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Inspired Celtics down Rajon Rondo-less Bulls

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Rajon Rondo knew, as the Bulls season threatened to unravel, a veteran like Kevin Garnett would have effectively handled the adversity. Rondo never apologized for pointing that out on Instagram. He has little patience for feelings when it comes to conveying the truth as he sees it.

And Rondo was right. The retired Garnett would know just what to say amid crisis.

Unfortunately for Rondo, Garnett delivered his message to their former team.

Sparked by a pregame message from Garnett and Isaiah Thomas‘ return from his sister’s funeral, the Celtics beat Chicago 104-87 in Game 3 Friday. After being stunned twice at home to begin the first-round series, No. 1 seed Boston faces a much more manageable 2-1 deficit.

“Isaiah played a clip from KG before the game, and it kind of got us going a little bit,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “KG said some inspirational words for us, and he reminded us, Celtics, we’re always supposed to be the hardest-playing team every single night. And we’re supposed to use Isaiah’s family, use that as inspiration and come out and play hard for him and his family.

He said, You can either play two ways. You can either make excuses and say it’s emotional. ‘Oh, let’s give up this year and worry about next year.’ Or you can fight and fight for his family, and that’s what we did.”

Meanwhile, Rondo sat and watched in a garish red short-sleeved suit, sidelined with a broken thumb.

Chicago sure missed him.

The Bulls lost their offensive flow, and Jimmy Butler (14 points on 7-of-21 shooting) and Dwyane Wade (18 points on 6-of-18 shooting) settled for tough shots. Credit Boston’s perimeter defenders, especially Avery Bradley, but they don’t fully explain how out of sync Chicago looked.

Point guards Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams combined to score eight points on 3-of-10 shooting with three assists and seven turnovers in 39 minutes. Grant, who started, especially looked in over his head.

Without Rondo’s throwback defense disrupting at the point of attack, Brad Steven’s offense hummed.

The Bulls again dominated the glass, but the Celtics cede rebounds to play highly skilled offensive players rather than a bunch of brutes. That trade-off finally worked in Boston’s favor tonight.

Thomas (16 points and nine assists) and Al Horford (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals) clicked in the pick-and-roll, and Bradley (15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), Jae Crowder (16 points, six rebounds and three assists), Terry Rozier (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting) and Marcus Smart (seven points, six rebounds and five assists) all had their moments.

Chicago had few. The Bulls shot 39% from the field, including 29% on 3-pointers. Their offensive rebounding helped, but that’s too many initial misses.

The Celtics assisted more shots (34, a 2017 postseason high for any team) than Chicago made (33).

The Bulls can win ugly games, but Boston kept this one too pretty.

Chicago’s answer could be to muck it up further and remove point guards entirely, at least more so. In 11 minutes with Wade and and Butler in the backcourt without a traditional point guard, the Bulls outscored the Celtics by two.

Unfortunately for Chicago, its best answer is stuck on the bench with a broken thumb while his revered former teammate motivates the other team.

Video: Carmelo Anthony says he’d have won 2-3 titles if drafted by Detroit

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In an Instagram Live chat with friend Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony said he’d “have won 2-3 championships if drafted by the Detroit Pistons:

Anthony was drafted third overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. LeBron James went off the board first to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons then drafted Darko Milicic with the second pick. Chris Bosh was drafted fourth by the Toronto Raptors, and Wade was selected with the fifth pick by the Miami Heat.

James, Wade and Bosh would famously team up in Miami seven years later. Those three and Anthony all put together Hall of Fame careers. Milicic was another story entirely.

Detroit had that second overall pick by virtue of a 1997 sign-and-trade with the then Vancouver Grizzlies for forward Otis Thorpe. Vancouver didn’t even keep Thorpe for one full season, as he was shipped to the Sacramento Kings at the 1998 trade deadline. By the 2003 draft, the team had moved from Vancouver to Memphis.

