Kendrick Perkins, Scott Brooks unfazed by Suns’ intentional foul strategy

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The Suns’ season has been virtually (if not yet mathematically) finished since at least last Friday’s home loss to the Hornets. But despite the losing of four straight and the fact that the team’s playoff chances have all but officially disappeared, Phoenix had largely battled in each game until the final buzzer was sounded.

That all changed Wednesday night, however, as the Suns faced a 20-point deficit late in the fourth quarter before eventually falling by a final of 116-98 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The fight in Phoenix was palpable for most of the team’s games this season, but things unraveled substantially for the Suns in this one.

Forget the fact that the team went out in a blaze of technical fouls and late-game ejections; whether the referees contributed to that or not, it at least shows that the team still cares about fighting for its reaming games, however few there may be. But the strategy to intentionally foul the Thunder’s worst free-throw shooter, when trailing by 15 points with under five minutes remaining? Well, that just seemed pathetic.

That’s exactly what the Suns decided to do, however, with 4:55 left in the game and the Thunder leading 97-82. Jared Dudley reluctantly wrapped up Kendrick Perkins far, far away from the ball to commit an intentional foul, and send Perkins — a career 59.9 percent foul shooter, and just a 36.8 percent shooter with the Thunder — to the line.

It was embarrassing to watch the Suns resort to these tactics, especially with the odds being stacked so highly against them making a comeback, even if Perkins missed plenty of free throws. Jared Dudley, who was the first of three players to wrap up Perkins away from the ball per his coach’s orders, wasn’t exactly excited by the strategy, but seemed willing to try it because nothing else was working.

“I just do what the coaches say,” Dudley said. “Obviously that’s something that he wanted to do (or) to try and at that time, what do you want to try? We tried zone, we tried man. I think frustration might have set in a little bit. (Perkins) made a couple and I think the game was probably over by then, so you just try to do something new and just see. Typically, I don’t think players like to do it, but hey — if it works sometimes, then you try it.”

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks was fine with the strategy, but near the end of his comments made it clear that it wasn’t his preferred way of doing business.

“I’m comfortable with any of our guys shooting free throws,” Brooks said. “We work on it every day. Guys have a lot of confidence, and I have confidence in them. It’s good for us, we’re going to step up and make those shots. They’re free, and it puts a lot of pressure on them because now they have to score.

“You can’t give up free shots; a foul is not a good defense in my book. But that’s not my decision to make, and I like the fact that Perk went up there and knocked them in.”

Perkins hit five of his six free throw attempts when the Suns went to this strategy, and told Pro Basketball Talk afterward that if he were in the Suns’ situation, he probably would have done the same thing.

“(Shoot), I would too if I was them,” Perkins said. “Yeah, the way I’ve been struggling from the line, it’s the best chance for them to get back in the game. But I’ve got to take it upon myself, step up and hit the free throws, and just go from there. I probably would have done the same thing.”

PBT Extra: NBA Mock Draft Top 10

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DeAndre Ayton is going to go No. 1 in the upcoming NBA Draft. After that, things get interesting: Will the Kings take European sensation Luka Doncic, or are they tempted by the scoring potential of Marvin Bagley III. Where does Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson fit into all of this?

Recently, myself and College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster sat down and did an NBA Mock Draft. This is our Top 10.

We have Ayton going first to Phoenix. Yes, the new Suns’ coach Igor Kokoskov is the Serbian national team coach and knows Doncic well, but Ayton is more likely to be a franchise-changing player, and no GM can afford to leave that kind of player on the table.

We have the Kings’ taking Doncic second, although that is no guarantee. The Kings need help everywhere but the guard spots, and Doncic as a playmaking three makes sense, but then so would Bagley as a big who can score (the bigs the Kings have drafted have not panned out as hoped). That has us sending Bagley to the Hawks at three, but Jackson and Mohamed Bamba could be in play.

Check out the video above to see our mock draft Top 10.

You can see the entire first round picks here.

And if you really want to nerd out on the draft, Dauster and I did a two-hour, two-part podcast where we made these mock draft picks. Check them out.

Al Horford had to tell Aron Baynes to take the ball to the basket (VIDEO)

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Boston’s Aron Baynes has seen his minutes increase the past couple of games of the Eastern Conference Finals as Brad Stevens tries to match up better with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.

Baynes is a solid big man who can step out and hit a three, but he’s not exactly blessed with the offensive gene — he’s no natural scorer. Sometimes it’s not even clear he knows where the basket is.

Such as on this fourth quarter play from Monday night, where Al Horford has to point Baynes to the rim and tell him to go there.

It worked. This time.

Baynes, Horford and the Celtics made things interesting in the second half, but could not overcome their early deficits and lost Game 4 to the Cavaliers 111-102, tying the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

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For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter, LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

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Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team finding their footing on a big stage on the road. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

LeBron James passes Kareem to become all-time leader in playoff made field goals

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LeBron James is already the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, having passed Michael Jordan last postseason.

However, LeBron racked up his buckets in the era of the three-point shot (as did Jordan, to a lesser extent), so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time leader in field goals made in the postseason. A lot of them beautiful skyhooks that still give Celtics fans nightmares.

Monday night, LeBron made history passing Abdul-Jabar for the top spot in NBA playoff made field goals.

Just add that to the already insane resume.