Bucks eliminate Celtics in Game 5 rout

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What a difference a year makes.

On April 28, 2018, the Boston Celtics eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks from the playoffs in a Game 7 where Al Horford and Terry Rozier each stepped up with 26 points. It was a relatively easy Celtics win at home.

Out of that game and the ensuing playoff run, Boston became a team on the rise. They were the preseason favorites in the East after getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injury, adding them to a roster that had shown great chemistry in the postseason. On the other side, Milwaukee had questions — starting with could they keep Giannis Antetokounmpo happy — and opted for a major change, letting go of coach Jason Kidd and bringing in Mike Budenholzer, plus adding some shooting to the roster. Milwaukee entered this season still feeling at least a year, maybe more, away.

Wednesday night May 8, 2019, the Milwaukee Bucks easily eliminated the Boston Celtics from the playoffs in five games, sealing the deal at home in a 116-91 blowout.

The Bucks — who grew into the best regular season team in the NBA out of last year’s lessons — advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, hosting either the Toronto Raptors or Philadelphia 76ers (Toronto leads that series 3-2).

Boston went down without a fight. That was true in Game 5 but also for most of the series. When faced with adversity the Celtics became a team of individuals that lacked genuine effort or trust for teammates. — the polar opposite of the team that made the conference finals a season ago.

This loss sends the Celtics into a summer where it is the team facing big questions about chemistry and fit, not to mention the future of free agent to be Kyrie Irving. (Al Horford also has a player option and there are other major roster decisions.) One way or another, it feels like Boston’s roster will look very different next training camp. Irving, who at a ticket holder event early in the season said he would be back if the Celtics fans would have him, now is going to at least look at his options this summer, according to the buzz around the NBA. (Talk about him leaving Boston has grown louder as these playoffs have worn on.)

That is just the start of the roster questions about a Celtics’ team that all season lacked cohesion and trust, and in the playoffs that came back to embarrass them.

This series was a total role reversal. Milwaukee eliminated Boston in game 5 the way the Celtics eliminated them a year ago — defense and good team play.

The Bucks held the Celtics to an offensive rating of 86 (well below a point per possession) while shooting 25 percent in the first half and 31.2 percent for the game, although that was as much about Boston’s desire as it was anything Milwaukee did. The Bucks used their length to contest shots in the paint — the Bucks shot 6-of-19 in the paint for the first half — and still get into passing lanes.

Part of the problem with the Celtics’ offense started with Irving and his desire to play hero ball, which played into the hands of the Bucks’ defense. Irving shot 7-of-22 in Game 4 and said of that “I should have shot 30.” Well, in the first half he shot 5-of-16, had zero assists, and his Celtics were down by 11. Irving finished the game 6-of-21 from the floor for 15 points.

On the other end of the court, the Bucks had a balanced attack. Antetokounmpo led the way with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

However, Antetokounmpo had only had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, the Bucks took charge of the game because his teammates stepped up. Khris Middleton had 19 points and 8 rebounds for the game, Eric Bledsoe had 18 points, and George Hill had another impressive night off the bench with 16 points.

The Bucks are going to need that kind of balance in the next round, but they looked like a team that has grown a lot in the last year — their time is now.

Boston players can watch those games from their hotel rooms in Cancun, while they ponder their future.

Marc Gasol completes historic double, Spain wins World Cup

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BEIJING (AP) — Marc Gasol looked to the sky as confetti fell, some sticking to his massive shoulders, and then cradled and kissed the giant golden chalice that goes to the World Cup champions.

He’s getting good at hoisting trophies.

Gasol got to bask in a championship celebration for the second time in three months — and this time, he did it for his country. Tournament MVP Ricky Rubio scored 20 points, Sergio Llull added 15 and Spain won the World Cup for the second time by topping Argentina 95-75 on Sunday.

“We weren’t the most talented team,” Rubio said. “We weren’t the bigger team. Put anything you want, but we were the team with the biggest heart and we showed it tonight and we showed it during the whole tournament.”

Gasol scored 14 for the winners, who never trailed and added this crown to the one it claimed in 2006. And for him, 2019 will go down as a year the likes of which few others have enjoyed.

The Toronto Raptors center becomes the second player to win an NBA title and a FIBA world gold medal in the same year, joining Lamar Odom — who did it for the Los Angeles Lakers and USA Basketball in 2010. Gasol also became the 19th to win either an NBA or WNBA crown along with a gold medal, either of the Olympic or World Cup variety, in the same year.

The first 18 all did it for the U.S.

This time, Vamos España!

“NBA champion and a World Cup champion as well,” Gasol said. “What can I say? How does it sound to you? I feel very fortunate to be in this position and be able to play this game and help these guys be part of history of Spanish basketball.”

Llull and Rudy Fernandez — the team captain, the one who initially got to accept the Naismith Trophy — went to cut down the nets shortly after the final buzzer. Gasol carried the game ball to the gold-medal ceremony, and Spanish fans wept in the stands during the national anthem.

Gabriel Deck scored 24 points for Argentina (8-1), which got off to a slow start and played uphill the rest of the way. Luis Scola was held to eight points, shooting 1 for 10 from the floor.

“We’re sad right now. We’re very sad,” Scola said. “But I feel confident, in hours, we’ll be able to look back and be very proud. They just played better than us. They were better. They deserved to win. They were the better team in the game and the tournament.”

Spain led 43-31 at intermission, after putting together a 14-2 run to open the game and a 17-1 run later in the half.

