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Danny Ainge’s leadership in spotlight as Celtics chase 18th title

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BOSTON (AP) — When you work for the Boston Celtics, there’s no need for daily reminders about your motivations. They’re constantly casting shadows overhead.

“There’s only one goal in Boston,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently said. “There’s 17 banners hanging above us. We only go for one goal here.”

And few people are as keenly aware of that chase as Danny Ainge.

Boston’s front office chief has already been to the NBA’s mountaintop; first as player winning a pair of championships in the 80s and then as the architect of the Big 3 that brought the Celtics their 17th NBA championship in 2008.

He’s since progressed from Kevin Garnett’s triumphant “Anything’s possible” declaration in `08, to believing in the possibilities of the present with a corps of young talent that’s two wins away from returning the franchise to the conference finals for the first time since 2012.

But with the East’s top seed locked in 2-2 tie with Washington, the outcome of this series could go a long way toward affirming the recent moves Ainge has made, or exposing the holes that still exist as his team chases banner No. 18.

Ainge, who has shown willingness to make big moves, stood pat at February’s trade deadline despite holding a wealth of coveted assets. It’s a decision Ainge hasn’t second-guessed.

“Make no mistake that we did try to improve our team,” Ainge said. “But we do have a lot of confidence in our team and the guys that don’t get a chance to play. It doesn’t seem really fair when we have guys that are healthy and that we like and aren’t even getting on the court to bring in other guys just because they’re playing and everyone assumes they’re better.”

After brushing off initial overtures, Ainge was lured back to Boston as the president of basketball operations in 2003 with the endorsement of none other than Celtics’ legend Red Auerbach.

The way Ainge once told the story to a church group, Auerbach called Ainge “the luckiest guy I know” in recommending him to owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca.

While Ainge has acknowledged some fortunate outcomes to get the Celtics back to this point, such as the rise of Isaiah Thomas into an All-Star, there have also been plenty of pivotal moves by Ainge.

One of the league’s most-tenured front office heads, he has recently used that experience to his advantage.

It started with the hiring of Stevens, then just a 37-year-old college coach at Butler, in 2013. That was followed by the trade of Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, which netted the Celtics three first-round picks and the right to swap picks with the Nets this season.

That led to the drafting of rookie Jaylen Brown last summer and a wealth of possibilities with this year’s Brooklyn pick, which has the best odds of being No. 1 overall.

It’s a bargaining chip that only still exists because of Ainge’s decision to not make any trade deadline in each of the last two years.

Though Boston did miss on wooing Kevin Durant to town last summer, it was able to land big man Al Horford, who has since credited Ainge’s vision as one of the major factors that swayed him to sign.

Horford’s addition has not only has provided the Celtics with needed veteran leadership, but he’s been one of the sustaining elements for a group that was able to rally behind Thomas after his sister’s sudden passing on the eve of the playoffs.

“I think that that showed the character of all the players involved,” Ainge said. “I think the first two games (of Chicago series) there was a little bit of a cloud because one of our family was hurting really, really bad…It was like no one knew how to really react to the whole situation. Credit goes to Isaiah, first and foremost, for inspiring his team and the team for fighting for Isaiah.”

TNT analyst and former NBA coach Kevin McHale played alongside Ainge as a player and later saw him in action as an executive. He said while the word patient didn’t used to be one he’d have used to describe his friend, it is one example of how his style has evolved.

McHale said Ainge has also shown a willingness to bring tools like analytics into how he looks at his roster – even if at the end of the day he ultimately still relies on his instincts.

“He’s not a pigeonhole guy,” McHale said. “He uses everything and I think you have to…He has a good eye for grit and toughness. None of that analytics can show that.”

Whether it’s luck or skill, Ainge isn’t waiting for an 18th banner to fall in his lap.

“It’s like being player…You don’t sit around and wait for luck,” Ainge said. “You work your way into having good fortune go your way. You behave and act certain way with integrity and character so that when opportunities present themselves you’re ready.”

 

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.