Danny Green takes NBA Finals 3-point record, NBA Finals MVP award next?

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Danny Green rose for his 33rd 3-point attempt of the 2013 NBA Finals, and for the 23rd time, the ball splashed through the net.

On cue, the Heat called timeout, creating a scene similar baseball’s game stoppages to honor broken records.

Green – who broke the record for 3-pointers in an NBA Finals and would push the the mark to 25 (on 38 attempts) by the end of the Spurs’ 114-104 Game 5 victory – clapped his hands and screamed, and then he headed to the bench for pats on the back from teammates and coaches.

Ray Allen, who saw his record of 22 3-pointers in the 2008 Finals broken, sat on the Miami bench and made no attempts to hide the disgust pouring over his face.

Green had never made this many 3-pointers in a five-game stretch, though he’d played just 106 games entering the Finals, because he was too busy getting cut by the Cavaliers, Spurs and Spurs again. Yet, this passionate mid-game celebration was all about him.

This is the awesomeness of Danny Green, the hottest player on the biggest stage.

But what happened in the moments preceding his record-breaking trey show the full story of Danny Green, the reason we can witness his awesomeness.

Dwyane Wade pushed the ball upcourt, and Green caught him from behind. With Green hounding Wade, Manu Ginobili poked the ball loose, getting credit for the steal when Green dove to the floor to corral the ball. Green passed from his back to Ginobli, and the Spurs surged the other direction.

Green momentarily stumbled over Wade as he tried to get up, but Green still reached his feet first. Again, Green raced down the floor quicker and was wide open as the trailer, Wade still languishing in the distance, on the record-breaking triple.

That is why Green, whom Gregg Popovich cut for a failure to bring consistent effort, is playing for the Spurs. It’s also why Green is in the driver’s seat to become the most unlikely NBA Finals MVP ever.

Green found a team that embraces his biggest strength, 3-point shooting. Not long ago, progressive teams tolerated 3-point shots. Popovich seeks 3-pointers and their and the 50 percent more points they produce than other makes.

But Popovich also wouldn’t tolerate Green’s effort lapses, and Green didn’t even get even a guaranteed roster spot until he solved those issues. With the help of his former North Carolina coach, Roy Williams, Green did that.

Now, Green leads the Spurs, who hold a 3-2 series advantage, in scoring by nine points. Because the Spurs’ traditionally recognized stars – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – have been up and down, there’s no clear-cut choice for Finals MVP if San Antonio hangs on. But 28 of the last 30 Finals MVPs led the winning team in scoring,* so Green is certainly on track to get consideration from the voters who prefer simple measures.

*Chauncey Billups (2004) and Larry Bird (1986) being the exceptions.

The voters who take a deeper examination will see Green’s hustle plays and helpful defense on LeBron James, which might be enough of a complement to Green’s 3-point shooting and earn him the award if Duncan, Parker or Ginobili doesn’t overtake him the rest of the series.

Of course, the Heat can still win, or perhaps, voters could reward the player who’s had the best series so far – LeBron – even though a player on the losing team hasn’t wont Finals MVP since Jerry West took the inaugural award in 1969.

At minimum, Green is planted firmly in the conversation. If the Finals ended today, he would get my hypothetical vote ahead of any Spur (though I would vote for LeBron).

Only great teams reach the NBA Finals, and greats teams are usually led by great players. Finals MVPs are typically the best of the best, perhaps creating an even better list of the game’s best than regular-season MVPs. All but three* of 45 Finals MVP awards have gone to Hall of Famers (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Dennis Johnson, Wes Unseld, Bill Walton, Jo Jo White, Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Willis Reed, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West) or sure-fire future Hall of Famers (LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal).

*Chauncey Billups, Cedric Maxwell and Jo Jo White being the exceptions.

Green is not a Hall of Famer or a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, but he’s also not just the novelty who made 5-of-5 3-pointers in Game 2. He airballed a 3-pointer early in Game 5, shook it off and finished 6-for-10 from beyond the arc, still lowering his Finals 3-point percentage.

He’s playing with supreme confidence and forcing the basketball world to take notice.

Undoubtedly, part of Green’s stirring Finals is a run of good fortune, a hot streak coming at the most opportune time. Green could turn into a pumpkin at any moment.

But even if that happens and his 3-point shooting goes cold, you can still count on Green beating the Heat for loose balls and beating them downcourt.

Green’s 3-point shooting is why you’re noticing him, but his hustle is why he’s here.

Both explain why he’s suddenly the front-runner for Finals MVP.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

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Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts it on himself to be more aggressive in Bucks-Celtics Game 6

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was criticized after Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference series against Boston for not doing more, particularly on the offensive end.

The harshest critic: Antetokounmpo, himself.

He took only 10 field-goal attempts, his third-lowest total of the entire season. Antetokounmpo still had a brilliant stat line, finishing only one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Bucks lost 92-87 and now go back to Milwaukee trailing the first-round matchup 3-2.

Game 6 of the Celtics-Bucks series is the lone matchup on the Thursday night NBA schedule.

“Game 6, I’ve got to come out and be more aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s on me. I had open shots, but they weren’t my shots so I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. … I’ve got to be more aggressive, make more plays because definitely, my teammates need me.”

It’s not like he was choosing to not be involved.

The Celtics got Marcus Smart back for Game 5, and Boston is much better defensively when he’s on the floor. Open looks seem to happen far more infrequently when Smart is out there, and the Bucks must solve that riddle or else their season is about to end.

Smart wasn’t the only defensive hero for Boston in Game 5. The Celtics put Semi Ojeleye on Antetokounmpko, and it worked as well as Boston could have hoped.

“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish … but we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller.”

If Antetokounmpko doesn’t come up bigger Thursday, it’ll be Boston going to the second round.

Here’s some of what to know going into Game 6:

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Boston leads 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

NEED TO KNOW: Since 2002, there have been 29 NBA teams with at least one postseason series win to their credit. The lone exception: The Bucks. It’s been 17 years since the Bucks advanced to the second round, and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding another year to Milwaukee’s wait. So far in the series, Milwaukee has outscored Boston 520-519 – which would indicate that it’s been a super-close matchup. That’s not the reality. There have been wild ebbs and flows, with one team leading by 16 points at some point in each of the last four games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Free throws. Boston is 99 for 130 in the series from the line, while Milwaukee is 68 for 100. The Bucks have been called for 30 more fouls in the series, 124-94 – which works out to six more per game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Clearly, the Bucks. They’re facing elimination, of course, so there’s the pressure. Antetokounmpko was on the Milwaukee team that won two elimination games against Chicago in 2015 (before the Bucks eventually lost that series in six games). And he also remembers the sting of last season, when the Bucks went home for Game 6 trailing Toronto 3-2 and wound up letting a pair of late leads slip in what became a season-ending loss.

INJURY UPDATE: Getting Smart back was a rare bit of good news for Boston in this injury-marred season, one where the Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night and ultimately lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. Smart hadn’t played in about six weeks after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, but was a clear difference-maker for the Celtics in Game 5.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball