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David Blatt first coach in a decade fired season after Finals appearance

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David Blatt had the best-ever record ever by a coach fired mid-season, but his success wasn’t a flash in the pan. He also guided the Cavaliers to last season’s NBA Finals.

In that sense, Blatt’s firing is even more surprising.

Blatt obviously had to win more than his peers. That’s the burden of coaching LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and an expensive supporting cast. But Blatt isn’t the first coach to have major talent at his disposal. That’s often enough to win, and winning usually allows a coach to keep his job for a while – especially after reaching the Finals.

Now, Blatt has become just the eighth coach to be forced out within a season of reaching the Finals. The other seven:

2005 Detroit Pistons – Larry Brown

Brown took the Pistons to back-to-back Finals, beating the Lakers in 2004 and losing to the Spurs in 2005. But Detroit became tired of Brown’s job-hunting ways and fired him in the offseason. If the Pistons had waited, they might have avoided this list. It seemed quite possible Brown would resign to coach the Knicks, who did end up hiring him.

Detroit hired Flip Saunders, who reached three conference finals in three seasons but never got further. It was only downhill from there.

2003 New Jersey Nets – Byron Scott

Scott coached the Nets to back-to-back Finals losses when the Eastern Conference was at its weakest. A 22-20 start allowed New Jersey to appease star Jason Kidd, who reportedly wanted Scott gone. (Their relationship hasn’t gotten much better over the years.)

The Nets promoted Lawrence Frank, who never reached the conference finals as the rest of the conference caught up.

1977 Philadelphia 76ers – Gene Shue

In the midst of a season that would end in the 76ers’ first Finals in a decade, owner Fitz Dixon said to Shue after a loss, “What’s your excuse tonight?” Safe to say, Dixon disliked Shue. But it’s tough to fire a coach who just guided a turnaround. So, Dixon waited until three straight losses dropped Philadelphia to 2-4 the next season.

At least Dixon chose well when replacing Shue. Billy Cunningham won nearly 70% of his games in eight seasons coaching the 76ers, and he guided them to the 1983 title.

1969 Los Angeles Lakers – Butch Van Breda Kolff

In Game 7 of the Finals, Wilt Chamberlain benched himself with an injury Van Breda Kolff deemed to be minor. When Chamberlain said he was ready to return, the coach kept his star on the bench. The Lakers lost by two points to the Celtics.

Van Breda Kolff technically resigned to take over the lesser Pistons, but he was forced out according to Steven Travers and Sam Smith. “I didn’t see any foreseeable future there,” Van Breda Kolff said of Los Angeles.

1961 St. Louis Hawks – Paul Seymour

Get ready for several St. Louis Hawks coaches from the era of owner Ben Kerner.

Seymour guided the Hawks to the Finals in his lone full season as their head coach, but a 5-9 start and his reliance on rookie Cleo Hill did him in the next season. Seymour accused veterans Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and Clyde Lovellette of opposing Hill starting. There are mixed accounts whether that was due racism – Hill was black – or established players just not wanting to share the ball with a rookie.

Either way, Andrew Levane and then Pettit finished coaching the Hawks to their only non-playoff season in an 18-year span.

1960 St. Louis Hawks – Ed Macauley

As Macauley told it, Kerner hired Seymour as a replacement coach for the following season when the Hawks lost two straight to fall behind 3-2 in the division finals. But St. Louis rallied to win Games 6 and 7 and even pushed the Celtics to seven games in the NBA Finals.

Macauley accepted his fate and fulfilled his contract as general manager.

1958 St. Louis Hawks – Alex Hannum

Hannum is the only coach on this list fired after winning a championship. Kerner struck again.

Peter Finney of NOLA.com:

Kerner gave Hannum a two-year contract. A year later, he asked for a raise. If he didn’t get one, he said, he’d go to work full time in his sideline, as a carpenter. Kerner fired him.

“He did a great job, but he wasn’t my type of guy, ” Kerner said. “He was hammer and nails. He wasn’t loyal.”

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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As expected, Wesley Matthews says he will pick up $18.6 million option with Mavericks

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Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.

However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.

He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.

Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.

Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.