Three Stars of the Night: Be Easy

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This is catnip for the Lakers haters out there. The Lakers had all this positive momentum, Kobe Bryant was a new man, and all they had to do was keep it going against Phoenix. Easy, right? But instead, in what has to feel like rock bottom, the Lakers were put away by Michael Beasley. Yes, that Michael Beasley, the same guy who might finish out the year with more shot attempts than points. The guy with the “Super Cool Beas” tattoo across his back. That guy.

And with that in mind, we can’t honor the ultra-efficient nights of Tony Parker or Tyson Chandler on Beasley’s first (and probably last) appearance in Three Stars, can we? It just wouldn’t feel. Let’s get to the rest of the stars:

Third Star: Al Horford – (22 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks)

Horford’s monster night may have been overshadowed a bit by some memorable Josh Smith moments, but that worked out just fine for the Hawks in the end. Down one to Toronto with about 24 seconds left, Smith held the ball and the defense’s attention near the top of the key. It looked like Horford was going to set a down screen for the always deadly Kyle Korver, but instead, Horford brilliantly slipped the screen, and the Raptors forgot all about him. Smith delivered the picture perfect pass and Horford laid in the go-ahead, game-winning layup. Smith gets a lot of publicity for being a special athlete, but ask Horford — he’s an incredible high-low passer as well. He might have to share his star, but Horford’s big line and his thwarting of Toronto’s potential game-winners (one legal, one not so legal) gave Atlanta the win.

Second Star: Michael Beasley – (27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals)

How did the Suns come back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit? Dwight Howard’s shoulder injury played a role, and Phoenix’s defense did also, but let’s give credit where credit is due —  Beasley was awesome. On the game he had a season-high 27 points with 10 of those coming in big spots in the fourth quarter. Beasley made the game easy for himself by taking much more reasonable mid-range jumpers than he usually settles for, and his ability to attack the basket and use his size is something we all dreamed on when we watched him tear it up at Kansas State. If Beasley could somehow bottle this intelligent aggressiveness and use it all the time, we’d really have something. There’s an awful lot of evidence to suggest he’ll never figure it out, but nights like this are tantalizing enough to keep the hope flickering.

First Star: LeBron James – (24 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists)

It’s easy to forget about LeBron’s great games. We’ve just become so accustomed to greatness that we can dismiss it. LeBron’s work in the pick-and-roll and killer jumpers just further illustrated why Reggie Evans is so terribly, terribly wrong. Everyone needs help against good offensive players — true — but not every team is rendered helpless by certain guys. That’s only reserved for a select few, and that select few does not include Andray Blatche. More importantly than all that, the Heat sent a nice little message in a 20-point drubbing of the Nets that they can turn it on when the situation calls for it. They have their issues, but so did their championship team. As long as LeBron is making performances like this seem average, they’ll just be fine.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.