Thunder overcome hot shooting from J.R. Smith to outlast Knicks

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Initially, a little of the luster was lost from the TNT matchup between the Knicks and the Thunder when it was learned that Carmelo Anthony would be forced to sit out his second straight game due to a sore right knee.

J.R. Smith took it upon himself to carry the offensive load for New York in Anthony’s absence, however, and as a result, we had ourselves a pretty entertaining ballgame.

In the end, the Thunder outlasted the Knicks to get a 95-94 victory, but it was much closer than expected thanks to Smith’s heroics.

The game gave us what we all expected in its first 12 minutes. Oklahoma City scored 35 first quarter points and led by nine after one, thanks to 15 points from Russell Westbrook, and a flailing offensive effort from New York to get things started. The Knicks opened 9-of-23 from the field, and were doubled up on the boards by their opponent.

The second quarter belonged to Smith, who scored 18 points in the period to cut the Thunder lead to just two by halftime. The shots came in typical fashion for Smith, who is one of the more capable scorers in the league when he gets rolling.

That roll continued in the third quarter, but not immediately. As Smith began the second half on the bench (as is his normal spot in the rotation), New York opened the period just 1-14 from the floor, with the lone bucket coming courtesy of Smith once he checked back in. The Thunder couldn’t gain any separation during that stretch, and as Smith hit step-back jumpers and three-pointers consistently, while Westbrook cooled considerably and missed five of six shots in the period, the Knicks took a six-point lead into the game’s final 12 minutes.

Knicks fans would have been happy to fill you in on how the final 12 minutes were about to unfold, even after Smith had just scored 31 points over the previous two periods. Smith would take, and sometimes force progressively tougher shots as he tried to keep it going, while the Thunder locked down defensively and had their superstar, Kevin Durant, score 12 of his team’s final 20 points.

The fourth was an ugly one offensively, as Smith made just two of his nine shot attempts and the Knicks managed just 13 points over the game’s final 12 minutes. The low-scoring final frame kept things close until the final buzzer, and Smith actually had two pretty good looks with the game in the balance that would have given his team the lead or the win had he gotten one of those shots to go down.

Smith finished with 36 points on 14-of-29 shooting, including making six of his 13 attempts from three-point distance. Durant didn’t play one of his more aesthetically pleasing games, but as always, he more than got the job done with 34 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, making 14 of 15 attempts from the free throw line in the process.

Ultimately, the game ended up as we expected it would — the Thunder came away with the victory, and Durant’s scoring led the way. But Smith provided more than enough excitement to keep things close, which kept us watching until his 17-foot, fading jumper in isolation over Westbrook rimmed out just before the final buzzer sounded.

LeBron James: ‘The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder’

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BOSTON (AP) — It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals’ matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

“The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night – particularly on the defensive end – is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday.

Boston shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to building as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irving’s scoring ignited the Cavs’ comeback, it was made possible thanks to Cleveland’s defensive effort over the final 24 minutes. Cleveland limited the Celtics to 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend,” James said. “We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

If the Celtics were playing with house money heading into the series, they are flush with it again as they return to the Garden.

They’ve given themselves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guarding against ending their season by having to watch the Cavs celebrate a conference title on their home floor.

Boston lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason to a hip injury in Game 2, forcing coach Brad Stevens to shuffle his lineup and rotations in Games 3 and 4.

In addition, Jae Crowder suffered a strained left thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 as well, but returned to play the entire fourth quarter.

It’s an indication that despite still being in a dire 3-1 hole, the resolve inside Boston’s locker room remains strong.

“We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we’re going to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of being on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If nothing else, Lue said their recent taste of adversity should help them remain humble heading into Game 5.

“I think it is making us better. And it’s making us tougher. It’s making us work,” the Cavs coach said. “Because they got a tough group over there. (Terry) Rozier is tough, Avery is tough, (Marcus) Smart’s tough. Crowder. So, they got a lot of tough guys that are going to compete so they’re making us compete, which is good for us.”

 

PBT Podcast: Celtics draft or trade? Carmelo future? All from your Twitter questions.

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What will Boston do with the No. 1 pick, keep it or trade it?

What does the future hold for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?

Is there a correct way to eat pizza? Actually, the answer to that one is yes, and it is not with a knife and fork, Donald Trump.

PBT’s Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh discuss all that that and more from your Twitter questions.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Lakers hire Kardashian trainer Gunnar Peterson

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A celebrity trainer known for getting the Kardashian clan into shape is going to work for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gunnar Peterson is the Lakers’ new director of strength and endurance training, the team announced Wednesday.

Peterson has been a favorite trainer among entertainers and athletes for many years while running a well-regarded private gym in Beverly Hills. His client list has included Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Pete Sampras, along with most of the Kardashian family.

Peterson will develop a strength and conditioning program for the Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka says.

The 16-time NBA champion franchise has replaced several key members of its internal staff since Magic Johnson and Pelinka assumed control of basketball operations earlier this year.

Report: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.