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Celtics’ coach knows the difference in this series: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

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For 24 minutes Tuesday night, Boston showed Game 3 was not a fluke.

“I thought we played as well as we have played these entire playoffs in the first half,” Celtics coach Brad Steven said. “We were really good defensively. Offensively I thought we moved, and cut, and played together.

“Then, for whatever reason, all those things became a little bit more difficult. That’s what great teams do, they make it really hard on you.”

Whatever reason? What was the difference in this game?

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, would be your two answers,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

Those two Cleveland All-Stars took over Game 4 Tuesday night for stretches — Irving in the third when he had 21, LeBron in the fourth — and for the game they combined for 76 points on 49 shots.

LeBron and Irving were they reason Cleveland won Game 4 Tuesday night, and they have been the difference in this series — Boston is a good team, but the Cavaliers have the two best players in this series (one could argue Kevin Love makes three) and the Celtics have no answer.

The Cavaliers are a championship team. However, they are not one that is not about the system, not one where their success is about franchise culture.

The Cavaliers are great because they have one of the game’s all-time great players, surrounded by a couple other All-Stars. They thrive by forcing teams to switch mismatches then going at right at them — Irving and LeBron were sixth and seventh in the NBA this season in percentage of isolation plays for them. Cleveland doesn’t run a motion offense like the Golden State team it will see in the finals, the Cavaliers are simple but efficient.

The mindset is straightforward: We have the better players, just try to stop us.

Boston had little success in this series playing that way — when Isaiah Thomas tried to pick apart the athletic Cavaliers defenders off the pick-and-roll both he and the Celtics struggled. Thomas had an offensive rating of 83 points per 100 possessions in this series before he was sidelined with an injury.

Without him, Boston had to rely on a more balanced, egalitarian offense — move the ball, move without the ball, find the open man, and trust him. The Celtics’ improved defense without Thomas was forcing more turnovers, and the Celtics were gang rebounding well. The result was a 123.4 points per 100 offensive rating in Game 3, then a decent 106.7 in Game 4 (despite the rough second half).

It just wasn’t enough.

Because the Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Two of the elite players in the NBA.

And in the NBA, talent wins out.

Manu Ginobili’s uncertain future has Spurs fans feeling anxious

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Manu Ginobili was swept away by the emotions of a sold-out home crowd serenading him with chants of “Manu, Manu” and rising as one for a standing ovation in the closing minutes of the Western Conference Finals.

Spurs fans were saying goodbye, but did not want to let go of the star who helped San Antonio win four of its five NBA Championships with his dynamic play.

“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “Yea, I don’t have a lot of words to describe it, but of course it makes you feel really well. Feeling that type of appreciation, love, respect. … When it happens in a situation like that and you receive all of that without expecting it, it shakes your world a little bit.”

The emotional outpouring led Ginobili to make a startling revelation to friend and teammate Patty Mills as they sat on the bench.

He had no idea what all the fuss was about.

“It felt like they wanted me to retire,” Ginobili said with a smile. “Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I’m getting closer and closer. There is no secret, for sure. It’s getting harder and harder, but I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels.”

San Antonio’s highly passionate fan base does not want Ginobili to retire. The fans simply wanted to show their appreciation because they are unsure if their beloved star will return next season. The Spurs also aren’t sure.

“If he decides he’s going to play again, that’s up to him,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “I won’t try to convince him one way or the other. I don’t think he needs that.”

Ginobili’s uncertain future is one of many questions the Spurs are awaiting answers on this offseason.

San Antonio’s season came to an abrupt end when they were swept by Golden State in the conference finals. The Warriors became the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0 after defeating the Spurs 122-108 on Monday night in Game 4.

Still, San Antonio’s first season in 20 years without franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan was a success. The Spurs captured their second straight Southwest Division title and earned their 20th straight playoff appearance.

“If you have half a brain, you put things in perspective,” Popovich said. “For the first year without Timmy’s leadership and a lot of new players, these guys got it together to win 61 games and just got better and better as the playoffs proceeded and we were basically on a pretty good roll starting Game 1 at Golden State. Some bad fortune which happens to all of us at some point in our lives and we don’t get to be the last team standing. But when I think about what they accomplished, they deserve a lot of credit.”

The Warriors outscored the Spurs by 85 points in the series after Kawhi Leonard suffered a sprained ankle in Game 1 with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 78-55.

Leonard will be fine after some rest and rehabilitation. Forward David Lee is also expected to return after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Game 3 against the Warriors. Tony Parker is expected to be out at least eight months after suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon against Houston in Game 2 of the West semifinals.

Healing LaMarcus Aldridge‘s psyche could be trickier. The 6-foot-11 forward struggled in the postseason, especially against Golden State. Aldridge was twice held to eight points in the conference finals, including a 7-for-17 effort in Game 4.

Popovich isn’t worried.

“Not having Tony and Kawhi, it takes away our two best creators,” Popovich said. “They create a lot for our team. If one of the other scorers is left on his own like L.A. and he gets doubled and the playoffs get more physical, then you have to find scoring elsewhere and we had a problem doing that.”

The Spurs do not have any existing cap space to add players, but do have eight potential free agents that could impact that.

Lee, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon all have player options while Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons are unrestricted free agents. Keeping Simmons may be difficult after his star turn in the playoffs, especially once Leonard went down.

“We value all the guys that are going to be free agents,” Popovich said. “R.C. and I will sit down and put together a plan and priorities and that sort of thing, it’s no different than any other year.”

