PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

Three Stars of the Night: Go-Go Goran and a Game-Winner

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We had a pretty good slate of games on Thursday night, didn’t we?

The Knicks grinded out a combined 14-for-44 showing from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith for a tough win against the Celtics, the Raptors had a little late game magic of their own against Orlando, and in the nightcap, the Suns stayed undefeated in the Lindsey Hunter era by upsetting the Clippers. We’re all about synergy, so we have stars for three games. To the stars:

Third Star: Rajon Rondo – (23 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists)

If Paul Pierce could catch the ball he may be a little higher, but so it goes. Rondo’s triple-double performance was pretty impressive, and his deadly mid-range jumper kept the Celtics alive late in the game. It’s a common misconception that Rondo “can’t shoot” but he’s actually just limited to where he can shoot. Rondo shoots over 50 percent from 16-23 feet, living on little pull-up jumpers from the elbow. If there’s a criticism of Rondo’s game this year (and there always is), it’s that he hasn’t been aggressive enough in going to the rim. There’s some weight to that — Rondo has barely shot more attempts at the basket than from 16-23 feet, but against the Knicks, he took it right to the rack with more frequency. Although his fourth triple-double this season wasn’t enough wasn’t enough, it’s hard to point the finger at Rondo for Boston’s failures this season.

Second Star: Goran Dragic – (24 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds)

With no Chris Paul to worry about, Dragic was masterful on the offensive end, often securing switches in the pick and roll and then blowing right by a big ill-equipped to stay in front of him. Dragic’s 19 point first half made the upset seem attainable for the Suns, and the momentum kept rolling after that. When Dragic is aggressive and looks to turn the corner, he’s capable of big scoring nights. You can count the good defensive performances the Suns have had on one hand this year, but defense often led to offense, and Dragic was the generator of most of the positive action all night. Dragic and the Suns are playing like they’ve started a new season (not like the Lakers, like an actual new season), and it’s hard not to feel good that they were rewarded with a win. They very clearly played harder than the Clippers did, but it was Dragic’s skill that made sure the effort wasn’t in vain.

First Star: DeMar DeRozan – (22 points, 7 assists, game-winning shot)

What a fourth quarter for DeRozan. After a lackluster performance through three periods, DeRozan started to get his jumper to fall in the final frame, and it led to a 14-point fourth quarter when the Raptors needed it most. Tying his career-high in assists (yes, it’s 7) was a nice bonus, but DeRozan’s spot as the top star was secured in a tie game with just four seconds on the clock. Witness:

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.

Gregg Popovich: Spurs started Manu Ginobili ‘out of respect’

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The Spurs started Manu Ginobili in their Game 4 loss to the Warriors last night.

For strategic reasons or because they wanted to honor him in what could be his final game before retirement?

The was certainly a case for the former. Ginobili had played well in the series, and Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker were out injured. Ginobili played 32 minutes, much more manageable when starting. Plus, Zaza Pachulia was also out injured, so Golden State started small, and Ginobili could have helped San Antonio match up.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:

We started him tonight out of respect. That was the whole reason for starting him.

Before the game, you think it may or may not be the last game he ever plays in. And I did not want to miss the opportunity to honor him in front of our home fans for his selflessness over the years. I mean, this is a Hall of Fame player who allowed me to bring him off the bench for – I ca ‘t even remember now – the last decade or something, because it would make us a better team overall. So, obviously, he’s a big reason for our success. And he deserved to have that night of respect so that he really feels that we appreciate everything he’s done over the years.

If he decides he’s going to play again, that’s up to him. But I won’t try to convince him one way or the other. I don’t think he needs that.

Perhaps, Popovich was just giving Ginobili a just-in-case sendoff. Ginobili has said he’ll take a few weeks to decide on retirement.

But Popovich could have inside information and, if starting Ginobili was about honoring him rather than an adjustment to beat the Warriors, maybe the coach just tipped Ginobili’s hand.

Interesting video: Every LeBron James paint bucket in the 2017 playoffs

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Yes, the video is a little long, more than eight minutes. Have you watched LeBron James these playoffs?

LeBron has been the best player in the postseason and one of the reasons — along with his hitting threes and great passing — has been how often he got into the paint and scored buckets. He has taken advantages of mismatches (and there may be only one defender in the league who is not a mismatch) and attacked the rim, getting into the paint and finishing impressively.

JM Poulard, who has written for a number of good NBA blogs over the years, compiled this video and it’s interesting to watch. Both in terms of how LeBron is getting his buckets inside, and to just marvel at the greatest player of his generation.

Warriors’ co-owner Joe Lacob hopes team sees Cavaliers in Finals due to “unfinished business”

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It’s easy for him to say, Warriors’ co-owner Joe Lacob doesn’t have to set foot on the court in the next round and see LeBron James on the other side.

However, I bet a lot of Warriors’ players feel the same way.

Lacob spoke to some reporters after the Warriors swept their way into the playoffs. He suggested the Warriors would prefer a rubber match, a trilogy with the Cavaliers. Here are the comments, via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Honestly, I don’t really care who we play (shoots a sly grin). Ok, maybe a slight preference for Cleveland. Only because I feel we have some unfinished business from last season…

“I think (this team is better than last year’s). Honestly. I think we’re better. It’s hard not to be better when you have a guy as good as Kevin Durant on your team. We were awful good last year. The one difference is Steph was hurt, as we all know. How much we can debate. But he was not what you see out there now. Then of course we had some other issues in the Finals. With Kevin, this is a very, very good team. The opposition is going to be good in the Finals. So not taking anything for granted.”

These Warriors create new challenges for how the Cavaliers attacked them last postseason, particularly offensively because of Durant’s ability to score one-on-one. But we’ll get into a lot of that over the next eight days until the Finals begin.

Just don’t doubt the Warriors would like a little revenge.

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