Knicks' Anthony celebrates after hitting a shot against Celtics during the fourth quarter of Game 6 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff basketball series in Boston

After giving back most of a 26-point lead, Knicks get Game 6 victory to close out Celtics

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In each of the first three games of the series between the Knicks and the Celtics, all of which were New York victories, Boston managed to put together a horrific half of offensive basketball.

The trend that subsided for two games returned for Game 6 back in Boston, and that was more than enough for the Knicks to come away with an 88-80 victory that closed out the Celtics, and advanced New York to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season.

Boston scored 25 points in the second half of Game 1, 23 points in the second half of Game 2, and 31 points in the first half of Game 3. In an elimination game at home, after battling back into the series with two straight victories, the Celtics looked gassed in this one from the start, and managed just 10 first quarter points, on the way to a dismal 27 by halftime.

The Celtics just couldn’t get any easy looks, and couldn’t get whatever open looks they did have to fall. Paul Pierce looked especially drained after playing more than 44 minutes in Game 5 two nights earlier, and finished 4-of-18 from the field, and only 1-of-9 from three-point distance.

The Knicks were unable to pull away until late in the third, however, thanks to a lack of fluidity on the offensive end and plenty of missed shots of their own. New York led by 12 at the half, but was able to push its lead to 20 at the end of three thanks to Boston’s continued inability to score.

New York’s lead reached 26 points at 75-49 with 9:49 to play in the fourth, before the Celtics, essentially out of nowhere, put together a furious rally to try to keep their season alive.

Boston went on a monstrous 20-0 run over the next four minutes to cut the Knicks’ lead all the way back down to six. New York didn’t do themselves any favors during that stretch, settling for isolation basketball on virtually every possession, while forcing contested long jump shots out of rhythm or throwing up wild attempts on heavily-defended drives to the basket.

The Celtics were aggressive defensively, and got out in transition for some fast break opportunities. Avery Bradley was especially key during the run, and scored 10 fourth quarter points while forcing the action by coming up with three steals in the period.

Eventually, the Knicks stabilized, but not before the Celtics cut it to four with 3:32 remaining on a steal and breakaway dunk from Bradley. Carmelo Anthony then scored five straight, followed by an and-one layup from J.R. Smith that put the Knicks back up by 12, and ended the drama for the evening.

Of course the Celtics deserve plenty of credit for making this a series after falling behind three games to none, and for refusing to say die when things were at their bleakest in the fourth quarter of what was ultimately their final game of the season.

But the Knicks were their own worst enemy in this series. J.R. Smith throwing the elbow near the end of Game 3 that got him suspended gave Boston life against an undermanned opponent in Game 4, and then Smith’s overconfidence combined with Kenyon Martin’s effort to have the whole team wear black for some funeral nonsense had New York mentally unprepared for the close out opportunity at home in Game 5.

The Knicks were able to take advantage of the Celtics’ inability to score for long stretches in this series to ultimately win it, but things shouldn’t have been this close. Now that they’ve advanced in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, perhaps they’ll be more focused against the Pacers in their second round series, which is set to begin on Sunday.

D’Angelo Russell says it’s not easy being patient, waiting his turn behind Kobe

D'Angelo Russell Kobe Bryant
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TORONTO — For the rest of this season, the Los Angeles Lakers are Kobe Bryant‘s team.

Some Lakers’ fans have questioned why Byron Scott is still the coach despite an 11-44 record, and in part it’s because he gives deference to Kobe other coaches might not. Scott was brought in to help sell the Lakers’ history during the final years of Kobe’s career, he has done that. He lets the veteran Kobe do things he will not allow anyone else on the team to do.

Meanwhile, the next generation of Lakers are trying to wait patiently for their turn.

But when asked All-Star Weekend about playing with Kobe (who often has the ball in his hands), Lakers’ rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell didn’t sound patient.

“Honestly, it’s hard,” Russell said of playing with Kobe. “It’s not easy. He’s a guy that’s earned every shot he’s taken, earned every minute he’s given, so you feel like being a rookie, but you feel like you’ve worked to be in his position so early but you’ve just got to be patient.”

There are a couple ways you can look at this.

You can see it as a rookie hungry for minutes, for touches, for the chance to learn by doing. You should like that he has that drive, that confidence that he wants the rock. Russell has had the ball in his hands probably since fourth grade, being bumped down the pecking order — even for Kobe — is an adjustment.

Or, you can see this as a rookie who is a bit full of himself, a bit overconfident, someone who turns the ball over too much and needs to earn those touches. This is more Scott’s thinking.