Ginobili is a free agent, but is expected to return to the Spurs if he does not retire.

The question is, does he want to.

The 39-year-old rebounded from four straight scoreless games against Memphis in the opening round to provide San Antonio with a needed boost. He finished with 15 points in a frenzied 32 minutes in Game 4 against Golden State.

“I do feel like I can still play, but that’s not way is going to make me retire or not,” Ginobili said. “It’s about how I feel.”

Unsure of what that decision is, Popovich made sure Ginobili understood what he has meant to the Spurs and their fans. Ginobili started and was taken out of the game with two minutes remaining to huge applause.

“I’m really happy we did what we did last night for him,” Popovich said. “I think he really was moved by it. He deserved it and it worked out wonderfully.”

 

Report: Knicks would like to revisit Ricky Rubio trade talks, eyeing free agents such as P.J. Tucker

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The Knicks need a whole lot of things this summer — starting with someone who would give them anything of value for Carmelo Anthony (they may well strike out there) — but at the top of the list should be getting players who can defend. That’s the end of the floor where they had the biggest issues last season (they were 25th in the league).

One way to do that, revisit the Ricky Rubio trade discussions they had near the trade deadline. Ian Begley of ESPN said some in the Knicks camp hope to do that.

Some in the organization were hopeful after the trade deadline that they could revisit their attempts to acquire Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason, per sources. It’s unclear if that interest remains, but Rubio would fit the mold of a two-way contributor.

Rubio found his shot after the All-Star break and played some of the best basketball of his career during that stretch. Combine that with the fact Kris Dunn struggled mightily as a rookie, and it’s hard to see why Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves would want to move the only quality point guard on their roster. If they do, the price will be too steep for the Knicks to afford.

On the free agent side, they reportedly have an interest in physical defender P.J. Tucker, among others.

The club has preliminary interest in veteran free agent P.J. Tucker, per league sources. Jeff Hornacek coached Tucker in Phoenix and praised him last season as a strong locker-room leader and intense defender. Tucker shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc last season, including a 40 percent clip after being traded to the Toronto Raptors.

New York has also shown preliminary interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward and free-agent-to-be Dante Cunningham, per sources.

Tucker is an interesting fit, but he’s going to have other suitors as well.

Whatever Phil Jackson and the front office do this summer, they need to do it better than the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah signings of last summer. There is some pressure on Jackson to get things right this time around.

Reports: Miami Heat, Chris Bosh have (or near) agreement removing him from roster, allowing comeback

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Chris Bosh is never going to suit up for the Miami Heat again. A blood clotting issue that sidelined him a couple of seasons back never fully went away and Miami doctors would not clear him last season.

He may never play in the NBA again, but his max contract is an anchor on the Heat’s effort to rebuild. Miami can waive him and apply for an injury hardship to get his salary taken off its cap (Bosh would still get paid, the contract is guaranteed, but it just wouldn’t count against the cap). The concern for Miami was a comeback — under the current NBA rules, if Bosh played 25 games for any other team, his full salary would come back onto their books.

Miami officials and Bosh’s representatives have repaired their relationship, and the two sides — working with the NBA and the players’ union — have an agreement on a deal, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Chris Bosh has told family members that an agreement has been struck among the NBA, the Heat, the union and himself for Bosh to part ways with the Heat at some point in the coming weeks, with the Heat receiving maximum cap relief, an NBA-employed source said in early May and reiterated Tuesday.

There are still details to be worked out so nothing is final, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel. He also does a good job explaining the deal.

Under the CBA in place until June 30, a return to the league by Bosh could have reinstated his salary-cap hit to the Heat’s ledger over the remaining term of his contract, which expires after the 2018-19 season. However, under the CBA that goes into place July 1, once a medical panel comes to an agreement that it no longer considered safe for Bosh to continue his career, there no longer is the risk of Bosh’s cap charge or luxury-tax hit returning to the Heat’s book.

The approach with Bosh, 33, from the league and union apparently is a one-time allocation, with Bosh in the midst of a preexisting condition amid the transition to the incoming work rules.

That seems fair. It lets Miami off the financial hook if he does return, and just as importantly for the team, it gives them financial flexibility going into the draft and free agency — if they want to chase Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or someone else, they have the room and no fear of a financial bombshell landing on them.

On the other side, it makes it possible for Bosh to return to the NBA if he wishes.  And if he can get cleared medically (which may be difficult, but the people around him say is not impossible).

The question for Bosh is how much he wants to come back at this age — it’s not about the money, he’s got a lot of that now. But it takes a lot of work to get back into NBA shape and prepare his aging body for another marathon of an NBA campaign. After time off, hanging out with his young family and pursuing his diverse other interests, does he want another go at the NBA or is he ready to move on? Only Bosh can answer that, and there isn’t a wrong answer.

 

Interesting video: Every LeBron James paint bucket in the 2017 playoffs

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Yes, the video is a little long, more than eight minutes. Have you watched LeBron James these playoffs?

LeBron has been the best player in the postseason and one of the reasons — along with his hitting threes and great passing — has been how often he got into the paint and scored buckets. He has taken advantages of mismatches (and there may be only one defender in the league who is not a mismatch) and attacked the rim, getting into the paint and finishing impressively.

JM Poulard, who has written for a number of good NBA blogs over the years, compiled this video and it’s interesting to watch. Both in terms of how LeBron is getting his buckets inside, and to just marvel at the greatest player of his generation.