Barea, Cardinal replace Stevenson, Stojakovic in Maverick rotation

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According to HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy, J.J. Barea will start over DeShawn Stevenson for the Mavericks in tonight’s Game 4, and Brian “The Janitor” Cardinal will be moved ahead of Peja Stojakovic in the Mavericks’ rotation.

At first blush, this move does not appear to make a lot of sense. Stevenson has been quietly having a pretty good Finals. He’s defended both Wade and James fairly well (he seems particularly adept at taking James, who still seems to hate Stevenson, out of his game), and has averaged an efficient six points a game while making two-thirds of his three-pointers.

Barea, meanwhile, has loudly been having a terrible, terrible series. He’s averaging 4.3 points, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 turnovers per game, and has shot 21.7% from the floor and 12.5% from the three-point line. And he hasn’t exactly been making up for it on the defensive end.

Still, there are some possible motivations for Carlisle’s decision here. Stevenson is an efficient scorer, but his offensive game is entirely based around catching and shooting — as ineffective as Barea has been, he forces the defense to move and pay attention to him by constantly dribbling around the perimeter, working pick-and-rolls, darting into the paint, and pulling up for threes if he gets any space.

Miami now has two choices regarding their starting backcourt — take their chances with the glacial Mike Bibby chasing Barea around, or force Wade to expend far more energy on defense than he has when he’s been guarding Stevenson. Kidd, who will be guarding Wade to start the game, isn’t as good of a defender as Stevenson is, but Carlisle may be betting that the best way to slow Wade down on offense is to make him work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Cardinal over Stojakovic decision is easier to make — Peja’s only real NBA skill at this point is shooting, and he hasn’t been making shots, having made a grand total of one field goal and zero threes through the first three games of the Finals. Cardinal isn’t as good of a scorer as Peja is when he’s on, but he can stretch the floor well enough himself and earned the nickname “The Janitor” during his breakout year in Golden State for his blue-collar style of play. (Also, he kind of looks like a janitor.)

As Dirk Nowitzki mentioned after Game 3, Game 4 is virtually a must-win game for the Mavericks — if they lose, they’ll have to win three games in a row to win the finals, with the final two of those games coming in Miami. The fact of the matter is that Miami has outplayed Dallas fairly handily through the first three games of the series, and is one historic collapse away from being up 3-0, so a shakeup from Carlisle shouldn’t really have come out of left field.

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.