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.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.