NBA Playoffs Suns Blazers Game 6: The clock has run out on Portland's tree of woe

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Nash_playoffs.jpgNo shame here.

Portland shouldn’t hang their heads for a minute, not for a second. They fell 99-90 to the Phoenix Suns and were eliminated from the playoffs, but they gave the world the fight no one thought they had in them. Without Greg Oden, without Joel Przybilla, and without a healthy Brandon Roy (or any Brandon Roy for three games), with an owner battling cancer, a coach with a ruptured Achilles, and a General Manager facing front office turmoil. And they pushed the Suns right to the end.

No shame here.

In a sport that is so often criticized for its lack of dedicated competitors, the Blazers gave us two weeks of unrestrained effort. Brandon Roy came back from knee surgery ten days earlier to try and will his team to victory. They stole Game 1. They just didn’t quite have enough.

How did the Suns do it, in Portland, in front of a raucous crowd, in spite of the emotion in the building? Execution, and the factor no one wants to say about the Suns this season: defense. The Suns pestered, bothered, and contested, running off three pointers while creating and nailing their own. The three ball is a central part of Phoenix’s offense, and the Suns shot 52% from the arc. That buried the Blazers and forced them to play catch-up. Once you enter into that contest with the Suns, you’re playing three-card Monty. And it’s their deck.

The talk going into Game 6 was that the Blazers just had to hold the Suns to under 100. They did. By a point. Unfortunately, the Blazers were unable to convert on their end. Meanwhile, Jared Dudley came in and provided blocks, energy, and huge three pointers. Jason Richardson went off for 28 including several spot-up threes and an alley-oop in the first half that really set the tone.

And down the stretch? Nash. Amar’e. Nash nailed a pull-up three with 2:30 left in the game, then split defenders, drew two more, and dished behind his back to Amar’e for the clean-up dunk. The Suns offense was efficient, sharp, smart, and effective. The Blazers had the effort, had the idea, but failed to execute. Rudy Fernandez had his best game of the series, but still came in with a few bad turnovers and poor shot selection.

The Suns won the rebounding battle and knocked down shots. You do those two things? You’re going to be in good shape.

And by good shape, I mean staring down the barrel of their singular nemesis over the last five years and the team that more than any other has wreaked misery and failure upon their franchise, especially in the brightest of moments and in the most absurd myriad of ways.

But we’ll get to all that later.

For now, let’s celebrate both teams. The Blazers will be back, though the questions now begin as to what the path to the future is, after the path they thought was set became so different. And the Suns have moved on. They may have started the playoffs in a bind, but they have successfully advanced to the second round after missing the playoffs and being a question mark for this year.

Get healthy, Blazers.

Get ready, Suns.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.

Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala questionable for Game 5

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Andre Iguodala missed the Warriors’ Game 4 loss to the Rockets with a leg injury.

It’s not certain he – or Klay Thompson, who played through a knee injury suffered in Game 4 – will be available for Game 5 tomorrow.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Klay Thompson, who suffered a left knee strain during the first half of Game 4, is listed as questionable, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Iguodala missed Game 4 with a left lateral leg contusion and is questionable for Game 5.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Iguodala:

He’s feeling a little better today, and he’s out on the floor. Not doing a whole lot, but making progress.

Kerr on Thompson:

Klay is moving around really well. I think Klay is going to be fine.

That sounds better than “questionable” for Thompson.

The Warriors need one, maybe both, of those two on the court. Golden State’s depth, especially on the wing, is looking shaky.

In Game 4, Golden State outscored Houston by 20 in the 31 minutes Stephen Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green played together. In the in the 17 minutes they played without even one of those stars, the Warriors got outscored by 23. Nick Young, who received more playing time when Thompson left the court area due to his injury, looked particularly overwhelmed.

James Harden‘s defense is a huge bellwether in this series. The Warriors spend a lot of focus trying to exploit him, and if that fails, the shot clock gets low before they move into another action. If Thompson is even just slowed, that’d make it easier for Harden to keep up.