Game of the night: Where the Bucks didn’t want a shootout with the Lakers

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This was supposed to be strength-on-strength. Los Angeles versus Milwaukee. The League’s best offense so far (the Lakers) versus the best defense so far (the Bucks). The Lakers were scoring 116.7 points per 100 possessions, the Bucks were giving up just 96.9. Something had to give.

The Bucks gave. Not just gave, collapsed. Reverted to the fetal position. They couldn’t stop the Lakers so instead they got in a shootout with the best offense in the league. That ended about like you’d expect.

The Lakers won 117-108 putting up a crazy good 126.9 points per 100 possessions.

The Lakers did that doing what they do every game — getting smart, good looks. Simple clean shots from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, or kick-outs to shooters. Well, all that and the Kobe show.

The Bucks could not stop it. The Lakers got t the rim, they hit 10 of 16 threes. Kobe was posting up and hitting shots on the move, Shannon Brown had 21 off the bench. All the shots were working.

Meanwhile, it was he Lakers defense that really won them the game. The Bucks stayed close bombing threes and hitting difficult shots (Drew Gooden taking deep twos is not a good offensive strategy). Still, that made for an entertaining first half.

The Lakers wasted no time shredding the Bucks vaunted defense. Well, not the Lakers so much as Kobe. From the start you could tell this was one of those games where Kobe was going to do what he wanted when he wanted.

He scored seven of Lakers’ first nine showing all the different ways you can make John Salmons look bad — first came the bucket-and-one beating Salmons down the floor on the break; then Kobe posted him for two; Then he just elevated and knocked down a jumper right over Salmons.

What made this fun early on is the Bucks couldn’t miss either — while Kobe was going Kobe, Brandon Jennings had two threes and one long two. The Bucks hit 5 of 6 early threes, and even Gooden was in on the act bombing from the outside.

The Bucks were just on fire — they shot 76.3% eFG% in the first quarter, 5-7 from three. And they still trailed by three. That’s when you knew where this was headed. When you’re hitting every shot on your wish list and still trail, it’s bad. Milwaukee didn’t want an old-fashioned shootout but they were in one and found a way to lead 59-57 at the half.

Then the Lakers started playing much better defense. The Bucks shot 38 percent in the third quarter, scored just 22 points. They had six turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Lakers just kept being the Lakers. The Bucks focused on stopping Kobe as the second half wore on and he went into facilitator mode. Shannon Brown continued to show the maturity of his game, as he knocked down key threes whenever he wanted. He had 19 in the second half. The Bucks could do nothing about it.

This was a one-off for the Bucks — their defense is better than this, but they hadn’t gone up against player movement, ball movement and shooting like this yet. There are nights when nobody is stopping the Lakers. This was one.

One other note — Andrew Bogut tweaked is bad elbow during the game and admitted that might bother him more for a little while. Bogut was under the Lakers basket and was undercut by Corey Maggette. When Bogut fell he instinctively put his arms down to break the fall. That aggravated the elbow, which Bogut said would hurt tomorrow.

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.