His name is Joakim, he’s carrying the will

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Joakim Noah operates in a weird nexus of over and underrated. His actual consistent play by play work can vary greatly. He drifts in and out of plays and those nights where he simply doesn’t have it happen more often than you’d like. But when he does make an impact, he seems to shift the entire tone of the game. Al Horford, his partner from the Florida championship team, has become an All-Star, while Noah has struggled with injury and even been yanked by Thibs down the stretch a few times. But then there are those games where Noah brings it, as he did in the final two games of the Hawks series (despite Omer Asik and Taj Gibson closing out Game 5), and most notably Game 6 against the Celtics in 2009.

Entering the Conference Finals, Noah is in a prime position to put himself on the map. He can go beyond “that guy with the hair who hates Kevin Garnett” and become the swing player that helped Chicago down the mighty (and villainous, if you’re into terrible narratives) Heat. Because Joakim Noah is the best center in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Noah will be matched up with Chris Bosh defensively for most of this series so that Carlos Boozer never has to do anything resembling defending anyone with offensive capability. We saw how that worked out in the first two rounds. Noah gets the task of bodying up Chris Bosh, which is going to be a pendulum in this series. Whichever oft-questioned, toughness-doubted, franchise-abandoning power forward gets the leg up in this series will provide another offensive weapon to the two top-heavy teams. Noah’s grating, physical style will be geared to get under Bosh’s skin and force him into making bad decisions.

But let’s stop with X’s and O’s and take a look back at the Joakim Noah moment.

That was the most Joakim Noah moment ever, with the only possible exception his legendary speech following the NCAA championship (you should know the one I’m talking about; if you don’t, look it up). Those are the types of plays that define a career, and so far it has defined Noah’s. A ridiculous combination of impeccable timing, explosive energy, and raw emotion. The Bulls need those moments regularly from Noah in this series.

The Bulls aren’t as talented as the Heat. They may be better, overall, especially on the defensive end. But they aren’t as talented. They’ll need to thrive on emotion and use those types of resilient plays. Noah’s like gasoline on the Bulls’ bonfire. Without it, they’re just rubbing kindling together.

Noah’s tireless, and though he often tries to be more versatile than he actually is, he also is capable of making plays that force you to s say “I didn’t know Noah could do that” whether it’s a mid-range jumper, a sweeping hook, or some sort of gangly inside move. He yells like Boozer, only with the actual defensive prowess and effort that would justify it.

Noah’s been in Chicago through the rebuilding process. He’s basically a Rose apostle at this point. He survived a Melo trade scare. He’s a folk hero in Chicago and when/if he blocks LeBron in this series, he’ll have songs written about him and they’ll have to change the Billy Goat to the Noah. The guy who built the arc will be less famous afterwards. Noah’s been succeeding at every level in the face of doubt for years. This is his opportunity to put his big ol’ frazzy haired stamp on the league.

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 figuring things out. 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.

Kevin Love with insane touchdown outlet to LeBron James for bucket

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Not sure what part of this was better.

Was it Kevin Love‘s length-of-the-court outlet touchdown pass that was right on the money, where only the receiver could get it?

Or was it LeBron James, with a catch in a crowd that would make Julio Jones’ draw drop?

Either way, this first quarter bucket from the Cavaliers may well be the play of the game.

Spurs disbanding all-female dance team in favor of co-ed hype team

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Is this the wave of the future?

Since then newly-minted owner Jerry Buss started the Laker Girls’ in 1979, all-female dance teams have become standard around the NBA. However, with how things are now viewed through the prism of the #metoo movement, and reports on how NFL cheerleaders were treated in places such as Washington and Miami, a lot of professional sports teams are re-thinking the concept of female dance teams.

The Spurs are apparently doing away with theirs, to be replaced by a 35-person co-ed “hype team.”

The Spurs have not said officially that this is the end of the Silver Dancers. “Lack of interest” is an odd reason to give — is there suddenly less interest now than there was five years ago? A number of teams have both female dance teams and co-ed “spirit” or “hype” teams.

Far more likely, this is about perception in what is a conservative state and marketplace.

The question is will this become a trend, both around the NBA and professional sports. As the teams try to evolve and make more dynamic their in-arena experiences, are the dance teams going to fade from view?

Just something to keep and eye on going forward.