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.

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.