Sixers live to play another day, knock off Celtics 103-92 to force Game 5

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The playoffs are a learning experience, and the young Philadelphia team has figured a few things out.

From the opening tip of Game 4, the Sixers came out much more aggressive on defense, both in terms of effort and plan, trapping and doubling on pick-and-rolls, being faster with help in the post, and generally cranking up their defensive pressure. Boston didn’t handle it well.

It was Philadephia’s best game of the series, and this time the confetti could fly without hesitation. Philly will live to play another day.

The Sixers won Game 4 103-92, 25 points from Dario Saric and a career-high 19 from surprise starter T.J. McConnell. The series heads back to Boston on Wednesday for Game 5, with the Celtics still leading it 3-1.

“We have nothing to lose…” McConnell said after the game. “We’re just trying to play our hearts out and be that one team (the first to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the NBA playoffs).”

Philly is a long way from being in a serious conversation about shattering the 129-0 record of 3-0 teams in an NBA playoff series. What matters more is the steps forward, and those were evident on Monday night.

It’s strange to say sitting Robert Covington — an All-Defensive Team level wing for the 76ers — and starting McConnell was a defensive move, but it was. All series long McConnell has been the best defender for Philly on Terry Rozier, the Boston point guard who has been so hot. Not coincidentally, Rozier struggled going 4-of-11 overall and 1-of-6 from three. With the point guard out of sorts, the entire Boston offense became defendable.

Especially with the energy the Sixers showed on defense, which led to things getting a bit chippy at points.

On the other end, the Sixers emphasized getting the ball inside — 51 of their 94 shot attempts came in the paint. Boston had emphasized taking away the Philadelphia three ball, so the Sixers pounded them in the paint and also on the boards — the Sixers grabbed the offensive rebound on 30.2 percent of their missed shots in this game.

“It just shows when they take something away, we’re mature enough to go to something else. Even though we were a little immature on our home floor in our last game, we showed a lot of maturity today and came up with the win.”

McConnell was getting buckets with his 19 points, same as Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid had 15. The Sixers were racking up assists with good ball movement, but more importantly they only turned the ball over on 10 percent of their possessions (turnovers have been a weakness all season)

That said, neither team was terribly efficient — Boston scored less than a point per possession in Game 4, Philadelphia had a net rating of 103.6 (points per 100 possessions, more than 4 points per 100 off their regular season average).

Boston’s defense seemed to slip in the second half, and they couldn’t get the buckets needed to close the gap after a third-quarter Philly run pushed the lead to double digits.

The Celtics were led by Jayson Tatum who had 20 points, followed by Marcus Morris who had 17 off the bench. Marcus Smart added 14, but when your defensive specialist is your third leading scorer it can be a sign of trouble.

It was for Boston on this night, but now the Celtics head home looking to end this series. Boston didn’t have the answers for Philly’s intensity on Monday, expect things to feel different on Wednesday in The Garden.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates and family for helping him reach this point.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win.

The last player from Europe to win the MVP award was Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.

Clippers’ Lou Williams won second-straight, third overall Sixth Man of Year Award

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The Clippers bench play this season was the reason they made the playoffs (and pushed the Warriors to six games in the first round). Montrezl Harrell blossomed into his own as part of that.

However, it was Lou Williams who made it all work, which is why he won his second straight (and third overall) Sixth Man of the Year Award on Monday night. He garnered 96 of the 100 first-place votes.

Williams spoke from the heart about second chances and his faith in himself.

“Four years ago, I thought I was done, like I was coming to the end of my career,” Williams said.

Williams averaged 20 points a game and he is still one of the better bucket getters in the NBA, an isolation master. What he did better this year, however, was playmaking, dishing out 5.4 assists per game. His teammate Montrezl Harrell — the NBA’s best energy big off the bench last season who finished third in the Sixth Man voting — was the biggest beneficiary of those passes.

Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis came in second in the voting, with Spencer Dinwiddie of the Nets third and Terrence Ross of Orlando fifth. Here is the voting breakdown.