NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Pierce comes alive as Celtics even series

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In game four, the stifling defense of the Boston Celtics was once again able to keep the Lakers from doing what they wanted to do on the offensive end.

For the second game in a row, the Lakers had trouble establishing their post game (Bynum being limited to 12 minutes certainly contributed to this), and the Lakers had all sorts of trouble swinging the ball and making clean passes when the Celtics trapped their ballhandlers.

For the second game in a row, the Laker offense was almost entirely dependent on Kobe Bryant throwing up deep, contested jumpers from the perimeter. Because Kobe is Kobe, he was able to have a solid game, managing to fling in 33 points and shooting 6-11 from beyond the arc.

However, Kobe turned the ball over seven times and didn’t get one basket at the rim all game — Kobe managed to make something out of nothing a few times thanks to pure talent and skill, but he was never able to get the Laker offense going the way he wanted to. 

The Celtics were able to contain the Laker offense in game three as well, but thanks to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combining to go 5-25 from the field, Boston failed to take advantage of Kobe and the Lakers faltering on offense. Pierce and Allen didn’t exactly look like world-beaters on Thursday night, but they managed to do enough to get Boston a 96-89 win and even the series at two games apiece.
Pierce and Allen started the game off strong; Allen got a transition layup a minute into the game to break his horrifying field-goal drought, and Pierce scored or assisted on five of Boston’s first six field goals. Allen certainly didn’t have a great game, finishing with only 12 points and one assist, but he wasn’t a liability, and he made some shots that should give him some confidence going into game five. 
Allen playing like he actually knew what he was doing out there kept the Celtics competitive. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson’s energy off the bench gave the Celtics the lead. And Paul Pierce playing like the Captain of an NBA Finals team sealed the deal for the Celtics. 
After the Lakers cut the lead to six points with 2:50 remaining in the game and Kobe starting to get that look, Kevin Garnett grabbed a Ray Allen miss and allowed Pierce to re-set the offense. Pierce ran the clock, made his move, went to his favorite spot on the floor (the right elbow), elevated, and drained his signature step-back jumper to put the Celtics up eight. After Kobe answered with a fadeaway of his own, Pierce made a (controversial) and-1 to put the Celtics up by nine with 1:16 to play. After that, a Rajon Rondo steal and layup all but sealed the game for Boston. 
Paul Pierce certainly isn’t the fastest player in these finals. He’s strong, but not overpowering. He’s a good shooter, but he needs time and space to get a deep jumper off. More than any other “superstar” in these finals, Pierce is capable of being a relative non-factor for long stretches of time. Pierce likely knows all of that. He also knows that if he can get himself his second ring and the Celtics their 18th banner, it won’t matter whether he averaged 30 points per game or 3 points per game in the finals. 
With two Hall-Of-Famers and one other all-star in the Boston starting lineup, Pierce’s job isn’t to be the best player on the floor. His job is to grab that one extra loose ball, draw that one extra foul, make that one extra step-back that the Celtics his team needs him to get. On Thursday night, Pierce was able to do just that. If he can do just enough two more times, he’ll officially enter his name into Celtics lore. 

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).