Celtics forced Game 5, but can they really win it?


J.R. Smith said that if he had played in Game 4, this series would have been a sweep. Argue that if you want — quantum physics tells us there are alternate universes where he plays and the Knicks both and lose.

We all care about this timeline, where Smith is back for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden Wednesday after serving a one-game suspension for throwing an elbow to Jason Terry’s jaw. And his return to play in a spot he’s comfortable is one of several reasons to expect the Knicks, already up 3-1 in the series, will win Game 5 handily and close it out, then get some rest waiting for the Pacers and Hawks to figure out who is better.

Boston had success in Game 4 because they forced the Knicks to become one dimensional — a whole lot of Carmelo Anthony and not much else, then Brandon Bass did a good job of making life difficult for ‘Melo (10-of-35 shooting). On the other end of the floor, Jeff Green and Jason Terry stepped up with good offensive games for Boston.

The blueprint remains the same for Boston, it’s just going to be a lot harder to pull off Wednesday.

With Smith back on the court, the Knicks will have other scoring options, for one. Also, expect a better game from Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, playing the pick-and-roll and providing more challenges for the Celtics defense. The bottom line is role players tend to play better on their home court and the Knicks become harder to guard when those guys are comfortable.

Along the same lines, it’s harder to picture the inconsistent Green and Terry stepping up again on the road in Game 5. It can happen, it’s just less likely.

The Celtics are going to have to survive an early push from the Knicks — they will come out with some fire early, trying to put this thing away. Boston’s offense has been anemic most of this series and they are not going to be able to dig out of a big hole.

It’s not impossible; the Celtics could win this game. You know Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will not go quietly, you know Boston can defend. They won Game 4 with a lot of pride and that isn’t going away.

But the Knicks are the better team in this series and I expect we’ll see that from the opening tip Wednesday night.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win


The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

AP Photo/Darren Abate

Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.