Do Celtics have one complete game in them? More likely Knicks break out brooms Sunday.


How many times have we seen this the last couple games of the Boston/New York series: The Celtics set their defense and for the first 15-17 seconds of the clock the clog everything the Knicks want to do. Their on-ball defenders are in the Knicks faces, their defensive rotations are sharp, there are no good looks.

Then it falls apart and the Knicks get a quality shot. Part of that is the Knicks have a lot of talent on the floor — Carmelo Anthony can score on anyone, he has 96 points in three games this series — and part of it is as the series has moved on New York has moved the ball better and better.

But in the end the Celtics not being able to keep the effort level and execution together for a full 24 seconds, or for a full 48 minutes, is the key reason the Knicks are up 3-0. Most people (myself included) predicted the Knicks would win the series, they are the better team, but we expected more of a fight to the finish from Boston.

Sunday will the Celtics finally put it all together for one game? Can they show some real pride and salvage one game in this series on their home court?

Can they? Yes. Will they? I’m not sold.

The Knicks have motivation for this game — rest. Round two likely will not start until next weekend so a win Sunday means a week off for the older bodies in blue. That matters.

New York will be without J.R. Smith, suspended by the league for his elbow to the head Jason Terry in Game 3. You’d think that be an advantage for the Celtics and in Game 3 after Smith went out the Celtics make some pushes. But the Knicks answered each one of them.

The Knicks have also played strong defense through this series, frustrating a Celtics offense missing Rajon Rondo’s creativity. The Celtics would need a massive night from Jeff Green and Paul Pierce on the offensive end to get that win. Boston would need 48 minutes of defense. It would need a strong outing from Jason Terry. And Brandon Bass.

It can happen. For stretches this series the Celtics have been able to do everything they needed to challenge the Celtics and get a win.

But they haven’t been able to sustain it. And if they don’t on Sunday at the Garden they can hop a plane to Mexico for vacation on Monday.

Cavaliers get Nance Jr., Thompson, Hood back from injuries

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers are closer to being at full strength.

Forwards Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood all returned from injuries on Friday night as Cleveland, which has been riddled with injuries all season, hosted the Phoenix Suns. Acting coach Larry Drew said none of the players will start and all will be on minutes’ restrictions.

Drew, who is filling in while coach Tyronn Lue is on leave to address his own health, plans to keep his starting lineup intact and ease the returning players into the rotation.

LeBron James, Jose Calderon, George Hill, Jeff Green and Kevin Love were scheduled to started against Phoenix, which has lost nine in a row. Drew said he and Lue will talk again Saturday about lineup changes for the upcoming trip to Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte.

“I really didn’t want to disrupt the starting five that we have out there right now and those guys will be playing limited minutes, so I wanted to get them slowly back and acclimated to what we’re doing,” Drew said. “There’s a chance that there could be some early substitutions to get the guys in there. I’m not ruling that out, but right now I just kind of want to stay with the flow, stay with what we’ve done the last couple of ballgames and then we’ll probably after tonight we’ll see as far as where we stand as far as starters are concerned.”

Thompson missed nine games with a sprained right ankle, Nance Jr. was out four with a hamstring issue and Hood was out the past three games with a bad back.

Drew said he did not know if Lue will accompany the team on its trip.

But while the Cavs are healthier than they’ve been in weeks, the team is still missing Kyle Korver, who is with his family in Iowa following the death of his brother, and rookie Cedi Osman, who is sidelined with a left hip flexor strain.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Bulls with ankle injury

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the Milwaukee Bucks’ home game Friday night against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The Bucks ruled out Antetokounmpo earlier Friday.

Antetokounmpo got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.


PBT Extra: What is going on in San Antonio?

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For the last two decades, there was less drama around the San Antonio Spurs than the recent Russian election. The Lakers were the soap opera, the Spurs and Tim Duncan just kept winning titles.

Not this season. Kawhi Leonard has missed all but nine games, his teammates are asking when he’s going to returnTony Parker — who is playing — says his quad tendon injury was far worse, and the Spurs organization is springing leaks like the Titanic.

What does all that mean? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra.

Short term, Leonard’s return or non-return will have a serious impact on the Western Conference playoffs.

Long term, after the Spurs offer Leonard the designated player max extension this summer (as is expected), everything will get back to normal.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.