I’d say a guy that is overconfident as a rookie and wants the ball in his hands sooner rather than later sounds a lot like Kobe.

 

DeMarcus Cousins has spent All-Star Weekend playing defense on trade, George Karl rumors

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge as part of NBA All-Star 2016 on February 13, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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TORONTO — DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star and he just wants to enjoy it. Hang out with other elite players, take part in the Skills Competition, have dinner at Sotto Sotto, play in the ASG itself, chill with friends. Chill being the operative word considering the weather.

But for parts of the weekend, he has had to play defense, swatting away attempts to get him to slam coach George Karl or talk trade rumors that have him leaving Sacramento. Mention his friend Isaiah Thomas making it to All-Star Game and you get the gregarious Cousins, but when the other topics come up you can feel his frustration, and hear it in his clipped answers.

“First of all, I can’t control the trade (rumors) and I can’t control if I’m traded or not…” Cousins said. “But I do want to be in Sacramento, and I know everybody in Sacramento knows that.”

Cousins isn’t getting traded. Teams may call the Kings, but they get shot down quickly (then those teams leak the rumor they called, making them look good to their fan base for trying). For one, the Kings have a franchise cornerstone piece under a reasonable contract, that’s not someone you trade unless forced to. Second, owner Vivek Ranadive loves him. Third, and this is key, the Kings open a new arena in downtown Sacramento next season — you don’t trade your best and most popular player, the face of your marketing program in the city, while you’re trying to sell luxury boxes and sponsorships in a new arena.

Cousins has also batted down questions attempting to get him to slam George Karl.

“I can go long term with any coach, but that’s not my decision….” Cousins said. “He’s a free, open-minded coach, he lets his players play. I think every player appreciates that.”

He was more direct with deserving new basketball Hall of Fame journalist David Aldridge of NBA.com in a video (and he’s laughing more and in more of a joking mood in the video than how this quote reads):

“I’m tired of it. Stop trying to make a story out of it, we’re fine. Our only goal this season is to make the playoffs. That’s it. All the other stuff, just stop, it’s not necessary.”

Undoubtedly there is some tension in and around the organization with Karl, although he will be around through the end of the season. However, the one thing that was clear with this team going back to Summer League — when the core guys bonded on a plane trip together to Las Vegas (and doing the other things one might do in Vegas) — the locker room is pretty solid.

“Throughout all this, the one thing that’s been good about the whole situation is the guys in the locker room stay together,” Cousins said. “There hasn’t been any separation.”

It seems Karl has never found a way to reach and inspire that group.

Ask Cousins about the rest of the season and you get some variation of “just stay positive.” He admits that’s not been easy after some tough losses of late, but it’s what they need to do to make a run.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the season, but just find a way to remain positive and get over the hump,” he said. 

That may be easier said than done.

But, at least, Cousins will get the chance to enjoy All-Star weekend.

Can we just relive that epic Dunk Contest one more time? Here’s the mixtape.

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TORONTO — Talking to NBA people, fans, and media around Toronto Sunday it seems every conversation starts with some version of “last night’s Dunk Contest was INSANE!

Because it was.

Andre Drummond threw down an impressive two-hand power slam with an assist from soccer playing Steve Nash. Will Barton‘s first dunk might have won him the contest in some weaker years. And we’re not even talking about them because of the eye-popping show that Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine put on.

Before we move on and talk trade rumors or actual All-Star Game, or whatever is coming next, can we just bask in the joy of that dunk contest one more time? The fine folks at NBA.com put together this mixtape version of the Dunk Contest, I’m passing it along.

Savor this people, it doesn’t get any better than what we witnessed Saturday night.

Michael Jordan to Klay Thompson: “Go ahead and break” Bulls’ 72-win record

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25:  Owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan, watches on during their game against the Washington Wizards at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NBA - NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Barring a major injury, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the Warriors will surpass the 1996 Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season and vault themselves into the conversation of the greatest NBA teams in history. All year, members of that ’96 Bulls team have weighed in comparing the teams, but one guy who hasn’t given his thoughts publicly is Michael Jordan.

Apparently, during All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Jordan gave Klay Thompson his blessing for the Warriors to go for 73. Via CSN’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude:

Not that the Warriors need anybody’s permission to go after the record, obviously. But it had to be cool for Thompson to hear directly from Jordan that he respects what the Warriors are doing and wants them to break his own record. In all likelihood, they’ll do it.