Spurs go ice cold, Knicks win big at home

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Against a San Antonio Spurs frontcourt that features two incredibly productive 7-footers in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson had no choice but to go big. It was finally time to provide the answer to all the questions the New York media has been pestering him with. It was time to dust off a player who hasn’t started a game all season. It was time to turn to a guy the Madison Square Garden crowd has a long-standing relationship with. Woodson had to go with…

Marcus Camby.

You weren’t expecting someone else, were you? With all the fuss over who starts and who sits, Woodson played the matchups with 38-year-old Marcus Camby, having Amare Stoudemire come off the bench and shake off the rust in his second game back.

And guess what? It worked beautifully, as the Knicks went big and won big in a 100-83 victory that snapped San Antonio’s seven-game winning streak.

Camby may actually be made of rust at this point, but the guy knows how to defend the basket. Wall him up next to Tyson Chandler, and that’s length that can block out the sun. Although the Knicks offense was a bit gummy with some spacing issues, the defense completely shut down all paths to the basket. Everything was pushed outside, and the Spurs gladly drifted there. As a near 40 percent 3-point shooting team on the year, it didn’t take much convincing.

Problem was, the Spurs couldn’t hit a shot. With absolutely noting falling from the perimeter (9-for-34, 26.5 percent), the Spurs were stymied offensively. But more importantly, on a night they scored just 83 points, only 12 of those came in the paint.

That a really impressive number for the Knicks’ 20th ranked defense. Although the Spurs got quite a few open looks on the perimeter (if you don’t count waitress defense), going with more size shut down any post game from San Antonio. Every trip down for the Spurs seemed to be one-and-done, as they collected a paltry seven offensive rebounds despite all the misses. In an incredibly half court oriented, slow-paced game, the Spurs were deprived of any easy chances at the rim almost entirely.

While Camby, Stoudemire and Chandler may have scored only 22 points in a combined 69 minutes, the beauty of the Knicks roster is that there are very, very defined roles for each player. J.R. Smith (20 points) came in and gave a big boost as a slasher, Pablo Prigioni did an excellent job running the pick-and-roll (9 assists) and creating turnovers, and the Knicks still functioned reasonably well as an offensive unit, even with Carmelo Anthony (23 points) spending a decent amount of time on the perimeter.

Where the game completely turned, however, was when the Knicks went small to start the fourth quarter. It was like the Spurs were playing an entirely different team. Already leading by 9, the Knicks rattled off a 15-2 run that included two Steve Novak 3-pointers to really put the game on ice. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich responded by pulling all his starters, something you get the impression he might have wanted to do anyway with the Spurs playing their fourth game in five nights.

Outside of tonight’s big win, it’s an interesting exercise to look at the Knicks in the scope of a title contender. They play about as well at home as any team in the league. They can shoot themselves into any game. They have a star who can control a game late.

But the big question, of course, is that 20th ranked defense. That’s just not the trait of a title contender, despite everything else that may point you there. There is an awful lot of data that shows you that top-10 defenses in efficiency are the only teams that go on to play for the title. Sometimes the 11th or 12th ranked defense will sneak in, but never the 20th. While it’s hard to imagine Stoudemire helping at all defensively, but Woodson has shown the ability to play matchups pretty well. That may not be enough to allow Jason Kidd to stay with lightning quick guards, for example, but scheme can often hide personnel.

And as the Spurs can attest to tonight, manufacturing and making open threes can do an awful lot for you as well — no matter whether you’re big or small.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dc6OTPU7Ww%5D

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.