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Too much Kelly Olynyk, Celtics depth for Wizards in Game 7, Boston wins 115-105

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It became a game about depth.

Washington led in the third quarter when coach Scott Brooks had to turn to his bench. Jason Smith was -10 in just over three minutes, the Celtics closed the third quarter on a run that extended to an 18-2 run into the start of the fourth and gave then a comfortable lead. John Wall missed his last nine shots and was scoreless in the fourth, in large part because his legs got tired, Brooks couldn’t trust Brandon Jennings again (after a horrible first half) and tried to ride his backcourt the entire second half.

Meanwhile, Kelly Olynyk came in and dropped 26 off the bench, 14 of those in the fourth quarter, and changed the game.

“They was paying a lot of attention to Isaiah (Thomas), teams are gonna do that, and he got rid of the ball quickly and put us in a position to make plays in 4-on-3 basketball,” Olynyk said after the game.

Boston got 29 points and 12 assists from Isaiah Thomas and 48 from its bench — including reserves Olynyk and Marcus Smart making plays down the stretch — and that was enough beat the Wizards 115-105 in Game 7.

Boston advances and will host Cleveland in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday.

Washington’s starting five — Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat — were +9 in 32 minutes, with a true shooting percentage of 62.3.

But as it has been the case since the start of the year, the Wizards bench could not be trusted. Any lineup with at least one bench player on the court combined to be -19 in 16 minutes. No player from the Wizards bench scored after 6:56 of the 2nd quarter.

Boston, on the other hand, had a bench that won them the game.

“I think the bench was a big factor in Game 5 (a Boston win at home) and Game 7 certainly was as well,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Throughout the series, the home team’s bench seemed to play really well. I thought our guys played really well. Obviously, Kelly gave us that enormous lift of scoring in the fourth quarter, but really in the first half as well, he had 12 at halftime on 5-of-7, and I thought Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were really good.”

The game certainly was dramatic, and it had the Celtics fans in full throat most of the game. The first quarter was a yo-yo affair, the Celtics got up 8, and then the Wizards came back to tie it, the Celtics went back up by 7, and the Wizards tied it again. It ended with the Celtics up four. The second quarter stayed closer throughout. The Wizards bench defensive rotations were sad, which helped Olynyk get clean looks. On the other side Otto Porter, who had been scoreless in Game 6, had  12 points and 7 boards in the first half (he finished with 20 and 9).

Boston’s biggest problem was being 3-of-12 from three in first half, and that allowed the Wizards to have a 55-53 lead at the half.

Wizards started second half just hunting Thomas, something they didn’t do enough in this series. Whoever he is guarding, the Wizards tried to post him up. Washington’s starters played well and the Wizards led much of the third, but late in the third the bench came in — Smith blew a defensive coverage within seconds of entering the game — and Boston closed the quarter on a 13-3 run to lead 85-79 after three. Boston hit four of its last six from three, and that helped change the dynamic.

That run extended to 18-2 over four minutes across the quarters for the Celtics. Washington went back to their starters around the 10-minute mark, and quickly it was a 7-0 Wizards run.

But the Wizards could never fully close the gap (they did get it to four). Olynyk and Thomas made plays for Boston, while Beal and Wall’s legs turned to jelly.

It was another step forward for a young and improving Celtics team. They should savor it.

For a day, then the biggest test comes to town.

 

 

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.