NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Boston big men will play the bully, will L.A. stand its ground?

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Perkins_Bynum.jpgLet the Phil Jackson mind games begin.

At least he’s gotten smart about how to avoid the fines from David Stern when trying to plant subconscious messages in the mind of the referees. Jackson was talking Monday about Kevin Garnett’s play in the last series and the L.A. Times Mark Medina recorded it.

“He was smacking Howard’s arm and finally he was called for an offensive foul,” Jackson said of Garnett. “That’s not our team. We don’t go out there and smack people around.”

Jackson is trying already to get the refs to call this series tight. Because if the refs allow an MMA fight in the paint, advantage Boston. As Jackson later put it the Lakers big men do not have “a smackdown mentality.” Boston does. Big time.

Two years ago the Celtics front line of Kedrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Glen “Big Baby” Davis did smackdown the Lakers. They’ve since added another big man who has tormented the Lakers in the playoffs, Rasheed Wallace.

Can the finesse group of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum stand up to that this time around?

The Lakers do have some advantages over last time in the toughness department. To start with, Ron Artest is a brick to Vladimir Radmanovic’s tissue paper. No doubt Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are nails.

The Lakers also have Andrew Bynum this time. Two years ago Perkins — a very good defensive center — could body up and push around Pau Gasol. This time, Perkins will have to cover the bigger body of Bynum — and he’s going to be able to largely shut down the Lakers center.

But that makes the Garnett/Gasol matchup a key one in this series. Garnett is physical and thrives on intimidation. Gasol has a reputation for backing down. But this is a different Gasol than two years ago — after that Celtics loss was the first time he hit the gym and weights hard to get stronger.

With that came a new mentality. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register recalls one of the regular matchups between the two teams earlier this season, when the Celtics went right at Gasol hard — and Gasol leaned back in and pushed back hard. It led to a little skirmish where the Gasol and Perkins earned double technicals.

The Lakers also are hoping to see more of the hardened grew-up-in-Queens Odom than the one that disappears for games at a time. Which one shows up, who knows?

The Celtics are sort of in the same boat with Wallace — in the playoffs (with the extra rest between games) he has returned to being a good three-point shooter and a huge boost off the bench. But that’s not who was there in the regular season, when Celtics fans were ready to trade him for a rack of shootaround balls. If the regular season Sheed returns it is trouble. Sheed — because he can hit the three — could play a key role. The Celtics would love to pull the Lakers big men away from protecting the rim on defense, and Sheed’s shooting can do that (as can KG’s midrange game).

We know what the Celtics are going to do. They are going to try to be the bully on the block. The Lakers say they are different this time around. Maybe. But they are going to have to prove it. They are going to be tested on the biggest stage with the hardest hits. If they fold, so do the Lakers chances.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.