Jeff Green, Celtics put up fight but LeBron, Heat get another win

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This felt like a playoff game. Like last year’s Eastern Conference finals — it was chippy, there were some big highlights, and there was a very loud crowd fully into the game. It was a game that went down to the final seconds.

And just like last year’s playoffs the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics.

Miami’s 105-103 win extends its win streak to 23, the second longest in NBA history. And it could go on a while longer. Miami’s schedule softens up for a week — five of the next six are against teams that didn’t make the playoffs, the lone exception is a struggling Chicago team — until the Heat could be at 29 straight wins when they have to play the Spurs in San Antonio.

But that is the future. On Monday night Miami was lucky to escape Boston with a win. A Celtics team without Kevin Garnett (flu and strained adductor) showed a lot of fight.

That was because the aggressive Jeff Green showed up. Nobody — not in Oklahoma City or Boston — ever questioned his potential and ability to score. It was that he was too passive, he coasted through games. Everyone wants to see the aggressive, attacking Green.

He showed up in Boston Monday. Big time. He sparked a 17-0 Boston run at the end of the first quarter that put the Celtics up double digits. Green had 26 first half post on 9-of-12 shooting. As a team the Celtics shot 62.2 percent shooting in the first half.

But by early in the third it was close and this was going to go down to the wire. You could feel it. Green was putting up points at every turn, on his way to 43 for the night. LeBron James seemed to match him shot for shot at times, and the MVP to be had 37 and 12 assists.

And he had the Heat’s final four points with Green trying to defend him.

The Celtics were up 101-103 inside of a minute when (after a lengthy review) Boston had the ball out under their own basket. Mario Chalmers — who had 21 points on the night and as a big factor in the outcome — came off a LeBron screen and both Green (guarding LeBron) and Chalmers defender went to Chalmers, LeBron cut to the basket and had as easy a two points as he was going to get on the night. (Well, except for dunking over Jason Terry early in the game). The game was tied.

The game stayed that way as first Green (blocked by Shane Battier), then Dwyane Wade, then Brandon Bass missed shots — contested shots but the kind you need in this kind of game.

So for their final shot, the Heat isolated LeBron on Green out high, Green had to give him space to respect the drive, and LeBron hit the game-winning jumper over him from 20 feet out.

Paul Pierce had a shot to get the win, a pretty good look at a three, but he couldn’t get it to go. On the final play Battier got the ball in and burned the clock by throwing the ball off Pierce’s turned back.

Miami gets the win. Boston isn’t the kind of team that has moral victories, but they can take one from this with pride. They played well, with a real fight. But like 22 teams before them they fell short.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.