“This is basketball,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “If you play better than the other team, you win the game. And Spain was the best team today.”

Scola, even at 39 years old still Argentina’s best player throughout the tournament, didn’t get on the scoresheet until he made a pair of free throws with 2:57 left in the third quarter. But they only cut the Spain lead to 19, and by then the Argentinian fans who stood, sang and chanted for much of the game were relatively quiet.

The day belonged to Spain.

And the year belongs to Gasol.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gasol said.

Watch highlights from France taking bronze at World Cup, beating Australia 67-59

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Just as they did five years ago at the last World Cup, France has come away with the bronze medal.

The French came from 15 down at one point to beat Australia 67-59 and win the third-place game at the FIBA World Cup in China. Former Spur Nando De Colo led the way for France with 19 points, Orlando’s Evan Fournier added 16 but on a rough shooting night (5-of–17), and Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum added nine points and six assists. You can see the game’s highlights above.

After the game, Fournier was talkative, including slamming the travel and schedule of this World Cup, spread all across China.

Utah was led by 17 points from Utah’s Joe Ingles and 15 from San Antonio’s Patty Mills.

Michael Jordan sells portion of Hornets to two new partners

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan is adding two partners to the Charlotte Hornets’ ownership group, selling them each a portion of the NBA franchise.

Gabe Plotkin, founder and chief investment officer of Melvin Capital, and Daniel Sundheim, founder and chief investment officer of D1 Capital, have joined the Hornets as partners, pending NBA approval.

Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, will remain the majority owner.

Jordan said in a statement released by the team Saturday that he’ll continue to be the man making decisions about the direction of the Hornets.

“I’m excited to welcome Gabe and Dan as my partners in Hornets Sports & Entertainment,” Jordan said. “While I will continue to run the Charlotte Hornets, make all decisions related to the team and organization, and remain the team’s NBA Governor, Gabe and Dan’s investment in the franchise is invaluable, as we continue to modernize, add new technology and strive to compete with the best in the NBA. Both Gabe and Dan are industry standard-setters and proven leaders, with a belief in philanthropy and a passion for the game of basketball. They share my commitment to Charlotte and the Carolinas, and I look forward to working with and learning from them.”

Marc Gasol goes for history when Spain meets Argentina in World Cup final

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BEIJING (AP) — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving.

Those are the only five players to win an NBA title and a gold medal in the same year, whether it was in FIBA or Olympic competition, with Pippen doing it twice.

It is an exclusive club – one that Marc Gasol is on the cusp of joining.

A mere three months after helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA Finals, Gasol has led Spain to the gold medal game at the World Cup. It’ll be Spain against Argentina on Sunday, with both nations looking for their second title. Spain won the world championship in 2006 when Gasol was a 21-year-old backup, and Argentina won the inaugural tournament in 1950.

“I’m so deep in the rabbit hole right now that I don’t get to see much light,” Gasol said. “You’re so focused on your opponent, your next rival, recovering, doing whatever’s necessary to win games that you don’t look at the big picture. It’s been great. I’m very fortunate.

“I knew that committing to the national team this summer would not be easy physically. But it’s so worth it, and not just because we’re in the final game.”

He simply willed Spain into the final game.

Gasol scored 33 points – his career-high for any of the 18 FIBA-sanctioned or Olympic tournaments he’s played over the last 18 years – in Spain’s double-overtime win against Australia in the semifinals. He gave up his NBA offseason to be part of this team, a group that failed to medal at the last World Cup in Spain five years ago, and knows he might not have too many more years left on the international stage.

“It’s the responsibility of passing along that commitment, that loyalty to the team,” said Gasol, who still remembers the thrill of getting invitation letters from the Spanish federation to be part of youth teams when he was 11 or 12. “Those values that we were taught so many years with the older players, now it’s our turn to pass on the legacy to the next generation. And that’s not talent, that’s just commitment.”

Argentina has one of those passing-legacy-on players, too.

Luis Scola, 39 years old, was part of the team that won gold for Argentina at the 2004 Athens Olympics – and he’s been the best player for his team at the World Cup. He scored 28 points in the semifinal win over France, and on a team that has flashy guards who aren’t afraid to throw behind-the-back passes in any situation Scola has been the steadying force in the biggest moments.

“I’m only 27,” France center Rudy Gobert said as he lauded Scola after the semifinal matchup. “Maybe when I’m 39, I’ll know the secrets that Scola knows.”

Here’s some of what to know going into Sunday’s final:

DOUBLING UP

Pippen’s double-gold years came in 1992 and 1996 with Chicago. Jordan’s was in 1992 with the Bulls, James’ was in 2012 with Miami and Irving’s was in 2016 with Cleveland – all of those being Olympic years. Odom played on the U.S. world championships team in 2010, after his Los Angeles Lakers won that year’s NBA Finals.

OTHER DOUBLES

There have been 14 U.S. women who won a WNBA title along with a World Cup or Olympic gold medal in the same year, led by Sue Bird – who did it three times (2004 Olympics, 2010 world championship, 2018 World Cup).

UNBEATENS

Spain and Argentina are the only unbeaten teams left in the World Cup, each 7-0 so far. This is the fourth time that the gold medal will be decided in a game between unbeaten teams. The others: U.S. over Turkey (both 8-0 entering) in 2010, Spain over Greece (both 8-0) in 2006, and Argentina over the U.S. (both 5-0) at the first world championship in 1950.