Three Stars of the Night: Two stars are born, and another just changes systems

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Long live oddly polarizing facial hair! You wear that neckbeard with pride tonight, loyal reader, and come check out the three best individual performances from Wednesday’s great slate of games.

Third Star: Anthony Davis – 21 points, 7 rebounds

It’s rare for a rookie to just look like he belongs. Usually they have flashes, but Davis sustained a high level of play throughout his 29 minutes, displaying some nice scoring instincts and a soft touch at the free throw line. We know Davis is a great fit with defensive guru Monty Williams, but with Eric Gordon out indefinitely, it will be interesting to see how Williams features Davis offensively. As soon as he gets a more explosive guard to run pick-and-rolls with, Davis could be putting up big points on the regular.

Second Star: Damian Lillard – 23 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds

Damian Lillard joins Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson as the only players to hit 20 points and 10 assists in their NBA debut. Not bad. Beating the Lakers after everyone expected them to bounce back from their opening night debacle? Even better. Lillard is an explosive, scoring point guard that’s a little reminiscent of Steve Francis – he can dive into the lane and finish in traffic, and he can step out and stroke it from distance. For a rookie to lead his team to a 116 point showing in his first game while the best defensive player on the planet is patrolling the paint is probably worthy of a first star…but there can only be one.

First Star: James Harden – 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals 14-25 FG

Let’s empathize with Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti for a minute here. Sam, this is like the ex-girlfriend who turns into a supermodel after you break it off. Sure, you got a few good years out of the relationship – but you’re not getting the prime years. That ship has sailed. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kick yourself over it. All you had to do was get her a prescription for contacts…err…give him more shots!

Harden is and always was one of the game’s most efficient and most effective scorers. Prior to tonight, Harden had never attempted more than 17 field goals in a game. Oh, and in that 17 field goal attempt game? He dropped 40. That said, it’s not all that surprising that Harden was unstoppable in his debut as the number one option, as he navigated the pick-and-roll beautifully to an impressive 37-point, 12-assist performance. In 25 seasons, only Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Dwyane Wade have put up at least 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and one blocked shot in a game. Harden has always been this good – now we just get to see more of it.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.