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Young Bulls rave about Rajon Rondo as a teammate

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In their coordinated attack, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler — the Bulls’ biggest stars — lashed into their teammates (reportedly Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams in particular).

Rajon Rondo shot back at Wade and Butler on Instagram because, as Rondo explained, he wanted to stand up for his teammates who lacked the stature to do it themselves.

Why did Rondo side with his younger teammates rather than maintain the “Three Alphas” front? Because, in and out of the rotation, Rondo had bonded with those other teamamtes for months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

This process began when Rondo voluntarily joined the Bulls at summer league, even practicing one day with a team that featured undrafted free agents who had no chance of making the regular-season roster. Rondo served as ringleader for informal workouts at the Advocate Center before training camp.

Once camp started, Rondo organized team dinners. And he drove to Milwaukee for an exhibition game in which the Bulls rested him to work out training-camp player Thomas Walkup before the game.

Mirotic, via Johnson:

“Along with Pau (Gasol), he’s the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Mirotic said.

“I feel so comfortable with him and I think all the young guys do,” Mirotic said. “He’s very honest. He’s talking all the time, supporting before the game, after the game, during the practice. He’s always positive. Even if something is not going well, he’s trying to help young players. It’s been great to have him here.”

Jerian Grant on Rondo, via Johnson:

“He’s a great teammate,” Grant said. “He’s been through a lot of different things and been able to show us the wrong and right ways. That’s good for us. He’s been extremely helpful to me. I’ve been in the gym with him a lot, picked his brains a lot.”

Wade and Butler, also resting for that exhibition game, didn’t travel to Milwaukee — and that’s OK. Resting shouldn’t be limited to not playing in a game. Likewise, it’s fine that a 35-year-old Wade doesn’t practice as much as his teammates.

The problem comes when Wade’s teammates believe he’s given unreasonable special treatment. That accusation is nothing new to Butler, either.

Meanwhile, Rondo has ingratiated himself with his teammates. Even when Chicago suspended Rondo for feuding with an assistant coach, word quickly followed about how great of a teammate Rondo had been. We can separate his problems — most of them declined on-court production — with his standing as a teammate.

That and his experience give Rondo a pathway to leadership.

Wade’s and Butler’s resumés also demand respect, but they also face challenges in connecting with teammates. Wade is a newcomer in Chicago. Even as he became Chicago’s best player, Butler had a tough time leading in previous seasons because the Bulls still had Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, two players who long-commanded attention in the locker room. Wade’s and Butler’s clunky attempt last week exposes the limits of their leadership.

If it’s Wade and Butler vs. the rest of the Bulls — the paradigm Wade and Butler established through their comments last week — Rondo stands on the other side.

It doesn’t help that Rondo seems to reach his younger teammates through positivity rather than harsh motivation. Either method could work, but it seems the young Bulls are partial to the former.

That just makes it more difficult for Wade and Butler to establish themselves as leaders. Wade and Butler can still get there, and as mainstays in the starting lineup, they’re more naturally positioned to lead. But they could take a lesson from Rondo, who has multiple teammates gushing about his mentorship style.

 

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.