5 up, 5 down: LeBron is going to the Finals … again


5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

The best thing that happened this week was clearly LeBron James getting to yet another NBA Finals. It’s hard to top that, especially when you consider the Cavaliers’ roster makeup and the overall management of that franchise during his time in Ohio. Thankfully — mercifully — the Conference Finals are over, and now we get to watch LeBron go up against the Golden State Warriors in a repeat of the past three season-ending matchups.

It’s not necessarily what many wanted, but it’s what we’re getting and it feeds the narrative. There’s a lot of angles to take as we move toward the Finals, many of which we’ll cover here in the coming days on PBT, but personally I’d much rather see LeBron go up against the Warriors than any other team.

So without further ado.

5 Up

LeBron is headed to yet another NBA Finals

Eight straight is just crazy. The pure willpower of LeBron James on Sunday to push the Cavaliers passed the Celtics in Game 7, all without Kevin Love due to a concussion was an absolute masterpiece. I was already partial to calling LeBron the greatest player of all-time, largely because of his dynamism as a player and because of his playoff record.

What LeBron has done this season, with one of the worst Cavaliers teams we’ve seen in a while (think about that) is nothing short of incredible. Game 7 was a crowning achievement, individually, for LeBron in that regard, as he scored, passed, and rebounded his way into yet another NBA Finals appearance.

Bo Churney Memorial Fund

Bo Churney was a former writer for several outlets, including ESPN, Turner Sports, and Hardwood Paroxysm. A pillar of Atlanta Hawks Twitter, Churney sadly took his own life last week. Friends quickly decided to set up a memorial fund for Churney to benefit an LGBTQ charity in the Atlanta area. As of writing, the fundraiser has more than $21,000 pledged.

Bo will be missed. While his death is a tragedy, his legacy will live on in the memories of those he affected while he was with us and through the donation made in his name. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.

LeBron vs. the Warriors … again

Is this the storyline you wanted? If not, tough. The Golden State Warriors are headed to the NBA Finals once again, this time to take on LeBron James and, uh, Jeff Green? All kidding aside, did you really want to watch a hampered Houston Rockets team with a limping Chris Paul take on a Cleveland team that has been so wildly inconsistent it would be difficult to predict their performance game-to-game in the Finals?

Warriors vs. Cavaliers is not necessarily great for the NBA or the casual fan, but it was going to be hard to escape the inevitability of this matchup after the summer of 2016. We’re going to have to live with Golden State’s dominance and LeBron’s ownership of the Eastern Conference until something major happens to either party. Stay tuned this summer, by the way, because we could be in for a treat in that department. Meanwhile, we get to see what kind of resistance LeBron can offer to the juggernaut that is Golden State for one more year.

Kawhi Leonard staying in San Antonio?

I honestly just want this saga to end. It’s weird, and sad, and it’s glacial pace reminds me of a mid-2000s San Antonio Spurs offense. Teammate Danny Green recently told ESPN that he thinks Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, although what that actually means is up for debate. It could just be public leverage for San Antonio to fix … whatever it is Leonard is upset about. But at least it’s something.

Give us a healthy Kawhi in San Antonio next season, please.

Suns grab No. 1 overall pick

The idea that the NBA wants it’s best markets to win the lottery is sort of ridiculous, especially when you consider how modern team ownership works these days. The league has flourished while the Clevelands and San Antonios have taken over, all the while multiple New York teams are absolutely dreadful and half the time a Los Angeles squad is unwatchable.

Phoenix has been in a bigger rut than many realize. Outside of of 48-win season in 2013-14, the Suns haven’t been good during this decade and they don’t have a clear path back to the top. They’re always rumored to be considering runs at big free agents or trades that would net them a star (Kevin Love every summer) but that typically happens after a team has a few key draft picks on the roster. There’s a glut of talent at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft, here’s hoping Phoenix makes the best of it.

5 Down

The Mavericks front office is in trouble again

This one is gross. Not grosser, I guess, just gross in that these types of stories continue to come out of the Dallas Mavericks front office. If you’re not caught up, the Dallas Morning News published a story which accused a former top account executive in the Mavs ticketing office of showing co-workers porn, rubbing himself, and creating a hostile work environment.

Dallas has hired several top HR execs and compliance folks in the wake of the big Sports Illustrated piece about their “Animal House” front office atmosphere. That won’t stop old stories from coming to light, and people keep on talking about Mark Cuban’s team from days past.

Chris Paul’s hamstring

Feel how you want about Chris Paul, but his hamstring injury is a major bummer for anyone who wanted a little bit of variety in their NBA Finals matchup this year. The Houston Rockets, surprisingly, gave the Golden State Warriors a bit more than they could handle as the Western Conference Finals got underway, and Paul was a major reason for that.

But without Paul on the floor, the Warriors had an easier path to a Finals appearance. Game 6 back in Oakland on Saturday and was a blowout for Golden State, and now the story around Paul might always be about how he was injured when his teams needed him most.

Phoenix missed out on trading for Kristaps Porzingis

Phil Jackson should have stayed in Montana. His rep can’t keep taking these hits.

The thing Larry Brown said to Trevor Ariza

The right mix between feel and hard analysis in basketball is what separates good teams from great ones, and bad teams from terrible ones. It makes all the difference in the NBA, as it does with coaching. Former New York Knicks coach Larry Brown is a Hall of Famer, but he seriously erred when he told Trevor Ariza in his second season to never shoot a 3-pointer.

