Houston Rockets  v Indiana Pacers

The Extra Pass: Three things you think about Danny Granger that are wrong

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In his second game back Sunday, Danny Granger looked good.

After battling knee issues that kept him out almost all of last season and most of this one, Granger returned the Pacers lineup this weekend. Sunday against the Celtics he looked like the guy the Pacers are hoping he will be off the bench — 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, running to the arc and fearless to take the shot.

There are questions about how Granger will work out over time, legitimate ones. But there seem to be a lot of misconceptions, too. Here are three things people just seem to get wrong.

1) “He can’t play with Paul George.” Granger entered Sunday’s game with 4:58 left in the first quarter (replacing Lance Stephenson) and the Pacers promptly went on an 8-0 run with Granger and George on the floor. So far through two games, they are a +1 together (the obligatory small sample size warning goes here).

But here’s where this old myth they can’t play together falls apart: It assumes that Granger is going to want the ball in his hands to run isolations and create for others. Yes, he used to be the focal point of the offense, but he’s not that guy anymore and he knows it — through two games he is working off the ball, finding his spot at the arc (he’s a career 38.3 percent from three) and fitting in well, thank you very much. He’ll be a volume shooter off the bench now and has accepted that role. He’s not going to take the ball out of George’s hands.

2) “He’s a $14 million expiring contract, the Pacers are going to trade him.” You’re thinking like it’s the old CBA. The value of expiring contracts are down (look at the trade deadline last year) and it’s hard to move a big deal like his. It’s not that the Pacers won’t listen to offers, but Larry Bird said he’s not looking to move him. Indiana wants to make a run at a title and Granger as a shooter off the bench helps them do that, it gives Frank Vogel a rock solid 9 man rotation he can lean on in the playoffs. Why not keep him around, make a title run then let the $14 million come straight off the books? That’s always been the most likely scenario.

3) “Granger can’t play defense like Indiana wants.” He’s actually always been a better defender, especially one-on-one, than he has gotten credit for. He’s solid in his help rotations. Granted, coming off a major knee injury he may not move the same way, but playing with the second unit (and with Roy Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi behind him) he doesn’t have to. Just be solid. Granger can do that.

The bottom line is this: Granger is back and the Pacers just got considerably better. Which is scary for the rest of the league.

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Pacers 106, Celtics 79: Indiana’s defense controlled this one, forcing Boston to take midrange jumper after midrange jumper, then contested them. The result was a Celtics team that shot just 38.1 percent for the night. Indiana took control with a 24-5 run in the second quarter and never looked back. It was a laugher. Paul George had 24 points, Lance Stephenson had a triple-double with 12 points 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Raptors 104, Thunder 98: After a rusty first half — a hangover from the Spurs game — the Thunder seemed to figure it all out in the third and after a 14-0 run were up 11. We knew how this was going to end, right? Wrong. The Thunder went back to sloppy play, John Salmons had 9 points in the fourth (14 for the game) and the Raptors closed the game on a 6-0 run to win. Kyle Lowry had 22 points to lead the Raptors. Look at it this way, the Raptors shot 39.6 percent on the night, the Thunder 36.8 percent. It wasn’t pretty.

Clippers 120, Timberwolves 116 (OT): Minnesota keeps losing games like this. However, this one really had to sting. The Timberwolves big men dominated the Clippers front line — Kevin Love had 45 points and 19 rebounds, Nikola Pekovic added 34. Yet Minnesota couldn’t shake the Clippers, who got 32 points and 10 rebounds from Blake Griffin. Still, Minnesota was up two and had the ball with 8 seconds. All they had to do was inbound and hit free throws. They inbounded into the backcourt to their best free throw shooter, Kevin Martin, who slipped a little then got stripped by Chris Paul, who fed Jamal Crawford for a layup and we were headed to OT. In the extra period Chris Paul had 9 points, dominated and you see the final score. Minnesota should feel sick about this one.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.