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Three things we learned Sunday: Amid trade rumors ‘Melo is brilliant, but Knicks still lose

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Sunday you were probably busy playing reggae music for your dog — you certainly weren’t watching the Pro Bowl — so here is what you missed around the NBA while all that was happening.

1) The frustration builds: Carmelo Anthony is fantastic scoring 45 for Knicks, but they still fall in 4 overtimes to Hawks. Phil Jackson apparently is so set on trading Carmelo Anthony that he may be willing to take Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and whatever flotsam from the Clippers it takes to make the salary numbers work out, then Jackson doesn’t want to keep Crawford. (Not that Jackson is wrong in wanting to retool around Kristaps Porzingis, but why wasn’t this the drive last summer when every Knicks fan and most around the NBA were thinking they should go down that road? Now the Knicks are looking at bad deals just to get it done fast. Amazing.) No doubt Porzingis is the future in NYC, and Sunday was making plays like this against Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks.

But it was Carmelo Anthony who the Knicks best player on Sunday — he put aside the off-court distractions and played like Olympic ‘Melo. It was a veteran, professional performance. It just wasn’t enough as the Knicks fell in quadruple overtime 142-139.

Anthony came out scorching hot with 17 first quarter points on just 11 shots, and he still had it at the end with 11 points in the four overtimes. He was doing it from the midrange — Anthony took just two shots in the key, but was 13-of-25 from the midrange (particularly killing it on the right baseline) during the game.

It felt like the Knicks wasted a great Anthony game, but the game itself was one of the most dramatic and entertaining of the season — 23 lead changes, 21 ties, and a dozen players scoring in double-digits (with five fouling out, including ‘Melo). Paul Millsap played 60 minutes (37 points, 19 rebounds), one of six players to log at last 48 minutes. That showed on guys, particularly Courtney Lee, who was fantastic all game but didn’t seem to have the legs on his shots when he missed a game-winner opportunity in the third OT and a couple of chances to send it to a fifth.

I can’t describe this game’s wild final 20+ minutes, so just watch the video of every made bucket late in regulation and overtime.

2) Portland almost got Golden State. But not quite. Golden State was on the second night of a back-to-back, playing without Stephen Curry, and Portland was desperate for a win to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets for the final playoffs slot in the West. The recipe was in place for the upset.

It wasn’t enough. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now for a reason. With the game on the line a cold-shooting Klay Thompson (6-of-21) drained a three with 37 seconds left, and when Evan Turner got the chance to give the Trail Blazers the win late, he couldn’t. It ends 113-111 Warriors. Kevin Durant dropped 33 like it was nothing.

3) Donald Trump’s immigration ban leaves NBA world unhappy, scratching its head. Safe to say there’s not a lot of love for Donald Trump around the NBA, but his executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations left the NBA league office looking for clarification from the State Department. Sudan — including the independent South Sudan — was on the list of seven countries where people from that nation were restricted entering the USA, and there are two NBA players from there: the Lakers’ Luol Deng and the Bucks’ Thon Maker. Their situations are a little different: Deng has dual citizenship with England, Maker the same with Australia, and both have lived in the USA for many years. Still, the NBA had questions, particularly with the Bucks playing in Toronto and questions about whether Maker could get back in the country. He did.

Still, the NBA world was part of the massive backlash against the ill-conceived executive order. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — a former Air Force man, don’t forget — had this to say (via ESPN):

“As you already know, I have lots of thoughts about what we’ve done to ourselves as a country and what we’ve allowed to happen. But we’ll see where this goes. Obviously the rollout today was Keystone Kops-like by any measure with objectivity. Whether you want to say it’s good or bad is irrelevant. But it was Keystone Kops, and that’s scary.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the order was “really going against the principles that this country is about.”

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2007 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. To add further insult to injury, LeBron pushed this team past a very good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.

Steve Kerr on Chris Paul: ‘More than anything, I feel bad for Chris’

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul didn’t play in Game 6 on Saturday night. The Rockets failed to eliminate the Golden State Warriors, who forced a Game 7 with a 115-86 win in Oakland.

Paul’s status for Game 7 is still unclear, although things aren’t looking good. Paul’s hamstring injury will be hard to heal in such a short amount of time, even with round the clock treatment and the power of will the veteran point guard brings to the table.

The Point God has a tendency to get hurt at just the wrong time. Paul famously broke his hand in April of 2016, and along with Blake Griffin‘s quad injury, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to get the better of the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs that year. Paul also missed two games against the Rockets in the playoffs with a sore hamstring in 2015, a series the Clippers and Paul lost in seven games.

The NBA is not blind to Paul’s bad luck, either. Opposing head coach Steve Kerr commented on it to reporters, outlining not only what he thought they might do rotationally but his feelings about Paul’s injury history.

Via ESPN:

“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said before the Warriors’ 115-86 rout of the Rockets at Oracle Arena. “The guy’s a phenomenal player and competitor and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame. I hate when anybody gets hurt.”

Kerr mentioned that he knew the reality of the situation is that by the end of the season, not everyone is going to be healthy. No doubt it’s a good thing for Kerr and the Warriors that Paul will likely miss Game 7. It’s unfortunate for a veteran like Paul, whose stellar career is dogged by unfair narratives of playoff failures.

Maybe Houston can try again next year when they have LeBron James?