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

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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.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.