Ariza was not a good shooter coming out of UCLA, and the NBA contextually was not as 3-point crazy as it is today. But still, asking a wing player to never shoot would seriously hamper any kind of offense in the 3-point era. It’s just … weird. We now know how important Ariza is to the Houston Rockets not only as a defender but as a 3-point shooter, so I guess you can’t trust everything every Hall of Fame coach has to say to you. Thank goodness Ariza revived his career in Los Angeles.

Paul George‘s agent is doing some politicking

NBA players love Russell Westbrook, but I tend to not believe anything out of an NBA agent’s mouth when the summer months start to heat up. There’s too much at stake, and most of the time agents are simply angling for some kind of leverage we may not yet be privy to.

That’s how I am approaching the recent news that says Paul George’s agent is telling folks that the Thunder wing wants to stay in Oklahoma City. Whether that’s true or not is sort of irrelevant at this point in time. It’s May, and a lot of things will change as the season continues to wrap up and people start to get into draft and free agency mode. We have heard a lot about where George wants to end up in the summer offseason, so this is just another story to add to the list.

NBA investigating if referee Eric Lewis had burner Twitter account defending himself

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

About the last place an NBA referee should want to spend time is Twitter — pictures of puppies and ice cream can draw dark and cruel reactions in that social media space. One can only imagine fans’ reactions to the people making calls against their team (the legitimacy of those calls is moot).

Yet the NBA is investigating if referee Eric Lewis had a Twitter burner account where he defended himself, something first reported by Marc Stein. The account — now deleted — had the username “Blair Cuttliff” with the handle @CuttliffBlair.

The NBA has a rule that referees cannot comment on officiating publicly (outside of specific, authorized moments).

There was some commentary on Twitter that Lewis’ brother, Mark, ran this account, not Eric. That will be part of the league’s investigation.

Lewis has been an NBA official for 19 seasons and is highly rated by the league, having worked an NBA Finals game along with numerous playoff games. The last game he officiated was Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Nuggets on May 16.

This is not the first time the league investigated a Twitter burner account. In 2018, then 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo stepped down after Twitter burner accounts — linked to him and his wife — criticized 76ers players and more. Kevin Durant has admitted to having Twitter burner accounts in the past (which is not a violation for players).

Three things to watch in Game 7 between Miami Heat, Boston Celtics


After three games, the Boston Celtics looked done — not only did they get blown out in Game 3, they dropped the rope. They quit. This looked over. But Boston found their pride and won Game 4, then won Game 5 at home, and finally came the insane Derrick White Game and a Game 6 win to become only the third team ever to go down 0-3 and force a Game 7.

Miami was in control of this series, but some cold shooting nights — particularly from their stars — and a lot of turnovers opened the door for the Celtics. Miami and its vaunted culture, find itself in the exact place it was a year ago, having to win a Game 7 against these Celtics to advance to the Finals — if Jimmy Butler hit an open 3-pointer late a year ago the Heat would have advanced. Can they take that one more step now?

Game 7. The sweetest two words in sports, and we get one Monday night from the TD Garden.

Here are a couple of things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Butler/Adebayo or Tatum/Brown? Which stars show up?

The last time we saw Jayson Tatum in a Game 7 was just two weeks ago, when he dropped a record 51 points on the 76ers in that deciding game. A season ago in a Game 7 against these same Heat, Tatum scored 26 points and hit 4-of-7 from 3, while Jaylen Brown added 24 points.

This item really isn’t about them. While the Celtics’ stars have to have good games, it’s reasonable to expect them to.

This is all about Jimmy Butler, and to a lesser extent Bam Adebayo. For the first 43 minutes of Game 6 these two shot a combined 7-of-35 and were not good enough. Butler had 14 points and was a non-factor in Game 5. For the last three games he has looked tired, he’s lacked some of his explosion, and he has struggled with the Celtics length as they have packed the paint and taken away his easy shots inside for buckets.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said after the Game 6 loss. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

Butler turned things around in the final minutes of Game 6 — sparking a 15-4 run — mainly by attacking and drawing fouls, although he hit a 3-pointer in there as well. That Butler needs to show up Monday night in Boston, they need his points and they need his defense (he will draw Brown or Tatum as his assignment for much of the game).

If Miami is going to win, Butler has to be the best player on the floor. It’s that simple. If he struggles again, the rest will not matter.

2) Are the Celtics hitting their 3-pointers

Among the many ways the Heat have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away in Game 6 was this: Boston shot 7-of-35 from 3. The Celtics’ offense this season has been much more dependent on the 3-pointer, and the Heat did not take advantage of a bad 3-point shooting night from the Celtics.

Boston’s shooters — particularly role players such as Grant Williams and Derrick White — tend to be more comfortable 3-point shooters at home, and if this team gets rolling and hits 15 or more 3s and is shooting 40% or better on those, it’s lights out. Especially if they are breakMiami, even on a good Butler day, will have trouble keeping up.

It’s simplistic to say it’s a make-or-miss league, but when it comes to the Celtics shooting from beyond the arc it applies

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendation for Game 7

In the last 16 Game 7’s when the total moved at least five points lower than the previous Game 6 total, the Under is on a 14-2 winning streak (87.5%), which is in play here. The total for Game 6 opened at 213.5 and closed at 209.5. Game 7 opened at 206.5 and is down to 203.5, so the trend is in effect with a 10-point or 6.0 point-move depending on how you look at it.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.