The Pistons went on to win the championship in 2003-04, despite relatively limited production from rookie Milicic. The seven-footer played in just 34 games as a rookie during Detroit’s title run. Milicic then appeared in just 62 games over the next two seasons before he was traded to the Orlando Magic at the 2006 trade deadline.

Despite never living up to his draft position, Milicic did carve out a 10-year NBA career. On the other hand, Anthony blossomed into a 10-time All-Star.

Anthony went on to make six All-NBA teams over the course of his time with the Nuggets and New York Knicks. He holds a career average of 23.6 points per game, but has yet to win that elusive title.

Detroit passing on Anthony is one of the more interesting  what if’s in recent NBA history. The Pistons only got the one championship, but made the Finals back-to-back years. They had a multiple year run of contention behind a core of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamiltion in the backcourt. The frontcourt was anchored by Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. The one thing that group struggled with on occasion was scoring, which Anthony would have provided.

Had Anthony been drafted by the Pistons, he’d likely have a ring and Detroit would have a fourth banner. Who knows? Maybe they’d each have a couple more beyond that.

Former NBA player OJ Mayo to sign in China

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When the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association return to play, they’ll have a familiar face to NBA fans suiting up for them.

Liaoning announced they are signing former NBA player O.J. Mayo to a contract for the remainder of this season.

Mayo has been out of the NBA since the end of the 2015-16 season. The scoring guard was banned from the NBA due to a violation of the league’s anti-drug policy. He was eligible for reinstatement at the start of the 2018-19 season.

Since being banned from the NBA, Mayo has signed to play with various clubs in Puerto Rico, Taiwan and with a team in China’s second division.

During his eight-year NBA career, Mayo played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks. The 32-year old guard holds a career average of 13.8 points per game on 43/37/82 shooting splits.

With Liaoning, Mayo may suit up alongside former NBA players Lance Stephenson and Brandon Bass. The club announced that Mayo will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which they expect him to back up Stephenson.

Neither Stephenson nor Bass have returned to China following the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unclear when either player will return, as the CBA has delayed their return to play until May.

Alabama’s Herbert Jones declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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University of Alabama junior forward Herbert Jones announced via Instagram that he’s declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft:

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All Glory to God 🙏🏽

A post shared by Herb Jones 🛸 (@yung.ch0) on

Jones says he’s declaring while maintaining his eligibility, meaning he could get feedback and choose to return to school.

In his third campaign with the Crimson Tide, Jones turned his best collegiate season. The six-foot-seven forward scored 7.9 points on 48.4% shooting. He also grabbed 6.4 rebounds per game. Jones was also one of Alabama’s best defensive players.

Alabama has also seen starting guard Kira Lewis and John Petty Jr. declare for the draft.

Lewis is expected to be a first-round pick, while Petty and Jones are considered to be late second-round talents.

Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji, DePaul’s Paul Reed declare for NBA draft

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Nobody knows when the NBA Draft is going to take place — like everything with the NBA calendar, it is up in the air — but for college players whose season has ended now is the time to declare and throw their hats in the ring.

Two possible draftees did that Saturday.

Arizona center Zeke Nnaji was one.

The 6’11” Nnaji averaged 16.1 points per game on 57 percent shooting, plus grabbed 8.6 rebounds a game his freshman season at Arizona. In a good sign, he shot 76% from the free throw line, meaning he should be able to space the floor and hit midrangers (and maybe someday threes). He brings a lot of energy to the court, but is considered raw still on both ends of the floor and not an elite defender.

Nnaji is a bubble first-round pick.

The other player coming out is DePaul forward Paul Reed.

A projected first-rounder is a generous description by Charania, Reed is seen more as a second-round pick (and without a Draft Combine or workouts with teams it will be difficult to move up). He’s a 6’9″ power forward who averaged 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds a game this season. Reed shot the three well as a sophomore (40 percent) but regressed this past season. He’s athletic but needs to get stronger, and he needs to be able to fit into a role at the NBA level to last.

That said, he will likely get a chance somewhere to prove he belongs.