Shaquille O’Neal announces his retirement

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UPDATE 4:38 pm: Shaq spoke with Jackie McMullin of ESPN Boston and explained his decision. It was all about health.

“I really, really thought about coming back,” he said, “but this Achilles is very damaged and if I had it done the recovery would be so long we’d have same outcome as this last year — everyone sitting around and waiting for me.

“I didn’t want to let people down two years in a row. I didn’t want to hold Boston hostage again.

“I’m letting everybody know now so Danny (Ainge) and the organization can try to get younger talent. I would love to come back, but they say once the Achilles is damaged it’s never the same. I don’t want to take that chance.”

2:58 pm: It’s not a huge surprise, but it is the sad end of an era.

Shaquille O’Neal is retiring.

In a very fitting and low-key way, the guy who always connected with the fans announced it himself on a video sent straight out to those fans through twitter.

“We did it, 19 years baby. I want to thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first, I’m about to retire. Love ya, talk to you soon.”

Shaq played 19 NBA seasons and had hoped to play a 20th, but his body betrayed him this past season. What looked like a routine Achilles and calf injury never healed stretched from February through the end of the playoffs, and he just couldn’t will his body to come back for one more run at one more ring.

It was that body that will have him going down as one of the great centers to ever play the game.

He was 7’1″, 325 pounds, one of the biggest and strongest men in a league of guys who won the genetic lottery. But with that came a quickness of foot, spin moves from his early days that were as good as any big man in the league. He was nimble, period. Let alone for someone who could simply power his way to the basket any time he wanted.

Shaq was the No. 1 overall pick out of LSU in 1992, taken by the fledgling Orlando Magic. He and Penny Hardaway put that franchise on the map, turning an expansion team into one of the most entertaining teams in the league, a team with real stars. They made it all the way to the NBA finals, but were never able to bring the Magic a title.

Then he bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers in a move where you can still see the scars in Orlando. But for Shaq it led to the most memorable moments of his career.

While a tempestuous relationship with Kobe Bryant led to as much drama off the court as on it, the Lakers won three-straight NBA titles from 2000 to 2002. That run included maybe the signature shot of his career, an ally-oop finish off a Bryant pass that was part of a 15-point fourth quarter comeback by the Lakers over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Shaq finally angered Lakers owner Jerry Buss to the point that when it came time to choose between him and Kobe, Shaq was sent to Miami where he teamed up with a young Dwyane Wade. Within a couple years the Miami Heat had a title, Wade leading the way and Shaq accepting a role as the secondary guy (a role his ego never let him accept with Kobe).

There went on to be stints for Shaq in Phoenix, Cleveland and finally Boston as he chased one more ring, one more run at glory. But it was not to be. In part because the body that had been so dominant for so long had started to break down, and that was a process Shaq could not stop.

But through it all, wherever he went, Shaq was loved. In an era of aloof players, he connected with people. He was like a big child still excited to play a game for a living. That’s what and why he is loved. He was an early adopter of twitter. Even last year, when he’d just show up on a park bench in Boston, people would flock to hang out with him.

He finishes with a certain place in the Hall of Fame waiting — He is a four-time NBA champion, a 15-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA finals MVP, an NBA MVP, three-time All-Star MVP. He was the most dominant player of his generation (he would argue ever).

He will be missed. The era has ended.

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.