NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 1: Elbow this

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Thumbnail image for Williams_Pierce.jpgEverything was going so well for Boston. Shaq missing chippies. Rajon Rondo dominating. Kendrick Perkins protecting inside. Kevin Garnett playing as well as he has this season. A lead, in Cleveland, and just a quarter and a half to close. Plus, LeBron’s elbow was making him timid.

Elbow this.

(Click here to see PBT’s first half analysis.)

Following  a Mo Williams posterization of Paul Pierce in the third quarter, the Celtics were never the same. The Cavs went on to outscore 58-39 in the second half and win Game 1 in Cleveland 101-93 to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And with the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James did what makes him LeBron James, and the MVP. Whether you believe he was injured or not, and some people in Boston do not think so, James’ performance down the stretch was sublime.

James drove inside past multiple defenders, forced the issue, and when the call didn’t come, collected his own offensive rebound and scored the putback. James followed it up with a dagger pull-up three that ended any doubt of the outcome. James didn’t settle for a pull-up crossover mid-range jumper when he needed to drive, and with the surge of momentum, he buried the Celtics in a game they are going to wonder how they managed to drop it. This after a first half in which he took only two jump shots and seemed considerably intimidated by the bruised and strained elbow he’s currently dealing with, and which he had wrapped in a more heavily padded sleeve tonight.

The Celtics played superbly for two and a half quarters, and then following the Mo Williams dunk, everything changed. Williams went nova, nailing threes and jumpers and leaners, playing from mid-range how Rondo had played previously. Rondo, saddled with four fouls, was sent to the bench, and the ensuing lack of focus from the C’s allowed the run to get the Celtics back in the driver’s seat.

Going forward, there are tons of questions on both sides. The Cavs can’t expect to win this series if Rajon Rondo is going to carve them up like he did for most of the game. Rondo was able to get to the basket whenever he wanted, and often he simply drew the defense in and made smart pass after smart pass. 27 points, 12 assists, and 6 rebounds for Rondo, in a loss? That’s crushing. But it also means that the Cavs are going to have to do some serious work on how they’re going to contain him, because winning with Rondo doing that is unlikely again.

They’re also going to have to look at how to better defend Kevin Garnett. Garnett’s 9-20 line could very easily have been 11-20 or better, and he was able to move around Anderson Varejao and over Antawn Jamison. They’ll need to consider a double in certain situations and when it’s an acceptable risk (read: when Ray Allen is not in the game).

For the Celtics? Where to begin?

James… what are you going to do? If he just dropped 35, 7, 7, 3, and 2 with an injured elbow, it may take an act of God to stop him, and at this point, we’re not sure that’ll do the trick. But they can’t allow Mo Williams to take over a game like that. Tony Allen needs more time if Rondo is in foul trouble, but really, Rondo can’t get in foul trouble. The Celtics had this game and they let it get out of hand. They simply ran out of the extra effort down the stretch. For two and a half quarters, they looked like all that old talk was silly. At the end, they looked more like a Weezer than the dudes that sing “Island in the Sun” (hey-hey).

Additionally, Shaquille O’Neal’s putback down low late in the game showed that by resting O’Neal, they were able to wear out the C’s to a point where Shaq’s size made an impact. The Celtics are going to need more from Shelden Williams and Rasheed Wallace to prevent that from happening. And don’t even get us started on Paul Pierce’s defense down the stretch, which allowed the James three among other plays.

So now both teams will make adjustments, James’ elbow will heal a bit more, and the Celtics will try to move on from a huge opportunity that got away.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.