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.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.