The Celtics can beat the Cavs. If everything breaks their way.

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The Celtics can too beat the Cavaliers.

If Ray Allen is on fire from three. If LeBron James makes a bad decision with the game on the line and goes for the win, then misses a PUJIT three. If the Cleveland coach gets ejected. If Rajon Rondo can keep his turnovers down. If Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t play. If the game is in Boston. If the Celtics can make the key plays to hold on at the end after being up by 21 in the third.

Sure, they can do that four out of seven in the second round. Don’t see the problem.

That was a fun game to watch. At this point in the season, when so many teams are mailing it in, it’s great to see a game that foreshadows the playoffs. Except that in literature, foreshadowing hints at a potential outcome. As Matt Moore told us before, this result said nothing about the outcome of a series between these two.

For three quarters, it was that kind of game for Cleveland. When JJ Hickson just swatted a Kendrick Perkins shot inside, the ball went right to Ray Allen standing alone at the three-point line. Nylon.

Where Atlanta could not match the runs Cleveland would make the other night, for three quarters the Celtics looked like the veteran team with a counterpunch. And Cleveland looked flat. Mike Brown tried to fire up his team with the worst acting job ever in getting tossed from the game in the third quarter. Razzie bad.

(Hey Can we start giving those away for the NBA? Worst flop, worst acting job by a coach, worst effort by a team to pretend like they cared the last two weeks of the season (we want the Knicks to win something).

Then Cleveland got focused. They outscored Boston by 13 in the third, after trimming the lead in the third. LeBron turned into the unstoppable force that he is. Cleveland started defending and rebounding like they can when focused.

The key may have been when LeBron made an Adam Morrison quality decision. Down just two with less than 20 seconds left after Kendrick Perkins reminded us why to foul him with the game on the line, LeBron had the chance on the fast break to drive and get the tie on a layup (and try to draw the and-one). Instead he went for the Kobesque game wining three.

LeBron – be yourself. He missed it.

Celtics win. Good win. They held on by the hair of their chinny chin chin. But it’s a win. Doesn’t change what would happen over seven games in the second round.

Paul George: I would have signed with Lakers if Pacers didn’t trade me to Thunder

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Paul George didn’t request a trade from the Pacers. He merely informed them he’d leave in free agency and told people he’d sign with the Lakers, leaving it up to Indiana what to do about it.

The Pacers traded him to Oklahoma City, where George found a long-term home. He re-signed with the Thunder this summer.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

Paul George revealed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that he “would have been in a Lakers uniform” if he had never been traded from the Indiana Pacers. But after the Pacers dealt the five-time All-Star to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead last year, he fell in love with his new team and playing with Russell Westbrook before eventually agreeing to a four-year, $137 million contract extension this past offseason.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Even while with the Thunder, George spoke openly about the appeal of Los Angeles. Despite not meeting with the Lakers in free agency, he still called them tempting. He’s mostly just confirming what we already believed.

Remember, the Lakers could have traded for George last year. Instead, they banked on getting him without surrendering assets, and that gambit failed. Importantly, they still lured LeBron James, but they’re still searching for a second star.

This ought to reopen questions about whether the Lakers erred by not trading for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard reportedly has interest in Los Angeles (though maybe more in the Clippers), but the Lakers watched the Spurs trade him to the Raptors. Will Leonard similarly fall for Toronto and spurn his hometown team?

It’d be a mistake to assume Leonard will follow the path of George, who’s a completely different person. But it’d also be a mistake not to evaluate the precedent set by George and learn from it.

Pistons play recording of Aretha Franklin’s national anthem while spotlighting open microphone at center court (video)

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Pistons legend Isiah Thomas eulogized Aretha Franklin – a proud Detroit native – last summer and concluded with a message to the deceased singer:

I want you to know, I love you. The world loves you. And most importantly, Aretha, Detroit loves you.

Detroit showed its love for Aretha before the Pistons’ opener yesterday. Thomas again spoke kindly of her then asked for a moment of silence. The arena went dark and quiet.

Then, a spotlight shined on an unattended microphone at center court as a recording of Aretha’s national anthem played. While this video shows the powerful rendition of the song, by focusing on the images of Aretha shown on the scoreboard, it doesn’t even capture the full feeling of the moment.

Seeing that open spotlighted microphone throughout the entire anthem was hauntingly beautiful and a great tribute to the Queen of Soul.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.