3-point arc (and trust us, that isn’t a small sample size as he was chucking at will). It’s tough to tell if Selby’s Summer League performance will translate to the regular season where he’ll be back to being a role player rather than the go-to guy, but it was fun while it lasted in lovely Las Vegas.
  • Adam Morrison, Los Angeles Clippers – There was a time when Morrison was regularly chided for being overrated after being the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. Now that he’s become a basketball vagabond, however, Morrison’s become something between a sympathetic figure and a cult hero … and, judging from the MVP chants heard in the Cox Pavilion on Sunday afternoon, we’re leaning toward the latter. Whether or not he makes an NBA roster again is still up in the air, but the 20 points and five rebounds he averaged this week were a nice reminder of how great he is at putting the ball in the bucket.
  • Malcolm Thomas, Chicago Bulls – Thomas played alongside Kawhi Leonard at San Diego State, but while Leonard made waves with the San Antonio Spurs, Thomas was relegated to a couple of NBA call-ups while playing for the NBA Development League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders this past season. After watching him this week, though, there’s little doubt he’s talented enough to make more money than the D-League has to offer next season seeing as he averaged 11.4 points and 12.4 rebounds (oh, and this didn’t hurt either).
  • Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks – Depending on what one thinks about Bismack Biyombo’s birth certificate, Harris was either the youngest or second-youngest player in the NBA last season. The former Tennessee Volunteer played like anything but a youngin’ in Las Vegas, however, as he averaged 21.5 points and eight rebounds over five games. Whether or not he earned himself more minutes after an inconsistent rookie year is still up for debate, but it was clear he was better than almost everyone on the floor at Thomas & Mack Center.

Plenty of other players stood out in lovely Las Vegas, of course, but those listed above stood head and shoulders above the rest. Now only time will tell where they stack up among Summer League legends like Nate Robinson, Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Randolph.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

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Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.