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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Rockets miss chance to steal game in Oracle

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Houston had a chance to steal a game in Golden State and it clanked off the rim. Thirty-three missed threes. 33.

Houston had a 102 offensive rating in Game 1 of the second round (12.8 below their regular season average), they took 57 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 29.8 percent of them — 33 misses.

That is the stat that sums up why the Houston Rockets blew a chance to steal Game 1 on the road — this felt like a blown opportunity because those chances are rare at Oracle Arena. The Warriors stumbled in this game, the Rockets did not grab the opportunity.

The Warriors hung on to win Game 1 104-100. Game 2 is Tuesday night back in Oracle.

In an intense defensive game that turned things sloppy at times, the Rockets missed the shots that define their offense. The Warriors defensive strategy of crowding the shooters seemed to throw off the Rockets, and Houston didn’t get the calls they expect/get bailed out by (depending on your perspective). More on the officiating in item No. 2 below, but know it wasn’t the reason the Rockets lost. They just missed their shots.

The other reason they lost was one Kevin Durant. He has been the best player on the planet for a couple of years now and continues to show it on the biggest playoff stages. He had 35 in this game — the same as James Harden, but Durant’s felt more clutch as he hit them when his team needed them.

Game 1 was about the defenses, and now the Rockets need to adjust to how the Warriors have chosen to defend them.

The Warriors did not switch Harden’s picks to give Houston the matchup it wanted, instead, Stephen Curry (or whomever) would do a hard show to cut off the drive, then recover, and they did that smoothly. (Late in the shot clock the Warriors switched those picks but at that point Harden’s options were limited and he just had to try a stepback three everyone knew was coming). Golden State — and Draymond Green in particular — also did an excellent job of contesting Harden on drives while at the same taking away the lob to Clint Capela.

Warriors got away with sloppy play for long stretches of the game, they turned the ball over on 30 percent of their possessions in the first quarter, 20.6 percent for the game (22 total). Be careless with the ball like that again and it will cost them a game.

However, their stars both got the matchups they wanted and hit the big shots when needed. For example, when Mike D’Antoni subbed in Nene for rebounding in the final minute, Curry got the switch he wanted and sunk the dagger in the Rockets.

Houston had a chance to respond and went to a Harden stepback three that did not fall (and he was not fouled by Draymond Green on that play… again more on the officiating below). Chris Paul grabbed the rebound after Harden’s final miss, Harden was still on the ground trying to sell the call that wasn’t coming, so CP3 attempted to draw a foul on Klay Thompson he didn’t get, then got ejected with his second technical when he yelled at the referee for not giving him the call. CP3 will be writing a check to the league for this.

In the end, the Warriors fought through their adversity to get the win and go up 1-0, knowing they can play a lot better — they didn’t take great shots at times, didn’t take care of the ball, and were not always sharp defensively. The Rockets can play better too, but it feels like this was as good a chance as they were going to get to steal a game. Maybe Houston can prove that idea wrong in Game 2.

2) “Refereeing is an inexact science. So it is what it is.” That was Draymond Green, and he’s right. The officials are human, they miss calls, and that’s just part of basketball. However, Houston’s system is built on pushing the rules and getting calls, and those calls did not come in Game 1. There are legitimate questions about where the line is and how it should be enforced.

Mark Cuban put it this way.

Houston and Harden have a system that pushes the rules to their edge — and they count on getting those calls as part of their offensive strategy. It’s baked into the system. Those calls were not coming on Sunday, the referees were consistent — and at times incorrect — not calling fouls where Harden was contacted in the air, where he didn’t have a landing zone (Klay Thompson in the first half should have gotten fouls for that). The idea that a jump shooter has to have a place to land has been a point of emphasis for officials for a while now. Houston banks on it.

However, it’s not clean cut and easy to call, especially with Harden. He leaps forward on his shots, he’s not vertical. His final three-point attempt, where he wanted a call on Green, was not a foul and a good no call by the referee, as Joe Borgia explains well, here.

Harden does leap forward, not straight up, and if he goes into the defender’s space that’s not a foul. However, there were missed calls where the Warrior defender closed into Harden’s space and a foul should have been called.

Warriors fans can “whataboutism” this — and they would be right. There were also times Harden pushed off (Kevon Looney) and no call was made, or a player was just in a good defensive position (Andre Iguodala) and Harden got the call anyway. Things tend to balance out over the course of the game.

Houston wants to say historically Golden State gets the benefit of the whistle. That there is an institutional bias benefitting the Warriors.

That’s a lovely esoteric argument, but it’s not going to help them in Game 2. The question is how will that one be officiated compared to Game 1.

3) Boston goes into Milwaukee, plays a textbook game, and comes away with a comfortable Game 1 win. Things could not have gone much better for Boston — they set up a list of things they wanted to do in Game 1, then proceeded to just go down the list and check them off.

That started with defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. In NBC’s preview of this series I wrote Al Horford was the key for Boston, he had to be big on both ends. He was that in Game 1 — 20 points and he did a great job defending the Greek Freak. Still, nobody saw this coming.

Boston went into Milwaukee and owned Game 1, taking it 112-90. It was the kind of performance that had Boston looking like a contender — something they have done in flashes for the season, but have not been able to sustain.

This was no one-man show, the Celtics threw multiple defenders at the Greek Freak, but it was Horford’s ability to recover that was key to forcing Antetokounmpo into a 7-of-21 shooting night. More importantly, Antetokounmpo had just two assists. The Bucks were not moving the ball, finding the open man, the making the Celtics pay.

“If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I just have to make the right pass, and trust my teammates to knock down shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the game.

