Boston Celtics v New York Knicks - Game Five

Celtics take care of business against unprofessional Knicks, force a Game 6 back in Boston


The Knicks looked every bit like the second best team in the East that they were all season in getting out to a three games to none series lead against the Celtics, winning those games by 14, 16, and 17 points.

Maybe the success came too soon, and too easily.

After dropping Game 4 in Boston without a suspended J.R. Smith, the Knicks figured to close out the series at home on Wednesday. But their approach was less than professional in the days and hours leading up to Game 5, and that likely played a part in the Celtics getting the 92-86 victory to unexpectedly send the series back to Boston for a sixth game.

At Tuesday’s practice, J.R. Smith said that the series would have been over had he been available to play in Game 4. Kenyon Martin was equally cavalier heading into this one, and said that his guys should “wear black” because those are “funeral colors.”

Some Knicks players, including Smith and Iman Shumpert, did indeed dress in all black attire for their game night arrival to the arena.

There’s nothing wrong with trash talk or confidence, obviously, and it adds some additional entertainment value, especially in the playoffs. But the Knicks are not exactly a franchise steeped in recent tradition of playoff success. They won their first playoff game in 11 years last season in a five game first round loss to the Heat, and haven’t won a postseason series since 2000.

Smith started off 0-10 from the field, and the Knicks as a team finished 5-of-22 from three-point distance, an area where they were among the best in the league during the regular season. By contrast, the Celtics hit 11 of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc, with Jason Terry and Paul Pierce combining for nine of those, and Jeff Green hitting two huge ones down the stretch as the Knicks were battling back into it.

The Celtics wanted this game more than the Knicks, and it showed on the court. They played Pierce and Kevin Garnett heavier minutes than usual, and Boston was aggressive early in getting both Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin into first half foul trouble.

Offensively, the Celtics did much better, getting five of the players in their short seven man rotation to score at least 16 points each. But as is always the case with this team, the key run that won the game came on the strength of its defense.

With Boston clinging to a six point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third, the Knicks were unable to find the basket. New York didn’t score for the next 6:17 of game time, and by then the Celtics had built their lead to 15 points.

The Knicks extended their defense and finally started hitting some shots, but it was too late. They got as close as five points  with 1:05 remaining, but a ridiculously tough jumper from Garnett with Chandler all over him defensively found the bottom of the net, and effectively sealed the win for the Celtics.

New York won’t have many games where Carmelo Anthony and Smith combine to shoot 11-of-38 from the field, and are still the favorites to win the series over this depleted Celtics team. But they’ll need to have the right mindset the rest of the way in order to get that accomplished.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.