Offensively, Boston took the shots they were given — 41.5 percent of the Celtics shot attempts came either as midrange jumpers, or longer (floater range) shots in the paint, but they hit 56.8 percent of them. Milwaukee forced the Celtics into the shots nobody wants to take, but if Boston can knock them down at that rate Milwaukee will be in real trouble this series. Kyrie Irving had 26 to lead the Celtics.

However, Boston’s defense — and Milwaukee’s offensive struggles — were the real keys. Especially in the first half, the Bucks seemed to take a lot of difficult, contested shots that were not going down. Then again, by the NBA’s tracking data, the Bucks also were 18-of-50 (36 percent) on uncontested shots, too. Just nothing was falling.

Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee need to find that offensive flow before Game 2 or the hole they will find themselves in will be just about impossible to climb out of.

Marc Gasol opting in with Raptors for $25,595,700

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He joined the Raptors this season, helped them win a championship and will stay.

No, not him.

Marc Gasol, who had a $25,595,700 player option for next season.

Raptors PR:

Marc Gasol has exercised his player option with the Raptors for the 2019-20 season.

If Kawhi Leonard re-signs, Toronto will be happy to have a solid starting center like Gasol for a title defense. This leaves Leonard and Danny Greenwho’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – as the only core Raptors not locked up for next season.

But if Leonard leaves, Gasol will be an overpaid cog on a middling playoff team. There just isn’t that much of a market for merely solid centers, especially a 34-year-old.

Of course, Toronto knew Gasol’s salary situation when acquiring him just before the trade deadline. The Raptors got the best immediate outcome with a championship. Paying him $25,595,700 next season is a perfectly acceptable cost.

Report: Sixers ‘expressing confidence’ they will re-sign Jimmy Butler; Rockets still seek sign-and-trade

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If the Philadelphia 76ers put a five-year max contract of $189.7 million in front of Jimmy Butler, the smart bet is he signs it. Fast. Butler will be 30 next season and has a growing history of injuries, plus the Sixers are going to be contenders with him. That’s a lot of money and a good situation to walk away from.

The Rockets are still hoping to lure him away to Houston, forcing a sign-and-trade on Philadelphia, but the Sixers are confident they will keep him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN.

As noted in the ESPN story, there is no indication that the Sixers or Butler are down with this trade idea.

The only way this sign-and-trade happens is if Butler goes to the Sixers and says he’s leaving anyway and wants a sign-and-trade to Houston. Then Philadelphia would play along only because they could get something back for Butler, rather than losing him outright.

However, I have heard from league sources that if Butler leaves Philly the Lakers are the team at the top of his list, paring with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Whether that is true or not, he has options including the Knicks. Maybe for Butler the chance to chase a ring with James Harden and Chris Paul is a bigger draw, however, to make that happen the Rockets will be stripped of a lot of depth. If the Lakers add Butler at the max, they will have three stars, Kyle Kuzma, and the rest of the roster will be minimum contract guys (plus somebody for the $4.8 million room exception).

If Butler leaves Philadelphia, the most he can sign for with any team is a four-year, $140 million contract. That includes in a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, under the new CBA a player cannot sign the larger five-year max as part of a sign-and-trade, it can only be for the $140 million the Rockets could sign him with outright.

While this is a fun rumor and report that gets a lot of ink, it seems highly unlikely to come together. Never say never in the NBA, but this seems a longshot.

That said, a Rockets locker room with Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Chris Paul, and a lame duck coach would be good for those of us who love NBA drama.

Rumor: Several teams want to pair Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler

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Kawhi Leonard is choosing between staying in Toronto with the Raptors or coming to Southern California and being a Clipper, according to sources and multiple reports.

Jimmy Butler probably signs a five-year max contract to stay in Philadelphia if the Sixers put it in front of him (as their management has said it would do), but if not the Lakers are considered to be the frontrunners according to the buzz around the league.

However, there are teams dreaming of pairing Butler and Leonard this summer, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.

Those teams, obviously, would need to create the cap space required to sign both players. The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.

This doesn’t suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn’t fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together.

There is a whole lot of supposition in that report (and from teams).

First, and Begley touches on it, this assumes that Leonard wants to team up with Butler, or anyone for that matter. Superteams are not his style. Butler can bring drama with him, and that is also not Leonard’s style. On the flip side, does Butler want to partner up with Leonard?

Second, there are not a lot of teams that can clear two max salary slots. Brooklyn, the Clippers (if they trade Danilo Gallinari, something certainly possible), the Knicks and maybe a couple others with some cap gymnastics. Just a note here: the writer Begley is based in New York and covered the Knicks for ESPN for many years. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

Third, this is most likely not the path for either of them. Never say never, because NBA free agency can flip on a dime, but pairing those two is not the most likely outcome.

But it’s the silly season, so rumors are everywhere.

NBA reportedly clears Omer Asik’s $3 million salary off Bulls books

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Omer Asik came to Chicago as part of the Nicola Mirotic trade, but last season he never set foot on the court for the Bulls. Back in training camp, Asik was ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, the latest flare-up in a condition that has been an issue for years. Asik had played in just 49 games combined the two seasons before sitting out this last one.

During training camp, the Bulls waived Asik. He was paid his full $11.3 million for this season and had a $3 million guarantee for next season.

After applying to the league to have it removed (because Asik hadn’t played in a year due to injury and was not expected to in the future), that $3 million is coming off the Bulls’ books in time for free agency, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

That $23 million is not a max player slot, but it is a little more money for the Bulls to spend as they chase a point guard and look to add depth and shooting to their young roster.

Asik still gets paid the $3 million, it just doesn’t count against the Bulls salary cap.